SINGAPORE - A new committee will be formed by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to collect views on religious teachers, to better plan their development and in preparation for the upcoming Islamic college here.
The Committee on Future Asatizah (Cofa) will be chaired by Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman and comprise religious teachers, community leaders, and individuals with relevant professional experience.
Dr Maliki shared details on Friday (March 8) during the debate on the budget of the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
He was responding to Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC), Mr Saktiandi Supaat (Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC) and other MPs who had asked about the development of religious teachers, known as asatizah.
Said Dr Maliki: "Singaporean Muslims need to adapt with the times, in their professional and socio-religious lives. To be able to provide effective guidance and socio-religious support, our asatizah too must adapt and be ready for the future.
"This is why we formed the Cofa, so that we can gain a better understanding of the evolving needs of the Singapore Muslim community, react to the trends that will shape the community's future, and hear ground-up feedback on how we can prepare our next generation of asatizah."
Over the next six to eight months, Cofa will speak to stakeholders, including religious teachers, students of tertiary Islamic institutions and employers, to gather their input.
The committee will then make recommendations on how Muis can better develop religious teachers professionally and help to create religious policies, said Dr Maliki.
In his speech earlier during the debate, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said that the Government will base the long-term plans for developing asatizah on Cofa's findings.
These plans will be made known by the end of the year.
Mr Masagos added that Cofa will also weigh in on national Islamic initiatives like the Singapore Islamic College (SIC), which was announced in 2016.
Dr Maliki said that Cofa's work is a "critical step" towards understanding the expectations of future religious leaders who will be a part of the upcoming school.
"Through these engagements, Muis will be able to chart the holistic development of our asatizah, from the madrasahs to the universities and into their employment," added Dr Maliki.
He was responding to Prof Fatimah and Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC), who had asked for updates on the SIC.
In his reply to Dr Intan and Nominated MP Abbas Ali Mohamed Irshad on support for overseas religious students, Dr Maliki said that from 2020, Muis will be enhancing the mandatory programme that all returning religious graduates have to attend.
They will now have to go through the Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies programme, and complete modules covering Islamic studies, social sciences and skills in relevant domains like social work, counselling and pedagogy.
They will have opportunities to take up internship positions and be mentored by a senior asatizah as well.
The year-long postgraduate programme will replace the current four-week Islam in Context programme, which will stop running after another two sessions this year.
Muis has also introduced student liaison officers who will mentor the 800 Singaporean students who are completing religious Islamic studies both here and overseas, said Dr Maliki.
These officers, who are alumni of religious schools, are based in Cairo, Jeddah and Singapore. They will help students in their education process and keep them informed of Singapore's developments.
Said Dr Maliki: "Studying overseas is not easy. Besides adapting to the curriculum, students need to adapt to the local culture and systems.
"We also have to ensure their ties to Singapore remain strong."