Sunday, February 06, 2011

We have grown

I think that we, as Singaporeans, have gotten so used to hanging on to every word that our MM Lee Kuan Yew says that every time he does say something disagreeable, Singaporeans go into a fit - as if he is God who has just pronounced an infallible truth. The most recent example is  where he was quoted as saying that Malay Muslims are "distinct and separate". This had the Malay community up in arms with all manner of accusations, both by the Malays and opportunistic people, flying left and right that LKY is a racist. There has even been the observation that the government is complicit in his remarks for if it were anybody else, you can be sure that the ISD will be knocking on his door. Well, the ISD stayed home, so people observed.

What is my take on this whole affair? I have lived my life largely under Singapore's firstt PM - MM Lee Kuan Yew. I have lived through the years when Communism was still the greatest threat on earth, with US and the former USSR training their most lethal missiles at each other, and inventing and building new 'strategic' ones all the time for the same purpose. So the threat of being over-run by the China-supported CPM, or at least the perception, was very real for Singaporeans. But more than that, there has always been tension between the majority Malays rulers of (the former) Malaya and those who believed in multi-racialism in Singapore. I say political because on the ground, the Malays couldn't be nicer and agreeable people. But the years of experience naturally brings a certain concern, if not fear, about how society is developing. So I can understand where MM is coming from.

I had another chance to speak to this Malay acquaintance who taught religious classes in the Mosque. He let on that his children, who are all schooled in Madrasah's, didn't manage to do well enough to take the PSLE. Nevertheless, he had hopes that one day, they would be good enough to proceed to Al-Azhar University in Egypt to pursue the ultimate Islamic education in order to provide leadership to the Muslim community in Singapore.

Among the many reasons he may have in putting his children through this unconventional Islamic education route was that he felt that children needed a moral compass. If left to themselves, he feared that they would stray. This had been a particularly Malay youth problem though they do not have a monopoly on this concern.

I thought this was enlightening. In the highly competitive society that Singapore is today, religion can be an anchor to ensure that people do not go astray. Thus far the Christians, and increasingly the Buddhists, have youth programmes in religion to provide this moral compass. Enlightened Muslims are doing though largely confined in the Mosques and their religious schools. It would be best if they could bring this out of these institutions into the wider community, if only to let others know about their moral principles beyond just the ritual fasting and food abstinences, and more so about their view on life and society in order to remove perceptions of extremism and exclusivity that MM has spoken of. The ball really is on the Malay-Muslim community, not to prove anything, but to demonstrate their involvement and integration into the wider community within the context of Islam.

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