Karyawan — Volume 11 Issue 2

Page 1






The State of

Entrepreneurship in the







SUPERVISING EDITOR Abdul Hamid Abdullah EDITOR Mohd Anuar Yusop

The State of Entrepreneurship in the Community by Fadilah Majid

EDITORIAL TEAM Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim





Re-examining Malay/Muslim Entrepreneurship: Perceptions, Realities & Hopes by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim In the Land of Gold: Place of History in the Commercial & Entrepreneurial Dialogue by Nuraliah Norasid Advancing Entrepreneurship: The Role of Malay/Muslim Institutions by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Designed for Success: A Malay/ Muslim Fashion Label by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim


Nabilah Mohammad


In Defence of the Liberal Arts by Muhammad Faris Joraimi

Nuraliah Norasid


The Porous USB: Memory and Cognition by Nabilah Mohammad


Turkish Inspirations by Zaidah Rahmat BOOK REVIEW


Men in Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition by Diana Abdul Rahim

Winda Guntor

We welcome letters, comments and suggestions on the issues that appear in the magazine. Please address your correspondence to: Editor, Karyawan Association of Muslim Professionals 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4 #05-11 Singapore 519457 T +65 6416 3966 | F +65 6583 8028 E corporate@amp.org.sg


Punching Above Our Weight by Mohamed Ismail Gafoor


Haji Hashim Bin Haji Abdullah: A Household Name Adapting to Changing Times by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim

Karyawan is a publication of the Association of Muslim Professionals. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of the Association and its subsidiaries nor its directors and the Karyawan editorial board.


The Leathersmiths with Maketh Project & Forest Child by Nuraliah Norasid

© Association of Muslim Professionals. 2016. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction.


Transforming Passion into Opportunity: Seafood at Your Doorstep by Nabilah Mohammad


Bringing Literacy Initiative For Equity (LIFE) to Life by Nur Farhanah Saemon

ERRATUM In our last issue (Volume 11 Issue 1), we had erroneously included the line “It is hard to predict the shape of the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore in the next half a century.” at the start of the article by Dr Mohamed Aidil Subhan Mohamed Sulor. That line was not part of the original article. We are sorry for our mistake.


Entrepreneurship has long been pinpointed as one of the ways that the Malay/ Muslim community in Singapore can possibly close the gap between itself and other communities. A successful foray into the world of entrepreneurship would see exponential income growth for the individual, which would translate to positive growth for the community in the long run. However, the business world is fast evolving, with the players constantly developing new ways of doing business. For example, one of the world’s largest accommodation providers, Airbnb, owns no real estate. This would have been unthinkable decades ago, but as they say, innovation is the hallmark of entrepreneurship. In the recent Community in Review seminar, which AMP holds annually, it was argued that entrepreneurial development needs to be looked at from areas other than from the business standpoint. To successfully promote and advance entrepreneurship, a multifaceted and interdisciplinary approach, which considers education, skills development, social capital, historical progress and culture, must be taken. In line with this, this issue of Karyawan looks at the history and state of entrepreneurship in our community, and whether there is enough support within and outside the community to sustain the current level of entrepreneurship and to grow it. Readers can also draw from the experience of six entrepreneurs from different industries who were interviewed by our writers for this issue, to better understand their challenges and successes. I hope that this issue of Karyawan will be the start of many important discussions that we need to have on how we can spur the entrepreneurial efforts of our community.



Re-examining Malay/Muslim Entrepreneurship:






Promotion and advancement of Malay/ Muslim entrepreneurship has often been viewed through the business lens. Thus, the solutions proposed have ranged from competence- and productivity-enhancing programmes, such as those offered by the SME Centre at the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI), to the building of sustainable business models.

Why are some communities more entrepreneurial than others? Are they innately or culturally entrepreneurial or is it due to structural factors?

However, entrepreneurial development is naturally multifaceted and is linked to areas such as education and skills development, social capital, historical progress and culture. Therefore, any initiative to promote and advance entrepreneurship ought to take an interdisciplinary approach in recognition of this complexity. While there are those who believe that business is a sphere in which ideas and values level the playing field regardless of one’s identity and background, it is, in reality not exempt from sociological, psychological and historical influences. For these reasons, the Community-inReview (CIR) 2016 seminar organised by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) and its research subsidiary, the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), sought to highlight perspectives from all these branches of knowledge. ETHNIC ENTREPRENEURSHIP Dr Zhou Min, Tan Lark Sye Chair Professor and Head of the Division of Sociology at Nanyang Technological University (NTU), introduced the concept of ‘ethnic entrepreneurship’, namely the ‘middleman-minority’ and ‘ethnic-enclave entrepreneurs’. The former trades between the society’s elites and the masses, and tends to find niches in the retail sector. Their clientele are mainly non-co-ethnic and their connection to the local social structure is generally weak.

In contrast, the ethnic-enclave entrepreneurs have strong, multiple and overlapping connections with the said structure. They serve their own co-ethnic communities and own more diverse businesses in terms of type and scale – retail, professional and personal services and production. Existing literature do not reveal much about which of the two types are more predominant in contemporary Malay/ Muslim community but anecdotal evidence points to a larger presence of ethnic-enclave entrepreneurs, whose clientele cuts less across ethnic and geographical lines. Why are some communities more entrepreneurial than others? Are they innately or culturally entrepreneurial or is it due to structural factors? Professor Zhou in speaking about cause and effects believes it is both and they are interacting with one another. Structural factors include institutional discrimination experienced by minority communities in the labour market, language barrier, lack of social capital and access to affordable and reliable co-ethnic and family labour. Professor Zhou argued that entrepreneurial culture arises from structural circumstances and the historical encounter of a group with the larger society. An entrepreneurial community nurtures entrepreneurial spirit by providing role models, mentors and informal training for aspiring entrepreneurs. Thus, pioneering entrepreneurs are important in nurturing an entrepreneurial culture in a community. This in turn contributes to the development of social structures and capital, paving the way for entrepreneurship to flourish in the community.

JUNE 2016




BIASES Contentious issues of discrimination surfaced in the course of the Karyawan team’s interviews with business owners and community leaders, where two opposing schools of thought reigned: one believing that the success of a business hinges upon its value-creation abilities for stakeholders, and the other believing that, barring exceptions, that the interplay between socially influenced-perceptions towards a business or its owner(s) and value creation has a profound influence in shaping outcomes. According to Assistant Professor of Finance at the NUS Business School, Dr Johan Sulaeman, evaluating a business’ performance is subjective and thus, susceptible to biases, both conscious and subconscious. While unawareness makes the latter harder to manage, both types of biases nevertheless could lead to inaccurate assessments of a business’ quality of service. Biases can be addressed by enacting laws and regulations but there are ways to mitigate them outside the legal channel. One such means is through education, which, theoretically, prompts an agent who is subconsciously biased to consider the possibility that he or she may be so and, for those who are consciously biased, that his or her actions are being monitored. In practice, however, these are difficult to achieve because the subconsciously biased may be in denial while monitoring actions requires transparency and continuous effort. What then can be done to mitigate biases? Dr Sulaeman suggests that with modern communications, such as through social media, minority communities have more avenues to highlight cases of biasness in an organised way. The recent incident involving Tampines One is a case in point. 1

