PUBLISHED BY: AMP • VOLUME 15 ISSUE 1 • JANUARY 2020 • MCI (P) NO: 029/06/2019 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434
Invisible Diversity: Lived Experiences of Malay Rental Flat Occupants
CONTENTS JANUARY 2020
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK COVER STORY Invisible Diversity: Lived Experiences 27 of Malay Rental Flat Occupants by Nabilah Mohammad A Budget 2020 Wish List for Social Development by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim
The Fourth Industrial Revolution and 33 Artificial Intelligence by Hamidah Aidillah
A Pedagogical Approach to Race Talk and Racism by Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib
Discerning the Future of our Asatizah 39 by Muhammad Haziq Jani
Singaporean Malays’ Lifestyle Habits and Health Outcomes: A Gendered Perspective by Dr Humairah Zainal
Challenges of a Child Born Out of Wedlock by Saif-ur-Rahman
From Matrimony to Acrimony – What Happens to the Home upon Divorce? by Risdian Isbintara The Sting of Stigma by Jenny Teo Home in a Great Big World – Life as a Student Abroad by Abdul Hakeem Akbar Ali
SUPERVISING EDITOR Dr Md Badrun Nafis Saion EDITOR Zarina Yusof EDITORIAL TEAM Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Muhammad Faris Alfiq Mohd Afandi Nabilah Mohammad Nur Diyana Jalil Ruzaidah Md Rasid Winda Guntor
South Korea: Second Time’s A Charm by Nur Diyana Jalil
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Championing Special Needs Children with Nor Ashraf Samsudin by Ruzaidah Md Rasid
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Opposites Attract: Experiences of Muslim-Non-Muslim Couples Seeking Civil Union by Muhammad Faris Alfiq Mohd Afandi
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FROM THE EDITORâ€™S DESK
Every Singapore resident has a fundamental right to good housing, which ensures access to safe and secure living conditions. Singapore prides itself as a country with a high home ownership rate. The Department of Statistics revealed that 91 per cent of Singapore residents own their own homes in 2018. This is despite the high costs of property ownership coupled with a small and dense population. For some segments of our residents, rental flats are an affordable housing option. There are several reasons why one has to rent instead of own a flat in Singapore. For some, rental flats offer the option of a transitional shelter while they navigate through unforeseen financial instability due to multifaceted family problems or at times, structural barriers. Through interviews with rental flat dwellers, Nabilah Mohammad highlighted the lived experiences of four such residents and the social perceptions surrounding their housing situation in her article on Page 11. It reminds us that rental homes should not be looked upon negatively, rather, they are merely an alternative solution for their tenants to have a home. We hope you enjoy reading this issue.
DR MD BADRUN NAFIS SAION SUPERVISING EDITOR
A Budget 2020 Wish List For Social Development BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM
The difficulty in coming up with a budget wish list when one is in the social service sector is that it would almost certainly entail proposals that would add to government expenditure. It would be ingenious to achieve the goal of uplifting the quality of life of the disadvantaged and the vulnerable through saving. Making a wish list, however, will still have to be done with circumspection considering that current and emerging contexts are anything but reassuring. In 2019, for instance, the resident unemployment rate in September was 3.2% as released by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in its Labour Force Survey, the highest for a third quarter over the last decade. The situation is unlikely to improve drastically in 2020 with economists forecasting only a modest economic recovery for Singapore (The Business Times, dated December 17, 2019). Such trends do not augur well for the job market and may put upward pressure on social spending, adding to the larger problem of addressing an ageing population.
SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT BUDGET. ANALYSIS OF REVENUE AND EXPENDITURE: FINANCIAL YEAR 2019, 4. ACCESSED NOVEMBER 29, 2019: HTTPS://WWW.SINGAPOREBUDGET.GOV.SG/DOCS/DEFAULT-SOURCE/BUDGET_2019/DOWNLOAD/PDF/FY2019_ANALYSIS_OF_REVENUE_AND_EXPENDITURE.PDF. IBID, 20. SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT BUDGET. ANALYSIS OF REVENUE AND EXPENDITURE: FINANCIAL YEAR 2015, 19. ACCESSED NOVEMBER 27, 2019: HTTPS://WWW.SINGAPOREBUDGET.GOV.SG/DATA/BUDGET_2015/DOWNLOAD/FY2015_ANALYSIS_OF_REVENUE_AND_EXPENDITURE.PDF.
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Where social spending is concerned, in 2018, $36.4 billion or 46.1% of total government spending was spent on social development – which includes expenditures on education, health, youth and social and family development1. $37.7 billion was budgeted for 20192, taking it to more than twice of what it was a decade ago ($18.1 billion in 2009)3. A budget wish list that adds to social expenditure may not see the light of day unless there are longer term benefits that make it a worthwhile investment. This budget wish list will aim to do so. AN AGE OF DISRUPTION Karthik Krishnan, Global Chief Executive Officer of Britannica Group noted that new technologies go from invention to universal use almost overnight. One only need to consider how the app-driven ride hailing service took the transport market by storm and caused not only disruption to existing operators but also posed political and social issues. Leaders found themselves having to deal with the consequences of disruption caused by the very thing they have been advocating for: adoption of technology (or going digital).
With the advent of artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and robotics, as well as the pace of change that is unlikely to let up anytime soon, there are threats to job security for most sectors. However, there are also opportunities to be tapped on. Entrepreneurship is a viable way of capitalising on these emerging trends. It is thus time to revisit incentivising risktaking and nurturing entrepreneurship. During a 2017 dialogue held by the Economic Development Board (EDB) Society and The Straits Times, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that the whole idea of entrepreneurship is to dare take risks and that, if the risks are removed, then one is not an entrepreneur. He said this in response to a question on what more can be done to boost entrepreneurship among mid-career people wanting to strike out on their own but face family and financial commitments. He acknowledged, however, that Singaporeans had become so “settled” in life that they were cautious about taking risks.
are displaced by redundancy and structural unemployment. SAFETY NET FOR RISK-TAKING Given the risk-averseness that comes with such deeply-ingrained longing for certainty, incentives remain a powerful tool to cultivate risk-taking behaviours. Merely encouraging people to chase their dreams will not bring about the much-needed change in mindset. Hence, this article proposes that the Government bears part of the cost of risktaking, at least in the interim until riskaverseness gets dislodged from Singapore’s cultural DNA. This could come in the form of helping those who have tried and failed through temporary assistance packages to tide them over until they regain a measure of financial stability.
can directly reduce anxiety and depression. These are mental health issues often associated with poverty. In the United States, according to the National Institute of Health, living in a poor or low-income household has been linked to poor health and increased risk for mental health problems in both children and adults that can persist across the life span. For many low-income families, the most common form of recreation appears to be watching television as it is more affordable compared to an outing in an expensive city like Singapore, as Associate Professor Teo You Yenn’s book, This is What Inequality Looks Like, suggests (page 53).
Dr Chong Shang Chee, head and senior consultant at National University Hospital’s This scheme should be calibrated Child Development Unit, and special according to one’s family and financial adviser to Circle of Care – which gathers background so that a diverse lot of people the likes of educators, social workers would be encouraged to take risks – from and health professionals to support the young who are single and have fewer underprivileged children in partner liabilities, to mid-career professionals schools – said that, in 2018, many of the A survey on ASEAN youth by the World with family and financial commitments. children had excessive screen time by Economic Forum shows that the desire watching too much television and to be an entrepreneur is strongest in A safety net for risk-taking will help sleeping at “odd hours” before being Indonesia, with 34.1% working as an engender an entrepreneurial culture sent to the childcare centres in the entrepreneur today, and 35.6% wishing to and, in the longer run, a boon for early mornings. do so in the future. This may be because Singapore’s economy. Indonesia has a rich recent tradition of This article proposes subsidising at least building tech unicorns that is inspiring While there is the moral hazard problem – two visits to places of interest such as young people. In contrast, the desire to be recklessness in risk-taking since the Universal Studios, or a staycation at one an entrepreneur in the future is lowest in consequences will be borne by the of the holiday chalets or resorts in a year. Singapore, with only 16.9% of youths Government – the proposed safety net Such low-cost recreation allows them to expressing this aspiration. offers only temporary help and would not go beyond the confines of the playgrounds do much to undermine the incentives for in neighbourhood areas and the television Singaporeans have been conditioned to the beneficiary to work hard in achieving set at home to have a taste of Singapore’s take the conventional pathway. In his financial self-sufficiency. development and the opportunity of article for TODAY (dated August 22, 2019), interaction with people of different Nanyang Technological University SUBSIDISED RECREATION socioeconomic backgrounds. It would Associate Professor Zou Xi, even first-year FOR THE LOW-INCOME militate against the inadvertent students are certain about how their life The poor has two issues when it comes ghettoisation of the low-income. will pan out – get the education credentials, to recreation – firstly, many cannot afford secure a good job, accumulate Central it; and, secondly, going for certain types The quantum of the subsidy takes into Provident Fund savings, meet a potential of recreation such as a vacation when account the household’s per capita life partner, join the queue to buy a they are on assistance schemes, could income. While this may constitute Housing and Development Board flat, be interpreted as lack of prudence in another expense on the Government’s secure a housing loan, get married and managing one’s limited finances. budget, the long-term benefits should be move into the flat. taken into consideration. Recreation may Recreation, however, offers a number of promote physical and mental health, However, in the age of disruption, such benefits. Apart from improving physical and better self-esteem which will mitigate certainty is a privilege only few may health, it also helps to maintain mental the inclination to turn towards other get to enjoy. Career-wise, most are likely wellness. Participating in recreational perceived means of relieving oneself of to have a chequered one as they get activities helps manage stress, and nurtures stress, anxiety or poor self-esteem which subjected to short-term contracts or a sense of balance and self-esteem, which may often be less healthy, such as smoking
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While there is the moral hazard problem – recklessness in risk-taking since the consequences will be borne by the Government – the proposed safety net offers only temporary help and would not do much to undermine the incentives for the beneficiary to work hard in achieving financial self-sufficiency. or alcoholism. It may turn them into more There was no mention of the number of productive workers and students who food delivery riders in the 2017 MOM dare to aspire. report but a Ministry of Transport’s media release following the ban on personal HELPING OWN ACCOUNT WORKERS mobility devices (PMDs) from footpaths TO UPGRADE SKILLS suggested that PMD food delivery riders According to MOM, 190,900 residents alone constitute 7,000 persons and they were involved in own account work4 or are not even the majority. This figure will self-employment as their primary form of however include primary and secondary own account workers, as well as casual employment for the one-year period ones. The majority of food delivery riders ending June 2017 (henceforth referred to as “2017”), up from 166,800 in 2016. They will include motorcycle and bicycle users. made up 85% of the total number of own account workers, which stood at 223,5005, Their longer-term employability is a key concern. A 2018 Tripartite Workgroup and accounted for 8.4% of all employed (TWG) study on Self-Employed Persons residents. The overall increase of 23,400 (SEPs) found that some SEPs were concerned between 2016 and 2017 is contributed entirely by primary own account workers. that certain own account work, such as private hire car driving did not build up their employability over time. Younger For 43,000 of the 190,900 primary own individuals with tertiary education may account workers, it is not their preferred form of employment. According to MOM’s be attracted by the possibility of better pay in such SEP work in the immediate Own Account Workers 2017 report, they term, but find that their skills would be are likely those who are unable to find less relevant when they try to find a job work as an employee. later within their field of speciality. The top occupations among primary own For own account workers who find that account workers in 2017 are taxi drivers (38,900) and working proprietors (19,100) there is insufficient support for training of businesses in wholesale and retail trade, and that they could not claim for loss of such as provision shops and blog shops; or income during the period of training, TWG’s advice is that they have access to service providers like renovating and course fee funding for courses offered by printing services. the Continuing Education and Training There were 12,100 private hire car drivers in Centres appointed by SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) and certifiable courses by 2017 who comprise those of a wider age SSG. Eligible trainees can also apply for range than taxi drivers, more than half of whom are likely aged 50 and over. Insurance training allowance under the Workfare sales agents or brokers and those in media- Training Support (WTS) scheme. related occupations tended to be younger, with more than half likely below 40. 4 5
OWN ACCOUNT WORKERS ARE SELF-EMPLOYED PERSONS WHO ARE ENGAGED IN A TRADE OR BUSINESS WITHOUT EMPLOYING ANY PAID WORKERS. THIS FIGURE INCLUDES THOSE TO WHOM OWN ACCOUNT WORK IS NOT THEIR PRIMARY JOB (THEY ARE KNOWN AS SECONDARY OWN ACCOUNT WORKERS).
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The Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), in an ongoing study on the employability of food delivery riders, found during in-depth interviews with them that such course fee funding and training allowances are not sufficient motivation for them to take time away from earning an income to attend a course to acquire a skill or upgrade it. Many are also wary of making such sacrifices as there is no assurance that they will land a job after that. When asked if they would consider attending a skills course if the opportunity cost of earning an income is addressed, most agreed they would. This article thus proposes that in order to entice own account workers, whose employability are at risk, to go for skills acquisition or upgrading, they are compensated for the loss of income, pro-rated according to the hours spent attending a course and foregoing the amount they would have otherwise earned on average. At-risk own account workers are likely those lower down the skills hierarchy – for example, a food delivery rider as opposed to one in a media-related business. Thus, the compensation amount is unlikely to be too large. A SOCIAL INVESTMENT The above proposals are made with due consideration given to the difficulty in increasing expenditure on social development, and the many challenges that Singapore is facing – from an ageing population to social inclusion, with the attendant problems of inequality and identity, to the larger geopolitical economic landscape. The proposal could be seen as an investment – an initial expense for each group for the longer-term returns of a more productive and resilient lot.
Abdul Shariff Aboo Kas sim is a Researcher/ Projects Coordinator with the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), the research sub sidiary of AMP.
Fourth Industrial Revolution & Artificial Intelligence BY HAMIDAH AIDILLAH JANUARY 2020
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The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production – mainly supporting the agricultural economy. The Second utilised electric power to create mass production in which factories flourished. The Third focused on electronic and Information Technology (IT) to automate production. Now a Fourth Industrial Revolution is building on the Third – namely the digital revolution that has been occurring since the middle of the last century. It is mainly characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.
Facebook and other sites use AI. Alibaba harnesses deep learning to find a handbag matching the one in the photo you uploaded to its shopping site. Digital assistants like Siri, Alexa, and Google Assistant use AI to provide information or execute tasks on a commercial level. Wearables like fitness trackers have already invaded our lives. Used mostly by fitness enthusiasts like runners, cyclists or maybe even sleep deprived executives looking to better regulate their sleep patterns.
initiatives advance Singapore’s vision to be a leading Digital Economy and Smart Nation through balancing business innovation and consumer trust and confidence in adopting AI. The Model Framework maps out the key ethical principles and practices that apply to common AI deployment processes across these four areas:
1. Internal governance structures and measures: Adapting existing or setting up internal governance structure and measures to incorporate Financial institutions for example, use AI values, risks, and responsibilities for fraud detection. The systems compare relating to algorithmic decision-making. The possibilities of billions of people normal banking behaviour across billions 2. Determining AI Decision-making connected by mobile devices, with of transactions with outlier activities and model: A methodology to aid unprecedented processing power, storage will alert the bank involved should there organisations in setting its risk appetite capacity, and access to knowledge, are be fraudulent use of cards. From a for the use of AI – determining unlimited. And these possibilities will be marketing perspective too, AI can be acceptable risks and identifying further multiplied by emerging technolapplied into computing systems to better appropriate decision-making models ogy breakthroughs in fields such as understand the needs of customers and for for implementing AI. artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, the businesses to better fine-tune their 3. Operations Management: Issues to be Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous business strategy and marketing approach considered when developing, selecting vehicles, 3D printing, nanotechnology, in this new era. and maintaining AI models, including biotechnology, materials science, energy data management. storage, and quantum computing. SINGAPORE’S APPROACH TO AI 4. Customer Relationship Management: In 2019, Singapore announced that its Strategies for communicating to TOUCHING OUR EVERYDAY LIVES work in artificial intelligence governance consumers and customers, and the AI is an example of an emerging technoland ethics has won a top award at the management of relationships with them. ogy which is synonymous with the Fourth prestigious World Summit on the Industrial Revolution. It has evolved from Information Society (WSIS) Prizes in Minister for Communications and the obscure to the mainstream. It has Geneva during the World Economic Information Mr S Iswaran said, “Singapore’s touched our everyday lives even without Forum. win of the WSIS Award is affirmation of us knowing it. AI is not just restricted to our approach that AI practices must be the building of autonomous or self-driven Singapore’s AI Governance and Ethics transparent, explainable, and fair. These cars or Augmented Reality, but has been initiatives aim to build an ecosystem of are important principles that will guide rather synonymous to our everyday lives. trust to support AI adoption. These businesses in implementing AI solutions include: (i) Asia’s first Model AI Governthat are human-centric, while spurring Consumers are touched by AI every day. ance Framework released in January 2019; innovation in a digital economy.” (ii) an international and industry-led Did you know that when you hold your Advisory Council on the Ethical Use of AI At the organisational level, it would be smartphone, AI tech is already embedded and Data formed in June 2018; and (iii) a important to build trust and confidence in it? Ordering a cab, booking a flight, Research Programme on the Governance with regard to AI use and at workplaces, buying a product, making a payment, of AI and Data Use established in partner- important for employees to understand listening to music, watching a film, or ship with the Singapore Management the implications of AI, and to better playing a game – any of these can now be University in September 2018. These understand its applications and benefits in done in the comfort and ease of wherever their work process. we are. At the Community level, it is then When Google Photos groups images of important to demystify AI – what it could people using facial recognition, it deploys do, how it applies to everyday life, debunk the deep learning techniques of AI. myths and highlight its beneficial uses Chatbots that converse with you in Yahoo, upon society and also what are the data and privacy implications and concerns highlighted by members of the public.
