SINGAPORE - In the face of growing diversity and disruption, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) cannot just play the role of a regulator, but must also help Muslims here come to their own decisions on their religious life, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim on Saturday (Jan 20).
While Muis will still have to set the standards and regulations on issues such as the halal labelling of food, its role in people's religious life extends beyond that to education and guidance, he added.
"In terms of religious life, in terms of diversity of views, in terms of how we deal with different lifestyle, Muis needs to empower people so that they understand what are the basic Islamic thoughts on the matter," he said.
Adding that he believed Singaporean Muslims do not want a regulator that is "very totalitarian and imposing", he said: "We cannot impose this on our community but we can educate them that these are the various strands of thoughts, these are the rationale that the scholars have arrived at, so you make the decision."
Dr Yaacob was speaking on the sidelines of a discussion on the religious life of the Singapore Muslim community, held at the Lifelong Learning Institute in Paya Lebar.
The 60 participants from the public and private sectors, including religious and community leaders, discussed issues ranging from how Muslims can reconcile animal welfare and religious practices such as the korban ritual, to gender equality and the different schools of thought in Islam .
Speaking to reporters after the session, Dr Yaacob said educating not just the community, but also religious teachers, is key to helping people understand the context in which Islam is practised in Singapore.
He also spoke about how some religious practices have evolved to address the concerns of a younger generation.
For instance, korban, or the slaughter of sheep on Hari Raya Haji, is done on a needs-basis, as some Muslims have raised concerns about animal welfare, he said.
Dr Yaacob also said younger Muslims will be increasingly confronted with the LGBT issue, with society becoming more open.
"They need to understand, and they are looking for guidance. I see this as a window of opportunity for us to shape a certain discourse which is more progressive, rather than a discourse where we say it's right and wrong, black and white," he said.
Summing up the discussions, Muis senior director of religious policy and development Dr Nazirudin Nasir said that as the Muslim community embraces diversity and disruption, it should also be aware of how this could affect religious life.
He added: "We can be diverse... we can be different, but we must remain united in our humanity, and the common values we share."
The event was the 12th of 20 engagement sessions planned until the end of February, as Muis marks its 50th anniversary this year. About 450 stakeholders have participated in the discussions so far.
Mr Raja Mohamad of the Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League, who was at the discussions on Saturday, raised the issue of fake news..
Dr Yaacob responded that while it is not possible to block the Internet, there is a need to educate Singaporeans to discern the truth from falsehoods.
He encouraged Muslim groups to make representations to the parliamentary Select Committee set up to examine the issue of online falsehoods.
Another participant, Mr Ilyas Yeow Shih Yeh of the Muslim Converts' Association of Singapore, said as Singaporeans become more educated and religious, there is a need to overcome the tendency to become less tolerant.