A staff rejected an application for rental space, citing the mall’s mainly Chinese “target audience”. It led to a Facebook post alleging discrimination that went viral, prompting a statement from the mall that the employee concerned has erred. Such reporting via social media brings biases against particular groups to the surface and makes the agent more aware that their biasness can have negative consequences. However, biases can also result in positive outcomes. Competing in uneven playing fields can actually lead to better performance as they are forced to ‘train’ under difficult circumstances. The community’s business fraternity and leadership should thus be wary of oversimplifying and attributing the lag that Malay/Muslim entrepreneurship is experiencing to cultural or mindset deficiency. On the contrary, they have a moral obligation to encourage Malay/Muslims in constructive ways, for example, by providing training, mentorship and other resources. HISTORY Our interviews also revealed a tendency to compare the progress of Malay/ Muslim entrepreneurship with that of other communities. Such comparisons have little scientific validity if they do not take into account developments over a historical timeline that places communities on different developmental trajectories. To begin, the oft-cited notion that the Malays are inherently disinclined to trade is a superficial argument if one has the knowledge that not only have Malay trading classes existed but that its influence in trade and commerce, as noted by Willem Lodewycksz, author of the account of the first Dutch voyage to the East Indies under Cornelis de Houtman

This is in page 190 of the Myth of the Lazy Native by the late Malay Studies Professor Syed Hussein Alatas.




in 1595, includes Malay being the lingua franca – the official language of contracts and diplomatic correspondence1. However, increasing Dutch dominance led to the decline of these Malay trading classes over the course of three centuries. The colonial history of the Malays and the Javanese are closely intertwined as they constitute part of the Malay Archipelago. Dr Casey Hammond, a Senior Lecturer in Humanities Arts and Social Science at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), highlighted the complex relationship between trade and politics that existed at that time. Trade structures were predominantly monopoly contracts between the Dutch colonisers and the sultanate of Mataram, the last major independent Javanese kingdom, who was allowed to remain in power in exchange for trade deals. When the Mataram Sultanate finally surrendered to the Dutch, the latter’s control of the state deepened its penetration of the markets, thereby creating more opportunities for migrant Chinese to enter the social structure and fill the role of middlemen. A rapport was established between Chinese traders and the Dutch and subsequently the British, who in turn encouraged and sped up Chinese immigration. Thus, Chinese immigration included those of different social and trade classes, which facilitated the development of an ethnic business community: entrepreneurs with supply of co-ethnic labour and patrons. The British rulers of the time were accommodating to such demographics as it meant a more sophisticated and organised society which facilitated their business and administrative processes. But it also meant displacement for the Malays in terms of trade and commerce, and in skilled labour supply. The effects of this new trade and social order continued to be felt in the post-colonial era.

While there have been dedicated efforts by the Malay/Muslim community to promote and advance entrepreneurship in the community, it is worth noting how such historical developments have impacted the economic position of the Malays in society so that cross-cultural comparisons can be undertaken without unduly downplaying the considerable ground that the community has to cover before the disparity in entrepreneurial progress is bridged. THE FUTURE Innovative or disruptive technologies are what Mr M Nazri Muhd, Chief Executive Officer and Head of Global Advisory Services of Vector Scorecard, saw as interesting prospects for the community. He observed that, each day, millions of dollars are being transacted but Malay/ Muslim businesses are not participating enough in fast-growing industries.

funding before scaling up and attaining their current statuses. Today, venture capitals are accessible to start-ups even if they do not have a five-year financial track record to substantiate their investmentworthiness. Mr Nazri is especially concerned that Malay/Muslim companies are not only failing to take advantage of government grants but also venture capitalist funds. He attributes this to the absence of the “think big, start small and scale up” mindset. He felt that Malay/Muslim companies lack the clear vision to know that most need to spend 80 percent of their time immersing themselves in the tech ecosystem and capitalising on the various schemes and funding opportunities.

He thus proposes that the community’s businesses and leadership consider setting benchmarks for the next 5 to 20 years, during which they can nurture their businesses to capitalise on new technologies in order to achieve breakthroughs. In the new economy, there should be a more concerted endeavour to develop business acumen: keeping abreast of the current trends, understanding the various stakeholders and knowing what is essential for a business to thrive in the new economy. n

rcher Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim is a Resea e for Centr the with inator Coord cts / Proje s Research on Islamic and Malay Affair iation of (RIMA), the research arm of the Assoc Muslim Professionals (AMP).

Financial technology (fintech) is an example of an industry enjoying phenomenal growth. In 2015, global investments in fintech soared to $23.7 billion, up from just $2.2 billion in 2012. Mr Nazri felt that Malay/Muslim technopreneurs are not integrated enough with the tech fraternity in Singapore to identify and seize opportunities locally, let alone globally. To do so would entail spending time with venture capitalists, tech accelerators, various agencies and potential business partners. Mr Nazri argues that disruptive technology does not mean cutting edge, highly sophisticated scientific phenomena such as biomedical sciences or nanotechnology. Companies such as Fastacash, iCarsclub, Capillary Technologies and Carousell Singapore capitalised on various schemes and seed

JUNE 2016




In the Land of Gold: Place of History in the


Commercial Entrepreneurial Dialogue BY NURALIAH NORASID




The notion that Malays and economic proclivity in all its facets are completely nonsynonymous has permeated into the common understanding — both by non-Malays and Malays — that Malays have a natural inaptitude for trade and entrepreneurship. The ancient trade history in the Muslim community is often dominated by images of the sand-borne men in their robes and headgears, leading a caravan of camels carrying rolls of rugs and linens, silks and spices strapped onto their backs on the arduous trek along the land-based trading routes that connected the East to the West. Within the cities, coins bearing the emblems of animals and the seals of different kings exchanged hands in a bustling marketplace. Goods and gold would be measured out using standardised weights-and-balance apparatus that had been in use since the Byzantium era and that of early Islamic civilisation1. Elsewhere, South Asian civilisations were sailing on littoral routes and establishing contacts with Middle Eastern, African, and East European traders from as early as 2500 BCE, while Chinese explorers were embarking on their own voyages to trade and map out the far reaches of the sea.

these movements. We have the Arabised script that is read in the Malay tongue called Jawi and a similar script that is read in Tamil known as Arwi. These are direct influences of the Middle Eastern penetrations into the Southeast Asian and South Asian regions respectively. The Malay language is itself derived from a Proto-Malayo-Polynesian language2 spoken by the earliest Austronesian settlers in Southeast Asia. This can be seen as an indication that Malays had already seen trans-ocean travel before the arrivals of Indian and Chinese travellers to the region. In fact, all things considered, the Malays were quite possibly the earliest arrivals to the Nusantara, barring those who came in via the land routes from Central Asia. This in itself already goes against the common stereotype that Malay sea voyage began and stopped at the sampan that could go no further than a distance from the coast.

The world as a whole has been a busy place in the movement of not only goods but also people, knowledge, and cultural practices. The various languages that we know today are each a result of the etymological evolution that came from

HAVE MALAYS NO APTITUDE FOR TRADE AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP? There are other examples where Malays are often disconnected from other concepts of progress and achievement. The notion that Malays and economic

proclivity in all its facets are completely non-synonymous has permeated into the common understanding — both by non-Malays and Malays — that Malays have a natural inaptitude for trade and entrepreneurship. Closer to discerning the core of the issue, some within the circle of Malay leadership in Singapore have arrived at the hypothesis that the community must be facing challenges that are politically and socio-culturally unique to them. Leading Malay/Muslim figures, entrepreneurs and business owners, as well as academics, have recently convened to help us gain insight into the various angles and factors that need to be considered in discussing the underrepresentation of Malay/Muslims in this particular area. They have examined different aspects of the issue at hand and from a variety of angles: some viable, such as those looking into the impacts of colonial and later state policies on business opportunities, cultural enclaves, and inter-ethnic relations, while some are still mired in the staunch idea that a “leopard cannot change its spots”. And there are still others suffering the “derision of disappointed


“Trade and Commercial Activity in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Middle East”. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History.


C.f. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian. Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database.


