SINGAPORE - Despite the need to change social norms because of the Covid-19 pandemic, religious life can still go on with online and radio programmes, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman said on Monday (April 6).
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Dr Maliki added, will work towards preserving religious life and helping Islamic religious teachers here adjust to disruptions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
These disruptions include the closure of mosques.
"It is difficult to forgo such norms, but we understand and accept that safe distancing measures and the suspension of religious services are critical in the fight against Covid-19," said Dr Maliki.
"Changing our social norms to protect ourselves and those around us does not make us any less of a Muslim or diminish our cultural identity."
As part of the Covid-19 circuit breaker measures, all places of worship will be closed till May 4 to prevent any further spread of the coronavirus.
There are 70 mosques here.
Dr Maliki said on Monday that Muis is currently working with mosques to increase the number of religious programmes available online as well as over the radio.
He added that some of the radio programmes planned for the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, due to begin on April 23, will now be brought forward.
More than 50 mosques have collectively released over 130 videos online since they were closed on March 23, Dr Maliki said, adding it was only made possible by the extra work religious teachers, or asatizah, put in.
"I commend our asatizah for stepping up to this new mode of religious guidance; many of them had to acquire entirely new digital skills to do this," he added.
The asatizah, whose jobs have been severely affected by the pandemic, will receive additional support.
The council will be working with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to help asatizah benefit from the various assistance schemes outlined by the Government during the Unity, Resilience and Solidarity Budgets.
Muis will be accepting applications from freelance asatizah for the Self-Employed Person Income Relief Scheme (Sirs), as they do not qualify for this automatically.
Sirs, which was first announced on March 26, will disburse $9,000 in cash over three quarterly cash payouts of $3,000 in May, July and October this year to eligible self-employed people.
Asatizah will also receive help from Muis, who will work with the Ministry of Social and Family Development, to guide them through the Temporary Relief Fund (TRF) application process.
The TRF provides low- and middle-income Singaporeans and permanent residents with a one-off cash sum of $500 to assist those who are facing financial difficulties due to the pandemic.
Separately, Muis will be spending over $1 million to equip mosques with enhanced Covid-19 precautionary measures, such as equipment to conduct temperature taking, contact tracing, and queue management, when mosques reopen.
These funds will also be used to waive 50 per cent of the cost that parents have to pay for Muis' weekly religious classes, which now conducts lessons via home-based learning.
Dr Maliki said that the Malay/Muslim community has a key role to play in the national effort to turn the tide against Covid-19 and cope with its socio-economic impact.
He highlighted the formation of a community task force (SGTeguhBersatu), announced last Saturday, that will strengthen the last-mile delivery of national support measures and lead targeted initiatives that support the Malay/Muslim community through the Covid-19 situation.
The 19-member SGTeguhBersatu task force was convened by Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli and will be supported by several Malay/Muslim MPs.
It includes representatives from Muis, self-help group Mendaki and People's Association's Malay Activity Executive Committees Council.
"By galvanising the strengths of these organisations, we will create new and stronger partnerships to provide better support for the community - in areas such as employment and upskilling - families and students, and the religious sector.
"We will also strengthen the resilience of the community," said Dr Maliki.