SINGAPORE - Over the past 50 years, mosques in Singapore have gone beyond being just places of worship to contributing to the community, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim on Saturday (Oct 21) as he urged them to play an even larger role in the next 50 years to serve the needs of the nation.
Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information, said mosques are in a unique position to shape perceptions about Muslims and ensure myths about Islam are dispelled.
This is more crucial now, he added, amid the changing needs of the community and evolving social context.
"They are not just a community node, they are actually a national node, they can contribute to the national life," said Dr Yaacob to reporters, after observing a discussion among mosque leaders.
He added that this can be done while retaining the distinct and unique identity of mosques.
"In that distinctiveness we contribute to the diversity that enriches the life of our community and our nation," he said.
Saturday's session, organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, is part of a series of discussions leading up to the council's 50th anniversary next year.
About 50 mosque leaders came together to talk about how mosques can play a bigger role in wider society.
Dr Yaacob said mosques have changed with the times and are no longer seen as just spaces for worship that people visit solely to perform their prayers.
Many mosques now also serve as community spaces, he added, offering classes for students, for instance. They also reach out to non-Muslims, inviting them to have meals together at the breaking of fast during Ramadan.
Some mosque leaders suggested using technology and social media to reach out to more people.
Masjid Alkaff Kampung Melayu vice-chairman Mohksin Mohd Rashid, 32, said this could take the form of a mobile app with information curated by mosques on Islam and religious practices.
For example, he said, such an app can be used to explain the korban ritual, in which sheep are sacrificed to mark Hari Raya Haji, to animal rights activists.
"Muslims in a mosque are a representation of the community to wider society," he added. "We can look at how to move collectively towards doing good for the wider community."
Other suggestions from participants included how to improve efficiency by sharing manpower across mosques, and having better training for mosque volunteers.
Youth worker Nazihah Rashid, 26, a mosque management board member at Masjid Darul Ghufran in Tampines, said she hopes mosques can attract more working professionals to volunteer, or encourage them to provide details of their skills profile so mosques can tap their expertise if needed.