Singapore-Malay Muslim Singaporeans engaged in a "live" Facebook chat with leaders about issues brought up during Sunday's National Day Rally (NDR) 2016 for the first time last night (Aug 24).
Organised by REACH, the Singapore Government's feedback unit, the interactive chat went on live stream for an hour (9pm-10pm) on BERITA Mediacorp's Facebook page.
The chat, conducted in Malay, was chaired by Senior Minister of State for Defence & Foreign Affairs, Dr Maliki Osman, and Member of Parliament for Jurong GRC Rahayu Mahzam, and moderated by deejay Adi Rahman from Malay radio station, Warna 94.2FM. The session was organised in collaboration with Mediacorp.
"The chat today is to engage different segments of the community, discussing different issues, particularly, in response to how they feel about the NDR 2016. It is important to get reactions from members of the community. We want to gauge if they have future suggestions or any other comments with regards to the direction the Prime Minister has set out for the country," Dr Maliki said.
Before the chat even started streaming live, comments were already rolling in.
It opened with the chairs honouring Singapore's former president, Mr S R Nathan, who died on Monday.
Dr Maliki paid tribute to Mr Nathan's sincerity and called him "the Singaporean hero" whilst Ms Rahayu said: "Mr Nathan was a kind man and aptly named and known as the president of the people".
The chat covered three topics brought up at the rally: the new economy, the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) and the elected presidency.
Regarding the new economy, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong had on Sunday urged Malay Singaporeans to master technology to be able to participate fully in the new economy.
With technology a game changer in today's economy, questions were asked about grabbing the opportunities that would come with the changes.
Dr Maliki said: "Curiousity and innovation should be embedded in every student. Students should not go to school to passively learn. Instead, students should be ready to try new things and be courageous enough to fail."
With regards to technological change, Ms Rahayu urged the Malay/Muslim community to embrace these "disruptions"and turn them on their heads by leading or creating the technological changes.
The chat then quickly went to the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) , which dominated the conversation for half of the hour.
During the rally, PM Lee had given his support to the move to make the scheme, which endorses Islamic religious teachers (asatizah) in Singapore, mandatory from Jan 1 next year.
About 80 per cent of asatizah here are registered with the ARS, now a voluntary initiative which was started in 2005 and is administered by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) and the Asatizah Recognition Board.
Both Dr Maliki and Ms Rahayu welcomed the move to make it compulsory for religious teachers in Singapore to be registered through the scheme from next year.
Ms Rahayu said it was a ground-up initiative by the asatizah themselves to raise their standards. "This registration increases their professional standards as teachers."
Dr Maliki likened it to doctors being licensed and accredited to practise medicine. "We want teachers whom we can trust and know as legitimate. With ARS, we can ensure that our teachers will be able to teach Islam expertly, keeping the Singaporean context in mind."
The live virtual audience had concerns that this scheme had been forced onto the asatizah, and the Muslim community in Singapore at large. One participant asked why it was limited to the community.
Ms Rahayu reiterated that it was a scheme started by the asatizah themselves as they wanted to improve their professional standards, and more than three-quarters are already registered.
She said: "We should be proud that our asatizah from our community are starting something like this. Each community has different needs but maybe this initiative will be a model for teachers of other faith communities."
The issue of ensuring minority representation for Singapore's elected president was brought up by PM Lee , who had said it was important for Singapore to have a Malay, Indian or another minority race as President from time to time.
Dr Maliki said the Malay community, and the larger Singaporean community, needed to understand why the government wants to establish a safeguard.
"Singapore is a multicultural society and everyone has the aspiration to see someone from his community be represented and serve as president.With elections, a minority candidate, despite being equal in capability, will find it hard to beat a rival candidate from the majority race," he said.
The discussion led an audience member to comment on tokenism, referring to playwright Alfian Sa'at's Facebook post on Aug 22. The playwright had said: "I would rather have a Chinese Elected President who can act as an effective check on the government than a puppet Malay President holding a golden rubber stamp."
Ms Rahayu agreed that a candidate should be qualified, saying: "We want an effective president, regardless of race. But we must also understand that the candidates are chosen based on ability and on top of that, the people will be voting in someone who they believe is able to lead and not just a token."
Dr Maliki noted that people should not be quick to doubt or put down an elected president from a minority race. "We have to support whoever fulfils the criteria and not doubt him as a puppet. This concept is meant to allow us to reach a balance and represent our multi-culturalism. It brings a new sense of ownership to the system and the country."