SINGAPORE - The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) will conduct a study of asatizah, or religious teachers, to gain a better understanding of existing and future manpower needs.
Announcing the study on Saturday (April 1), Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said asatizah are central figures in the socio-religious fabric of the Malay-Muslim community.
"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 optimise manpower, 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 during the annual Muis Workplan Seminar themed "Stengthening our Religious Life".
He also announced other initiatives to beef up support for those studying overseas, and ensure returning students remain attuned to Singapore's multi-religious society.
The manpower study will be done in three phases starting this year. Its findings will inform policies to train and develop asatizah.
Said Dr Yaacob: "Given the complexity of life today, the role of asatizah need to continue to evolve, so that they can be relevant to the needs of our community."
The study's first phase will assess the demographic profile of asatizah and establish a three-year projection of manpower for selected asatizah professions, among other things.
The second phase entails improving a skills framework for priority jobs, while plans to address needs highlighted in the earlier phases will be rolled out in the third phase.
Religious students overseas are also set to get more support, with Muis looking to deploy more student liaison officers.
There are currently two liaison officers helping overseas students in the Southeast Asia and Middle East regions. Muis has not decided how many more liaison officers to add.
Dr Mohammad Hannan Hassan, vice-dean of the Muis Academy, said there are currently 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," he added.
Muis will also publish a comprehensive booklet on pursuing Islamic studies overseas, to complement its current pre-departure briefing for students, Dr Yaacob said.
In addition, a new certificate programme will be piloted for returning university graduates, for them to be recognised under the mandatory Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) launched on Jan 1.
To date, more than 2,500 asatizah and Quranic teachers have registered under the scheme.
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, Muis is studying plans to develop a Singapore Islamic college which will play a key role in nurturing future asatizah.
He added: "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."