National Day Rally 2016: Govt welcomes call to strengthen scheme that endorses Muslim religious leaders

PM Lee during Iftar at Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol. PHOTO: MCI

SINGAPORE - Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday (Aug 21) said the Government welcomed a recent call from Muslim leaders to strengthen a scheme that endorses religious teachers or asatizah.

In the Malay part of his National Day Rally, Mr Lee said he was glad Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim had announced plans to extend the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) to all asatizah.

Introduced in 2005 to help Muslim Singaporeans assess and recognise qualified religious teachers, the ARS has so far certified 1,700 teachers. About 80 per cent of asatizah in Singapore are currently under the scheme.

While the ARS is a voluntary one, Mr Lee said the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) will work with the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) and Asatizah Recognition Board to make it mandatory.

Highlighting the growing threat of terrorism in the South-east Asian region, Mr Lee revealed that some Muslim leaders had expressed concern over foreign preachers who visit Singapore but do not understand its unique multicultural context.

This was in response to the rise and spread of extremist idealogy online, which has led to the radicalisation of some Singaporeans.

Last week, the Government announced the detention of two Singaporeans who planned to travel to Syria to fight under the banner group of terror group ISIS.

Said Mr Lee: "They preach separation between believers and non-believers, they condemn those who practise other faiths - and sometimes even those who practise the same faith, but in different ways - and advocate practices and customs that would cause grave harm in Singapore," he said.

Mr Lee added that the Government has been paying attention to this and had from time to time prevented such preachers from entering Singapore.

"Not only Muslim preachers; we have also stopped preachers from other faiths. The Government has to be consistently firm no matter what the religion, in order to safeguard our religious harmony."

He also commended the Muslim community for its initiatives and urged people of all religions to make "practical compromises" to accommodate one another, such as engaging with each other, respecting others' faiths and celebrating the different festivals together as a multi-religious society.

Earlier in his speech, he touched on how it was important that Malay Singaporeans participate fully in the new economy, and to seize the opportunities to upgrade and improve their lives.

To do well, they need to be able to master technology, citing the example of how even small businesses selling Hari Raya kueh have shifted their operations online.

"Technology is replacing jobs, but it is also creating new opportunities. We need engineers and programmers, scientists and game designers like the people behind Pokemon Go," he said.

Mr Lee also mentioned three Malay Singaporeans who have contributed to the new economy or upgraded their skills.

Mr Muhammad Ariff Awari, who studied electrical engineering in ITE and Nanyang Polytechnic, built a mobile robot that can serve food to customers and collect trays.

His robot won a silver medal at WorldSkills Singapore 2016.

Mr Muhammad Ariff Awari, whose robot won a silver medal at WorldSkills Singapore 2016. PHOTO: MCI

Mr Abdul Halim Akbar, a graduate of Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri and Singapore Polytechnic, received a Masters in aeronautical engineering from London's Imperial College and is currently a research intern at A*Star.

He is currently engaged in a project building drones that receive navigational instructions from QR codes.

Mr Abdul Halim Akbar, who is currently engaged in a project building drones that receive navigational instructions from QR codes. PHOTO: MCI

Lastly, Ms Noraishikin Ismail, who studied accounting in ITE, made a career switch to do social work at the Singapore After-Care Association and took up a higher diploma in social service before winning a SkillsFuture Study Award to pursue a bachelor of social work.

Ms Noraishikin Ismail, who won a SkillsFuture Study Award to pursue a bachelor of social work. PHOTO: MCI

Mr Lee also highlighted the initiatives by Mendaki's Future Ready Unit and Mendaki Sense, its training and continuing education arm which organises career fairs and dialogues to explain to young professionals and workers the opportunities offered by SkillsFuture.

"The more Malays participate and succeed in the new economy, the stronger will be our multiracial cohesion, and the better we will be able to overcome our challenges," he concluded.

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