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Singapore thus strikes a balance in the realm of data regulations to ensure that personal data is protected yet business innovation is promoted so that the rights of organisations to collect and use data for product innovation, service improvements, and boosting and understanding customer needs and wants are protected. This would send a clear signal to companies where the OB (out of bounds) markers are and allow them a more flexible space to innovate using data within the specified boundaries – all the while, safeguarding personal data. THE IMPACT AND FUTURE EFFECTS ON SOCIETY On the whole, there are a few main effects that the Fourth Industrial Revolution and AI have on business – on customer expectations, product enhancement, collaborative innovation, and even on organisational forms. AI helps to improve how customers are served, transform how businesses are traditionally run and enhances the entire business ecosystem.
able to act faster in scenarios where, in the past, they would have had to spend a lot of time with basic number-crunching and data entry. On the other hand, autonomous AIs are playing an even larger role by taking on the implementation part of that scenario.
Hamidah Aidillah is Founder of Parr ot Social, a data analytics firm whic h uses artificial intelligence to help businesses and institutions have a deeper understanding about online patte rns, and predict emerging trends of the futur e.
This type of AI, left to its own devices, not only collects, interprets and reports on data, but it also adjusts its operations based on its conclusions. Humans set up initial parameters and need only step in when there is a significant shift in business operations. CONCLUSION All in all, AI is no longer exotic and rare.
It has become increasingly part of our personal and professional lives. And it has begun to reshape markets. According to the World Economic Forum, artificial intelligence is ushering in the Fourth Industrial Revolution – the first major workplace transformation to focus on Physical products and services, can now be streamlining intellectual labour in enhanced with digital capabilities that addition to manual labour. The Fourth increase their value. New technologies Industrial Revolution is disrupting almost make assets more durable and resilient, every industry in every country and while data and analytics are transforming creating massive change in a non-linear how they are maintained. A world of way at unprecedented speed. customer experiences, data-based services, and asset performance through analytics, But the real revolution will not occur with the introduction of these technologies meanwhile, requires new forms of collaboration, particularly given the speed into the workplace; it will happen when workers understand that AI systems are at which innovation and disruption are taking place. And the emergence of global less like tools than they are like potential platforms and other new business models, collaborators, and that all parties can derive benefits and expand their opportunifinally, means that talent, culture, and ties for growth. AI should not be seen as organisational forms will have to be a replacement to current work processes rethought. but rather a complementary tool to Now, the focus is less on how humans augment the current pre-existing work complete mundane tasks faster and more realities today. on completely freeing humans from The applications of AI are indeed tremenperforming manual or process-oriented tasks. Artificial intelligence’s part in this dous, but it is also up to us as individuals, employees, and responsible members of will be to free workers from large-scale intellectual tasks defined by gathering, the society to welcome and shape its analysing and acting on massive amounts applications accordingly. of data. This will raise the barrier to intellectual entry in the workforce but also elevate workers to operate at a higher, more strategic level. Different AIs are contributing to this revolution in different ways. AIs that specialise in crunching data and offering insights are making workers smarter and
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We have much to be proud of in how our forefathers dealt with race relations. There is little doubt that the country successfully navigated through the tumultuous post-independence period marred by deep tensions, distrust and riots. Much of the violence was kept at bay through public order, legislation and community leadership. For the last 54 years, the Singapore government has taken firm measures to promote racial harmony and social integration through a slew of policies and public campaigns. These measures account for much of the improvement in communal relations. However, there is much that still needs to be done. The problems evolve, and so must our engagement with it. Until fairly recently, the issue of racism was largely absent in public discourse. But racism is at the heart of Singapore’s unfinished business in its struggle for a genuinely multicultural society. Occasional public controversies like the ‘brownface saga’ show that the struggle against racism is far from over. In response to the saga, Mr K. Shanmugam, Minister for Law and Minister for Home Affairs, said that racism in a multi-racial society like Singapore is a “basic fact but the situation now is much better than before”. He added that it is a key concern for the government (Channel NewsAsia, August 5, 2019).
A Pedagogical Approach to Race Talk and Racism BY MOHAMED IMRAN MOHAMED TAIB 08 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
The public acknowledgement of racism is very much welcomed and a good sign. Now we should look to clarify what constitutes racism, how to recognise it, and what to do about it. The lack of clarity is a result of decades of avoidance on the issue. In the past, there seemed to be a perception among policymakers that allowing discussions on racism would overexpose the issue in Singapore, which in turn could potentially embarrass a nation that prides itself as a sterling model for multiculturalism. Or worse, lead to more racial tensions. In my own public conversations on race, I encountered many who would grudgingly accept that racism does exist, but would proceed to downplay it summarily by pointing to the absence of racial conflicts and strife here compared to other countries. This mindset results in a state of ambivalence when it comes to addressing the problem of racism. To push the ambivalent to act is a struggle onto itself, making
it much harder to counter racism and its debilitating effects. Nonetheless, the willingness to engage in race talk is an important way forward. State-sponsored initiatives like the Explorations-inEthnicity (EIE) programme run by OnePeople.Sg are valuable spaces where race talk can occur in deeply personal ways. EIE accords a safe space for participants to share different views and life experiences pertaining to race without the fear of invalidation. Personalising and humanising the experience of racism is crucial. It cannot be dealt with in the abstract.
in social, economic and political discourses. Given that racialisation is a reality, there is a need to (re)examine how this impacts the lived experiences of groups and individuals at the micro and macro levels. “If we want to understand how racism affects us,” writes sociologist Alana Lentin, “we have to see it play out through processes of interaction, the institutionalisation of a variety of practices and the use of symbols and discourses…” 3
Second, racialisation can be a window to examine and tackle social inequality. As Marable notes, race is a notion that reveals However, racism properly understood the “unequal relationship between social cannot simply be reduced to the individual. groups based on the privileged access to Racism at its roots is a function of politics1. power and resources by one group over One can easily glean this through a another.”4 This is where racialisation is complicit in racism by finding justifications cursory reading on the history and and remedies, of what is essentially a emergence of the idea of ‘race’ and, in our context, how it was utilised by the British problem of class, to the traits and characters of the ever-shifting concept of ‘race’ that to perpetuate its rule2 – a system that one is boxed into. Looking at the intersecSingapore’s leaders inherited and tried to tion of race and class, and extricating race remedy through multi-racialism and from the basic issues of access to resources, meritocracy with varying degrees of power and opportunity is an important success. Therefore, it is important to develop clarity in understanding the issue. step towards the removal of racism. Take the example of poverty, which is often blamed on the Malays’ lack of drive to A PEDAGOGICAL APPROACH succeed. This is known as the “cultural Since racism is a complex and deficit theory”. Steinberg was right when multi-layered phenomenon, a certain he pointed out that explaining poverty anti-racist pedagogy is needed. This through cultural responses of the poor is a pedagogy involves the (re)framing of issues on race in order to come to the core form of “intellectual perversity”5. Groups do not generally “get ahead or lag behind aspects of racism within the Singaporean on the basis of their cultural values. Rather, context. Here, I identify three of these they are born into a given station in life core aspects. and adopt values that are consonant with their circumstances and their life chances.” Although it is widely acknowledged that the concept of ‘race’ is a socio-political This was also Lily Zubaidah’s critique. The construct, it is important to note that it is “cultural deficit theory” underpins much of also a lived reality. Hence, first and the racial discourse on the Malays in foremost, tackling racism involves Singapore6. While ethnicity involves ways accepting the race realities that engender our social existence. These race realities, in of thinking, feeling and acting that Singapore’s context, stem from a racialised constitute the basis of culture, culture itself is neither fixed nor unchanging. environment shaped by institutionalised practices. Examples include the existence More importantly, culture does not exist of race-based self-help groups, official data in a vacuum; there are variables – sociological, political or economic – that interact organised along racial categories, and constant emphasis on race as a determinant with, and condition, cultural manifesta1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
tions, expressions and responses. “The mandate for social inquiry, therefore,” wrote Steinberg, “is that ethnic patterns should not be taken at face value, but must be related to the larger social matrix in which they are embedded”7. In other words, racialisation can hide systemic issues that have little to do with the idea of race itself. Hence, we must go past the racialised lens to understand the real issues at play. Third, there is a need to examine the impact of racialised thought on the receivers themselves. In its most basic form, racism consists of (1) essentialism – the idea that race defines one’s traits and characteristics in deterministic ways, otherwise known as stereotype; and (2) hierarchy – that there is a natural superiority of one race over another that accounts for the different social positions and standings. On one hand, a person who imbibes a racist mentality will act in debilitating ways – such as engaging in discrimination or exclusion – towards the other who is regarded as an ‘inferior’ or a depository of negative biological and cultural traits. On the other hand, the one receiving the brunt of racism will either internalise the racism and/or themselves engage in racism towards others. Internalised racism can be seen by the tendency of certain successful individuals who dissociate themselves from the community, engage in self-loathing, or perpetuate the same negative stereotypes onto their own community. Emptied of their own cultural roots which they refuse to identify with, yet face barriers in being admitted fully to the world of the privileged racial group, a deep-seated inferiority complex develops, expressing itself in alienation, self-hatred and contempt for their own race. Rice Media’s article, ‘What Growing Up Privileged Taught Me About Being Malay’ is an example of this dynamic at work8. I had previously drawn parallels to Fanon’s concept of “neuroticism” to account for such internalised racism within Malay society9. Noorainn’s study is also useful to trace the presence of
SCHAUB, J.-S. 2019. RACE IS ABOUT POLITICS. PRINCETON AND OXFORD: PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS. ABRAHAM, C. 2004. THE NAKED SOCIAL ORDER: THE ROOTS OF SOCIAL POLARISATION IN MALAYSIA. SELANGOR DARUL EHSAN: PELANDUK PUBLICATIONS. LENTIN, A. 2008. RACISM: A BEGINNER’S GUIDE. OXFORD: ONEWORLD; P. 44. MARABLE, M. 2002. THE GREAT WELLS OF DEMOCRACY: THE MEANING OF RACE IN AMERICAN LIFE. NEW YORK: BASIC CIVITAS; P. 22. STEINBERG, S. 1989. THE ETHNIC MYTH: RACE, ETHNICITY, AND CLASS IN AMERICA. BOSTON: BEACON PRESS; P. 127. LILY ZUBAIDAH RAHIM, 1998. THE SINGAPORE DILEMMA: THE POLITICAL AND EDUCATIONAL MARGINALITY OF THE MALAY COMMUNITY. KUALA LUMPUR: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. STEINBERG, S. 1989. THE ETHNIC MYTH: RACE, ETHNICITY, AND CLASS IN AMERICA. BOSTON: BEACON PRESS; P. XIII. TAUFIQ ROZAINI, “WHAT GROWING UP PRIVILEGED TAUGHT ME ABOUT BEING MALAY”, RICE MEDIA, 15 DECEMBER, 2019. SEE ALSO THE RESPONSE BY FARIS JORAIMI, “SINGAPORE’S MALAY PRIVILEGED: AFFLUENCE, ALIENATION AND ANXIETIES”, NEW NARATIF, 21 DECEMBER, 2019. MOHAMED IMRAN MOHAMED TAIB, 2019. “THE PATHOLOGY OF RACE AND RACISM IN POSTCOLONIAL MALAY SOCIETY: A REFLECTION ON FRANTZ FANON’S BLACK SKIN, WHITE MASKS” IN BYRD, D. & MIRI, S.J., EDS., FRANTZ FANON AND EMANCIPATORY SOCIAL SCIENCES: A VIEW FROM THE WRETCHED. LEIDEN: BRILL; PP. 272-285.
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internalised racism among the Malays as an extension of racism in general in Singapore10. One understudied aspect is the role played by the cultural elites and leaders within the community. I have, on several occasions, heard contemptuous remarks heaped by prominent members of the Malay community, using the same categories of “lazy”, “unindustrious” and “lacking in entrepreneurial spirit” to account for Malay underdevelopment. Yet, their social status was legitimised by their almost saviour-like claims to be community leaders who ‘represent’ the Malays; and their wealth, to a large extent, sat on the benefits they gained from treating the Malays as their primary clientele in a sub-economy revolving around the community. Frazier analysed this tragedy, albeit in the American context, as the syndrome of the “Black bourgeoisie”11. If a characteristic of racism is the hierarchy accorded to races based on their perceived essential merits or demerits, then one can expect a person who is at the receiving end of racism, to equally engage in racist thought and behaviour towards those he deems inferior to him. Racism, therefore, involves a dialectic between the inferior-superior turned superior-inferior. It is not uncommon to find Malays who accuse others of being racist towards them, to be engaging in an equally racist behaviour towards, for example, dark-skinned South Asians. An anti-racist pedagogy, therefore, must highlight such contradictions. Until one rejects the notion of hierarchy of races and accepts the default position of equality of races, racism will persist and rear its ugly head in different forms in different places. CONCLUSION If we are serious about combating racism, we need to start by asking what impedes the development of an anti-racist pedagogy from developing. Hence, although frank and honest discussions on racism are opening up and a way forward, it cannot be reduced to individual sentiments, attitudes and prejudices. Human beings are not born discriminating others or see themselves as naturally
superior to another. They are socialised into such habits of thought and practices. Hence, understanding the wider social structure is important. This includes socialisation within the family, workplace and community in general. It also includes policies in place and the way we organise society, which at its most basic level, involves social agents that themselves are subjected to the framing of race and racial ideas prevalent in society. In this aspect, a question was raised by a friend of mine in a discussion on race recently: Is Singapore then a racial utopia or a simmering pot of racism? The truth is probably somewhere in between. Cliché as it might be, the task of forging social cohesion among the different ethnic groups is and will always be a work-inprogress. This is a good in itself; it allows space for critical examination and reform. Ultimately, ethnic differences are a cause for acceptance and celebration, but not to a point where these differences become a way to explain social inequality and to imprison one within a stereotype that masks one’s prejudices. That is essentially the problem that Singapore, despite its laudable success in stemming racial conflicts, is facing.
deeper resentment that can, as we are constantly reminded, end up ugly. It has happened in our history. It should not be allowed to happen again. As the Malay wisdom goes, “menarik benang dalam tepung, benang jangan putus, tepung jangan berselerak” (pulling the yarn from the flour, the yarn remains intact, the flour is not scattered).”
s on Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib work in interfaith and intercultural issues published Singapore. His writings have been Straits The Y, TODA Asia, News nel in Chan Times, Berita Harian and South China Kritik, Morning Post. He is co-editor of Budi society a compilation of essays on Malay 2019. published in 2018 and reissued in
But it is not insurmountable if we are prepared to deal with the realities of prejudices, privilege and power at work. Doing so might, as Wing Sue notes, evoke strong feelings of discomfort, anger and anxiety, among others12. Occasionally we observe such expressions online and in face-to-face race talks. But that might well be a moment for healing. Recognising the pain and harm that racism brings to both sides is the first step. The second is to embrace each other and allow the process of healing to take place. This healing process must include restorative aspects that address tension points such as racial prejudices, discrimination and microagressions. Racism, even if systemic, needs to be addressed from the human dimension – and to do so in conciliatory ways rather than the adversarial. The former invites solidarity across the divides while the latter will only generate further pain and
NOORAINN AZIZ, 2009. MALAY STEREOTYPES: ACCEPTANCE AND REJECTION IN THE MALAY COMMUNITY. MA THESIS, SUBMITTED TO DEPARTMENT OF MALAY STUDIES, NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE. 11 FRAZIER, E.F. 1957. BLACK BOURGEOISIE. NEW YORK: THE FREE PRESS. 8 SUE, D.W. 2015. RACE TALK AND THE CONSPIRACY OF SILENCE: UNDERSTANDING AND FACILITATING DIFFICULT CONVERSATIONS ON RACE. NEW JERSEY: WILEY; PP. 11-13.
