Muis gives out new postgraduate scholarship to research fellow

SINGAPORE - A desire to better understand the influence of Islamic educational institutions won Dr Norshahril Saat, a fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies-Yusof Ishak Institute, a new scholarship on Monday .

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) presented him with the first Syed Isa Semait Scholar Award, which recognises outstanding contributions of Muis postgraduate scholars.

The award is named after a former Mufti of Singapore, Syed Isa Semait, who presented the award to Dr Norshahril at the Suntec Convention Centre.

Dr Norshahril, 32, will be conducting research into the experiences of Southeast Asian students who further their studies in Islamic universities in the Middle East, particularly at Al Azhar University in Cairo, with the help of a $10,000 grant which accompanied the award.

"After Sep 11 and ISIS, Islamic educational institutions have been perceived negatively, but most of graduates from Al-Azhar return to their countries and integrate back to local traditions," he said.

He said he hopes to nurture more young local researchers by taking them with him on the research project to learn to write journal articles and conduct seminars. "I think this will be good exposure for them and I hope to share my knowledge in these aspects," he said.

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, who is Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, said after the event that it is important for the Muslim community to build expertise in various fields, so as to strike a balance between keeping religious traditions alive and being part of the modern world.

"Research cannot be parochial and just looking at the community but looking at the broader national issues that affect us all, be it housing, transportation, healthcare, or how to care for an ageing society," he said.

Over the past 10 years, Muis has given out more than $1 million in financial assistance through postgraduate scholarships and grants to help 26 people further their studies in fields such as Islamic bioethics, sociology and political science.

This year's Muis Postgraduate Scholarship Award was given to Mr Muhammad Azfar Anwar, 24, who will be pursuing a Masters in Islamic Studies and History at the University of Oxford, while Ms Muneerah Abdul Razak, 23, received a Muis Financial Grant to read a Masters in Middle East Politics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

Mr Azfar and Ms Muneerah both said that they hope to inspire others to aim high and continue their education.

"I'm hoping that the Oxford environment will give me the criticality that is much needed right now to approach (Islam) as a faith," said Mr Azfar.