SINGAPORE - While Malays here have taken great strides to build a strong culture of self-reliance and cooperation, more can step forward to volunteer with community institutions.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made the call in the Malay portion of his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 19).
He held up the collaboration between what he called M³ - the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), self-help group Mendaki and the People's Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (Mesra) - and urged more Malays here to volunteer.
Mr Lee said collaboration between Malay/Muslim organisations and the Government can help tackle some challenges faced by the community. These include getting more children to attend pre-school, empowering and mentoring youth, and supporting those who are left behind because of drugs or social problems.
"I hope more Malays will contribute to the community through M³, whether you are new volunteers or activists already in the mosques and various Malay/Muslim organisations. Let us come forward to help, and take the community forward," he said at the Rally held at the Institute of Technical Education College Central in Ang Mo Kio.
Mr Lee quoted a Malay saying to make his point: "Seikat bak sirih, serumpun bak serai (together like a bunch of betel leaves, united like a bundle of lemongrass)."
He also underscored the importance of Muis, Mendaki and Mesra by highlighting some of their contributions and plans.
During the holy Muslim month of Ramadan in June, Mr Lee said he went to Geylang Serai to soak up the mood and to see Wisma Geylang Serai, a community civic hub developed by the People's Association and housed "in a beautiful building with pitched roofs, reminiscent of old Malay houses".
Mesra has planned a series of events like youth festivals in the run-up to the official opening of Wisma Geylang Serai in January, he added.
Mr Lee, who had first mentioned the hub for Malay activities in his rally speech back in 2011, said he was pleased to see it completed when he visited during Ramadan.
Plans are afoot to make Geylang Serai a more culturally distinctive district, said Mr Lee.
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman will work with Mesra, business owners and the Government to spruce up the area. Dr Maliki will also be engaging the Malay community and other Singaporeans to brainstorm ideas for the area.
In his speech, Mr Lee also commended Muis for playing an important role in overseeing mosques here and providing religious guidance.
Many eminent Muslim thinkers have visited Singapore on the Muis Distinguished Visitors Programme to speak about Islam. They include the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Dr Ahmed Al Tayyeb, who Mr Lee hosted to dinner back in May.
Mr Lee said that Dr Ahmed's lecture emphasised how people of all religions should respect other faiths and interact in a practical and inclusive way.
He said: "His sage advice is universally relevant, but especially important to us in multi-racial and multi-religious Singapore."
Mr Lee also commended Mendaki for uplifting the community through its education and social programmes. These efforts have been instrumental in helping Malay students achieve sustained education improvements over the past few decades.
"Most importantly, it has fostered a sense of pride in the community, a can-do spirit, of helping one another and making a difference," he added.
Wrapping up his speech, Mr Lee reiterated how Malays here have plenty to celebrate as they have done well for themselves, both individually and collectively.
He lauded the community for coming so far and for maintaining its unique identity, while being very much a part of Singapore.
Added Mr Lee: "Singapore must remain a country where all Malays can achieve their aspiration. Let us work together to strengthen our harmonious, multiracial community, and progress as one people, one Singapore."