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Invisible Diversity: Lived Experiences of Malay Rental Flat Occupants BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD
Most Singaporeans desire a home to call their own, however, there are inevitably marginal segments of society who encounter obstacles to having access to home ownership and, require assistance with this. For them, the government has provided schemes that offer affordable rental housing options, with rental rates that start from as low as $26 a month. The rates are heavily subsidised and tiered according to household income so that they remain accessible to the lower-income households. In 2016, The Straits Times reported that the proportion of Malay families living in one- and two-room rented flats had doubled in the last decade1. In the same article, Mr Zainal Sapari, Member of Parliament (MP) for Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC shared that he had seen more Malay constituents appealing for rental flats and they included elderly couples, divorced families, and those who couldnâ€™t afford a flat yet. A big proportion of Malay rental home dwellers also include those with younger children2.
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The Karyawan team set out to understand the lived experiences of those in rental flats and met four interviewees of diverse profiles who shared their stories. STARTING A FAMILY IN A RENTAL UNIT Arif (not his real name), 30, is currently staying in a two-room rental flat in Yishun’s new Build-to-Order (BTO) area with his wife and their two daughters – aged 7 and a newborn.
When Arif got married a few months after his release, he wanted to have his own place to start a family. However, they could not afford to buy a house so they settled for a more feasible option – a rental flat. The Karyawan team asked Arif about his experiences in raising a family whilst staying in a rental flat.
“Honestly when we moved in three years ago, I thought it was awesome. You have your own space and rental is cheap. However, after two years, I found it psychologically damaging. It is easy to miss the newer rental blocks Furthermore, it is not a good environment for my kids to grow up in, especially at this like Arif’s as they blend in with the vulnerable age where they get influenced purchased flats in the area but a closer easily. People here are often very rowdy and look will reveal the old-fashioned metal police presence is a constant,” Arif said. louvre windows, corridors with metal railing, and units located in close Arif shared that he had to compromise on proximity to one another – features quality living experience in order to have typical of rental flats in Singapore. It an affordable roof over their head. is also common to see the tenant’s belongings placed outside their units, and the living room, or sometimes even “I try to make my house comfortable, but the interior of the house keeps reminding you the kitchen, converted into a sleeping that it’s a rental unit. They don’t even cover space due to the limited living capacity. Since 2008, there have been initiatives to the piping. The lighting is just a screwed on create opportunities to encourage social bulb. Even the void deck is nicer. We didn’t bother making the place nicer because tenants mixing in public housing estates. The concern stems from the recognition that are expected to return the unit in its original condition. Waking up to this every day the two housing regimes – public inspires me to have a better life,” Arif shared. renting and ownership – presented vastly unequal experiences. Rental flats have since been built alongside sold flats According to the Ministry of National Development (MND), public rental flats in various HDB towns so that families are not intended to be a permanent shelter of differing economic capacities grow or a substitute to homeownership, but a up in the same neighbourhood and transitional shelter and a safety net for share access to common public spaces those who need help until a permanent and facilities. Recent plans include solution is found4. As such, these rental integrating rental and sold units within 3 flats are designed mainly to fulfil their the same HDB block . functional purpose of housing the tenants Arif, who dropped out of polytechnic due with little consideration for aesthetics. to his family’s financial struggles, shared Ask a young father like Arif if he aspires that he went to prison a few years back to have a home he can call his own, and for being absent without official leave the answer is invariably 'yes'. However, he (AWOL) from National Service. shared that life is getting harder for him since he lost his job earlier this year. Arif “I AWOL-ed from National Service because I wanted to work and earn extra money. I was and his wife are currently earning a living working odd jobs that didn’t pay CPF to avoid as food delivery riders. He shared that getting ‘traced’. That’s one of the reasons why these gigs are cushioning the blow of his I don’t have enough in my CPF to afford a flat,” job loss. Arif explained.
“I’ve been looking for a customer service job for a good six months but to no avail. All of them require a diploma. People always say there are avenues of help, but I don’t think the assistance are ‘spot on’. My wife took up SkillsFuture courses, but they didn’t make a difference to her employability,” Arif said. While the tenet of Singapore’s public housing rests on home ownership for the people, Arif shared that so far, none of his neighbours have plans to move out of their rental flat. Arif attributed such a mindset to family upbringing. “Majority of the people I talked to think that this rental scheme is a way to exploit the government’s assistance. To them, staying here is considered “untung” (beneficial), so they don’t want to get out. They questioned why they would buy a house when they’re only paying $44 per month. Bills are also low, and assistance is easy to get. The older generation, at least from my experience talking to my parents, think that staying here is a good deal. That is probably where the youngsters could have gotten the mindset from,” Arif added. Arif hopes that the government can provide assistance to improve the social mobility and financial literacy among those living in rental flats because according to him, majority of them are not utilising their time there to better themselves. SANDWICHED GENERATION TRAP We also spoke to Zila (not her real name), a single mother who is currently staying in an older rental block. As the building of new rental flats stopped completely between 1982 and 2006, most of the rental housing stock is old. For the past 13 years, Zila’s home has been a two-room rental flat in Teck Whye Lane. The 38-year-old is now her family’s sole breadwinner, caught between supporting her ageing parents and raising her two young children aged two and four.
“MORE MALAY FAMILIES LIVING IN RENTAL FLATS,” THE STRAITS TIMES, MAY 11, 2016, HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/MORE-MALAY-FAMILIES-LIVING-IN-RENTAL-FLATS. MORGEN JOHANSEN, “SOCIAL EQUITY IN THE ASIA-PACIFIC REGION: CONCEPTUALIZATIONS AND REALITIES”, ACCESSED DECEMBER 23, 2019, HTTPS://BOOKS.GOOGLE.COM.SG/BOOKS?ID=QI6ADWAAQBAJ&PG=PA227&LPG=PA227&DQ=RENTAL+FLAT+DWELLERS&SOURCE=BL&OTS=3LFUGLH9HR&SIG=ACFU3U0KKY9QDADC-Y_7IBZSADEZPBQNTA&HL=EN&SA= X&VED=2AHUKEWI6-CNB0SVMAHWPE30KHEARBSI4CHDOATAAEGQIBHAB#V=ONEPAGE&Q=RENTAL%20FLAT%20DWELLERS&F=FALSE. “MIXED RESULTS IN HDB BLOCK THAT MIXES RENTAL AND PURCHASED FLATS,” THE STRAITS TIMES, JUNE 6, 2019, HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/HOUSING/VIEWS-MIXED-IN-BLOCK-WITH-PURCHASED-RENTAL-FLATS “COS 2015 - SPEECH BY MOS MALIKI OSMAN, ‘HELPING PUBLIC RENTAL TENANTS OWN THEIR HOMES’” MINISTRY OF NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT, MAR 11, 2015, HTTPS://WWW.MND.GOV.SG/NEWSROOM/SPEECHES/VIEW/COS-2015---SPEECH-BY-MOS-MALIKI-OSMAN-HELPING-PUBLIC-RENTAL-TENANTS-OWN-THEIR-HOMES.
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“Initially when we got the rental flat, we planned to stay temporarily. After a few tenancy renewals, I realised we’ve been here for more than ten years. It’s a bit crammed because there are five of us now in this small unit. There is a lot of stuff in our house because my parents are hoarders. It doesn’t help that I have two very young and active boys who like to run around,” Zila shared.
NAVIGATING THROUGH ROUGH WAVES WITH AN ASPIRING SHIP CAPTAIN We had the pleasure of meeting Haziq, a 27-year-old maritime student who is currently staying in an old 2-room rental unit at Taman Jurong. Haziq graduated from Singapore Polytechnic with a Diploma in Nautical Studies in 2013. He worked for a big shipping company as a cadet after he graduated, and gained seagoing experience in many different countries including India, Europe and Venezuela. Haziq shared that he is currently getting his Certificate in Nautical Studies as he works towards becoming a nautical officer and eventually, a ship master.
Zila had to quit her well-paying full-time job in the shipping industry to look after her children. She shared that her eldest son has a speech delay and attends the Early Intervention Programme for Infants and Children (EIPIC). Zila also sends her parents to the hospital for their regular check-ups. These take her time away from seeking and sustaining a full-time job. She now depends on financial assistance from “I moved in to a rental flat with my mum and two brothers when I was about 10 years old. national agencies and her small online That was when my parents got divorced and business to survive. had to sell our 4-room flat. We live on the first floor and I’ve seen many things thrown down “I was the last to get married among my siblings so I took care of my parents. The load and land in front of our house. Pots, pans, you name it. It’s just a different environment here,” wasn’t really that bad when I was single. Haziq shared. Then I got married and had kids. Things got tougher after my marriage failed last year. Haziq regards sailing as a way to escape When I voiced out to my other siblings about taking turns to care for our parents, they said the constant struggles at home. For Haziq, there is something euphoric and they couldn’t help,” she said. elemental about being out at sea. Zila shared that she has enough CPF An interesting concern raised by him savings to afford a small flat. However, was how some rental flat dwellers do not the ongoing divorce proceedings and her current ambiguous marital status, on top want to seek better paying jobs so they can avoid paying higher rental fees. of being jobless, makes her ineligible to apply for a house now. She plans on buying This apparently stems from the monthly rental fee system that is pegged to a 3-room flat once everything settles. household income. Zila claimed that she knows several tenants who can afford to buy a flat but can’t access “The main issue conveyed is that if they find a higher salary job, their rent increases relative the market due to various reasons. to their salary rise. In the end, the balance “One of my neighbours always goes on holidays. will still be the same. Furthermore, the job expectedly entails more responsibilities. If you Another neighbour even has a maid. Don’t under declare your income and the authorities be surprised, some of those staying in rental find out, you will be evicted. Where are you flats are doing better than those staying in purchased flats so don’t look down on people,” going to live then? It is demotivating,” Haziq explained. she added. Indeed, there are many who were born or grew up in rental housing but overcame the obstacles in their path just like our next two interviewees.
Ultimately, rental flats should not be seen as an inferior housing choice. People end up in rental flats for many reasons. It can happen due to complex family dynamics, unexpected financial challenges, or simply structural barriers resulting in homeownership ineligibility.
A quick read on the government agency website, however, states that HDB does exercise flexibility and suspends the rental increase for one or even two tenancy term to ensure that tenants will have the opportunities to build their finances after an income growth5.
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TEACHER - PAYING IT FORWARD The Karyawan team also met Rita (not her real name), aged 32, who is an allied educator in a secondary school. She is currently pursuing her part-time degree in English with Psychology at the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). Rita grew up in a rental flat but now stays in her 4-room BTO flat in Sengkang with her husband and nine-month-old daughter.
they felt that sometimes, rental flats are unfairly tarred with a bad reputation. “I feel that the media sensationalises news related to crimes by those living in rental flats. There are crimes committed by people staying in private housing and landed properties too, but I feel that they rarely get emphasised,” Rita shared.
Haziq also shared the same sentiments Home for Rita used to be a 2-room rental about the tendency of the media over flat in Tampines that housed five family focusing on crimes linked to rental flats or members. Rita, together with her 3 its dwellers. siblings and mother, had to move out of their comfortable 5-room flat into a rental “My former neighbour, who lived in a 4-room flat when her parents divorced during her flat in my previous estate, was robbed in broad teenage years. daylight. That happened in an affluent neighbourhood. That didn’t make it to the Now an allied educator in a secondary news. Even if it did, they won’t explicitly school, Rita provides structured and mention ‘purchased flats’ like how they would systematic support to students in her class. mention ‘rental flats’ in the news,” he said. According to her, she assists with ‘difficult’ classes – usually classes with students Rental flats recently made the news when who are often associated with truancy. the remains of a two-year-old toddler was found in a one-room rental flat at Chin “Majority of my students come from broken Swee Road8. In another case, a couple is families and of these, more than half are accused of causing the death of their staying in rental flats. I do regular home visits five-year-old son in their one-room rental to my students’ homes in Jurong. On one visit, flat in central Singapore9. I met four families crammed in one house. Although it’s meant to be temporary, it has Some of our interviewees also shared been eight months. I don’t think it is a healthy that they feel stigmatised by the people environment to live in,” Rita shared. around them. Indeed, having sufficient space is essential to meet our basic need for privacy and for making a home a pleasant place to be in. Too many tenants in a living space may have a negative impact on the quality of life and potentially a child’s educational attainment6. There have been research documenting the profound negative effects on children raised in crowded homes, which can persist throughout life, affecting their future socioeconomic status and adult wellbeing7. PERCEPTIONS TOWARDS RENTAL FLAT DWELLERS When we asked our interviewees about the public’s perception towards them,
unexpected financial challenges, or simply structural barriers resulting in homeownership ineligibility. Initiatives should be taken to improve the societal attitudes and perception towards residents of rental units and promote upward social mobility among them so they are not left in limbo.
Nabilah Mohammad is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Resear ch on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Special ist Diploma in Statistics and Data Min ing.
“For me, the negative perceptions mainly came from my own relatives. They always say that children from rental flats can’t make it, and that they are uneducated and have no manners,” Rita shared. “People shouldn’t look down on us unless they have been in our situation. There are a lot of reasons why we are here. It can happen to anyone. There’s a whole spectrum of people staying here. Nobody wants to make this as their first choice of accommodation,” Arif said. Ultimately, rental flats should not be seen as an inferior housing choice. People end up in rental flats for many reasons. It can happen due to complex family dynamics,
“HOW IS HDB HELPING LOW-INCOME HOUSEHOLDS WITH A ROOF OVER THEIR HEAD?” GOV.SG, 25 JUNE, 2013, HTTPS://WWW.GOV.SG/FACTUALLY/CONTENT/HOW-IS-HDB-HELPINGLOWINCOME-HOUSEHOLDS-WITH-A-ROOF-OVER-THEIR-HEAD. LOPOO L. M. & LONDON A. S., “HOUSEHOLD CROWDING DURING CHILDHOOD AND LONG-TERM EDUCATION OUTCOMES”, NATIONAL CENTER FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY INFORMATION, JUNE, 2016, HTTPS://WWW.NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV/PUBMED/27103537. CLAUDIA D. SOLARI & ROBERT D. MARE, “HOUSING CROWDING EFFECTS ON CHILDREN’S WELLBEING”, NATIONAL CENTER FOR BIOTECHNOLOGY INFORMATION, MARCH, 2012, HTTPS://WWW.NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV/PMC/ARTICLES/PMC3805127/. “CHIN SWEE ROAD DEATH: COUPLE CHARGED WITH 2014 MURDER OF 2-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER; CHILD’S REMAINS FOUND IN A POT LAST WEEK,” THE STRAITS TIMES, SEPTEMBER 17, 2019, HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/SINGAPORE/COURTS-CRIME/CHIN-SWEE-ROAD-DEATH-COUPLE-CHARGED-WITH-MURDER-OF-2-YEAR-OLD-DAUGHTER “ALLEGED MURDER OF 5-YEAR-OLD BOY: HIS SKIN TURNED YELLOWISH AND WHITISH FROM BURNS,” TODAY, NOVEMBER 13, 2019, HTTPS://WWW.TODAYONLINE.COM/SINGAPORE/MURDER-TRIAL-5-YEAR-OLD-BOY-HIS-SKIN-TURNED-YELLOWISH-AND-WHITISH-BURNS
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Discerning the Future of our BY MUHAMMAD HAZIQ JANI
The paths of Singapore’s asatizah (Islamic teachers) have improved over the past 50 years1. Our early asatizah, such as former Mufti Sheikh Syed Isa Semait, struggled to finance their higher education at Al-Azhar University and opportunities were rare. For prospective asatizah today, a bachelor’s degree from Al-Azhar or a renowned university in the Middle East is expected. Notwithstanding individual effort, a scholarship to pursue post- graduate studies at prestigious secular universities around the world would not be a daydream. Our madaris (plural of madrasah) which were once magnets of criticism2 are now staffed by professionally certified teachers and produce students who would later contribute not just to the religious but also non-religious sectors. These developments would not have been possible without the support of the broader Muslim community as well as the voices and champions of reform and progress from outside and within the asatizah community from our early years until today. Despite the improvements in the education and livelihood of our asatizah, it would be foolish to rest on one’s laurels while global developments continue to alter the economic, political, social, ethical and moral grounds that all of us – including our asatizah – stand on. The institutions that produce the current quality of asatizah – the six madaris – and the breadth of opportunities presented for them to further their education and fulfil their functions today may not sufficiently prepare them for tomorrow. As such, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) formed the Committee on Future Asatizah (COFA) in March 2019 to “advance thinking about the skills and competencies of future asatizah, and advise on strategies to develop the asatizah workforce”3. CONCERNS ABOUT THE FUTURE COFA’s chair, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Dr Maliki Osman, raised two issues of concern regarding the future of our asatizah: “Future asatizah need to be equipped with  strong grounding in religious knowledge, as well as with  work-relevant skills”.