“Trade and Commercial Activity in the Byzantine and Early Islamic Middle East”. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. C.f. Proto-Malayo-Polynesian. Austronesian Basic Vocabulary Database. JUNE 2016




hopes4” as they cited “lousy work ethics” and a lack of drive among those they have given a chance to. The very outlying concerns about existing Malay-Muslim business falling short of a profit mark that denotes success beg the question of whether the problem is really in our bones. I would urge for further ruminations on the very history of explorative trading movements in which the early Malays were very much a part of and regionally may even have pioneered. Tracing the etymological history of the Malay

language paints a picture of the prehistoric trans-ocean movement, where “boatloads” of the Malayo-Polynesian speaking seafarers would set out from their islands and navigate the seas to found settlements and communities as far as Madagascar and the Easter Island5. These Malay seafarers were also prime movers of specialities between the places they settled and created communities in. One such speciality was believed to be an early form of today’s cinnamon which originated from the South China coast. Through these movements, cinnamon, a spice so globally widespread today, was able to

reach traders in Africa and eventually the Europeans6. These feats cannot be carried out without a sea-worthy craft. With the coming of the Chinese, Indian, and European traders and travellers, Malays came to be recognised as accomplished seafarers. Thus, one can imagine that part of their trade from the period of 1000 to the 1600 CE was to provide piloting services in which a foreign ship would be guided to safe harbours by a local.



Pride and Prejudice. Film. (2005)


“Trade and Statecraft in Early Southeast Asia”. A History of Early Southeast Asia: Maritime Trade and Societal Development, 100 – 1500. Kenneth R. Hall. (2011)


Ibid. Pp. 5.


SINGAPORE; NOT A SLEEPY FISHING VILLAGE Statecraft is said to have flourished around trade and commerce. Historians are actively challenging the notion that Singapore was a sleepy fishing village at the time of Raffles’ arrival in the wake of archaeological findings at a corner of the Padang and Fort Canning Hill7. The results suggested at a thriving commercial existence even before the British arrivals. One plausible scenario that arose in the new historically-informed imagination is that the speed with which the British had set up a trading centre was in part catalysed by a pre-existing system. This eliminated the need to establish necessary infrastructure and train essential manpower. Further evidence suggested that Raffles’ choice of Singapore as the East Empire’s next port was also embedded in Singapore’s history of being an ancient seaport. Modern archaeology later supported this idea with the discovery of what is believed to be the remains of palace and temple precincts, an ancient naturalised viaduct to supply ships with fresh water from springs, and a rampart8. Much of these remains were later broken down for the construction of colonial buildings and structures. But, let us close our eyes for a minute. Imagine that ancient seaport: the creak of the gangplanks as porters carried the loads back and forth between ships and wooden docks, a stalwart syahbandar conversing with a ship’s captain about regulations surrounding goods they were trying to bring in, and ship-menders sealing the damage sustained by a hull. The sailors would be glad to be on shore leave. There

would be opportunities for trade, perhaps even for the womenfolk, as ships sought to restock on food, storage containers, and a necessary tool or other. Foreign faces mingled with those of locals in the busy marketplace, trading, and bartering in goods ranging from the spices that the islands were known for and quality ceramics. Singapore was not a sleepy town indeed, though no evidence has yet arisen as to what exactly led to the seaport’s fateful collapse.

arch rasid is a Rese Dr Nuraliah No search Re for re nt Ce the Associate with A). IM (R rs fai Malay Af th in Islamic and Philosophy, wi of r cto Do a She holds e Writing and tiv ea Cr in n a specialisatio from Nanyang y Mythopoesis Contemporar . ity Univers Technological

CONCLUSION One thing is for sure and that there is nothing inherent about the lack of entrepreneurial and commercial spirit. The importance of history is in understanding the place of any entity in the larger fabric of a greater existence. Basing judgement on a single known, visible state is easy. However, just as we cannot judge a cat’s worth by viewing it through “dog lenses9”, the assessment of the Malay entrepreneurial history should not be conducted through cultural lenses that are wholly informed by Chinese, Indian, or European realities. Rather, it helps to stand in the capals of the Malay people, and see how trade and entrepreneurial drives would have been informed by the realities of their location and in meeting specific needs. The trade of services — from ship-mending to proto maritime legal consultancy — had quite possibly held prevalence in the day. These may be intelligent speculation, but the spirit of a people is often kept alive by the profound confidence of its leaders and the rich imagination of its storytellers, and this story is one that needs to be told. n


“Archaeology of the ‘Forbidden Hill’”. HistorySG: An online resource guide.


Singapore & the Silk Road of the Sea: 1300-1800. John N. Miksic. (2013)


In the words of cat behaviorist, Jackson Galaxy from Animal Planet’s hit television show, My Cat from Hell. J U N E 2 0 1 6 11 © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


Advancing Entrepreneurship:

The Role of Malay/ Muslim Institutions BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM


He urged the Malay business community to ensure it is included in the business category that the Bureau aimed to reach out to: local businesses seeking to upgrade.

Contrary to what is generally believed, institutional efforts to develop Malay/ Muslim entrepreneurship is not a recent phenomenon, buoyed by the current national fervour of promoting and incentivising innovation and value creation, as evidenced by the schemes rolled out by SPRING Singapore, IE Singapore, National Research Foundation and Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore (IDA). Apart from the establishment of the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI) in 1956, there were noteworthy activities pursued by Malay/Muslim institutions and leaders over the course of the last five decades to advance Malay/ Muslim entrepreneurship. ADVOCACY In 1984, Dr Ahmad Mattar, former Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs and then-President of Yayasan MENDAKI, urged the Malay/Muslim community to “think business” and suggested pooling resources to raise capital for new businesses to emerge and existing ones to grow. This entailed tapping the Economic Development Board’s Small Industries Assistance Schemes. During a speech at the Kongres Ekonomi Masyrakat Melayu-Islam Singapura (KEMAS) in 1985, then-Minister of State for Defence and Trade and Industry and current Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the setting up of the Small Enterprise Bureau and invited the congress to propose the types of assistance that would be most useful to Malay companies. He urged the Malay business community to ensure it is included in the business category that the Bureau aimed to reach out to: local businesses seeking to upgrade.

NETWORKING AND COLLABORATION In 2002, AMPRO Holdings launched the AMPRO Centre for Entrepreneurship Singapore to promote skills upgrading and self-employment. During his speech at the launch in February that year, then-Senior Minister of State for Trade and Industry and Education, Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, stressed the importance of networking in an enterprise ecosystem and lauded the efforts of AMPRO and MENDAKI’s Minda 2000, a networking club for technopreneurs, for their contributions. There were even collaborations across communities. The Sino-Malay Investment Holdings was set up to facilitate the exchange of business ideas between the Chinese and the Malays. In May 1992, the Singapore Chinese Chamber Foundation and MENDAKI Holdings, MENDAKI’s economic arm, each gave $50,000 towards investments in Sino-Malay Investment Holdings as part of a joint-venture between the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) and SMCCI. Partnerships between institutions were also fostered. In June 1999, MENDAKI Holdings struck a deal with National Computer Systems (NCS) to pursue e-commerce solutions. With NCS’ expertise in web-hosting and facilitating internet-based businesses, services provided by MENDAKI will progressively take advantage of the e-commerce medium. At the same time, Malay/Muslim companies can immediately sign-up to capitalise on it. MENDAKI would also be able to offer NCS’ Consumer Connect e-commerce solution as part of its package of products and services to Malay/Muslim J U N E 2 0 1 6 13 © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


businesses. The partnership would enable small Malay/ Muslim businesses to take advantage of real e-commerce facilities on a cost-effective basis. DIRECT INVOLVEMENT IN BUSINESS There were forays made by Malay/Muslim institutions into market and industrial niches. In 1985, the Singapore-Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SACCI) proposed the Islamic Banking initiative to the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). However, MAS rejected the proposal on grounds of mismatch with the existing banking structure at the time. In a 1992 Occasional Paper Series by the Malay Studies Department, National University of Singapore (NUS), entitled “MUIS and MENDAKI: Current and Future Challenges”, then-Chief Executive Officer of MENDAKI, Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed, mentioned that MENDAKI was beginning to provide corporate leadership through MENDAKI Holdings. ‘Tabung Haji’, or the Pilgrimage Fund, and MENDAKI Travel and Tours were typical initiatives from MENDAKI’s long-term economic strategy. MENDAKI Holdings was directly involved in running promising businesses. AMP’s own business arm, AMP Investments, collaborated with Hong Leong Group. However, the initiative was fraught with problems, such as the loss of $230,000 in 1993.

