Education

National Day Rally 2019: Singapore Malays have shaped a unique identity: PM

Religious teachers like Ustaz Zahid Zin (left) are central to nurturing a progressive Muslim community, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Ustaz Zahid recently paid his respects at the wake of a distant relative who was Buddhist, and wrote on Faceb
Religious teachers like Ustaz Zahid Zin are central to nurturing a progressive Muslim community, says Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Ustaz Zahid recently paid his respects at the wake of a distant relative who was Buddhist, and wrote on Facebook that all cultures and beliefs must be respected.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Singapore Malays have developed their own unique identity, and one of the defining characteristics is in the way Islam is practised in Singapore's multiracial context.

And Malay/Muslims here are well regarded as a model for other Muslim and minority communities, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said yesterday.

He noted that in this bicentennial year, many community groups have organised activities to look back at Singapore's rich history going back several centuries.

Malays came to Singapore in large numbers after Stamford Raffles arrived, including the Orang Laut, Malays from Johor and Riau, Minang, Bugis, Javanese and Baweanese, and were joined by Arabs from Yemen and some people from India, he noted.

Over time, they became a part of the larger Malay community and of Singapore.

"Your cultural and historical ties with our neighbouring countries enabled Singaporeans to understand and get along with the peoples of these countries.

"At the same time, your influence on Singapore society helped shape our national identity as a multiracial country in South-east Asia," PM Lee said in his Malay speech at the National Day Rally.

 
 
 
 

In the process, Singapore Malays have become distinct from other Malays in the region and from Muslims elsewhere in the world, and prospered, he noted.

PM Lee also spoke at length on two characteristics that define the Singapore Malay identity: competency, which has seen the community progress through education; and character, shaped through the way Islam is practised here in a spirit of mutual respect, tolerance and inclusiveness.

He cited how Ustaz Zahid Zin exemplifies this, saying religious teachers like him are central to nurturing a progressive Muslim community. Ustaz Zahid recently paid his respects at the wake of a distant relative who was Buddhist, and posted on Facebook how all cultures and beliefs must be respected, and how his attendance at the Buddhist funeral was a teachable moment for his children.

PM Lee said: "It was a teachable moment for all of us, whatever our religion or our age." He noted that Mr Zahid also gets non-Muslims to share their views with young Muslims in his classes.

Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman is leading a committee on enhancing the professionalism of asatizah (religious teachers), and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore is launching a course for those educated abroad to apply what they learn to the local context.

Said PM Lee: "We also hope to explore new approaches and pedagogies in the teaching and learning of Islam. This will help us develop a model of our own Islamic college, which will one day train a new generation of asatizah in Singapore."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2019, with the headline 'Singapore Malays have shaped a unique identity: PM'. Print Edition | Subscribe