HASSAN, MOHAMED HANNAN, 2016. “RELIGIOUS LEADERSHIP IN SINGAPORE: FROM SUCCESS TO SIGNIFICANCE OF MADRASAH EDUCATION”. MAJULAH! 50 YEARS OF MALAY/MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN SINGAPORE EDS. ZAINUL ABIDIN RASHEED & NORSHAHRIL SAAT, 181-190; STEINER, KERTIN. 2011. “MADRASAH IN SINGAPORE: TRADITION AND MODERNITY IN RELIGIOUS EDUCATION.” INTELLECTUAL DISCOURSE 19 (1): 41–70. “MADRASAH STUDENTS FACE DISADVANTAGE”, THE STRAITS TIMES, 17 MAY 1999, P. 30; “MADRASAHS DON’T TEACH CRITICAL SKILLS”, THE STRAITS TIMES, 11 MAY 1999, P. 45; SEE ALSO STEINER, K. 2011 MINISTRY OF CULTURE, COMMUNITY AND YOUTH, 2019. “DEVELOPING FUTURE ASATIZAH WITH RELEVANT KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS”, MCCY WEBSITE, 6 AUGUST, RETRIEVED: 1 DECEMBER 2019, FROM HTTPS://WWW.MCCY.GOV.SG/ABOUTUS/NEWS-AND-RESOURCES/PARLIAMENTARY-MATTERS/2019/AUG/DEVELOPING-FUTURE-ASATIZAH-RELEVANT-KNOWLEDGE-SKILLS
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Unlike in the 1990s, where the concern was that madrasah students were not receiving a good enough education to integrate into the workforce, improveHaving witnessed over the past few ments in the quality of education in our decades how poverty in the realm of six full-time madaris, with a combined religious knowledge had resulted in the spread of extremist ideologies and fuelled annual intake of about 4008, have resulted identity politics and imbecilic conservatism, in a different game of numbers. Students are doing better in English, Science and the Government’s view was that it has to Mathematics and in 2017, 55% scored improve the quality of tertiary religious education for Singapore’s asatizah. An idea above 200 points for the Primary School Leaving Examinations9. A good number of was mooted in 2016 for Singapore’s own these students would complete their GCE Islamic college and the government embarked on study trips to global Islamic O-Levels and, eventually, tertiary Islamic education. In 2018, 850 Singaporean institutes of higher learning, where students were pursuing tertiary Islamic students were trained to be religious teachers, and in some cases, provided with education abroad10. a broader education in the humanities, COFA would need to look at how to to prepare them for employability in the realistically harness the untapped wider economy or to produce rigorous potential of our asatizah. We can imagine scholars4. asatizah in hybrid roles where their religious education adds some value, such Aside from countering extremist ideas, as in academia, social work and counselasatizah also have a role to play as public ling, national projects as well as public intellectuals that guide the Muslim policy and government-liaison. However, community through a fast-changing normative landscape. A sizeable minority these roles are dependent on future industry demand for individuals with a of Singaporean Muslims continue to religious education. struggle with reconciling piety in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, secular state. If industry demand proves to be the The community looks to the asatizah for limitation, COFA should not neglect the guidance not just on basic issues, such as halal consumption and ritual matters, but possibility of training asatizah for employment in secular roles far from the also on more intellectually challenging religious sector, such as in the private matters that affect our perception sector. Asatizah need not view this as a and relations with each other and noncareer switch per se. Their lived experience Muslims, such as identity, gender and health. If our future asatizah are not up to in the non-religious sector could prove valuable to the broader Muslim commutask, individuals will search for answers nity as they could advise their Muslim elsewhere. colleagues and working class by contextualising piety in the workplace. Their place IMAGINING FUTURE ROLES The idea that asatizah could be employable in this “frontline” would help make religious guidance more relatable for outside of the religious sector certainly many. These asatizah could also make use struck a chord with the Government. There are more than 3,400 ARS-recognised of their religious education in voluntary roles, guide, teach or even contribute to asatizah5 absorbed by the 269 Islamic scholarship in their free time. Just as there Education Centres and Providers (IECPs)6 which include private centres, pre-schools, are many academics who have held professional roles outside11, these asatizah, and mosques. Only a small percentage constitute MUIS’ headcount. MUIS had an depending on their determination to keep establishment list of 43 in FY2017 (actual) their religious knowledge beneficial and 73 in FY2018 (revised)7. These two issues primarily involve the education of our asatizah.
MOKHTAR, F. 2018. “S’PORE’S FIRST ISLAMIC COLLEGE COULD HAVE BROAD-BASED CURRICULUM TO EQUIP STUDENTS WITH EMPLOYABLE SKILLS”. TODAY, 8 MARCH. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.TODAYONLINE.COM/SINGAPORE/SPORES-FIRST-ISLAMIC-COLLEGE-COULD-HAVE-BROAD-BASED-CURRICULUM-EQUIP-STUDENTS-EMPLOYABLE 5 MUIS, 2018. 2017 ANNUAL REPORT. 6 MUIS, 2019. 2018 ANNUAL REPORT. 7 MINISTRY OF FINANCE, 2018. “EXPENDITURE ESTIMATES BY HEAD OF EXPENDITURE”. SINGAPORE BUDGET 2019, RETRIEVED: 1 DECEMBER 2019, FROM HTTPS://WWW.SINGAPOREBUDGET.GOV.SG/BUDGET_2019/REVENUE-EXPENDITURE/REVENUE-EXPENDITURE-ESTIMATES AZURA MOKHTAR, INTAN (2010). "MADRASAHS IN SINGAPORE: BRIDGING BETWEEN THEIR ROLES, RELEVANCE AND RESOURCES". JOURNAL OF MUSLIM MINORITY AFFAIRS. 30 (1): 111–125 9 MUIS, 2018. 2017 ANNUAL REPORT. 10 MUIS, 2019. 2018 ANNUAL REPORT. 11 AS AN EXAMPLE, THERE ARE MANY DIPLOMATS WHO DESPITE THEIR BUSY SCHEDULES CONTINUE TO CONTRIBUTE VALUABLY TO SCHOLARSHIP. 12 THEY ARE NEVER TRULY EXILED FROM THE RELIGIOUS AND SPIRITUAL SPHERE IF THEY MAKE THE EFFORT TO ENSURE THAT WHAT THEY HAVE LEARNT BENEFICIAL (YANFA’). 4
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Aside from countering extremist ideas, asatizah also have a role to play as public intellectuals that guide the Muslim community through a fast-changing normative landscape. A sizeable minority of Singaporean Muslims continue to struggle with reconciling piety in a multi-ethnic, multi-religious, secular state.
throughout their time “outside”12, could still be called upon, formally and informally, to guide the community. A JUST EDUCATION Syed Muhammad Naquib Al-Attas proclaimed that education is “the instillation and inculcation of adab in man”113 and explained that a man of adab was one who “is sincerely conscious of his responsibilities towards the true God; who understands and fulfils his obligations to himself and others in his society with justice, and who constantly strives to improve every aspect of himself towards perfection as a man of adab”14. Al-Attas defined adab as the “recognition and acknowledgement of the reality that knowledge and being are ordered hierarchically according to their various grades and degrees of rank, and of one’s proper place in relation to that reality and to one’s physical, intellectual and spiritual capacities and potentials”.
Analyst is a Senior Haziq Jani lations Re us io Muhammad lig s in Inter-Re at at the Studie ies (SRP) Programme nal ciet io So at al rn ur te In Pl of in am School tn l ra ca ja gi Ra lo S. the Techno S), Nanyang sts include re te Studies (RSI in ch His resear ogue University. terfaith dial tremism, in religious ex Islam. and political
We should consider Al-Attas’ advice as we reflect on the cacophony of voices and concerns surrounding the future of our asatizah lest we embark on a journey of injustice, stupidity and madness. Each year, the community buoys 400 new students with the promise of ladhdhat al ma’rifah (pleasure of knowledge). However, if our thinking on religious education – from the madaris to tertiary institutions – does not do justice to the physical, intellectual and spiritual capacities and potentials of our future asatizah, they will be forced to carry the burden of our loss of adab. The future of our ‘alim, mufti, public intellectual and ustaz (whether he is in the religious sector, assumes a hybrid role or contributes to the general workforce), their quality, capacity and livelihood, depend on the same religious education system. The challenge for COFA would be to figure out the hierarchy of knowledge and strategies of instruction that would best prepare them for their roles and not leave them regretting being among the 400.
IN AIMS AND OBJECTIVES OF ISLAMIC EDUCATION, 1979: 37. AL-ATTAS, SYED M. NAQUIB, 1973. RISALAH UNTUK KAUM MUSLIMIN, 54.
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Singaporean Malays’ Lifestyle Habits and Health Outcomes:
A Gendered BY DR HUMAIRAH ZAINAL
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ETHNICISATION OF LIFESTYLE HABITS AND HEALTH OUTCOMES The health issues of the Malay community in Singapore are often painted through ethnicised lenses by local mainstream media as compared to those of other ethnic communities. Citing statistics from the National Disease Registry, reports from mainstream media frequently reveal that the Malay community suffers from the highest incidence of chronic diseases including strokes, kidney failures and heart attacks. The National Health Survey in 2016 also reported that about 24 per cent of Malay adults are obese, compared with 16.9 per cent of Indians and 7.9 per cent of Chinese. In 2011, 439.2 heart attacks per 100,000 people occurred among Malays, compared to 421.5 among Indians and 173.2 among Chinese.
The mainstream media’s generalisation of health outcomes along ethnic lines paints an oversimplified picture of the Malay community’s health issues. Ethnic-based explanations are problematic due to two main reasons. First, they attribute the incidence of illnesses to the cultural deficit or failing of the Malay ethnic group, which in turn perpetuates negative cultural stereotypes about the community. For instance, in an article published on 13 March 2010, The Straits Times attributed the high obesity rate amongst Malays to their perceived unhealthy dietary habits and sedentary lifestyle. It cited Malay overindulgence in fat-saturated diet consisting of high-calorie food like
rendang and nasi lemak as the cause of obesity. Such generalised statements as “Fatty foods and a couch potato lifestyle have long been the Malay way” only serve to reinforce negative cultural stereotypes about the Malays. Second, academic studies that have linked high Malay obesity rate to their cultural and religious practices are largely unsubstantiated. As an illustration, the Malay culture that is characterised by many social assemblies that are centred on eating has been condemned for promoting the consumption of unhealthy food. Cultural events like Malay weddings and family gatherings are put under the spotlight without a consideration that occasional festive indulgences are also common throughout many other cultures.
In a study done by a group of researchers led by Nidhi Gupta in 2010, the researchers postulate that the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan could be a contributing factor to the high obesity rate among the Malays. They deduce that the calorie intake and total cholesterol levels are increased during Ramadan. Although the levels of cholesterol intake among Singaporean Chinese as captured in the data obtained in 1992, 1998 and 2004 show that they are not much different from those of the Malays, they are not accounted for in the study. Furthermore, focusing on only one aspect of health, which is diet, does not provide a comprehensive picture of the overall lifestyle of the Malays. Other aspects
A GENDERED PERSPECTIVE IN UNDERSTANDING THE LIFESTYLE HABITS AND HEALTH OUTCOMES OF THE SINGAPORE MALAY COMMUNITY This article is part of a broader research project that examines alternative ways of conceptualising the lifestyle habits and health outcomes of the local Malay community. It adopts a gendered perspective in accounting for the factors that may help or hinder local Malays from maintaining a healthy and active lifestyle. The perspectives shared in this article are based on the author’s pilot study with 224 Singaporean Malays of various gender and socio-economic backgrounds. The study employs a combination of focus group
of health, such as Malay involvement in physical activities, should be analysed as well.
interviews and online survey questionnaire to explore the participants’ lifestyle habits and health narratives. The questions mainly revolved around different aspects of their health, namely, having a wellbalanced diet, preparing nutritious meals, engaging in regular physical exercise and recreational activities, having sufficient sleep and rest, going for regular health screenings and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking.
Thus, given the limitations of the ethnicised approach in understanding the health outcomes of local Malays, this article interrogates other forms of social configurations beyond ethnic-specific practices that might explain engendering health issues, as well as highlight some of the active strategies taken by members of the Malay community to address their health concerns. In particular, it explores if gender as a social category plays a significant role in influencing health narratives, and evaluates how these might enrich our understanding of the health issues faced by the Malay community in Singapore.
Gender is a significant factor when accounting for the health outcomes of the Malay community. The Malay women in the study demonstrate that it is their female subjectivities that affirm why the gendered perspective is more useful than ethnicity in enriching an understanding of the Malay health narratives. Women
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across all age and income categories are generally more physically active than their male counterparts, which challenge the media’s generalisation of the perceived sedentary lifestyle of the Malays and the claim that contemporary Malay women are less physically active than women of the past due to their lack of involvement in housework. Contrary to media reports, a significant percentage of the women in the study, including working adults, are in fact actively taking part in many mosque and community activities that promote a healthy lifestyle during their leisure time. These include kebayarobics, which is an amalgam of aerobics with traditional Malay dance movements, as well as cooking classes that teach them how to cook healthy meals.
In addition, women demonstrate a higher cultural capital than men. Cultural capital refers to the skills and competencies individuals need to appreciate and make meaning of cultural resources. According to French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, cultural capital is a reflection of ‘habitus’, which is the embodiment of norms, values, attitudes and dispositions that individuals possess due to their life experiences. Findings from the survey show that even though both men and women have equal access to obtaining information on healthy habits such as healthy food options, it is the women who are more proactive in utilising these information and applying them in their day-to-day lifestyles. This is again attributed to the entrenchment of gendered roles in the households where When asked about their motivations for women spend more time preparing meals engaging themselves in such activities, for their families than men. For instance, the women’s responses indicate that the group of housewives interviewed extrinsic factors that are derived from the ensures that they use healthy ingredients pleasure of exercising in groups give them when cooking meals for their families,
the point here is not whether or not researchers should continue to employ an ethnicised lens. Rather, they should do a better job when studying race and ethnicity. As the findings have demonstrated, the agenda for improving Malay health conditions should also examine issues that affect the community along other social dimensions and how their health conditions are enmeshed with different gendered, classed and ethnicised embodied experiences.
The agenda for improving Malay health conditions should also examine issues that affect the community along other social dimensions and how their health conditions are enmeshed with different gendered, classed and ethnicised embodied experiences.
as much satisfaction as intrinsic factors that are driven by the goal to remain healthy. On the other hand, majority of the men indicate a lack of motivation to exercise. Compared to the women, the men are less motivated to exercise even though they may have friends who are interested in joining them for physical activities. This also lies in part to the gendered division of labour that still characterises many Malay households. Being the breadwinner of the family or having to work shift hours explain why many men are not engaging themselves in as much regular exercise as their female counterparts. The latter refers to the involvement in physical activities for 150 minutes per week, as recommended by the Health Promotion Board (HPB) of Singapore. 20 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
which include using low cholesterol cooking oil and sugar with lower calorie intake. Given these gendered roles, women are generally more motivated to attend talks on healthy lifestyle and to engage in conversations on healthy eating with their social networks than men. CONCLUDING THOUGHTS In conclusion, an understanding of Malay health issues from an ethnicised lens alone is inadequate to address the multifactorial reasons behind these issues. A repositioning of the existing debate beyond the dominant association with ethnicity is crucial in overcoming the narratives that continue to frame Malay health issues in Singapore. This does not imply that the ethnicised perspective should be ignored altogether. In fact,
Dr Humairah Zainal is a Research Fellow at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine. Her works have appeared in Asian Ethnicity, Culture and Religion, Con tinuum: Journal of Media and Cultural Stu dies, Marriage and Family Review, South Eas t Asia Research and Indonesia and the Malay World.
Challenges of a Child Born Out of Wedlock BY SAIF-UR-RAHMAN Between 2006 and 2016, there were 10,000 children in Singapore born out of wedlock1. Their statuses are distinguished by government policies, laws and in particular and in some instances, Islamic law. The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) states that the legal and policy distinctions between legitimate and illegitimate children are meant to reflect the government’s desire to promote strong marriages. “Parenthood within marriage” is encouraged as this is the prevailing social norm, which Singapore authorities view as the key to strong families. EXCLUDED BENEFITS This “illegitimate” label has consequences within Singapore’s societal structure. An illegitimate child is not eligible for the Child Development Co-Savings (Baby Bonus) Scheme which includes the Baby Bonus cash gift and the dollar-for-dollar matching of savings for the child. Unwed mothers do not enjoy the same tax reliefs as married mothers who are adequately provided for in respect of children born within marriage. These include the Parenthood Tax Rebate, Qualifying Child Relief, Handicapped Child Relief, Working Mother’s Child Relief, and Grandparent Caregiver Relief. 1
MINISTRY OF SOCIAL AND FAMILY DEVELOPMENT. STATISTICS ON CHILDREN BORN IN SINGAPORE WITHOUT FATHER'S NAME ON BIRTH CERTIFICATE, OR WITH FATHER NAMED BUT PARENTS NOT MARRIED AT DATE OF REGISTRATION OF BIRTH. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.MSF.GOV.SG/MEDIA-ROOM/PAGES/STATISTICS-ON-CHILDREN-BORN-IN-SINGAPORE-WITHOUT-FATHER'S-NAME-ON-BC-OR-TO-UNMARRIED-PARENTS.ASPX
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According to the Housing and Development Board’s (HDB) Public Scheme, a parent will not be able to form a family nucleus with their illegitimate child for the purposes of purchasing a HDB flat in Singapore. This is even if the unwed parent adopts his/her child.