1994 between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, provided fertile ground for initiating joint ventures with regional partners. It was hoped that the move would provide opportunities for Malay/ Muslim businesses to engage in joint ventures in the region to aid capital formation within the community. IMPACT ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP Thus, in the post-1965 era, there was no lack of institutional participation in promoting Malay/Muslim entrepreneurship. However, when it comes to measuring the collective impact of cultivating an entrepreneurial culture in the community, existing literature does not reveal comprehensive studies done to meaningfully assess this. Recently-released General Household Survey (GHS) data provides some indication of the current status of Malay entrepreneurship. Chart 1 shows that the proportion of employers and own account workers among working resident Malays lag significantly behind the national average1.


This notwithstanding, when the community’s entrepreneurial progress is benchmarked against itself, Chart 2 reveals a notable progress. There are more employers and own account workers in the Malay community in 2015 compared to 2000 and 2010. An anomaly nonetheless observed is the decline in the proportion of Malay employers between 2000 and 2010 before the trend reversed in 2015. Barring a more rigorous study, this could have been due to a number of factors. Small-sized enterprises, which were the profile of a typical Malay/Muslim business, struggled with manpower issues, a point raised in Prime Minister Lee’s speech at the Malay/ Muslim Business Conference in 2014. He said Berita Harian’s interviews with Malay/Muslim SME owners suggest they turned to part-time workers or roped in family members to help. According to a survey involving 500 Malay/Muslim companies carried out by the SMCCI and DP Information Group, the percentage of start-ups among survey

16.0% 14.0% 12.0% 10.0% 8.0% 6.0% 4.0% 2.0%

AMPRO Holdings was established in 1995. One of its goals was to forge partnerships with regional players to boost trade, capital formation and human resource development. The Sijori, an economic growth triangle established in


0.0% Total









By the Singapore Department of Statistics (DOS)’ definition, own account workers are persons who operate their own business without employing any paid workers in the conduct of their business or trade, whereas employers refer to persons who employ at least one paid worker.



7.0% 6.0% 5.0% 4.0% 3.0% 2.0% 1.0% 0.0% 2000








respondents was 14 times higher than that across the country as a whole.

1992, pointing in particular to MENDAKI’s travel business venture.

Overall, the figures suggest that the initiatives of Malay/Muslim institutions have paid some dividends.

Likewise, when institutions suffer losses, such as the one experienced by AMP Investments in 1993, it immediately becomes a matter of public interest, thus undermining the cause of promoting and advancing entrepreneurship. People are generally less perturbed when private businesses experience failure.

REVIEW Summing up the past actions of Malay/ Muslim institutions, there was advocacy for government intervention in advancing entrepreneurship in the community such as that pursued by KEMAS; collaboration across institutions like the one between AMP Investment and Hong Leong Group; partnership between ethnic groups as exemplified by the Sino-Malay Investment Holdings and SCCCI; networking facilitated by AMPRO Holdings and MINDA 2000; and corporate leadership provided by MENDAKI Holdings and AMPRO Holdings through their business undertakings. Where then are the gaps? MENDAKI Holdings’ direct involvement in business was criticised as being anti-competitive because it posed disproportionate competition to Malay/ Muslim businesses in similar industries, as reported by Berita Harian in August 28,

However, the downside to lobbying for their withdrawal from the business sector is that it meant doing away with raising revenues to finance self-help programmes.

The idea of government intervention in the affairs of an ethnic community is nevertheless unviable given the presence of self-help systems within each community which is already supported by the government. The outcomes may be better if the problems faced by Malay/ Muslim businesses are framed as industryspecific rather than ethnic ones. For example, Malay/Muslim businesses may be overrepresented in certain sectors such as retail. The problems in this sector under the present economic climate should be identified and intervention by the relevant government agency lobbied for. Malay/Muslim institutions could also take steps to generate interest in sunrise industries, such as Financial Technology, as suggested by Mr M Nazri Muhd, Chief Executive Officer and Head of Global Advisory Services of Vector Scorecard during the Community-in-Review seminar 2016 organised by AMP. It is chalking up phenomenal growth but there is barely Malay/Muslim presence in this sector.

is a Aboo Kassim Abdul Shariff dinator with or Co cts oje Pr Researcher / Islamic on ch ar Rese the Centre for search (RIMA), the re rs fai Af lay and Ma of Muslim n tio cia so As arm of the (AMP). Professionals

One approach Malay/Muslim institutions could consider is to adopt a venture capitalist model, encouraging and investing in emerging growth companies, especially against a backdrop of the government incentivising entrepreneurship. The push for greater government support in Malay/Muslim entrepreneurship appears to lack the political will. Since efforts like KEMAS’ in the 80s, advocacy in this regard has been relatively muted. J U N E 2 0 1 6 15 © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


The State of

Entrepreneurship in the Community BY FADILAH MAJID


Stereotyping is one of the biggest problems related to the issue of MalayMuslim businesses and entrepreneurship in Singapore. We have all heard the common stereotyping of the MalayMuslim businessman or businesswoman repeated ad naseaum – that they are lepak (laidback), fatalistic, satisfied with what is sufficient with no desire to explore the full extent of business opportunities; that they lack an entrepreneurial spirit, and are always embroiled in petty jealousies, rivalries and hasad (destructive envy). Instead of building their businesses and increasing the pie for everybody — they would rather “kill” their fellow MalayMuslim competitors or entrepreneurs than see them become successful.

However, the problem with any stereotype is that it is self-perpetuating; it provides detractors with ammunition to degrade the stereotyped group and creates a vicious cycle of self-doubt and loathing. Stereotypes are often malicious. They are designed to break you down before you begin and are, above all, patently skewed. It is crucial that these stereotypes are broken down and eliminated. We know for a fact that these stereotypes are untrue because Malays have had a strong legacy of entrepreneurship that continues to this very day.

entrepreneurs, who included personalities like Hajjah Fatimah binte Encik Sulaiman, Haji Ambo Soolo Bin Haji Omar, Haji Hashim bin Haji Abdullah, Haji Bustami bin Karim Amarullah, Raja Siti Kraeng Chanda Pulih, and Wak Tanjong, had vision and a business foresight which went beyond conventional thinking. They did not simply focus on the traditional businesses but found their niches and diversified their businesses into the service industry, manufacturing, complementary goods and services, real estate, property development, shipping, brokerage, media and publishing among others.

