Thursday, 12 April 2018

Muis shares 2018 calendar of ongoing initiatives and 50th anniversary celebration activities

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has shared initiatives for 2018 organised as part of its 50th anniversary celebrations and the third year of its 5th Muis 3-Year Plan (5M3YP).

Muis will allocate S$1 million to encourage low and middle income Muslim families to set up trusts for family members with special needs. Muis will also launch a Social Work Study Award to create greater community expertise in social work. Muis is partnering Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud (LBKM) to give out five Muis Social Work Study Awards each year over the next three years. Each award is worth up to S$10,000.

"We hope these awards will inspire them to carry on their good work and most importantly contribute back to the community and nation," said Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information in Singapore and Minister-in-Charge of Cyber Security as well as Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs of the award recipients at the Muis Work Plan Seminar on 7 April.

Enhanced mosque clusters (EMCs), set up to harness collective strengths and resources, and create economies of scale in 2008, will now be reorganised into four clusters (North, South, East and West) to enable optimal resource allocation and programme implementation.

"This revised cluster configuration will take into account all existing and planned mosques, and regroup them for a better balance and optimisation of their resources. For example, mosques in the new North, East, and West clusters will run programmes that cater to congregants from the heartlands, whereas mosques in the South cluster, which are mostly within the city area, will cater to the working population there. More details on the new EMC will be shared at the 2018 Mosque Convention, which will be held in September this year, as part of the Muis Community Fest," Dr Yaacob said.

The Muis Community Fest at Our Tampines Hub is open to all. To be held from 7 to 9 September there will be an Educators’ Forum, Youth Seminar, Mosque Family Fiesta and Mosque Convention 2018 at the event.

There will also be an International Religious Conference in November 2018, organised by Muis and the Forum for Promoting Peace in Muslim Societies. With the theme Religious Values in Plural Societies, the conference aims to discuss the universal values of compassion inherent in all religions, for the common good of all who live in plural and multicultural societies like Singapore.

For businesses, Muis will launch an enhanced e-Halal portal in Q318 to better streamline and facilitate applications for halal certification. The portal will build on an earlier collaboration between Muis and several public agencies, as part the Public Service Division’s Digital Accelerator programme, revealed Dr Yaacob.

He further said that the Muis50 Conversations, comprising 21 sessions involving over 600 Muis stakeholders and community partners on the future of the community, focused on three topics, a diverse religious life, a strong Islamic education, and the future role of our mosques. Feedback from the wider public was also solicited through an online Muis50 Conversations portal.

Minister Yaacob elaborated that many participants called for a Singapore Muslim community that is more inclusive and appreciative of diversity. "This is an important point, because we are part of an increasingly diverse Singapore society. We may have differences in beliefs, practices and perspectives about life, but we must share a common set of values and life experiences that binds us together as Singaporeans. Some have also suggested for more ground-up initiatives to community building, with more information sharing and safe spaces to develop ideas and solutions that help to address these differences," he said.

Strong feedback to strengthen Islamic education in Singapore was also received. "These are young people who can leverage on digital technologies to amplify their positive influence. These are also young people who seek answers to deepen their roots in the Islamic faith, and avoid being misled by extremist and divisive teachings," he added.

The conversation also included calls for a more community-centric mosque sector, through greater sharing of resources within the sector, and harnessing synergy in mosque services and programmes, Dr Yaacob continued. "Participants also felt that there was scope for mosques to strengthen community outreach efforts, including to the less fortunate, through stronger collaboration with the private and public sectors," he said.

"Muis will study these ideas carefully as it prepares a report on Muis50 Conversations to guide the next lap of Muis’ journey. This report will be shared with our community in the last quarter of 2018."

Three key directions for the community were then outlined. Living a confident and progressive religious life: values exemplified by the acronym RICAP, or religiously resilient, inclusive, contributive, adaptive, and progressive, permeate programmes and platforms, including Friday sermons or khutbahs (خطبة الجمعة), Dr Yaacob said.