The orthodox Muslim jurists unanimously opined that the illegitimate child only have lineage towards their mothers. The traditional Muslim jurists from Hanafite, Malikite, Shafi‘ite to Hanbalite schools of Islamic law opined that they have no lineage towards their fathers. However, there were dissenting opinions proposed by al-Hasan and Ibn Sirin that the illegitimate child had lineage towards their biological fathers who have already been punished under the law.
INCLUDED BENEFITS Notwithstanding, there are other benefits provided to illegitimate children such as the Kindergarten Financial Assistance Scheme (KiFAS) provided they are Singapore citizens, are enrolled in selected kindergartens and their household The unanimous opinion of the majority income falls within the prescribed of Muslim jurists concerning the income bracket. maternity of the child is based on the clear-cut evidence from pregnancy, All newborns will receive a Medisave birthing to breastfeeding. On the other grant ranging from $3,000 to $4,000 hand, the child‘s paternity to his/her depending on the date of birth of the child, biological father is hard to establish provided they are a Singapore citizen. especially if his/her mother is polygamous. They will also be automatically covered Therefore, the main problem of the by Medishield Life from birth, including lineage of a child born out of wedlock to those with congenital and neonatal his/her parents in classical Islamic law conditions, for life. was a matter of evidence.
SYARIAH LAW: A REVISIT It is useful to return to the basics of Islam when trying to unpack basic human issues. For Muslims, our main point of reference as to our faith is the Quran. It represents God’s Words revealed to Prophet Muhammad that was later compiled as the Quran. The Quranic text is, thus, not only the basic scriptural basis for the Syariah but indeed its most important source. As such, it is necessary to understand that the Syariah is fundamentally grounded in a narrative of faith. This narrative anchors the Syariah in what one scholar has called a “moral hermeneutic”3.
Over the centuries, as part of unpacking this moral hermeneutic, considerable efforts were made to reflect on the meaning of the Message. Various interpretations of the Quran (tafsir) in many languages were made available. Other sources of Islamic law became methodically developed: primary among these were the sunnah (the Prophet’s words, deeds and affirmations), the qiyas (reasoning by analogy), the istihsan Provided that the infant or child is a Issues that hamper the rights of an (jurist’s preference in matters of interpretaSingapore citizen and is enrolled in a illegitimate child include the right of child care centre licensed by the Early inheritance, the right of having the ‘father’ tion), the darura (doctrines of necessity), the maslaha (matters of public interest) – Childhood Development Agency (ECDA), as a wali during nikah and the corollary infant care and childcare subsidies are issues that follow: including the rights of all deemed under Syariah as legal tools to specifically address a very broad range of available according to a tiered-scheme. maintenance and education. issues facing the community at any given point in time. The child may be eligible for financial In other jurisdictions, for example in assistance for education, provided he/she Malaysia, the problem is compounded by Underlying this centuries of rich legal is from a lower income background or has the fact that the illegitimate child is tradition is the aim to discover and reflect development or special needs. If you are a forbidden to take the name of his/her on God’s penultimate message. Khaled working mother, you will be eligible for father. A fatwa issued by the National Abou El Fadl succinctly said: “I suggest childcare leave before your child turns Fatwa Council forbids Muslim children that the shari’a ought to stand in an Islamic 7 years of age. Extended childcare leave is conceived out of wedlock from carrying polity as a symbolic construct for the divine also available when your child is 7 to 12 their father’s name. The fatwa, which perfection that is unreachable by human effort years of age. applies to both infants born out of – a concept summed up in the Islamic tradition wedlock and those born within the first by the word husn, or beauty. It is the epitome ISLAM AND THE ILLEGITIMATE CHILD six months of their parents’ marriage, of justice, goodness and beauty as conceived In Islamic law, an “illegitimate” child means such children tend to go by the refers to a child born out of an invalid name of “bin Abdullah” or “binti Abdullah” and retained by God.” 4 marriage or without a marriage contract. – a generic name that is often also pushed It is important to note therefore that Their lineage towards their biological onto reverts of Islam. To add salt to the Syariah is not a closed set of fixed rules but mother is valid and is not debatable, but wound, just as recently as November instead a continuous process of discourse their lineage towards their biological 20192 Malaysia’s top court granted the National Registration Department (NRD) that Muslims must engage in in order to father has triggered some debate among a stay on an earlier Court of Appeal ruling understand the Message aimed at Muslim jurists. that allowed Muslim children conceived facilitating human lives as God intended. out of wedlock to take their father’s name.
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2 FMT MEDIA SDN BHD. DAD’S NAME CAN’T BE USED FOR MUSLIM ILLEGITIMATE CHILD, SAYS GOVT LAWYER, NOVEMBER 14, 2019. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.FREEMALAYSIATODAY.COM/CATEGORY/NATION/2019/11/14/DADS-NAME-CANT-BE-USED-FOR-MUSLIM-ILLEGITIMATE-CHILD-SAYS-GOVT-LAWYER/ ROY MOTTAHEDEH. “INTRODUCTION” IN MUHAMMAD BAQIR AS-SADR, LESSONS IN ISLAMIC JURISPRUDENCE, TRANS AND INTRO BY R.P. MOTTAHEDEH (OXFORD: ONEWORLD, 2003). 4 KHALED ABOU EL-FADL. “FOUNDATIONS” IN AMYN B SAJOO, ED., THE SHARI’A: HISTORY, ETHICS AND LAW (LONDON: IB TAURIS, 2018), 21-22.
THE MAQASID OF SYARIAH The maqasid, or objectives, of Syariah assumes that Islamic law is a holistic system consisting of various principle considerations in understanding any legal injunction or adherence. Therefore, in considering the issues and challenges faced by illegitimate children born out of wedlock, Islamic law must regard all opinions of Islamic schools and examine them based on legal sources, linguistic analysis, a method of reasoning, culture and history, location and time. In addition, the jurists should consider rules concerning illegitimate children as well as other factors pertaining to the children born out of wedlock from rights of the child, psychology, sociology to economy.
instructs their biological fathers to provide maintenance8.
The general maqasid is understood to consist of necessities and needs, as well as justice and facilitation. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyah states: “The foundation and basis of Syariah are based on wisdom and welfare of people in this world and hereafter. The Syariah is all about justice and people's welfare. Every rule that deviates from justice to injustice, from mercy to its opposite, from welfare to evil, and from soundness to uselessness are not Syariah.” 5
1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
Hence, Allah states in the Quran: “Call them by [the names of] their fathers; it is more just in the sight of Allah” 6. Furthermore, the Quran is explicit in various verses7 of the concept that no person shall bear the burdens/sins of another. It is unjust for innocent children to be attached with the negative label of being illegitimate as a result of their parents’ wrongdoings.
Muslims in Singapore are allowed to adopt a child. Though there are disagreements between Muslim jurists and the law of the land with regard to adoption, it provides a stronger safeguard to the interests of the child on issues such as custody, inheritance, maintenance of parents and tax relief. This is because adoption creates a parent-child relationship such that the child is a legitimate child of his or her adoptive parent(s). The birth certificate of the adopted child can be changed to reflect the name of the adopted father11.
SIGH OF RELIEF Over the years, Islamic jurists and the Muslim community have moved forward in some aspects. The treatment for children born out of wedlock varies among Muslim countries. Jordan, for instance, obliges their relatives to support maintenance for the children. In Egypt, the government assumes the support of maintenance of the children. In Tunisia, in addition to receiving maintenance from their relatives, the government also
On matters of maintenance in Singapore, applications are made in the civil courts (Family Justice Courts) and not the Syariah Court. Fathers of illegitimate children are obliged by law to maintain their children in the civil courts9. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) dictates that there should not be any difference to the rights of children born in and out of wedlock. The children also have the right to the identity of their families as stipulated in the UNCRC Article 810 as follows:
2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.
who is legally adopted. This is likely to mean that illegitimate children are not entitled to receive a share of his or her biological parent’s inheritance unless there is a will. Similarly, a Muslim’s adopted or illegitimate child will not inherit under the faraid system, unless a will is specifically made in his or her name. This becomes the most contentious issue for an illegitimate or adopted child upon his or her parents’ death. There is still a long way in resolving the issue of inheritance to arrive at a level in which a legitimate and an illegitimate child are viewed as equally deserving of inheritance, even if the apportionment may vary in degree. Bearing in mind that the paramount purpose of Syariah is about justice and welfare, an illegitimate child, through no fault or sin of his or her own doing, will be left with nothing if no will was made specifically in his or her name. Perhaps it is time again for Muslim jurists to come together and explore the various gamut of legal tools available and consider the plight of these children in light of the prevailing Islamic jurisprudence, the maqasid of Syariah including practical considerations of the rights of the child, psychology, sociology and economy.
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MOVING FORWARD The issue of inheritance is a sticky point. Illegitimate children lose priority of inheritance as it goes first to the surviving legitimate children. The Intestate Succession Act12 defines “child” as a legitimate child and includes any child
I. Q. AL-JAWZIYAH, I’LAM AL-MUWAQQI’IN ‘AN RABB AL-’ALAMIN, VOL. 4. RIYAD: DAR IBN AL-JAWZI, 1423. QURAN, SURAH AL-AHZAB 33:5. SURAH AL-AN’AM 6:164, “AND EVERY SOUL EARNS NOT [BLAME] EXCEPT AGAINST ITSELF, AND NO BEARER OF BURDENS WILL BEAR THE BURDEN OF ANOTHER”; SURAH AL-ISRA’ 17:15, “AND NO BEARER OF BURDENS WILL BEAR THE BURDEN OF ANOTHER”; SURAH FATIR 35:18, “AND NO BEARER OF BURDENS WILL BEAR THE BURDEN OF ANOTHER. AND IF A HEAVILY LADEN SOUL CALLS [ANOTHER] TO [CARRY SOME OF] ITS LOAD, NOTHING OF IT WILL BE CARRIED, EVEN IF HE SHOULD BE A CLOSE RELATIVE”. 8 B. BENTLAGE. “LEGISLATING FOR THE BENEFIT OF CHILDREN BORN OUT OF WEDLOCK”, DIE WELT DES ISLAMS, VOL. 55, NO. 3–4, PP. 378–412, NOVEMBER 2015. 9 WOMEN’S CHARTER, SECTION 68. 10 UNITED NATIONS, CONVENTION ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD. 1989. 11 SECTION 3 TO 5, ADOPTION OF CHILDREN ACT. 12 SECTION 7, CHAPTER 146, INTESTATE SUCCESSION ACT. 5 6 7
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Opposites Attract: Experiences of Muslim-Non-Muslim Couples Seeking Civil Union BY MUHAMMAD FARIS ALFIQ MOHD AFANDI 24 T H E K A R Y A W A N Â© ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
“You can’t choose who you want to fall in love with.” An interviewee shared this to reflect the realities of love and marriage. Nonetheless, this ‘absence’ of choice may cause some issues due to differing expectations and requirements in a relationship and marriage, for example, when couples from different religious and cultural backgrounds come together. It is difficult to quantify exactly the number of Muslims in civil marriages in Singapore. Marriages among Muslim couples are regulated under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), while marriages between Muslims and non-Muslims fall outside the Act, within the purview of Women’s Charter. The Department of Statistics of Singapore does not classify marriages under Women’s Charter by religion, but by race1. As stipulated in Section 89 of AMLA, a valid marriage is where both of the parties profess the Muslim religion and which is solemnised in accordance with the Muslim law2. Whereas, the Women’s Charter stipulates that no marriage between persons who are Muslims shall be solemnised or registered under its Act3. These clauses mean that marriages involving a Muslim and a non-Muslim (for the purposes of this article, such marriages will be termed as Muslim-nonMuslim marriages) can still be considered legitimate by the State, but that according to the Islamic law, the marriage is considered invalid.
Different couples experience different sets didn’t even ask him to do so anyway of challenges, or sometimes, even a lack of because it is not fair,” shared Natasha. challenges, when it comes to the decision Interestingly enough, there are opinions to be married under the civil law. which allow the marriage of a Muslim Interviews of these couples in this article man to a non-Muslim woman but she has reflect their personal experiences and are to be of the kitabiyah tradition, or the not representative of other Muslims who ‘People of the Book’4, but not the other way are involved in interreligious marriages around. The discussion on the marriage of under the civil law. a Muslim man and a kitabiyah woman was ever evident in a Singapore court in 1964. A SECOND CIVIL MARRIAGE IN However, the ruling presented was that THE FAMILY the marriage was considered to be invalid5. Undoubtedly, the first hurdle in any kind of marriage is the family’s expectations – Nonetheless, then-Attorney General of more so when it comes to Muslim-nonSingapore, Professor Ahmad Ibrahim, was Muslim marriages. quoted as mentioning that it was a “regret” the Syariah Court had passed such a There seem to be varied responses from judgement. Prof Ahmad stated, “[I]n different families. One Muslim modern society in which Muslims and interviewee, Natasha (not her real name), non-Muslims live together in fraternity as shared with the Karyawan team that her fellow citizens of the state with equal family is rather accepting of her upcomrights and responsibilities, it seems fair ing nuptials with her UK-born Catholic and equitable that men and women of full fiancé in February 2020. age should have the right to marry and have a family without any limitation due In her case, her sister had already married to race, nationality and religion.”6 a Catholic man so it was relatively ‘easy’ for her parents to accept when she told “I CUT YOU OFF” them of her intention to marry her fiancé Another interviewee, Ashikin (not her real whom she had gotten to know online. name) shared that her partner contemplated converting to Islam, but only for “[My parents] were absolutely fine with it. the sake of the marriage. However, her I think it is easier as my sister paved the family members were against this. For way for me,” shared Natasha. Ashikin, even if her partner converts, the disapproval of her family meant that she Her fiancé, Ben (not his real name), and is still unable to get married. his family have been living in Southeast Asia for more than a decade. According to “There’s no point in him converting,” her, they really understand the different Ashikin told the Karyawan team. “How lifestyles and religions here. Even as a am I going to get a wali?7” Catholic, Natasha shared that Ben decided he too did not want to have a religious “I was heartbroken, my mum was crying, ceremony following the Catholic and my brother threatened to kill my tradition, and preferred a civil ceremony partner and not attend my wedding. It’s instead. basically, ‘You do this, I cut you off.’”
The nature of this issue is highly sensitive as it affects not only the individuals but also their family members as there are stigmas surrounding Muslim-non-Muslim marriages. In this view, the Karyawan team is appreciative of the Muslim-non“We both decided to have a civil marriage. Muslim couples who came forward to share their experiences in being involved He has his traditions and I have mine, so in a civil relationship. we came to a compromise. He definitely does not want to convert (to Islam) and I
1 2 3 4
Thus, for Ashikin and her partner, the only practical way for them to get married was through a civil marriage.
DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS SINGAPORE. STATISTICS ON MARRIAGES AND DIVORCES 2018. ACCESSED DECEMBER 27, 2019. HTTPS://WWW.TABLEBUILDER.SINGSTAT.GOV.SG/PUBLICFACING/CREATEDATATABLE.ACTION?REFID=14145 SEE SECTION 89 OF THE ADMINISTRATION OF MUSLIM LAW ACT. HTTPS://SSO.AGC.GOV.SG/ACT/AMLA1966#PR89SEE SECTION 3 OF THE WOMEN’S CHARTER. HTTPS://SSO.AGC.GOV.SG/ACT/WC1961#PR3THE TERM ‘PEOPLE OF THE BOOK’ IS HIGHLY CONTESTED. SOME SCHOLARS STRONGLY OBJECT TO THIS NOTION AS THERE ARE NO WAY TO ASCERTAIN THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE GROUP, THUS LIMITING A VALID MARRIAGE TO ONLY BE BETWEEN TWO MUSLIMS. OTHER SCHOLARS ARE MORE ACCEPTING OF RELIGIONS BEYOND THE NORMATIVE UNDERSTANDING OF PEOPLE OF THE BOOK. SEE HEDGES, P. AND JUHI, A. “INTERRELIGIOUS MARRIAGE: PERSPECTIVES FROM THE SINGAPOREAN CONTEXT IN RELATION TO INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE.” INTERRELIGIOUS RELATIONS, NO. 1 (FEBRUARY 2019). SEE ABDUL RAZAK VS LISIA BINTE MANDAGIE ALIAS MARIA MERNADO (SYC NO. 42/1964) IN IBRAHIM, A. “MARRIAGES OF MUSLIMS WITH NON-MUSLIMS.” MALAYAN LAW JOURNAL, MARCH 1965, XVI-XVII. CITED IN NOOR AISHA ABD RAHMAN, “MUSLIM-NON-MUSLIM MARRIAGE IN SINGAPORE” IN JONES, GAVIN W, HENG LENG CHEE, AND MAZNAH MOHAMAD. MUSLIM-NON-MUSLIM MARRIAGE: POLITICAL AND CULTURAL CONTESTATIONS IN SOUTHEAST ASIA. SINGAPORE: INSTITUTE OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN STUDIES, 2009, P. 296 IBRAHIM, A. “MARRIAGES OF MUSLIMS WITH NON-MUSLIMS.” UNDER THE ISLAMIC LAW, A WOMAN CAN ONLY BE MARRIED OFF BY HER WALI, A MALE GUARDIAN. TYPICALLY, HE IS THE WOMAN’S FATHER. IN THE EVENT HER FATHER IS DEAD, HER CLOSEST MALE AGNATE SHALL BE HER WALI. REFER TO DJAMOUR, J. (2004). MALAY KINSHIP AND MARRIAGE IN SINGAPORE. OXFORD: BERG. P. 67
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“We are practical [about getting married] because we are getting our build-to-order (BTO) flat by the end of 2020. We would need to get our marriage certificate within one year or else they are going to take [the unit] back,” she shared. WELL-ACCEPTED It seemed that the interviewees whom the Karyawan team met gave different accounts on their experiences in getting married under the civil law as Muslims. However, there was one striking similarity – the families of their non-Muslim partners accepted them for who they are. Natasha shared that her fiancé’s family is open and very much accepting and adapts to her needs such as her dietary requirements. She said, “We don’t eat pork because he knows I don’t.”
