NDR 2022: Strong, resilient Malay/Muslim community makes for stronger Singapore, says PM Lee

PM Lee Hsien Loong noted that the community has forged a distinctive and confident Singaporean Malay/Muslim identity. PHOTO: CHOO YUT SHING

SINGAPORE - A strong and resilient Malay/Muslim community makes for a stronger and more resilient Singapore, as it navigates an increasingly uncertain and complex world.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted that the community has forged a distinctive and confident Singaporean Malay/Muslim identity, which has integrated deeply into the Republic's multiracial society.

Speaking in Malay during his National Day Rally speech on Sunday (Aug 21) at ITE College Central in Ang Mo Kio, he said: "The contributions of the Malay/Muslim community during the pandemic are testament to our society's progress and success, reflecting how integrated we all are in Singapore's multiracial, multi-religious society."

He noted the steady progress the community has made on socio-economic issues over the decades, and lauded the strong network of community organisations committed to the development of the Malay community.

Remote video URL

PM Lee described the self-help group Mendaki as a "prime example of how the community comes together to help one another", adding that a number of individuals who have done well are contributing back to the community.

He said Mendaki, which is marking its 40th anniversary in October, had since its inception helped the community focus on education as the key to socio-economic progress.

The group's efforts have paid off. Over the past decade, almost 500 people have received the Mendaki Excellence awards, which are given to those who attain degrees with first class honours, said PM Lee, adding that only a handful of the awards were given in Mendaki's first 10 years.

"The results of Mendaki's effort speak for themselves," he said. "Better academic performance has led to better jobs, with more Malay/Muslims in professional roles, higher incomes, and having better lives," he added.

PM Lee said the success and self-confidence of a community depends not only on its socio-economic progress, but also intangible cultural and spiritual factors.

"In this journey, the Malay/Muslim community has benefited from strong religious leadership," he said.

Practical guidance by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and asatizah (religious teachers) here have helped the community adapt its religious practices to Singapore's "constantly changing and complex circumstances".

He said these include adjusting Friday prayer arrangements and deferring the Haj pilgrimage for two years in a row because of Covid-19, which helped keep pilgrims safe.

PM Lee also pointed to the contributions of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), which has worked to rehabilitate radicalised individuals and guide the community on the correct interpretation and practice of Islam.

"They not only protected our Muslim community from extremist ideologies, but helped to maintain trust and confidence towards our multiracial, multi-religious society," he added.

PM Lee thanked asatizah who had served in the RRG - which will be marking its 20th anniversary next year - singling out co-chairmen Ustaz Hasbi Hassan and Ustaz Ali Mohamed for showing "strong leadership, courage, and commitment".

Ustaz Ali will be retiring as the RRG's co-chairman at the end of this month and will serve as the group's emeritus president, he said.

PM Lee noted that as a multiracial society, Singapore needs to deal with sensitive issues in a way that preserves society's racial and religious harmony.

He said the decision to allow Muslim nurses in public hospitals to wear the headscarf with their uniforms was years in the making.

It took a lot of quiet engagement, dialogue, preparation and understanding from all parties, and not just the Malay/Muslim community, added PM Lee.

The announcement was made in August last year.

Nurses at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

The Prime Minister said that from time to time, there will be other sensitive issues but they must be addressed in the same manner.

"This requires mutual understanding across all groups, and the willingness to give and take, and work together.

"Only then can every group have the space to maintain its religious and cultural practices, and get on harmoniously together," said PM Lee.

He pointed to Section 377A of the Penal Code - legislation inherited from the British penal system which criminalises sex between men - as one such sensitive issue.

He said that in handling the contentious issue, the Government will continue to uphold families as the basic building blocks of society.

"We will keep our policies on family and marriage unchanged, and maintain the prevailing norms and social values of our society," he added.

Noting that there are strong views on both sides, PM Lee said the issue must not be allowed to divide Singaporeans.

"Every group must accept that it cannot get everything it wants, because that is simply not possible.

"And we must maintain the mutual respect and trust that we have painstakingly built up over the years, and stay united as one people," he added.

READ NEXT - 8 highlights from NDR 2022: Masks optional in most indoor settings, Section 377A to be repealed

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