SINGAPORE - Even before he took up office, outgoing Mufti Fatris Bakaram, 49, said plans were already under way to groom his successor, and this has allowed for a smooth leadership transition.
Speaking to the media in an interview on Thursday (Jan 16), Dr Fatris, who has been Singapore's highest Islamic authority for nine years, said that succession planning for the mufti and the development of future Islamic leaders are part of a constant, ongoing renewal process at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).
Succession planning "is something that has started within Muis even before I was appointed as the Mufti", said Dr Fatris, who will step down from the role on March 1.
Thanks to such efforts, there was no delay in finding a successor, he added.
On Jan 9, Muis announced that Dr Fatris' deputy, Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, 43, will succeed him. Dr Nazirudin, who has a PhD in theology from the University of Oxford, was appointed deputy mufti last March after previously holding the post of Muis' senior director for religious policy and development.
Dr Fatris said the mufti before him, Shaikh Syed Isa Semait, had to delay his resignation due to the lackof potential candidates, even after he reached retirement age.
He added that this spurred Muis to not just plan for Dr Fatris' eventual appointment, but to also plan for his successor. Not long after he was sent to do his doctorate in Islamic studies at Birmingham University in Britain, Muis sent Dr Nazirudin and a few other officers for further studies overseas too, said Dr Fatris.
Dr Fatris, with an eye clearly on the renewal process, said he was moved to step down because he felt it was important to bring in new blood.
"I think it's only fair for the community for me to pass the baton and have trust that you have someone who can offer new ideas that can rejuvenate the position and the office that commands support from the religious fraternity in Singapore," he said.
On Thursday, Dr Fatris also touched on Muis' role in establishing a dynamic Muslim identity to address issues like education, climate change and social illnesses in Singapore.
Such ideas have been featured in campaigns and efforts by Muis, and as talking points in the sermons during the weekly Friday prayers that are delivered in mosques islandwide.
While he acknowledged that some Muslims here and in communities around the world might be uncomfortable about the new efforts, as they feel religion should only be concerned with lessons and instructions that pertain to life after death, Dr Fatris stressed they are necessaryto ensure that the Muslim community here is a progressive one.
He expressed his hopes that efforts in this will be continued by Dr Nazirudin.
"I think that should continue, and that is one of the wishes that I have for my successor - to continue to build on it, and to really enhance the discussion," he said.