The entrepreneurial spirit of our forefathers and pioneers were ahead of its time. These group of near legendary

The entrepreneurial spirit of our forefathers and pioneers were ahead of its time. These group of near legendary entrepreneurs, who included personalities like Hajjah Fatimah binte Encik Sulaiman, Haji Ambo Soolo Bin Haji Omar, Haji Hashim bin Haji Abdullah, Haji Bustami bin Karim Amarullah, Raja Siti Kraeng Chanda Pulih, and Wak Tanjong, had vision and a business foresight which went beyond conventional thinking. J U N E 2 0 1 6 17 © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


A NEW GENERATION OF ENTREPRENEURS We have a strong legacy that we must continuously develop, so now, more than ever, is the time for us to reclaim and enhance this spirit of entrepreneurship. Our new generation of entrepreneurs is debunking myths of the stereotyped Malay-Muslim businessmen and entrepreneurs, leading at the forefront, unafraid to share and market their experiences and forward-thinking ideas regarding business, diversification, global penetration and branding, digital marketing, use of social media and development of cyber-marketing platforms.


These IT and internet savvy individuals are pushing the boundaries and redefining the meaning of business. Their company philosophies synthesise the philosophies of some of the most cutting edge companies today like Apple, Amazon and Dyson, with a focus on customer service and satisfaction. They are passionately customer-centric and strongly believe in the game-changing potential of the finer points of customer servicing. They understand that in today’s highly automated and competitive marketing environments, service is what sets a business apart. They are proud that as Malay-Muslims, service to others is an inborn instinct and a core part of their being. They realise that capitalising on this will propel us ahead of others.

One distinguishing feature of these current breed of Malay-Muslim entrepreneurs is that in addition to running their core and other related businesses, they find the time to help and add value to the efforts of other budding entrepreneurs. They also position themselves as leaders and as social entrepreneurs helping the community and benefitting society through social awareness projects, nurturing a business ecosystem that improves Malay-Muslim businesses as a whole. Among these entrepreneurs are Mr Muhammad Abdul Jaleel, founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the MES Group. Mr Jaleel started MES in 1977 and had, with farsightedness and tenacity,

grown the business over the years. He transformed his fledgling company from one providing environmental cleaning services and manpower, into a leading one in guest-worker accommodations construction and facilities operator that has spawned various other global business interests including logistics, trading and property development. Another inspirational Malay-Muslim entrepreneur is Mr Mohammad Yunos, who is the Managing Director and CEO of the Airmark Group, a Singapore-based conglomerate and worldwide leader in transportation, shipping and logistics services. Currently, Airmark Group has a combined annual turnover of US$110 million and a combined staff strength of 240 personnel. The key to their success lies

in the company’s objective of providing holistic logistics services in a secure and efficient manner by a professional and personalised service team, strongly anchored by values of overall integrity. Mohamed Salleh Marican, founder and CEO of Second Chance, on the other hand, hardly needs any introduction. However, not many people know that his struggle to build his business conglomerate to what it is today was riven with trials and tribulations. In fact, his early attempts at entrepreneurship threatened to bankrupt him more than once. Instead of giving up, he restrategised time and again, moving from ready-made clothing, to jewellery, and then to the property business. Today, the company’s property arm contributes more than 60% of the group’s profits and the group employs more than 200 staff at 27 outlets and branches spanning Singapore and Malaysia. Through his entrepreneurial journey, Mohamed Salleh has proven that with determination and the ability to seize opportunities, one can achieve success. Besides the above established entrepreneurs, there is an increasing number of young and dynamic MalayMuslim entrepreneurs such as Ridjal Noor of PullUpStand.com, who finds time through his sister company, WGL International, to conduct highly sought after courses to help budding entrepreneurs create their own paths towards success. He drives home the message that Malay-Muslim entrepreneurs, businessmen and businesswomen possess the ability to not only conduct business but rise above others. Another inspiring and sociallyaware entrepreneur is Umar Munshi, who is causing ripples in the business community with his innovative approach in Islamic crowdfunding, and the development of social aid in the region. His housing projects in Indonesia, for example, are benefitting the poor masses in towns and cities where basic housing and facilities are often beyond their reach.

Branding and brand positioning is a feature of business where Malays have a natural edge. Malays are often gifted in design and creativity, and can capitalise fully on these capabilities to propel their businesses forward. This branding and brand positioning aspect of business is captured best by the budding entrepreneur, Faisal Basheer, the owner of Tuscani Tapware, whose success underscores the importance of product branding and quality assurance of your products and services. These done well would help you gain an edge over your competitors. THE CURRENT STATE AND POTENTIAL OF ENTREPRENEURSHIP Going forward, let us look at the studies and statistics surrounding the current state and potential of Malay-Muslim businesses and entrepreneurship in Singapore. In a recent survey conducted by DP Information Group for SMCCI, it is encouraging to note that more MalayMuslim businesses are being set up now than ever before. Besides the traditional food and beverage sectors, an increasing number of Malay-Muslim businesses are being set up in the manufacturing, services, construction, retail, transport and storage industries, with many experiencing positive growths of more than 50%. A healthy 1 out of 5 businesses is generating profits of more than a million dollars per year. One of the most striking features of the Malay-Muslim business community is its young demographic and a strong optimism and willingness to take a step towards entrepreneurship. This sets the community apart and speaks volumes about the potential for growth and future diversification. The survey gave some key pointers for the Malay-Muslim business community to realise these inherent potentials. There is a need to continuously expand



beyond domestic markets, regionally and globally, given the limited size, stiff competition and relatively slow growth in sales here. In addition, Malay-Muslim businesses must capitalise more on the funding and subsidies offered by the government through organisations like SPRING Singapore. This potential funding that could help them grow beyond their current capacities and scopes remain largely untapped and unutilised by MalayMuslim businesses. THE ROLE OF MALAY/MUSLIM ORGANISATIONS Malay/Muslim organisations, including the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SMCCI) and the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), must guide, nurture and support these businesses through government assistance schemes and customised consultancy programmes, as well as marketing platforms and workshops to upgrade competencies and equip the enterprises with the essential skills


to operate and manage the business. SMCCI’s cluster approach, for example, is making significant impact in the creation of a larger and more effective business network within the community. We must continue to encourage and help our business community explore opportunities and markets beyond our own Malay-Muslim community. Currently, three-fifths of our MalayMuslim businesses see more than 50% of clients from other ethnic communities. This is a good start and more MalayMuslim businesses can benefit from reaching out to a wider customer base beyond their community, to realise bigger and better growth. We must celebrate the successes and potential of our business community through awards and schemes such as the “SME Spirit of Enterprise” and “Protégé Kita” which serve to inspire our community to go even further in achieving business and commercial excellence.

The future of Malay-Muslim businesses and entrepreneurship is bright. We must unite and close our ranks so as to unleash our potential as a community. Given the resurgent energy and enthusiasm of our business community we have more than a fighting chance to be the best in everything that we do and provide healthy competition in the business world out there. n

naging Director Fadilah Majid is Ma y Arabian spa in onl of SpaJelita, the -President 2 of the Singapore. She is Vice mber of Commerce Cha lay Ma ore gap Sin I) and Chairman and Industry (SMCC mittee. She is Com hip of its Members pment Director of also Business Develo , a translation and BizMedia Publishing y founded by her pan com s vice media ser 4, and Business 201 in rs and her partne Halaldeals.sg. of or Development Direct , tor of Berita Harian Edi ss ine Bus was She rs. yea 27 for ved ser where she


Designed for Success:

A Malay/Muslim




Being in the market of clothing for Muslim women is a daunting challenge but the founder of Sufyaa had a plan. She invested heavily in social media and at a time when Facebook was becoming widely used. The followers she garnered from there in 2011 set her firmly on the path to being a fashion designer.