[But] when they grow up and choose rights of the child when it comes to which religion to follow, it is up to them,” matters concerning inheritance. she shared. In his publication, Interreligious Marriage: While the religion of the child seems to be Perspectives from the Singaporean Context in an open decision, the child’s status may Relation to Interreligious Dialogue, Associate present some challenges. Professor Paul Hedges stated that while interreligious marriage presents itself as a According to the Islamic law, the status platform for dialogue, the case of Muslimof a child of a civil marriage is considered non-Muslim marriages under the civil law to be that of an illegitimate child. This is not as straightforward as it may seem8. will then bring about a slew of legal complications under the Islamic law. The issues and challenges that one may face when it comes to family, the legal In an interview with the Karyawan team, status of the child, as well as the status of Associate Professor Noor Aisha Abd the marriage under the Islamic law may Rahman from the Department of Malay present a barrier to having a civil marriage. Studies of the National University of From the experiences shared, it seems Singapore explained that the child may that a great deal of compromise and not be able to receive the rights of understanding are needed for such a inheritance of her biological father in marriage to prosper. accordance with the fatwa issued in Singapore.
Ashikin also experienced similar acceptance by her fiancé’s family. She mentioned that her soon-to-be in-laws are staunch Assoc Prof Noor Aisha, who has a Buddhists and understand the requirements background in law, also mentioned that of Muslims. if the child is a girl and chooses to marry under the Islamic law in future, her FROM MARRIAGE TO FAMILY biological father is unable to represent her When asked about how their children as her wali. She shared her experience in will be raised, the interviewees had dealing with one such case involving a similar sentiments. girl whose father is married to a non-Muslim in Britain: “Personally, I would like my child to believe in Islam because that is my faith,” said “The father divorced his wife, came Ashikin. The educator, however, seems to back to Singapore and raised their two have reached some kind of compromise children. The elder of the two children when it comes to the religion of the child. was married [under the Muslim law]. She shared that her partner, who can be The father became her wali. The considered an agnostic, believes that it is marriage took place. Later on, one of unfair to force a religion on a child. Rather, her relatives [learnt] about this fatwa he is of the view that the child should be and came to explain to the father and exposed to the different religions and he or told [him] that actually that [his she can then choose one that is best suited daughter’s] marriage is not valid for him or her. because he cannot be the wali of [his] daughter. So they went to the Registry For Natasha, it was her belief and her of Muslim Marriages and actually partner’s that their future child should conducted another solemnisation – choose a religion that he or she is comfortthis time, [with] the Qadi as the able with. According to Natasha, what is wali hakim.” important to her are the moral values that the child grows up with. Ashikin is fully aware of the issues she might face in the future. However, she and “Our kids are going to learn both. They are her partner have discussed them at length going to learn about Easter and Good to circumvent any problems from the Friday. At the same time, I will teach them legal perspective. According to her, they about Hari Raya, fasting and the prayers. might engage a lawyer to protect the
Muhammad Faris Alfiq Mohd Afand i is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Research on Islam ic and Malay Affair s (RIMA). He special ises in the discours e on Islam in Singapore, Malaysia and Ind onesia, sociology of Islam ic law, and politica l Islam. He holds a Bachelo r of Arts in Malay studies from the National Universi ty of Singapore (NUS).
HEDGES, P. AND JUHI, A. “INTERRELIGIOUS MARRIAGE: PERSPECTIVES FROM THE SINGAPOREAN CONTEXT IN RELATION TO INTERRELIGIOUS DIALOGUE.” INTERRELIGIOUS RELATIONS, NO. 1 (FEBRUARY 2019).
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BY RISDIAN ISBINTARA divorces’ in this article. The figure increased THE DECREE The Decree will state whether the home is more than threefold to 1,682 in 2018. 1) to be sold in the open market, or 2) to be transferred to one party. In the case of the Following a divorce, one of the most significant issues for the separating couple latter, the party who the property is to be transferred to has to buy over the shares of In 1980, there were 505 divorces under the to consider is what will happen to the the transferring party. Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), matrimonial home. This will be or what will be referred to as ‘Muslim determined in the Divorce Decree granted by the Syariah Court.
The number of divorces in Singapore has been on the rise: a total of 7,344 marriages ended in divorce or annulment in 2018, compared to 1,721 in 19801.
DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS SINGAPORE. STATISTICS ON MARRIAGES AND DIVORCES, REFERENCE YEAR 2018. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.SINGSTAT.GOV.SG/-/MEDIA/FILES/PUBLICATIONS/POPULATION/SMD2018.PDF
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WOMEN’S CHARTER ADMINISTRATION OF MUSLIM LAW ACT
Per 1,000 Residents 2.4
CRUDE DIVORCE RATE
3 0.8 2 0.4
FIGURE 1. MARITAL DISSOLUTIONS, FROM DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS SINGAPORE, STATISTICS ON MARRIAGES AND DIVORCES, REFERENCE YEAR 2018
SELLING IN THE OPEN MARKET The Decree will also determine the percentage share of the cash proceeds if the home is sold in the open market. For instance, the Decree might prescribe a 30/70 share for the defendant and plaintiff respectively. As such, if the cash proceeds are $100,000, the defendant will be entitled to $30,000 while the remaining $70,000 goes to the plaintiff. Besides this, the Decree will state if there can be any claims from the other party’s Central Provident Fund (CPF) proceeds. While all CPF refunds must be refunded to the respective accounts upon the sale of a property, this allows one to receive some of his/her ex-spouse’s CPF funds.
which a Muslim woman cannot marry following a divorce) and mutaah (a “consolatory”gift upon divorce, the sum of which is determined based on a specific sum of money multiplied by the number of days the marriage lasted, or a specified lump sum) in cash, especially where the sale of the home is a negative sale (i.e. sale with no cash proceeds). The ex-husband, instead of paying for nafkah iddah and mutaah in cash, can pay via his CPF funds.
TRANSFER OF SHARES The Decree might rule for the property to be transferred to one spouse, in the event that one party chooses to retain that property. For instance, if the wife wishes to retain the home, she will have to buy over her ex-husband’s share (i.e. refund what This usually happens in two scenarios: was paid from his CPF). The distribution One is when a spouse, usually the ex-wife, for refunds of any cash paid by the had been a stay-at-home mother and not ex-husband towards the home will be worked outside the home for several years, decided mutually by the couple and and hence, has no CPF contributions of included in the Court Order. their own. In this case, some of the ex-husband’s CPF can be transferred to the SELLING BEFORE FINALISATION OF ex-wife. THE DIVORCE Some couples decide to sell their property Second is when the ex-husband is unable before the Decree, moving on with their to pay nafkah iddah (the financial support a separate lives ahead of the divorce being husband is expected to provide during the finalised. period of iddah, i.e. the waiting period in 28 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
As they are still legally married, the sale of property will proceed like a typical sale, with CPF proceeds being refunded to respective accounts and any sales proceeds to be shared by way of mutual agreement between the couple, as they deem fit. IMPEDIMENTS TO SALE OF MATRIMONIAL HOME Anecdotally, most ex-spouses tend to be cooperative as it is in the interest of both parties to settle the housing matters, thereby allowing them both to move on with their lives. However, this is not always the case. Here are some scenarios that may unfold. Uncooperative Ex-Spouse One spouse might not agree to the sale of the property, or due to lack of housing options, choose to try to retain the home for as long as possible. Some might try to hinder the sale of the property by making viewing sessions very difficult such as only allowing viewings on alternate Wednesday mornings at 8 am, a timing where most potential buyers are not likely to be viewing homes.
Others refuse to remove their belongings, Common hindrances include: thereby cluttering the home and making it unattractive for sale. Insufficient Funds to Buy a Home Oftentimes, this affects a spouse who has Some others might repeatedly refuse any been a stay-at-home parent for many years, price offered by buyers, claiming they usually the wife. She would not have want a higher and oftentimes an unrealis- amassed CPF savings or cash savings from tic amount for their home in that particu- income earned working outside the home. lar market. On top of that, some have not worked for a long time and finding a job is challenging. Missing Ex-Spouse Divorcees who are older and have been out Recently, I sold the flats of two divorcing of the workforce for decades face an even couples where their ex-husbands were not more arduous challenge: when the work contactable – their old mobile numbers skills they possess might be obsolete, as were no longer in use, and their immediate they attempt to enter a largely technologyfamily members did not know of their driven workforce today. whereabouts. Lack of Family Nucleus This slowed down the selling process, as Divorcees who are below 35 years old and there were more steps to be taken, such as do not have custody, care and control of getting the law firm to start an enforcetheir children face difficulty when they ment process and getting a Court Registrar want to buy a HDB flat. They neither to sign on behalf of the missing party. This qualify to buy under the Single Scheme makes the property less attractive for sale, (they need to be at least 35 years old)3, nor as the legal completion of the case will be are they eligible under the Public Scheme delayed for at least an additional one to (buying with a family nucleus). two months. Potential buyers have to be willing to wait this out, and obtain their CONCLUSION new flat keys slightly later. The old adage, “Marriage is grand, but divorce is a hundred grand” rings true. Fulfilling of Minimum Occupation Period Besides the emotional and psychological For the sale of Housing and Development effects of divorce, it poses a huge financial Board (HDB) flats, owners must fulfil the burden on both parties. They are now Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) of expected to shoulder greater financial five years before they are allowed to sell loads on their now single income. It is not their property, unless the Decree instructs uncommon for divorcees to take many for it to be sold, and special approval to sell years to stabilise their finances – some stay has been sought from the HDB. with relatives or rent a home for as long as ten years or even more, before finally being For the sale of private property within the able to afford a home of their own. Some period of three years, the couple may be wait for their children to reach 21 years old, liable to pay Seller Stamp Duty fees of up and buy a flat together with their grown to 12% of the actual selling price or up children. Yet others only buy their next market value of the property, whichever is home upon remarriage and being in a higher2. dual-income household once more. OBSTACLES TO MOVING ON Once the matrimonial home has been sold, there is still another hurdle for the couple to overcome – can they buy another home?
It is recommended that couples who are considering divorce, or in the midst of divorce proceedings seek professional advice regarding their housing matters, such as division of the matrimonial home, claiming of CPF as well as their eligibility to sell and buy, before the divorce is finalised. professional will be able to map out realistic options and timeline, so as not to prolong the process for both parties as well as ensure they do not end up without a home.
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It is recommended that couples who are considering divorce, or in the midst of divorce proceedings seek professional advice regarding their housing matters, such as division of the matrimonial home, claiming of CPF as well as their eligibility to sell and buy, before the divorce is finalised. Once the Decree is out, any requests to make amendments to it will cost time and money. A real estate
INLAND REVENUE AUTHORITY OF SINGAPORE. DETERMINING SSD LIABILITY, SECTION D. RATES APPLICABLE. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.IRAS.GOV.SG/IRASHOME/OTHER-TAXES/STAMP-DUTY-FORPROPERTY/WORKING-OUT-YOUR-STAMP-DUTY/SELLING-OR-DISPOSING-PROPERTY/SELLER-S-STAMP-DUTY--SSD--FOR-RESIDENTIAL-PROPERTY/ HOUSING AND DEVELOPMENT BOARD. RESIDENTIAL – ELIGIBILITY CRITERIA. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.HDB.GOV.SG/CS/INFOWEB/RESIDENTIAL/BUYING-A-FLAT/RESALE/ELIGIBILITY-?ANCHOR=SSC-SCHEME
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The Sting of
STIGMA BY JENNY TEO
Stigma – the very first time I ever knew of this word was when I was a student in a primary school science class. Stigma – (in a flower) the part of a pistil that receives the pollen during pollination. Today, there exists a different kind of stigma – stigma of divorce, stigma of having gone to jail, stigma of mental illness and stigma of a loved one lost to suicide. Today, the stigma of anxiety and major depressive disorders is so pervasive that two-thirds of people with mental issues do not seek professional help. The stigma is bringing about a totally opposite effect of the real definition of the word “pollination” that is, the creation of an offspring for the next generation. Suicide is currently the leading cause of death among our youths between the ages of 10 and 29 years1. Many of them are taking their lives before they even give themselves a chance to experience life itself. This is the generation that we are depending on to create offspring for the next generation.
SAMARITANS OF SINGAPORE. LEARN ABOUT SUICIDE – QUICK FACTS. ACCESSED ON 2019, 19 DECEMBER AT: HTTPS://WWW.SOS.ORG.SG/LEARN-ABOUT-SUICIDE/QUICK-FACTS
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The pollen is dwindling. Not only are they battling the inner demons inside their heads, they are walking on the streets with a proverbial stamp on their forehead that says, “I’m a disgrace”. That is what stigma does to people. And when they finally give up the battle and succumb to taking their own lives to end their pain, the ones left behind not only have to live with the pain but they also carry on living with the stigma of suicide. STIGMA OF MENTAL ILLNESS AND SUICIDE Take the story of Mr Sim Kah Lim, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 15 and admitted to the Institute of Mental Health. Thanks to his sister/ caregiver and his art, he was finally discharged, free to return to the world he left behind for 35 years. Today he is 50. Despite the fact that he has sold more than 40 paintings and held three solo exhibitions of which one was held at my friend’s art gallery on 16 November 2019, I was told that some of the remarks by the public regarding the sale of his art pieces
of old Singapore, which he painted from memory had been, “Why would I want to buy anything from a moron?”
If I answer, “I have no children”, I am telling a lie because that would be declaring my son never existed. So can you understand the dilemma we suicide survivors have to face for the rest of our lives?
“Moron” is just one of the 250 labels2 people have used on those with mental health issues. Not to mention “gila”, “siao”, “half past six”, “ding dong”, “looney,” “out of whack” and many more. The stigma remains even for Mr Sim after all these years. This is the sting of stigma.
If my son had died of an illness or an accident, the conversation would have continued. But with suicide, people stop talking to you immediately; like you have bad breath or infected with a contagious disease. This is the sting of stigma.
As a mother who have had to deal with the stigma of losing a child to suicide, things are different. The questions, “Why? Did I fail as a mother? Why didn’t I see the signs? Why did I not do this or do that?” play on and on in my mind. For the grieving family, no matter how many questions they ask themselves, there is never an answer. For the relatives, they don’t even ask why. They just don’t talk about it or even ask how I am coping with my grief. They also don’t talk about my son. It is like he never existed. This is the sting of stigma. For a mother, not being able to talk about your son with your close relatives and to receive empathy, compassion and emotional support while you grieve can sometimes leave one extremely vulnerable to depression. The stigma of suicide actually compounds the pain I feel from losing my only child to suicide. My fellow neighbours at the condominium where I live didn’t even know about my loss for a whole year until the PleaseStay. Movement was launched. Even then, they are too uncomfortable to talk about it. They don’t know what to say. One said, “Wow, you are now a celebrity but in a different way.” As for society, it’s toughest when they ask, “How many children do you have?”. If I answer, “I have one”, they will ask, “Oh, which school is he in?” or “Is he in the army?”. Then you have to answer, “I lost him”. Then they ask, “What happened?” Then you say, “Suicide”. Then they have this look of shock on their faces. And that’s the end of the conversation. 2
BMC HEALTH SERVICES RESEARCH. 250 LABELS USED TO STIGMATISE PEOPLE WITH MENTAL ILLNESS (2007, 28 JUNE). AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://BMCHEALTHSERVRES.BIOMEDCENTRAL.COM/ARTICLES/ 10.1186/1472-6963-7-97
Families can play their part by educating themselves and their children about mental health and mental illness. We need to learn to be willing and comfortable with talking about it.
