The Malay-Muslim community in Singapore has made concrete progress in the areas of education, jobs and wealth, said Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday.
However, it also has to take a hard look at three challenges facing the community - radicalisation, more professionals losing their jobs and a significant over-representation of Malays in crime and drug statistics as well as the prison population.
He called on Malay-Muslim organisations such as self-help group Mendaki, the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore to step forward and help tackle these issues. The roles that such groups can play include counselling former offenders and supporting their families, as well as turning those who are at risk away from crime and drug abuse, said Mr Shanmugam, who is also Law Minister.
He was addressing about 140 community leaders and volunteers at an annual seminar organised by the AMP. In his speech, he highlighted the significant social and economic progress made by the Malay- Muslim community over the years.
For instance, the proportion of Malay Primary 1 pupils who go on to post-secondary education has doubled from 45 per cent in 1995 to 93 per cent in 2015. One out of every five Malay pupils who enters the education system will eventually obtain a degree or diploma, he said.
More inmates, drug abusers are Malay
The proportion of Malay inmates in prison has jumped from about 40 per cent in 2011 to 55 per cent currently, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam said yesterday.
About 53 per cent of drug abusers arrested last year were Malay, up from 32 per cent in 2006. The proportion of new Malay drug abusers also went up to 54 per cent last year, from 22 per cent in 2006.
It is challenging to prevent offending and reduce reoffending, he said, adding that Malay- Muslim groups and the Government have to work together to tackle the problem.
He praised mosques and organisations like self-help group Mendaki and Pergas for programmes that help ex-offenders and their families.
But he hopes more Muslim religious leaders can visit inmates in prisons, like what the Christian community does.
He also announced a new programme by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) that supports inmates and their families through activities like counselling.
There are 23 inmates and families in the pilot run launched last month. The goal is to support up to 100 inmates and their families over a year.
Toh Yong Chuan
And while the proportion of Malays who are professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) was 28 per cent in 2010, "I am sure it has gone up more by now", he noted. On housing, he said nearly 90 per cent of Malay households own their own homes, with 70 per cent of them living in four-room Housing Board flats or bigger.
"A Singapore Malay today in educational standing, in terms of skills and wealth, is better off than a Malaysian Malay or an Indonesian Malay," he said. "The same goes for the Indians, and for the Chinese, in Singapore."
The Government will continue to provide support to all Singaporeans, with additional help given to Malay-Muslims, he noted. The support includes financial help when infants are born, subsidising childcare and school fees, cash grants to buy HDB flats and healthcare subsidies.
But while the progress made by the community is encouraging, he warned of dangers posed by radicalisation and exclusivism. He cited a study by US-based Pew Research Centre on Malaysia, which showed 10 per cent of Malaysian Malays had a favourable opinion of terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and nearly a quarter were not prepared to denounce it. "We have to make sure that we do not get there," he said.
On the jobs front, a committee led by parliamentary secretaries Amrin Amin and Faishal Ibrahim is being set up to help Malay-Muslim PMETs hit by job losses, he said.
In addition, Malay-Muslim groups can work with the Government to tackle the problem of "significant over-representation" of Malays in crime, drug and prison statistics, the minister noted.
He is optimistic that the Malay- Muslim community can overcome the challenges it faces, and be a "beacon for the rest of the world" - one that is confident, modern, vibrant and integrated.
AMP chairman Abdul Hamid Abdullah said the association can work with the Government to reach out to more families. "Community groups are in a better position to reach out to Malay families because we are on the ground," he noted.
On the Malay community becoming an example for other countries, he said: "This is motivating. We can be an example of how a minority community can thrive in a multi-racial country."