INTRODUCTION It is tough to be in the fashion industry in Singapore. The lack of clientele, contributed in part by a small domestic market and the absence of a locally-based fashion and apparel manufacturing sector, led to a dearth of home-grown fashion labels. Because of the lack of demand, local designers are unable to manufacture their products in large quantities, leading to upward pressure on the prices of their designs. It paves the way for international labels like Uniqlo, H&M and Topshop to gain an edge in terms of pricing, despite local ones being on a par in design and quality. The outlook for the retail sector is not exactly rosy. Manpower crunch and high rentals have forced fashion retailers to turn to new ways of doing business, i.e. pop-up stores and e-commerce. Even then, these avenues are fraught with intense competition. The internet offers a low barrier to market entry. However, contrary to the economic fundamentals of pricing, there is no indication that prices have declined. Some blogshops are reportedly selling their items at “cutthroat” prices.


However, there are some positive outcomes in the midst of this ‘brutal environment’. The social media is enabling fashion retailers to get noticed more quickly and easily. Some have capitalised effectively on it. Ms Azrina Tahar is one of them. Being in the market of clothing for Muslim women is a daunting challenge but the founder of Sufyaa had a plan. She invested heavily in social media and at a time when Facebook was becoming widely used. The followers she garnered from there in 2011 set her firmly on the path to being a fashion designer. CHALLENGES IN THE MALAY/MUSLIM MARKET The Karyawan team spoke to Ms Azrina about the challenges of being in the Malay/Muslim market, her business strategies and her values. Q: The fashion retail industry was going through a turbulent period when you started in 2011. What prompted you to give it a shot? A: I was going through a life-changing moment and the difficulty I experienced in buying modest fashion wear for myself led me to believe that there was a market niche. Further probing confirmed my belief that there were unfulfilled needs in

the modest fashion market. I found my ‘target audience’ here. Q: So you managed to find a market niche. But there were a lot of challenges in starting the business and sustaining it. Can you describe a few of the toughest ones? A: As is the case with most start-ups, finance was the first major hurdle. To keep start-up costs low and to ensure sustainability, I started my own fashion label (now known as Sufyaa), bypassed suppliers and went straight to manufacturers instead.

THE BEGINNING OF SUFYAA Q: You mentioned that your previous job was as a draughtswoman. When you were doing all these – finding a market niche, visiting China and talking to manufacturers – were you still employed? A: I was still working when I started Sufyaa. I believe in the maxim: don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Q: So when exactly did you make that career switch? A: When I was more assured of the demand for my products and the

(inventory) turnover rate was rising quite rapidly, I became increasingly convinced that I could devote my attention to the business full-time. Q: I understand that social media played a big part in helping you to launch your business. Can you enlighten us, please? A: Yes, I was using social media myself and I knew that one could reach out to an even larger market with it. It gives you mobility as well because you can be at any part of the world and still communicate with your target groups. And the number of social media users

Q: You were new, had no track record and yet you approached manufacturers. What was your experience? A: I was turned down by five manufacturers. I didn’t have enough money and couldn’t meet the minimum order quantity to get them to begin production. It took me months before I found a small manufacturer which would accommodate my budget and my small order. This factory was in Guangzhou, China. Q: Were you already familiar with China at that time? What about the language barrier? A: My husband was based in China at that time and I was already flying there occasionally to buy stuff. He was the one who first told me that one can get almost anything in China at a fraction of the price elsewhere and encouraged me to go there. But it wasn’t straightforward. To get the necessary information on manufacturers, I had to do my research and keep a sharp eye for details. In my previous 12-year career as a draughtswoman, I learnt basic Mandarin as I needed to communicate with staff at construction sites. It helped me as well.



was increasing over time, which means reaching out to an increasing number of prospective customers. I got my first customers through social media and, within a relatively short period of time, Sufyaa had garnered a decent following. I was also fortunate because at the time I registered my e-commerce website, Sufyaa was one of the first few Malay/Muslim brands online. Zalora weren’t around then so there weren’t that many choices for customers. Q: Moving on, you now have been in the industry for five years now as a fashion entrepreneur. Consumer behaviour changes over time. How do you adapt to it? Can you share a few examples?

A: As Sufyaa progressed, I opened a retail store in addition to my online business and, in 2013, I opened another one. But the following year, I had to close one of them when I realised that the pool of ready buyers was not large enough. There were also other problems. The Malaysian ringgit depreciated significantly, making it even cheaper to buy products from Malaysia. And, in Malaysia, celebrities were used to promote modest fashion wear. An increasing number of them had made lifestyle changes and began donning modest outfits, even in their everyday life. So they became ambassadors of such designs. Given these developments, within the space of two years, I had to make constant changes and I felt it would be best to divert my entire business back online. I have also invested in full-time staff, bringing a manager and a young team to run the business. The Sufyaa brand is already established, but sustaining it requires monitoring the market situation and constantly adapting to the changes, something I feel I cannot do alone. Q: How do you keep generating ideas to make your products relevant to customers? A: I do my research, especially when travelling. I study the trends in the countries I visit and have organised expositions in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and London to gauge the response to our designs. There are sizeable modest fashion customer bases in these cities. We don’t always make the correct interpretations about our clients’ tastes but we learn and adapt. SUPPORT FROM THE NATIONAL INSTITUTIONS Q: When you first started your business, did you get support from the Malay/Muslim business fraternity or institutions, for example, in terms of mentoring?


A: When I first started, finding someone in the Malay/Muslim community who could lend support was tough. I was trying to promote my fashion label and needed people to believe in it. I heard from friends, including those overseas, that it was easier for them to get support from members of or institutions in their own community. I went knocking on doors of organisations in our community but to no avail. I nevertheless believed in my vision and soldiered on. When I applied for an overseas grant with IE Singapore to go to London, a liaison officer got in touch with me and rendered various kinds of support in terms of expanding our networks and going regional and global. IE Singapore is committed to bringing us to the next level, keeping regular contact with me to find out how I am doing. Recently, it organised a talk involving a group of Malaysian businesspeople and invited me to network with them. I deeply appreciate it. So, although I was focusing on the modest fashion wear market targeting Muslims, I am glad to get support from national institutions. SPRING Singapore, for instance, has taken a proactive step in making it known to us that they are there to lend us support whenever we need them – even before we approach them. As such, I think there is room for Malay/Muslim organisations to play a bigger role in providing support to our entrepreneurs. n

is a Aboo Kassim th Abdul Shariff Coordinator wi cts oje Pr / er Research on Islamic ch ar se Re the Centre for research rs (RIMA), the and Malay Affai m sli Mu of n sociatio arm of the As ). MP (A als Profession


Above Our




Since PropNex’s establishment, we have stood our ground in facing countless trials over the years – from the Asian Financial Crisis, to the SARS pandemic, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the seven rounds of measures to cool the property market. Buying a property is a long-term investment decision. For most of us, it is probably the most expensive item that we would purchase in a lifetime. Propnex Realty is very focused on this aspect and want to add value to people in this critical decision that they will make. PropNex started as Nooris Consultants. The name was coined using my wife’s and my initials (NOORaini and ISmail). Within two years, Nooris Consultants grew from a team of six associates, to an organisation with 200 salespersons. We became the largest Malay/Muslim real estate agency in Singapore. While we understood the importance of expansion and the need to continually stay relevant, the limitations of the Muslim demographic in Singapore was a potential stumbling block.



We knew that we had to tap into markets outside of the Malay/Muslim community. Hence in 1999, we merged Nooris Consultants with fellow real estate agency, Prulink Realty. The company was named First Class Consultants. With First Class Consultants, we redefined the industry with a dual-career path system, projecting a company that was more peoplecentric and less profit-centric. PropNex is an acronym of Property Network of Excellence. We wanted to bring together and create a large network of property agencies to give more options to clients and also to enjoy economies of scale.