COMBATING STIGMA Suicide is a topic many would prefer to sweep under the carpet and ignore, especially in families. The question is, can we afford to not talk about it? Can we afford to believe it will never happen to us? To think that it is someone else’s problem and not ours? Those were also my thoughts then. Depression as a major cause of suicide does not discriminate against race, language or religion, status or qualification, rich or poor, famous or an outcast in society. It is now a global epidemic and Singapore has not been spared either. The urgent call-to-action has now been made at the national level. But how do we start? Families can play their part by educating themselves and their children about mental health and mental illness. We need to learn to be willing and comfortable with talking about it. Sometimes when we are willing to talk about suicide to help break the stigma, we are not comfortable to talk about it because we are afraid it may instill the idea of suicide in the listener. At other times, we are comfortable to talk about suicide because we have some knowledge about it to help educate others, but we are not willing to talk about it lest we be seen as condoning it. With the advocacy work that I am doing with the PleaseStay. Movement, I would like to believe that I am willing. I am also comfortable. Needless to say, it takes passion and commitment, courage and perseverance. You do not need to speak at forums or write articles on the subject. You only need to reframe your mind and tweak the language you use when you talk about mental issues and about those who choose to end their lives by suicide.
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Reframing your mind would mean looking at clinical depression not as a character flaw or a personality weakness, but as a serious mental health condition that could result in death – in the same way you look at cancer as a serious physical health condition that could also lead to death. The pain, as a result of either one, may not be the same in nature; one is physical, the other is emotional. Painkillers are easily prescribed for a cancer patient but for a person with clinical depression and suicidal thoughts, no emotional painkiller has yet been found for him or her to end the pain. If you have a heart condition, you can still be on medication and report for work. Unfortunately, it is not always the case for those with clinical depression.
The condition can corrode their minds to the extent of rendering them dysfunctional and in isolation. To tweak the language used in reference to suicide, we can start by dropping the word ‘commit’ which connotes an act of crime when referring to someone who chose to die by suicide. Suicide is no longer a crime in Singapore, just like dying of a heart attack is not and has never been a crime. Death by either of these causes should be viewed as an end result of a health condition, be it physical or mental in nature. One also never completes suicide nor successfully attempts suicide. Both “successful” and “complete” carry positive connotations like “completed homework or project” or “a successful career or man”. Suicide should never be viewed as successful or completed. It is only a matter of a fatal or non-fatal attempt. 32 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Sometimes when we are willing to talk about suicide to help break the stigma, we are not comfortable to talk about it because we are afraid it may instill the idea of suicide in the listener.
At other times, we are comfortable to talk about suicide because we have some knowledge about it to help educate others, but we are not willing to talk about it lest we be seen as condoning it.
Let us play our part by first changing the way we view and speak with regard to the topic of suicide and mental illness by educating ourselves and engaging in responsible discussions. Only then would we be helping to remove the stigma in families, schools, workplaces and the society as a whole. Eventually, and hopefully, the sting of stigma on the sufferers may not be as painful nor as deadly.
Jenny Teo is the mothe r of Josh Isaac Ng who took his life at the age of 20 years 6 months. At the time it happened, Josh was serving his Nation al Service (NS). Although he survived his first attempt in Feb 2018, his second atte mpt on 25 June 2018 was fatal. Jenny is a retired former radio and TV personalit y, Music and Programme Director of Class 95, and former Project Manager and General Manager of SAFRA Rad io. She is also a founding member of the advocacy group PleaseStay. Movem ent, a ground-up initiative by 14 suicide bereaved mothers who se aim is to create suicide awa reness and prevention.
Home in a Great Big World –
Life as a Student Abroad
BY ABDUL HAKEEM AKBAR ALI JANUARY 2020
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“The perks of being a wallflower, huh?”, quipped an acquaintance. I responded with a wry smile. She was referring to an observation I made about the cliques I joked would form as the party – one of many we had during orientation week – progressed. Having dabbled quite extensively in coming-of-age novels in my late teens, her words in an instant brought to mind a similarly named novel. The main protagonist, Charlie, feels slightly rattled about beginning his first year of college. His shyness and disdain for most things social see him camouflage into the background, invisible to most of his peers. He is a ghost among humans. A wallflower among cacti. Yet, as is the case that not all plants starved of sunlight simply wither and die, so too the introvert does not. At parties, for example, though I am drawn, almost by law of nature, to the edges of the room, it is where I am perfectly happy, close enough to the hustle and bustle to get a sense of the chatter, yet distant enough that I do not get reeled in by the tide. It is – to a number of us introvert types – a familiar territory, where observation and reflection reside. It is also from these quieter fringes that – in addition to being a deracinated foreigner from a faraway land – I think I acquired a heightened appreciation of my surroundings, a place where I’ve become more sensitive to nuance. Charlie and I, in many ways, are not too dissimilar. Except, instead of the hard graft of honest men and women sweating and WRITER AT OXFORD, A CITY IN CENTRAL SOUTHERN ENGLAND smelting in giant burning furnaces, emblematic of the so-called ‘steel city’ of For one, I have become more aware of my by all who encounter others with different Pittsburgh he finds himself in, the speech. In part, this has to do, in my manners of speech. That said, it probably financial metropolis that is London bears opinion, with the suddenness with which wouldn't aid with comprehension if one quite a different imprint. I found myself constantly surrounded by soldiers on and continues to pepper ones’ people who, though they all speak the speech with generous seasonings of LIFE IN THE CITY Singlish. (Also, after the tenth time being It has been about two months since I first same English language, sound quite different than I do. The reverse is therefore asked “what does ‘lah’ mean?”, you would arrived in London for my postgraduate probably – driven by an aversion to studies. Having never been ravished by the also true – that the way I speak, not explain it for the umpteenth time – take wanderlust strain that affects many people immediately understood by some, may require a double (or quadruple) take for action to stop being asked about it again). I know, and so never having had the urge those words to be fully comprehended to travel much, I am struck by what (though it probably doesn’t help my cause Also, instead of kopitiams and cafes as visiting abroad – or, in this case, living havens to lepak (relax), a lot of socialising abroad – can do to a person. It is almost as that I am also a fast speaker). Now please don’t misunderstand, there is absolutely in London takes place, regardless of age, in if being stripped off of the familiar opens nothing wrong with a Singaporean accent pubs. Such is the local love affair with an unblinking third eye that functions as or ways of talking. Difficulties of compre- them that, on practically every other street an appendage of what sociologist C. hension may be experienced in common here in Central London, one is able to find Wright Mills calls the “sociological imagination”. 34 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
As partially alluded to earlier, I believe that the nature of differences between diverse people, rooted mainly in cultural orientations from myriad forms of socialisation, serves as a partial explanation as to why the individual experience of adapting to a quite different culture varies.
THE LONDON SCHOOL OF ECONOMICS AND POLITICAL SCIENCE
a pub. Indeed, the pub culture here is quite strong – even on weekday evenings, it is not uncommon to see them packed with people. As someone who can count on one hand the number of times he’s stepped into anything resembling a pub prior to coming to London, this, I must admit, I haven’t fully embraced.
as a more outwardly vibrant political culture that is the hallmark of many Western liberal democracies.
Of course, this is not meant to be a sweeping generalisation, or a warped twist of an “us” versus “them” rhetoric, in which people foreign to one seem to be almost subject to a particular gaze, where the “others” acquire an almost exotic Indeed, I am not the only one who hasn't felt settled in. John (not his real name), a tint. Nor is this about the fundamental Singaporean I met through a friend, difficulties with fitting in that Singaporelamented about the “culture change” he ans studying abroad inexorably face. That experienced at school. “I feel like making is far from my intention. As partially friends here is more challenging. It’s as if alluded to earlier, I believe that the nature I have to relearn how to make friends! of differences between diverse people, They just don’t get me lah. Luckily, I also rooted mainly in cultural orientations from have my Singaporean friends to hang out myriad forms of socialisation, serves as a with after class," he exclaims, half-laughing. partial explanation as to why the individual His tone could be best characterised as experience of adapting to a quite different sanguine frustration. Chris (not his real culture varies. name), another Singaporean student from a university close by, remarks that while I can only speak from my unique and timehe is quite fond of the “warmth” and limited experience, and thereby what I generally more upbeat disposition of the have interpreted from my time here so far. people here, he still hasn’t yet felt a deeper connection to the place and its people. NO PLACE LIKE HOME A common thread that runs through There is no place like home. In fact, what many of these conversations I’ve had with is home? Does it merely encompass the foreign (i.e. not only Singaporean) students physical structures that provide a person – especially those who originate from quite with shelter, or is it a metaphysical state socio-culturally different places – is of being that goes further? At 26 years of consequently a longing for the convenience age, I am surprised that it has taken me and familiarity of home, from the mere this long to give the question much sight of countrymen and women, to the thought. Home, house, place, residence – “simpler” pleasures of a hearty hometo me, they all meant the same thing. But cooked meal. they are not the same. Think about how strange it would be if people spoke that, A deracinated person might also tell you say, house is where the heart is, or there’s that old “tried and tested” rules about nothing like house, or the comforts of getting to know people – or more broadly house. It doesn't quite work the palate the speaking, socialising – may not work as same way that ‘home’ does. It doesn’t fill well as one might expect as compared to me with the same warmth of kith and kin, back home. The kind of jokes one tells, for of community and camaraderie, of the example, may conjure a different taste to friendly and familiar. Home – there is no the foreign tongue, not as savoury as it place quite like it. might be to someone else back home. Whereas one brand of humour works in one place, the same may not in another. ly a i was former m Akbar Al for As was the case for me, one may also have re nt Ce Abdul Hakee e sistant at th . He Research As Malay Affairs to become acquainted with different Islamic and te on ua ch ad ar gr se Re s post manners of speech. This could involve y pursuing hi ical Econom is currently ational Polit rn te (mis)perceptions of brusqueness – In in ics. s om on studie Ec of on School typically a result of more “straightforward” at the Lond mannerisms of speech – as a result of freely speaking ones’ mind (especially on perceived “sensitive” topics such as politics) regardless of rebuke. In my opinion, this stems from a strong tradition of individualism within societies, as well
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My recent trip to South Korea was my second after 2013. The first trip was not a memorable one. I wasn’t able to fully explore Seoul as I met with a minor accident in Cheongdam-dong which left me with a swollen foot and a pair of crutches. Cheongdam-dong is a district in Seoul where all the major K-pop entertainment agencies like JYP, SM and FNC are located. After the accident happened, I vowed to return to South Korea. Like in 2013, I chose to visit South Korea in autumn. It is the best season to visit for people like me, who can’t endure the cold winter and missed the chance to see cherry blossoms in spring. But unlike in 2013, I wasn’t visiting as a K-pop enthusiast. This time around, I was looking forward to see the beautiful natural sceneries of Jeju Island and explore the different parts of Seoul which I didn’t manage to that first time. The flight to Jeju took approximately six hours from Singapore, plus an additional hour on a domestic flight from Seoul. There are currently no direct flights to Jeju. But with the recent expanded air services agreement formalised between Singapore and South Korea1, it might get materialised soon.
JEJU, THE LAND OF WONDERS Blessed with spectacles of nature created by volcanic activities, Jeju Island was designated as a Biosphere Reserve, a World Heritage Site and a Global Geoparks by UNESCO. The locals proudly called it the ‘Hawaii of Korea’ and it is easy to see why. Surrounded by breathtaking mountains, volcanos and pristine beaches, you will be in awe seeing these natural wonders up close. The best way to explore the island is by car since there is no subway available. You can either self-drive or arrange for a private tour with a travel agency. Since my travel companions and I were not familiar with the island, we decided to do the latter.
Second Time’s A Charm BY NUR DIYANA JALIL 1
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THE STRAITS TIMES. MORE FLIGHTS BETWEEN SINGAPORE AND SOUTH KOREA AMONG MOVES ANNOUNCED DURING PM LEE'S VISIT TO SEOUL (NOVEMBER 23, 2019). AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/POLITICS/MORE-FLIGHTS-BETWEEN-SINGAPORE-AND-SOUTH-KOREA-AMONG-MOVES-ANNOUNCED-DURING-PM-LEES-VISIT
Apart from its natural wonders, Jeju is also famous for its seafood. One particular dish that stood out – Jeju’s spicy mackerel stew. It is a popular dish among Singaporean and Malaysian tourists because of its similarities to our asam pedas, in terms of spiciness and colour.
SPICY MACKEREL STEW, WHICH IS SIMILAR TO THE DISH.
SINGAPOREAN IN SEOUL Since we were familiar with Seoul, we had a free and easy itinerary. Taking the Seoul metropolitan subway is the best way to explore the city and blend in with the locals. Not only is the subway extremely convenient, it is also the cheapest mode of transport. You only need to be physically prepared as there will be a lot of walking when you transfer from one subway line to the other to get to your destination. I easily accumulated 10,000-15,000 steps LOWER PART OF SUNRISE PEAK IN JEJU, WHERE YOU CAN FIND MANY HAENYEO IN ACTION. each day on my fitness tracker. It was not only a good workout but also a good way to earn myself Healthpoints (via the Here are some recommended places to women (also known as ahjummas2) go Healthy 365 app by the Health Promotion visit on Jeju Island. First is the designated deep diving into the sea without any UNESCO World Heritage site, Seongsan breathing equipment to catch abalone and Board). Ilchulbong which is a tuff cone formed by conchs. Next is Woljeongri Beach, one of an underwater volcanic eruption 5,000 Jeju’s pristine beaches, well-known for its Like any Singaporean, we love food. After years ago. It is also known as ‘Sunrise Peak’ white sandy beach and emerald-coloured eating seafood and vegetarian dishes in as it is said to have the best view of sunrise water. A stretch of cozy and beautiful cafes Jeju, we were eager to try out other on the island, at 182m above sea level. We line the street near the beach, making it a authentic Korean dishes like samgyetang (ginseng chicken soup), bulgogi (Korean had the option of climbing up to the peak perfect place to hang out while enjoying BBQ beef), dalktoritang (braised chicken or explore the lower part of Sunrise Peak. the picturesque scenery. Lastly, a trip to stew) and Korean fried chicken. My We headed to the lower part of Sunrise Jeju would not be complete without Peak where Jeju’s famous women sea seeing its most iconic landmark and South cravings from watching all the Korean mukbangs online were truly satisfied in divers or Haenyeo, can be seen doing their Korea’s highest mountain, Mount Halla Seoul. You can find halal eateries along the daily dive or selling their fresh catch. It (Hallasan). Muslim street in Itaewon as well as at the was quite a sight to see these middle-aged 2
AHJUMMA IS A KOREAN WORD GENERALLY USED TO REFER TO WOMEN WHO ARE MIDDLE-AGED OR OLDER, AND WORKING-CLASS.
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popular shopping district of Myeongdong. If you are not into Korean cuisine, there are a variety of other cuisines ranging from Middle Eastern, Indian and Malaysian that you can choose from. Seoul is a shopping paradise for ‘Made in Korea’ products, from its well-known cosmetics and skincare brands, to clothing, accessories and even their food products. Apart from Myeongdong, our other favourite shopping places are the university districts such as Ehwa Womans University and Hongdae (Hongshik University Street). They are popular haunts for college students, hence fashionable goods such as clothing and bags can be bought at a bargain price as low as KRW10,000 (approximately SGD 12). A MUSLIM-FRIENDLY DESTINATION According to South Korea’s government data3, there is an increase in the number of Muslim tourists from 870,000 in 2017 to 970,000 in 2018. This is largely due to the popularity of Korean dramas and K-pop music, which led to an increase in the demand for Korean food and interest in experiencing the culture. The government and Korean Tourism Organisation (KTO) have also introduced initiatives to make the country more Muslim-friendly in order to attract Muslim tourists especially from the South East Asian and Middle Eastern countries. In Seoul, there are more food options and prayer rooms easily available today, compared to my last visit six years ago. You can find prayer rooms located at the airport, shopping and entertainment places such as the COEX Mall and Everland theme park. Even a non-Muslim restaurant like the one we patronised in Jeju, allowed us to perform our prayers at a corner of the restaurant. These are positive initiatives by a non-Islamic country like South Korea towards being a Muslimfriendly destination. RETURN OF THE WANDERLUST To me, my second time (in South Korea) was a charm. Enchanted by Jeju’s natural wonders and Seoul’s modern yet traditional way of life, it made me realise that the country is not just about K-pop,
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OLDEST MOSQUE IN SOUTH KOREA
Korean dramas and beauty products. There is more to explore and I can’t wait to return in a year or two. Travelling independently is not only about discovering new places, but also a time for self-discovery. The challenges encountered during the trip only made me stronger as a person and the experience of exploring unfamiliar places is priceless. As quoted by Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not of seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
Nur Diyana Jalil is currently an Executive at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA) who manages its social media, events and publication. She loves to read, travel, watch Korean variety shows (as a stress reliever) and admires Blackpink for their ‘girl power’ attitude.
