Lessons from religious studies in Kuwait should be contextualised to Singapore's diverse society: President Halimah

President Halimah Yacob chatting with students during the reception, accompanied by her husband Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee (in blue tie) and Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed (red tie), Singapore’s non-resident ambassador to Kuwait.
President Halimah Yacob chatting with students during the reception, accompanied by her husband Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee (in blue tie) and Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed (red tie), Singapore’s non-resident ambassador to Kuwait.ST PHOTO: FABIAN KOH

KUWAIT - The lessons learnt from religious studies in Kuwait should be adapted and applied to Singapore's context, said President Halimah Yacob on Sunday (Nov 3).

Speaking at a reception with the 17 Singapore students here, she pointed out that as future asatizah or Islamic religious teachers, they play a key role in promoting social cohesion in multiracial and multi-religious Singapore.

"All Singaporeans, including Muslims, are free to practise our religions and live harmoniously with others regardless of race and religion. Not every country enjoys this privilege. Your religious training will therefore have to be contextualised in the wonderfully diverse society we have back home," she said.

She added that they have to provide "spiritual and pastoral guidance" and shape the socio-religious life of the Muslim community in Singapore.

Since 1980, the Kuwait Ministry of Education has awarded scholarships for Singapore students to study at Al Mahad Al Dini High School in Kuwait City. Over 40 Singaporeans had graduated from the programme since its inception.

The programme takes students from their high school curriculum all the way through their undergraduate studies, said Mr Sukri Ahyar, 21, the president of the Singapore Students Society in Kuwait, who was at the reception on Sunday.

Madam Halimah described the Singapore student community as among the most tangible example of the "warm and longstanding friendship" between Singapore and Kuwait.

She added that she had reaffirmed the relationship when she met Kuwait Emir Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah earlier on Sunday.

Mr Sukri told The Straits Times: "This is a learning journey. It is not just about education, but about developing all aspects of life, including the emotional and psychological. I feel like I have a sense of responsibility and will return to Singapore with a greater purpose."

Mr Sukri, who is fluent in Arabic, was just 13 when he left his home in Bedok and travelled alone to Kuwait for religious studies with mixed feelings of uncertainty and excitement.

He is currently majoring in Islamic Law.

Mr Sukri, who was studying in Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah when he was selected for the programme, admitted to feeling homesick at times.

"For example, I miss the food in Singapore. Arabs don't really eat spicy food," he said.

Mr Sukri keeps in touch with friends and family back home on social media and messaging platforms like Whatsapp, and also returns to Singapore annually during the school break from June to September.

Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, Singapore's non-resident ambassador to Kuwait, said during Sunday's reception: "We certainly appreciate the sacrifices they have made in being away from their family, friends and country.

"These are the young leaders who will lead, inshallah (God willing), our Muslim community back in Singapore in the years to come."

Earlier in the day, President Halimah met separately with former Kuwait Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, and Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al Hamad Al Sabah.

“During these meetings, both sides affirmed our strong links and discussed ways to increase the momentum of our bilateral engagement. They also exchanged views on developments in the Middle East,” said Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

President Halimah visited the Sheikh Abdullah Al Salem Cultural Centre on Monday, a museum in Kuwait City, which celebrates the scientific and cultural achievements of Kuwaiti, Islamic and Arab history.

She has ended the Kuwait leg of her Middle East trip, and Saudi Arabia is the next stop.