Why It Matters

Keeping faith with open arms

For decades, Singapore's Muslim community has largely looked up to its own home-grown scholars for guidance on religious matters.

But recently, preachers from abroad have gained a following among a minority. Unfortunately, some of them denigrate and seek to distance themselves from others. Their exclusivism is at odds with how the vast majority of Muslims and others have lived in multiracial, multi-religious Singapore.

At a time when extremists seek to sway people to their misguided interpretation of Islam, these messages threaten religious harmony. So the call by two ministers last week for the community to develop and look to its own scholars - with a strong grasp of their faith as well as Singapore's unique situation as a multi-religious society - is timely.

Last Tuesday, minister Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament that mandatory registration of religious teachers obliges them to abide by a code of ethics, which includes not denigrating any racial or religious group. And the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has started work to develop a Singapore Islamic College that can be an authoritative institution for the community.

Last Friday, minister Masagos Zulkifli said local Islamic scholars can be leading lights to counter "Internet scholars who pop up like mushrooms after the rain, who are quick to judge one another with 'cut and paste' knowledge". They should not just look back to an idealised past, but look forward and contribute to wider society - as an earlier generation had done.

Nearly 200 years ago, Muslim philanthropist Syed Omar Ali Aljunied donated the land on which St Andrew's Cathedral now stands. And in the 1940s, Muslim scholar Abdul Aleem Siddique helped start the Inter-Religious Organisation, which often meets to strengthen friendships across faiths.

They - and many others - are reminders to Muslim Singaporeans that accepting and embracing others does not make them less true to their faith. Rather, it strengthens it, and strengthens Singapore society.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 11, 2017, with the headline 'Keeping faith with open arms'. Print Edition | Subscribe