The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) will conduct a study of religious teachers to gain a better understanding of existing and future manpower needs.
Announcing the study yesterday, Minister-in- charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said religious teachers, or asatizah, are key figures in the Muslim community. There are about 3,000 asatizah here. "In a turbulent world darkened by uncertainty, untruths and hate, our asatizah are beacons of light for our community, providing guidance on how Muslims ought to live fulfilled lives in modern, multi-cultural Singapore," he said.
That is why it is necessary to ensure the limited talent pool of religious teachers can meet the community's needs and also take on roles such as counsellors in the social service sector, said Dr Yaacob at the Muis Workplan Seminar.
He also announced initiatives to boost support for those pursuing religious studies abroad, and ensure returning students stay attuned to Singapore's multi-religious society.
The study will be done in three phases from this year. Its findings will inform policies to train and develop asatizah. The first phase will assess the demographic profile of asatizah and establish a three-year projection of manpower for selected roles. The second entails improving a skills framework for priority jobs. The third will see plans to address needs highlighted in earlier phases.
Muis is also looking to have more liaison officers for students abroad, beyond the two now. Dr Mohammad Hannan Hassan, vice-dean of the Muis Academy, said there are about 950 students pursuing further Islamic studies overseas: "The challenges are increasing and the numbers are increasing, so we need more officers to help them."
Muis will also publish a comprehensive guide on pursuing Islamic studies overseas, to complement its current pre-departure briefing for students, Dr Yaacob said.
A new certificate programme will be piloted for returning university graduates, for them to be recognised under the mandatory Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS). More than 2,500 asatizah and Quranic teachers have registered to date.
Dr Yaacob said Muis is developing courses and providing financial incentives to help asatizah without formal qualifications to become ARS-certified. For the longer term,it is studying plans to develop a Singapore Islamic college which will play a role in nurturing future asatizah.
Said Dr Yaacob: "The development of capable and learned asatizah grounded in the Singapore context will be the best assurance for our Muslim community for the generations to come."