Muis launches $1m scheme to help families provide for special needs members

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim with members of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore's senior management viewing a new gallery at the Singapore Islamic Hub on April 7, 2018. PHOTO: ISLAMIC RELIGIOUS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE

SINGAPORE - As part of its efforts to build a caring and inclusive Muslim community here, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) will provide $1 million to encourage low and middle income families to set up trusts for family members with special needs.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim announced this initiative on Saturday (April 7), adding that about 100 families are expected to benefit from the funds, which will cover the start-up capital for trusts with the Special Needs Trust Company (SNTC).

This will help them "safeguard their loved one's welfare and financial security," he said, speaking at Muis' annual workplan seminar.

The SNTC assists families with special needs members in setting up trusts that will continue to provide for those members after their parents or guardians pass on.

Currently, less than 2 per cent of its trusts are by Muslim families, said Dr Yaacob. The new scheme will be financed through money from unclaimed estates of people who passed away without leaving any heirs.

In another new initiative, five study awards of up to $10,000 will be given each year - over the next three years - to students or working adults who are keen to study social work. The funds are from community contributions.

"As we continue to globalise and digitalise, there will be people who will fall through the cracks, so social workers are really needed," Dr Yaacob told reporters after the event.

These initiatives are in line with the Muslim community's aspirations, based on ground-up conversations with more than 600 people to mark Muis' 50th anniversary this year, he said.

Having a Singapore Muslim community that is more inclusive - as well as one that is more appreciative of diversity - was one of three themes that emerged from the series of discussions and feedback gathered over the past six months, said Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information.

"We are part of an increasingly diverse Singapore society. We may have differences in beliefs, practices and perspectives about life, but we must share a common set of values and life experiences that binds us together as Singaporeans," he said.

He added that Muis will continue to work on strengthening inter-ethnic ties so that the nation as a whole will be strengthened.

The other themes were strengthening Islamic education to nurture discerning youth, and building a more community-centric mosque sector.

Dr Yaacob also said that the current six mosque clusters will be reorganised into four clusters in the north, south, east and west, to better balance and optimise the resources of the 70 mosques in Singapore.

For example, mosques in the north, east and west clusters will be able to target their programmes at congregants from the heartlands, while those in the south can cater more to the working population there. More details will be given at the 2018 Mosque Convention in September, he said.

He added that as part of Singapore's Smart Nation drive, an enhanced e-Halal portal will be launched in the third quarter of this year to make it easier for businesses to apply for Halal certification.

During the seminar on Saturday at Muis in Braddell Road, the council also gave updates on several schemes started last year.

Under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme that began in January last year, more than 3,600 asatizah, or religious teachers, and 240 Islamic schools have registered with Muis.

A total of 31 students who graduated from the Middle East, North Africa and Southeast Asia attended the first run of the Certificate of Islam in Context last November. The four-week programme provides a local context for what they learned overseas.

Muis also went on study trips in November and December to Egypt, Jordan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada to study potential models for the Singapore Islamic College. A date has not been set for the opening of the college, which aims to develop future teachers who can provide Islamic knowledge appropriate to Singapore's unique context.

In his speech, Dr Yaacob highlighted Muis' growth over the past 50 years - from a small office at Empress Place manned by only seven staff, whose primary duties were to administer the collection of community contributions and manage mosques and endowments. Today, Muis supports many other aspects of the evolving socio-religious needs of the community.

"This includes developing the current and future generations of our religious leaders, nurturing an informed and discerning community, strengthening our community's resilience against harmful influences and adversity, and promoting social cohesion with other communities," he said.

The council will be organising several events this year as part of its anniversary celebrations, including an International Religious Conference in November, and a three-day community event in September.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.