A 10-year-old scheme to help Muslim Singaporeans assess and recognise qualified asatizah, or religious teachers, will be expanded.
The Asatizah Recognition Scheme, which recognises Islamic teachers who meet minimum standards to teach the religion here, will reach out to all asatizah, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said yesterday.
Currently, about 80 per cent of asatizah here are under the scheme, which began in 2005 and has certified about 1,700 religious teachers. Those who are not on the scheme include older teachers, who may not have had structured religious education, and informally trained younger teachers.
"We must provide assurance to our community that those who provide religious guidance have the proper qualifications and training," said Dr Yaacob, who is Minister for Communications and Information.
The Asatizah Recognition Board and the Singapore Islamic scholars and religious teachers association (Pergas), which oversee the recognition scheme, are working with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to extend it.
Dr Yaacob announced the change at the end of a new programme for young and aspiring Islamic religious leaders to better understand religious teachings in the context of Singapore's multi-religious society.
The 10-day series of lectures and discussions for recent graduates and final-year undergraduates from Middle Eastern and South-east Asian universities was held at the Singapore Islamic Hub in Braddell Road.
Dr Yaacob told the participants that religious teachers must continue to guide the community that what is practised in some countries may not be appropriate or relevant for Singaporeans.
"This will require both the confidence and courage to re-examine classical juristic opinions that were shaped in a different time and context," he said.
Religious beliefs must be taught and practised in a manner that takes into account the need to expand the common space between different communities, Dr Yaacob added.
"Living in a multicultural society requires all parties to be open to accommodate one another in order to find the optimal solution," he said.
University of Jordan undergraduate Zahratur Rofiwah Mochamad Sandisi, 22, agreed, noting that Islam in Singapore is different from Islam in other countries. "But the same texts are used, that's where the challenge is," she said.
Organisers of the new programme said it may be expanded.
Muis Academy dean Albakri Ahmad said more time could be devoted to complex topics.
Mr Alami Musa, head of the Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said the topics could include Islamic law, and controversial hudud criminal laws.
Some in the region have been calling for these laws, but many scholars say these are no longer appropriate in today's context.
"We want our students here... to have the true picture of these issues so they can give proper guidance to people in Singapore," said Mr Alami.