Thursday 29 August 2019

Islam and Life of Muslims in Non Muslim Countries: Singapore

Singapore is a multi-racial country where Muslims live in harmony with other religions of the land. Islam is the second largest religion after Buddhism. Majority of the Malays, the original inhabitants of the land are Sunni Muslims. While Muslims constitute 14-15% of the total population, 17 per cent of Muslims in Singapore are of South Asian origin. Other adherents include those from the Chinese, Arab and Eurasian communities.

Islam has been part of the countries that now constitute Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia as early as the 13th century. Singapore after independence from the British rule in 1963, but became an independent sovereign country two years later.
Masjid Sultan (Sultan Mosque) in Singapore was built in 1824 and declared a national monument in 1973. The building is very popular among visitors to Singapore and the local Malay community [Photo Wikimedia Commons / Terence Ong]

The constitution of Singapore ensures protection of rights of all religions and have two special provisions relating to the special position of the Malays and the Muslim religion. according to these provisions:
  • It shall be the responsibility of the Government constantly to care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore.
  • The Government shall exercise its functions in such manner as to recognize the special position of the Malays, who are the indigenous people of Singapore, and accordingly it shall be the responsibility of the Government to protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language.
In order to protect the rights of Muslims and safeguard, the Singapore government discourages missionaries from proselytizing the Malay population from Islam to other religions - to avoid racial and religious tensions within the Muslim population and because of the Malay Islamic identity, whereby Malay culture has close and strong identification with Islam.

In 1966 the Singaporean Parliament passed the Administration of the Muslim Law Act (AMLA). The Act came into effect in 1968 and defined the powers and jurisdiction of three key Muslim institutions:
  • the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore
  • the Syariah (Shariah) Court
  • the Registry of Muslim Marriages
I did not find anything negative about Islam nor any form of racism against Muslims at large in Singapore. The country enjoys cordial relations with neighbouring Islamic country Malaysia. The the community of Malays accepts Arabs, Indians, Pakistanis and Chinese as Malays if they choose to live their lives as Malays and find an attachment to their language, values and cultural practices. The majority of Malays also consider Islam a core element of their identity. In a survey, 93.3 per cent of Malays believed that it is important or somewhat important for them to be Muslims.

Recently, however there are trends of replacing Arabic words for the religious festivities and other aspects. For example, hijab to replace tudung (headscarf), Eidul Fitri rather than hari raya (a day of celebration after the fasting month of Ramadan), and syukran instead of terima kasih (thank you).  More women are also wearing the niqab. Such outfits, alien to Malays 50 years ago, are now a more common sight. But such conversions do not seem to be affecting the living of the Muslims for they continue to live as they have been living for centuries in this land.
Darul Ghufran [Photo / ST PHOTOS: JASON QUAH]

There are 75 mosques in Singapore. With the exception of Masjid Temenggong Daeng Ibrahim (which is administered by the State of Johor), all the mosques in Singapore are administered by MUIS (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura).  Recently, Darul Ghufran mosque opened up in Tampines which is the largest in Singapore, with a dedicated centre for religious outreach on its premises. Masjid Darul Ghufran, which opened in 1990, was given a $25 million reconstruction and after two years of reconstruction opened up this year, 2019. The mosque also houses two new annexes that are dedicated to office space and classrooms for Islamic education.

While Muslims adhere to the law of the land, specific to legal matters related to Muslims, the Syariah Court exist as a court of competent jurisdiction with power and jurisdiction to hear and determine disputes defined by Administration of the Muslim Law Act  (AMLA).

There have been some cases of expression of anti Muslim sentiments. But these have generally been as a fallout of the 9/11. There have been many incidents quoted in various papers dated between 2000-2012, details at reference [5], but I did not find any latest incidents of ISLAMOPHOBIA or anti Muslim sentiments that could be worth mentioning.

Author's Note: The data for this post has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |
Photo | For more Q&A about understanding Islam click here
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