YONHAP NEWS AGENCY. OVER 1 MILLION MUSLIM TOURISTS TO VISIT S. KOREA THIS YEAR (2019, SEPTEMBER 15). AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://EN.YNA.CO.KR/VIEW/AEN20190915000700320
Championing Special Needs Children with
Nor Ashraf BY RUZAIDAH MD RASID
Samsudin dyslexia studies, and teaching and training. I subsequently received a scholarship from DAS to pursue my Master of Education degree from Monash University in 2015 and two years later, I pursued a specialist diploma in career counselling from Republic Polytechnic.
Singapore’s 3rd Enabling Masterplan (2017 – 2021), which guides the development of a more inclusive society, reported that about 2.1 per cent or approximately 9,660 of the total student population had sensory or physical impairment, autism spectrum disorder and intellectual disability1.
wife and three children, and is now a Special Education Consultant at SPELD Victoria.
Students with a learning disability often face difficulty with basic cognitive processes such as listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing or performing mathematical calculations. As such, having a specialised educator who is attuned to the needs of these students could enhance their learning process in a school setting.
Q: How long were you with DAS, before Q: What made you join the special deciding to move to Australia and take education industry? How did you come to specialise in the field you’re in today? up your current position?
For 39-year-old Nor Ashraf Samsudin, his passion in working with children compelled him to work with children with dyslexia after graduating from university. After more than a decade of gaining valuable experience in the field of special education, he decided to grab the opportunity to deepen his skills and knowledge in Melbourne, Australia. He made the move in November 2018 with his 1
The Karyawan team spoke to Ashraf recently to find out more about his calling and experience in relocation.
Ashraf: Through my own positive experiences volunteering with non-profit organisations while in university, I decided to work with the Dyslexia Association of Singapore (DAS) where I interacted with children who are seen as the underdogs in school and helped them realise their potential. I graduated with a degree in life sciences which gave me a good grounding in the sciences behind dyslexia and literacy and numeracy acquisition. When I joined DAS, they had everyone undergo specialised training leading up to a double diploma in
Ashraf: I was with the DAS for 14 years; first as an educational therapist, teaching students with dyslexia. I held multiple portfolios from centre management, and parent and teacher training, to raising awareness through public engagement talks whilst still holding my teaching portfolio. Then, I was blessed to have been appointed the Director of Specialised Educational Services during the last five years of my time there. I oversaw the development of new programmes for DAS ranging from math, preschool, and speech and drama.
MINISTRY OF COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT, YOUTH AND SPORTS. 3RD ENABLING MASTERPLAN 2017-2021: CARING NATION, INCLUSIVE SOCIETY, 2016. AVAILABLE AT: HTTPS://WWW.NCSS.GOV.SG/NCSS/MEDIA/NCSS-DOCUMENTS-AND-FORMS/EM3-FINAL_REPORT_20161219.PDF
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Q: What motivated you to move abroad, particularly to Australia? Ashraf: We moved to Australia sometime at the end of 2018 after Iâ€™d secured my current appointment through the connections that I have with the organisation. For myself and my wife, Marinah, it gave us the opportunity to recalibrate our lives to have a better balance between religion, family and work. We have three daughters aged 12, 9 and 3. The primary reason for our move is for my children to experience a different education system, which would allow them to have a better balance between school, enjoying their childhood and enhancing their character development. From what I observe, Victoria, the state where my family is living in, would be able to provide this. The emphasis here is on thinking and presentation skills, and less on rote learning. ASHRAF WITH HIS FAMILY I observed that the children are less stressed Q: What does your typical work week here and have the opportunity to enjoy their childhood a bit more. Having said that, look like? parental involvement is still important to Ashraf: My work week would vary keep them on task and sharp in school. depending on whether I have training to Q: Is special education a growing field of conduct. The work would sometimes specialisation in Australia compared to require me to travel to the regional areas of Victoria to raise awareness amongst Singapore? teachers and parents. There would be opportunities to bring my family along Ashraf: Specific learning disabilities such as dyslexia, dysgraphia and dyscalculia tend especially if the training falls during the holidays. Those days would typically have to be on the fringes of special needs me start work at 8.30 am and end at about education as the condition is hidden with no visible physical distinguishing features. 3.30 pm. On days without any training, I Support in Singapore is ahead of Australia would be busy following up on administrain this area as the government puts in a lot tive work, having meetings, and researching on new topics to present. Such days more resources to address this area in would typically go from 8.00 am to about schools and organisations. 4.00 pm. In Victoria, this field is slowly growing in Q: What are some differences in the prominence. With falling Programme for working culture of Australia compared International Student Assessment (PISA) to Singapore? scores, resources and funding is slowly being made available for teacher training to Ashraf: There is a lot that goes into the support students who are struggling with culture at a workplace and it varies from reading and writing. I would say it is an opportune time to be in the field here as the organisation to organisation. Mine is one that is very family-friendly, and our Chief conversation around specific learning Executive Officer is flexible with my disabilities is growing. working hours. My colleagues are also generally nice and polite, and we try to support one another as much as we can. Although we are always kept busy, I find it a joy to go to work every day. 40 T H E K A R Y A W A N ÂŠ ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Q: What have been the highlights and challenges throughout your time as a special education consultant in Australia? What are some of your fulfilling achievements to date? Ashraf: It has really been an enjoyable experience. Being in a country where services in this field are limited, you can really see that the teachers and parents here are all hungry for knowledge. I really feel appreciated for the work that I do by the people that I train and feel very content with the fact that the knowledge that I have shared will benefit the children and community. Initially, the challenge was to get around the communication barrier that exists. Although everyone speaks English, there are some differences in accents and how we express ourselves. It took me a couple of months to adapt but it has been great since then! For me, one of the more notable achievements I have had is being the first and only Melbourne-based presenter for a UK evidence-based phonics programme called Sounds-Write. There are only a handful of us here in Australia who are qualified to deliver this programme and I feel blessed to be a part of this team.
Q: What are your future plans? Do you plan to return to Singapore one day? Ashraf: Singapore will always be my home and I will never rule out a return. My goal for now is to essentially help my organisation, schools and the community to succeed, and in the longer run, be in a position to shape the educational landscape here in Victoria through the work that I do. That may sound like an ambitious goal but I reckon itâ€™s an achievable one looking at the opportunities made available to me at present. Q: What advice do you have for Malay/Muslims looking to work overseas, especially those who are bringing their family with them? Would you recommend it?
ASHRAF CONDUCTS TRAINING AROUND THE STATE OF VICTORIA IN AUSTRALIA AS A SPECIAL EDUCATION CONSULTANT WITH SPELD VICTORIA.
I am also part of a committee that is looking into setting up our very first Islamic grammar school in Melbourne. This is a very exciting project initiated by the Malay/Muslim community here as we look to establish a school that is based on our effective Singaporean school system, positive education, and rooted in Islamic ethos. We aspire to nurture future leaders who would become our ambassadors in Islam wherever they go.
Australia, settling in the western, southern and northern parts of the state. Each region would organise their own activities to keep the community vibrant and cohesive. Singapore is blessed to have self -help Malay/Muslim organisations like AMP, MENDAKI and Malay Youth Literary Association (4PM) to organise activities and provide a wide range of services for the community. The organisations still do provide us plenty of opportunities to be actively involved in growing and being a Q: What are some challenges faced as a part of the community. Malay/Muslim in Australia? Is there a large Singaporean Malay/Muslim Q: What are some of the adjustments community in Australia? you and your family have had to make since moving to Australia? Ashraf: Muslims are a minority in this largely Christian country. Even amongst Ashraf: Being away from our extended Muslims, who would largely comprise family and relatives is the biggest people from the Middle East, we (the adjustment. Our hearts and minds do go out Malays) still represent a small minority. to them as we are tight-knit. Despite this, the local Australians are generally pleasant and inclusive, and they The other adjustment is the weather. There make us feel accepted very quickly. are times where we get to experience four seasons in a single day! It would go from a The challenge for our community is scorching 42 degrees in the early afternoons actually to not lose our own identity to suddenly, a cool 10 degrees in the evenings. through the generations. It is very easy for us to lose the use of the Malay language and I have also learnt to be more grateful for the our unique Malay culture. There is a fairly close proximity of local convenience stores large Singaporean/Malaysian community and late closing times for shops, which we in Melbourne as compared to other parts of enjoyed in Singapore.
Ashraf: Yes, I would recommend it. The experience is invaluable and you generally become more independent as things are very much less accessible and available here. Do plenty of research especially if you are bringing your family. It is easy to only see the good in what a country has to offer when you are on holiday. But have conversations with the people who have migrated to the country to better understand the process, and most importantly, the negatives you may encounter before deciding if this is for you. For myself and my family, I considered the quality and availability of good education, healthcare and social support, economic stability and ease in finding work before deciding on the move. It can be particularly challenging finding your first job if you do not have any contacts, as employers typically look for workers with experience working in Australia.
a Senior Executive Ruzaidah Md Rasid is ate Communications por Cor the Officer with gapore. She holds a Sin P department of AM munication and a Bachelor of Arts in Com dies. Stu mic Isla in a lom Dip
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Hard at Work:
Life in Singapore
BY AHMAD MUSTA’AIN KHAMIS
At first glance, I was intimidated by the sheer volume of the book. It’s Hard at Work: Life in Singapore published under the Ridge Books Imprint by NUS Press. Was this a university textbook, or one of those academic anthologies that usually never see beyond the walls of the university library? I expected it to be covered in MLA or APA citations, chapters of analyses and referencing other academics. After all, author Gerard Sasges is a historian and associate professor at the National University of Singapore (NUS), and his latest book features a foreword by celebrated sociologist, Teo You Yenn. Upon closer peeking and skimming, I found myself becoming less skeptical and more impressed with its rich offerings. The ilk of the book resonates similarly to the socially engaged works such as the online documentaries of ‘Humans of Singapore’, ‘Our Grandfather Story’ and ‘Can Ask Meh?’ – slivers of everyday Singaporean stories revealed through clever storytelling and heartfelt interviews.
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I thumbed through its many pages and my In the introduction by Gerard Sasges, he revealed that this book was a labour of first encounter, by chance, was: love built by many hands – he specifically “Well my job is nothing much lah. I’m mentions all of his student collaborators who took on the task of doing the just a waste collector. Collect rubbish groundwork and he also guided them one lor. I just collect different items…” throughout the process. He mentioned – Karang Guni Man, Recycling and three commitments which he upheld – Cleaning, Chapter 5, pg 124. working ethically, with empathy and responsibility, and high level of respect to And so I flipped to the other pages and started reading these gripping confessions. the interviewers and their accounts. No wonder this book succeeds in empathyThat was enough for me to buy the book building instead of belaying sympathy to immediately. I was fascinated by the the reader which speaks a lot about the frankness of these accounts. It felt like firstly, someone was talking directly to me ethical process and educational value and candidly sharing a slice of his/her life. behind producing this book. I think it was incredibly clever that each account Their personal voice came through convincingly and the authenticity of their was crafted around an interview. I could accounts clearly originates from masterful have guessed the questions asked by the transcribing of having a real conversation interviewers, but the ultimate product with them. of that interview was framed into a monologue of sorts. Each person shares “Are you the 3 p.m. appointment? No? generously about their lives and inescapably, reveals nuggets of information that Okay, then why are you here? Ask tell us more about their work ethic, their questions ah? What kind? Okay, but how long, I got work to do.” struggles and dreams. There is a strong – Pet Crematorium Worker, Caring, social commentary on what drives them at Chapter 6, pg 168.
work each day, but it is pitched towards the lens of social and personal development – I read about the bureaucracy of establishing businesses, the arduous preparation of each day, and stories of success forged by failure and resilience. I also learnt about the systemic devices and norms that could either trap or have been circumvented by the interviewees. And as cliché as it sounds, most of these stories reveal an inspiring take on how proud and purposeful they are at what they do. And thanks to this book, they too now exist more distinguishably in my consciousness.
regular jobs with pride and purpose. And by the end of reading each account, we have now have established that amicable connection. Now, for sure, I know a little bit more about their lives other than what I see when they’re at work.
our day to day, we often work within our circles of friends and colleagues and we usually know what we do and how we cope with our jobs. How often then do we think and feel for what others do and how they cope with theirs? Very often, I assumed that those featured in the book “In my department it was predominantly hold functional, maybe even perfunctory Chinese, I would say 80 per cent? roles in society. Instead, I was fondly Initially when I came in I thought it reminded to locate an empathetic was a bit intimidating, but I realised connection to them and not forget the afterwards it’s because I was the only person doing the job. When I see them at junior officer who was Malay. I think it work, I will remember their confessions, wasn’t a problem lah. But you know struggles, and joys and now, we don’t have what was weird for me? There was a to be strangers. I am hopeful that when I trend that when a minority officer who am at work, I too am able to offer and “I remember the first time I do this ah, was transferred out or resigned, there receive the same kind of empathy and be I had to walk around and ask people if will be another minority who is hired. hard at work with the suspension of they want to place their bets with me. So there is a racial quota. We kind of stereotypical judgement of my job. It is You have to be really thick skin leh. get used to it, but it’s still a problem. with the same hope that perhaps, we Walao, eh, lucky I am hor. But really l I mean, Singapore majority Chinese should challenge the notion that our jobs or, very hard.” right? What do you expect?” make us disposable and replaceable – Bet Collector, Entertaining, – Investigation Officer, Protecting, because it is through our uniqueness that Chapter 13, pg 355. Chapter 9, pg 255. shapes our experiences and drive to excel at work. We all have stories to share and I particularly enjoyed the careful curation As these accounts are dense with rich are worthy of being heard no matter what of these people’s accounts. The chapters on first-hand experiences of them at work, the we do. Eating, Selling, Moving, Grooming, for photographs artfully captured by Ng Shi example. These services are the common- Wen provided the much-needed space place in our lives. We see them at work for introspection and deliberation. The and so we think we know of them but very aesthetic of her photography supports the ator by is is an educ rarely do we engage them in a way that portrayal of their diligence at work. Her ta’ain Kham choice. With by er ak Ahmad Mus m eted with and a theatr really gets us to know them unless we critical eye for detail and visual storytelling d just gradua profession, LBKM, he ha University of om fr t or pp su have access to their circles or a reason to heightens the humanising of those the ywriting) from rest include drama an MSc(Pla engage in a conversation with them. Some interviewed with its compelling colours eas of inte ar is H ting with h. rg Edinbu d collabora ing of them are also very removed from our and dramatic focal points. To me, it also aywriting an munities us m co pedagogy, pl ve iti and sens of Malay social environments such as the Drag anchors the stories to the familiar sights marginalised is a founding member ) that ad Group (MTG Queen, Tattoo Artist or the Hostess Agent, of when they’re at work, thus, adding to theatre. Ahm le, Main Tulis porary rc ci em ht nt rig co w in play sues and are often misrepresented in daily the holistic and enjoyable experience of ay-centric is on the Arts looks at Mal ad also sits m m media. Hence, it was fascinating to have getting to know them as the person doing Ah e. or the Infocom r Singap fo ) CP e Panel (A them explain the complexities and often the job with all of their imperfections and . ity Consultativ or th opment Au the untidiness that they face. It felt like zest for life. Media Devel building a brand new friendship with them – only that we don’t see who this “Now our government says we all have specific person is! The exact identity of the to be friends. You can see this in any person is hidden as a way to protect them number of things. Ah, like for example, and also respect their identities (after all, my flat downstairs, if there happens to they can only speak for themselves and be a Chinese funeral going on, and then not the industry that they’re in). But we just nice, some Malays want to get know so much from just reading about married, they want to use that space how they feel about their job, how they too. Well, if we wanted to, we Chinese view themselves, how they reckon others can choose not to give away, you know. view them, and more importantly, how But we Chinese, we give in.” they talk about their role in society given – Temple Flower Seller, Selling, their livelihood. And so, this book Chapter 4, pg 111. provides that opportunity for us to develop a deeper consciousness about As a whole, this book was able to capture their diverse experiences of work. It frames the personal amidst the public faces of itself as the starting line of wanting to these people which I appreciated tremenknow them as regular people doing dously. As we live our lives and go on with
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LETTER TO EDITOR I would like to share my comments and opinions, as well as experiences with regard to some of the articles published in the July 2019 issue of The Karyawan that I read recently. On the article, Obsessions, Compulsions, Depression and the Muslim Community: Reflections from the Singapore Mental Health Study 2016 by Sufian Hanafi, I would agree that when one’s obsession to be as perfect and accurate from how the religious teachers taught us especially the strict ones, it could strike fear in us that if we don’t do the proper ibadah (acts of worship) such as ablution or wudhu’ properly, it may not be accepted by Allah and that we would be punish when we are in our graves. As such, this fear can overwhelm us and our minds would not think properly or rationally. Thus, we would be obsessed in perfecting our ibadah. As an ayat from the Quran stated, ‘…Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship’ (Al-Quran, 2:185). Islam is simple; don’t make it complicated. On the article, Refusing a Culture of Convenient Consumption by Sofiah Jamil, it is actually good to have that awareness of bringing along reusable bags that are so easily available when you think that you need to buy something when you are out and about. These bags are also usually foldable and convenient to carry around. Nur ‘Atikah Jamsuri
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