Islamic religious teachers here have helped greatly in getting the Muslim community to understand some tough decisions the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has had to make, outgoing Mufti Fatris Bakaram has said.
Noting that this was made possible by Muis' close engagement with the asatizah, or religious teachers, during his nine years as Singapore's highest Islamic authority, he stressed the importance of continuing with the practice.
In a media interview yesterday, Dr Fatris cited the barring of some foreign preachers and the approval of a milk bank to save premature babies, which some said runs counter to traditional Islamic beliefs, as Muis rulings that benefited from help from the asatizah.
Dr Fatris will step down as Mufti in March. Asked about his greatest achievement, he highlighted how he had enjoyed getting on the ground to engage closely with the asatizah. He said: "I think that, to a large extent, it has developed a more comfortable set-up between the community and me as the Mufti. And that has helped a lot in the dissemination for fatwas that we issued for them to be discussed by the community in the open."
Fatwas are religious rulings on a point of Islamic law. In Singapore, a committee managed by Muis and headed by the Mufti is in charge of them. Dr Fatris will continue to serve as a senior associate member of the committee after he steps down as Mufti .
Dr Fatris is also known for his efforts in setting high standards for the asatizah. He led the development of progressive religious policies and programmes for Islamic scholars and teachers, and further developed the Asatizah Recognition Scheme - a national accreditation programme for religious teachers that requires them to abide by an ethical code.
On the development and application of Islamic laws here, Dr Fatris said there is a need to move beyond what is said in traditional Islamic texts and focus on the intention behind these laws as, historically, many of these laws come from interpretations that could be different from current contexts.
He added that this approach of keeping up with the times and ensuring that religious rulings here are contextualised is especially needed in view of Singapore's multiracial society. "I think it is very important for such a small state like Singapore to be very conscious of that, and to be very aware of that. And that's why I think the special relationship that we have with our local asatizah, local scholars is of critical importance."