Other initiatives, such the Distinguished Visitors Programme and the Certificate of Islam in Context programme aim to develop Islamic scholars and asatizah, or religious teachers, so that they can effectively address the wide range of contemporary and complex socioreligious issues, Dr Yaacob added.

Building a caring and inclusive community: Muis works with the community to reach out and do good, regardless of race or religion. Through the annual Sentuhan Ramadan, or Touch of Ramadan campaign, mosques and volunteers organise community service initiatives, such as distributing food to the needy, cleaning homes, and raising funds for the less fortunate.

"It is heartening to note that our youths, including those from other faiths, continue to show strong participation in the Sentuhan Ramadan campaign," Minister Yaacob observed.

He also noted that Singapore's mosques organise and celebrate events with non-Muslim friends throughout the year. "Recently, one of them received criticism for the way their volunteers celebrated Chinese New Year with senior citizens from nearby homes. They have taken these comments constructively and pledged to do better, in a more tactful way, in future," he said. "Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram also gave them encouragement, because caring for the underprivileged, regardless of race or religion, is a key value of Islam."

Chulia Mosque in Chinatown wishes all Chinese friends a happy lunar new year during the run-up to Chinese new year in 2018.
Chulia Mosque in Chinatown wishes all Chinese friends a happy lunar new year during the run-up to Chinese new year in 2018.

"Today, we are fortunate to be able to enjoy good relations with other communities in Singapore, but we must never forget that forging a strong and cohesive society will always be a work in progress. There will be challenges along the way. Sometimes mistakes are made. But we should not be disheartened, and certainly we should not stop trying. We must use these experiences as learning opportunities to do even better in our collective effort to make our Singapore a more caring and inclusive home that we can all be proud of," Dr Yaacob said.

In 2017, Muis introduced the Tabung Rahmah initiative to encourage children to help their less fortunate peers, regardless of race or religion. Tabung Rahmah has reached out to more than 7,000 children and raised S$150,000 in community donations, Minister Yaacob said. Proceeds from Tabung Rahmah contribute to the Straits Times Pocket Money Fund, which in turn provides pocket money to school-going children from low-income families.

Internationally, the Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation (RLAF) has raised and disbursed close to S$5.5 million in mosque-based and community donations, to help more than 20 countries since 2009. "In 2017 alone, close to 500 young people took part in 17 RLAF humanitarian and community service projects," Dr Yaacob said.

Those with special needs are not forgotten. Masjid Al-Islah conducted a forum on March 25 titled Digital Dunyaa to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities facing Muslims online. To help the hearing impaired, Masjid Al-Islah translated Digital Dunyaa into sign language and is working to upskill its staff and volunteers to better serve this segment, Dr Yaacob said.

As to providing for persons with special needs after their family members pass on, low and middle income families can set up trusts under the Special Needs Trust Company (SNTC). "The Fatwa Committee has decided that these trusts do not form part of the family estate, and are therefore not subject to faraidh, or Islamic inheritance law. However, less than 2% of trusts in SNTC have been set up by Muslim families," said Dr Yaacob. He also announced that Muis will set aside S$1 million to encourage more eligible Muslim families to set up trusts with the SNTC.

"Muis will finance this scheme through funds that were paid to Baitulmal from unclaimed estates. By supporting the startup capital for setting up trusts with SNTC, Muis expects about 100 families to benefit from this new initiative," he said.

Building dynamic and resilient institutions: digitally, Muis has revamped its website to make it more user-friendly and mobile-friendly, while Muis Befrienders now have a dedicated app which helps them in planning and managing home visits.

"Our asatizah have a dedicated online portal for registration and training under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS). To amplify its outreach, Muis has also been supporting the good work of the Asatizah Youth Network in disseminating counter-radicalisation content on social media," Dr Yaacob added.

Muis started off in 1968 with seven staff, tasked to administer zakat collection, as well as manage mosques and wakaf institutions. Today, Muis has expanded both its functions and staff strength to support the evolving socioreligious needs of our community. This includes developing the current and future generations of religious leaders, nurturing an informed and discerning community, strengthening the community’s resilience against harmful influences and adversity, and promoting social cohesion with other communities.

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