SINGAPORE - Malay/Muslim Singaporeans have acted in a responsible way during the Covid-19 outbreak this year and helped keep the virus from spreading further, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli last Friday (Dec 18).
Mr Masagos, who is also the Minister for Social and Family Development, highlighted how the community not only stepped up to help each other but also played their part in curbing the spread of the virus in Singapore.
During an interview with Malay/Muslim leaders on Dec 18, the minister held up the adjustments that the community made to its way of life to prevent the coronavirus situation from worsening here.
These include accepting the closure of mosques, the suspension of congregational prayers, the postponement of the Haj pilgrimage, and the inability to visit loved ones during Hari Raya celebrations in the middle of the year.
At the same time, Malay/Muslim Singaporeans worked to help those among them who were most in need.
Mr Masagos said the community raised $3 million in April - which was both the fasting month of Ramadan and the start of Singapore's circuit breaker this year.
This ground-up effort, named SGUnited Buka Puasa, distributed food to 20,000 front-liners and needy families on a daily basis.
"These are all great outcomes from the spirit of togetherness in our community - the level of achievement, of being educated in an open society, being able to get the community together," said Mr Masagos.
"Not only for what it needs for itself, but also to contribute towards not spreading the virus to other people because of the practices that we are used to."
Mr Masagos said that through the sound advice and cooperation of religious authorities and medical experts in the community, clear guidelines for religious social activities could be given promptly.
Large-scale religious activities have been known to be flashpoints for Covid-19 clusters to develop.
A notable one was a Muslim missionary movement at the Seri Petaling mosque on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur from Feb 27 to March 1, which reportedly involved up to 10,000 people from several countries and resulted in several imported cases of the virus.
Following this, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) decided to close mosques in Singapore later in March. Mr Masagos said this decision could only have been made because of the cooperation within the community.
He said: "This could only be possible because the doctors gave sound advice for religious teachers that congregations where intensity of interaction, high density of people coming together (and) distancing that couldn't be controlled at that point of time, were going to be points of flash that could result in more people being infected."
Asked whether it could be possible to resume the special congregational prayers - known as terawih prayers - at mosques during next year's Ramadan, Mr Masagos said the authorities hope to allow for them to continue and multiple, shorter sessions could be considered.
On Tuesday, the Ministry of Communications and Information issued a clarification to The Straits Times from Muis and said: "For terawih prayers, it is premature now (to say whether they would be permitted) and would very much depend on the situation in April."
During the interview on Dec 18, other Malay/Muslim leaders also shared updates about various initiatives that are in place for the community.
Senior Minister of State for Manpower and Defence Zaqy Mohamad said that CariKerja, a dedicated hotline and app for jobseekers that was launched in April by continuing education and training provider Mendaki Sense, has been downloaded almost 35,000 times.
Mr Zaqy, who is also the deputy chairman of self-help group Mendaki, added that the tuition scheme the group provides has seen improved attendance rates since it went online this year.
A Mendaki spokesman told ST that the average attendance for its online tuition programme increased by 8 per cent compared with last year, and Mr Zaqy said that the group will build on this momentum to conduct such programmes in a hybrid fashion.
Second Minister for Education Maliki Osman said that he is currently leading a review to see what his ministry can further do to ensure that graduates from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and the five polytechnics, including those from the community, are prepared for the working world.
"One of the things we would like to encourage and see (and to) create more, is the work-study diploma programs so that our ITE students, many of whom are our Malay students also, will have another pathway to get diplomas," he said.