Today, our Malay/Muslim community is better educated, with greater purchasing power that comes with better jobs. I see them as being no different from other consumers – always wanting the best for themselves and their loved ones.

agencies in Singapore as we set the standards in the industry for the rest to follow. • Introduced the Pension Programme in 2006 for all team leaders. This pension is additional funds channelled from the company’s profits to the team every year and is accumulated over time. Leaders can draw out part of this fund for specific uses. This is a long-term plan in sharing the company’s profits in recognition of the leaders for their loyalty, contributions and trust in the company. Over the past nine years, the fund has accumulated millions of dollars ready to be distributed to the leaders when they reach their pension maturity period. • Started the Team Leaders’ Beneficiary Protection Scheme to provide protection for the families of team leaders in the event of any mishaps.

IMPORTANCE OF A FIRM FOUNDATION Since PropNex’s establishment, we have stood our ground in facing countless trials over the years – from the Asian Financial Crisis, to the SARS pandemic, the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the seven rounds of measures to cool the property market. The most important trait to have is a steely determination to overcome the odds and an unyielding spirit in the face of adversity. PropNex has managed to overcome these great challenges without compromising our core values which are based on our CARE principles: Continuous self-improvement; Autonomy and entrepreneurship; Respect and concern; and Ethics, honesty, and integrity. THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX The company grew quickly, which gave us tremendous bargaining power and

the ability to realise economies of scale. These savings in costs enable us to spend more on other crucial activities such as training and development, technology and innovation. PropNex holds quarterly conventions attended by thousands of our salespersons to keep themselves informed about policy changes, market trends and new initiatives. In addition, the company has in place an insurance scheme to protect its team leaders. We ensure that our partners are being looked after, as we recognise this is a lifelong career for many. We moved our focus away from maximising profit to that of building relationships and started many firsts in the real estate industry. We have, among other things: • Pioneered the Dual Career Path system for those who aspire to move into a management position instead of focusing only on sales. Today, this is the market practice across all major

PropNex is the only agency in Singapore that holds four conventions annually to empower salespersons with the latest policy changes, current market trends and newest initiatives. The company is committed to conducting briefings for its sales force so as to ensure that all salespersons understand the changes to the policies and to better advise their clients. This is one of the contributing factors in the company’s growing volume of transactions. Besides empowering our salespersons, PropNex has also reached out to over 100,000 home investors in the last three years by conducting Consumer Empowerment Seminars and distributing Consumer Guides to educate them about the market. Many of these consumers are more confident of making informed decisions after attending our seminars.



DUTY TO PROTECT CONSUMERS’ RIGHTS Right from the beginning, PropNex’s top priority has always been our responsibility to our customers; and we have never wavered on this. We have been championing the protection of consumers and greater professionalism among agents, and decided to part ways with those who did not share our company’s vision. I also instituted mediation and disciplinary boards to help facilitate customer concerns and feedback, and manage agents who breached our code of conduct and practice. We have also instituted self-regulation and positioned the company to be trustworthy, dependable and responsible – as the real estate industry had been known for a lack of standards and professionalism in the past. As a result, we terminated 2,800 inactive agents and put in place measures to audit their performances biannually. With PropNex’s image transformed, a new motto was introduced – “Service You Trust”. This marked the beginning of a period of incredible growth as the company resonated well with the public and people could relate to it as an honest company that puts their interests ahead of just purely pursuing profits. We have also taken a more pro-active approach to reach out to the consumers to educate them, instead of using traditional methods or hard selling, cold calling, and so on. We distributed consumer guides, organised empowerment seminars, and became more active in social media so as to bridge the gap between us and the public. In terms of technology, we developed apps such as Virtual Office Mobile and the Co-broker app, which increased productivity. Such forward-thinking initiatives have certainly borne fruit. The company was recognised for its customer engagement and service at the Asia Responsible 28 K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

Corporate Awards (ARCA) in 2013 and the Top Noveteur Award in 2015 at the Asia Enterprise Brands Awards. Such recognitions have also translated into performance. We successfully achieved exceptional stakeholder engagement levels and saw record breaking performances due to investment in nurturing a culture of innovation and technological advancement. PropNex’s unceasing emphasis on efficiency and effectiveness enabled it to clinch the Singapore Service Class (S-Class) and Singapore Quality Class (SQC) certifications this year. This marks a commendable milestone in our organisational excellence journey. Since 2000, PropNex has continued to emphasise on inculcating a culture in which our people are involved and inspired to innovate and continually seek to improve daily work processes and systems – whether in operations, training or administration. We achieved these results because our people understand the importance of establishing and sharing best practices at the workplace, which allows processes and transactions to be effective, efficient and error-free – enabling us to continually add greater value to our clients and our people. These brought about phenomenal growth to the company. To date, PropNex Realty has grown to be the largest homegrown real estate agency with over 6,000 salespersons. The company has expanded to include other subsidiaries, namely PropNex International, PropNex Property Management Consultancy, Singbuilders, Singcapital, Life Mastery Academy and P&N Investment – providing a one-stop shop of real estate services. FUTURE OF PROPNEX Moving forward, PropNex is optimistic on its growth path. Although cooling

measures and the establishment of the Personal Data Protection Commission’s Do-Not-Call Registry (DNC) has created challenges for consumer engagement, our emphasis on educating consumers, people-centered practices and strong value sets will allow the company to grow exponentially. My plan is for PropNex to expand its reach overseas. By going international, we hope to bring PropNex to more countries. The first steps have already been set in motion - PropNex International has partnered renowned international property consultancy JLL. This partnership brings together JLL’s global platform and clientele with PropNex’s unrivalled local sales network and project marketing expertise. Today, our Malay/Muslim community is better educated, with greater purchasing power that comes with better jobs. I see them as being no different from other consumers – always wanting the best for themselves and their loved ones. Entrepreneurs, regardless of race or religion, should embrace the OMG concept: You must first have an Obsession with your goals and what you hope to achieve in your life. With that obsession, you must then take Massive actions. And finally, you must follow the Guidance of God to do the right thing every time. n

r is Colonel (NS) Mohamed Ismail Gafoo parent the CEO of P&N Holdings Pte Ltd, estate company of leading homegrown real Realty company in Singapore - PropNex include Pte Ltd and other subsidiaries that gement PropNex International, PropNex Mana s, Life Consultant, SingCapital, SingBuilder ment. Mastery Academy and P&N Invest subsidiary PropNex Realty, being the flagship t sales of P&N Holdings, has one of the larges sionals force with over 5,500 real estate profes and public who serve the private residential growing housing segments but also has a ets in mark es includ that ele client l globa Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia.

Haji Hashim Bin Haji Abdullah:

A Household Name Adapting to




Still, none of its competitors has attained the kind of reputation that Haji Hashim enjoyed during its heyday – a household name with top-of-mind awareness among Malay/Muslim customers.

During our primary school days, my brother and I bought not only our Malay language and religious books but also soccer apparels such as boots and jerseys from Haji Hashim Enterprise. Haji Hashim Enterprise used to be located at Geylang Serai and had branches at Onan Road and Arab Street. The store at Geylang Serai was later moved to Joo Chiat Complex while the Onan Road outlet was closed.


Set up in 1922, Haji Hashim Enterprise has witnessed rapid changes in Singapore, especially since independence in 1965. The book market, including Malay and Islamic books, has become more competitive over the decades. Competitors like Pustaka Nasional emerged in the 1960s, Toko Warisan in the 1980s and Wardah Books in the 2000s. A visit to the website of these rivals suggests that they now have a greater online presence than Haji Hashim, showcasing their latest collections and facilitating online purchases. Haji Hashim’s online foray is confined to Facebook and Instagram. Still, none of its competitors has attained the kind of reputation that Haji Hashim enjoyed during its heyday – a household name with top-of-mind awareness among Malay/Muslim customers.


Haji Hashim’s other venture – sports apparel business – also took a hit when malls began mushrooming all over Singapore. Queensway Shopping Centre, which opened in 1976, for instance, became a draw for sports enthusiasts, with shops competing to offer substantial discounts on their sports goods and equipment. Six years shy of the century mark, Haji Hashim has always been in the hands of family members. After the passing of Haji Hashim bin Haji Abdullah in 1968, his son Haji Yusof Bin Haji Hashim took over the helm, managing the shop at Onan Road and later Joo Chiat Complex. Following the passing of Haji Yusof in 2009, his son, Haji Abdul Aziz Bin Haji Yusof succeeded him in managing the shop. The Karyawan team recently spoke to Haji Abdul Aziz to learn more about Haji Hashim Enterprise and how it remains steadfast in the books business despite the rapid pace of development in Singapore.

THE BEGINNING Q: Haji Hashim Enterprise has been around for nearly a century now. Could you share with us the challenges that the company has been facing and how it has adapted to these changes, especially in the post-1965 era? A: In those days, we had a diverse set of customers, a significant number of whom were workers from Malaysia. They were construction workers who returned to Malaysia usually about once a month. They regularly visited our shop to get items to bring home. We even sold bus tickets for them to return to Malaysia. Today, there are very few of them. During the Malaysia Cup football fever at that time, football fans of the Malaysian states travelled to Singapore in quite large numbers when their teams played agianst arch-rivals Singapore. Likewise, Singapore too had their die-hard fans who made frequent football trips to Malaysia. We sold bus tickets to them as well. Q: Were the Malaysian workers your largest group of customers then? What about the response from Malay/Muslim Singaporeans? We understand that Haji Hashim was a household name among Malay/Muslim Singaporeans in those years. A: No, they certainly did not form the largest proportion of our customers. But their presence did contribute significantly to our takings. We were well–known among Malay/Muslim Singaporeans mainly because we were selling Malay school textbooks. In addition to that, we also supplied books to Malay schools then. So, each year before the start of the school year, there would be many parents and students coming to our shop. We would also be busy with orders from various schools. That’s how we made a name for ourselves in the community.

Q: So did the revenues then come mainly from the sales and supply of textbooks?

Q: What is the biggest challenge that Haji Hashim has had to face in recent years?

A: No, I think there was fairly equal distribution between earnings from the Malaysian customers and the textbook business.

A: There is now greater competition in this business with several more shops being set up over the decades, so there is pressure on the prices of our products. Even though there are not that be many shops selling religious books and other products that cater specifically to the Malay/Muslim community, it’s nevertheless easy to lose customers, especially when your products are not priced competitively.

OUR YOUNGER GENERATION OF TODAY Q: The younger generation today seems to be less aware of traditional Malay/Muslim bookstores. Haji Hashim may no longer be the household name in our Malay/Muslim community, even among the older generation. Do you share this observation and, if yes, why? A: Yes. Indeed, the younger generation of today tends to be less inclined to reading books than those from the 60s to 80s, probably because of the various alternatives online. Those who patronise our shop do so to get religious books which are prescribed, for instance, by their religious schools or teachers. Q: Are you still selling school textbooks? Wouldn’t this have reached out to the younger generation? A: We no longer sell school textbooks. We do sell certain books like dictionaries and study materials like assessment papers, but our focus nowadays is more on religious books. Q: What about sports apparel and equipment? A: We do sell some sports products like sepak takraw balls, but it is not like in the past when we used to sell items and apparels of leading brands. The demand for these items is no longer there, and the suppliers we used to procure from have also closed. There used to be many along Serangoon Road but now not a single one of them is there. So we decided it is not worth continuing to provide such items.

Q: Am I correct to say the competition in this business is keener now than it was in the past? A: No. In the past when we sold school textbooks, we had competition too from booksellers at Bras Basah Road. In fact, it was fiercer then compared to what it is now. There were a lot of booksellers at Bras Basah and the foot traffic there was higher than it was here. Now, there are just a handful of competitors considering the nature of our business today but, still, we have to watch how we price our products, or we will lose customers to our competitors. ABOUT THE MALAY/MUSLIM ENTREPRENEURS Q: There have been opinions expressed by some people that the Malay/Muslim businesses are still lagging behind those of other communities. What is your opinion on this? A: I think education is important to breeding success in business. Malay/ Muslims are better educated and more competitive today than they were in the past. Thus, I see no reason why they cannot be competitive in business.



Q: Do you think Malay/Muslim institutions have been effective in helping Malay/Muslim businesses to progress? A: Malay/Muslim institutions have been running programmes like seminars and overseas business trips. I read them in the papers. But, being in the retail business, I do not see a fit between the programmes that are conducted and the nature of our business.

Q: Finally, what would be your advice to aspiring Malay/Muslim entrepreneurs? What are some of the values they should adopt so that they build a more sustainable business like Haji Hashim’s? A: I think the prerequisite to any success is hard work. It is especially the case for those in retail. You have to work throughout the week, including Saturdays and Sundays, as these are the days when there is more traffic. n

Q: What kind of programmes do you think would be useful to you? A: Many of our products – apart from books which are imported from Malaysia – are supplied by non-Malay/Muslim suppliers. It would be helpful if they could help us to develop networks with suppliers outside of the community.


Aboo Kassim Abdul Shariff er / Projects is a Research for th the Centre wi r ato din or Co ic and Malay am Isl on ch Resear arm , the research Affairs (RIMA) m sli Mu of n tio of the Associa (AMP). Professionals


Leathersmiths with

Maketh Project & Forest Child BY NURALIAH NORASID



Leathercrafting is one of the oldest craft in human history, beginning in the prehistoric practice of using animal hides for clothing and shelter, before progressing into haulage items such as rucksacks and waterskins. INTRODUCTION Leathercrafting is one of the oldest craft in human history, beginning in the prehistoric practice of using animal hides for clothing and shelter, before progressing into haulage items such as rucksacks and waterskins. Today, the techniques for the treatment and preservation of hides have become more sophisticated and the craft itself has served a wide variety of purposes: as sword scabbards, belts, straps and fittings for armour pieces, holsters, to name a few. Leather remains as a material of sturdy and long-lasting make, able to withstand the test of time and daily use. It has become almost a seamless part of our existence. Much of our leather products today are produced in factories and couched under names ranging from lesser known, lower quality brands to that which embodied luxury in a single monogrammed stamp. However, the reverse effect of rampant commercialisation is a growing interest in quality, handmade products and Singapore has seen a growth in the number of start-ups and home-based businesses delving in the homemade. Maketh Project and Forest Child are fine examples of such startups riding on the wave of handmade craft, one of a handful that specialise in leather. Maketh Project and Forest Child are two entities run by a group of friends, partners and collaborators: Miss Adlina Adil, who is known for her roles on the Suria channel of Singapore’s television; Miss Joelle Rozeryna 34 K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

Rothman, who doubles as the group’s onewoman administrative, legal, and marketing wonder; Miss Addynna Azlinor, a former inhabitant of St. John’s Island, lead crafter, and the muse for the brand name Forest Child; and the newest addition and fellow leather craftswoman, Miss Netty Reindio. It is important to note that the two entities are seen as separate and distinct. Miss Adlina cited customers’ initial mistake of not distinguishing the two as one of the challenges the group had faced in building their brands. Forest Child is the group’s brand name for their made-to-order and readyto-wear nature- and pastorally-inspired leathergoods. Under this brand, customers can request custom-made products to express their individuality. Their readyto-wear products are no less special, all of them — ranging from big crafts, such as backpacks, to more intricate ones, such as watch straps — meticulously handmade by the ladies themselves. Maketh Project is the name under which the group conducts workshops in the art of leathercrafting. The workshops are conducted either on a group or individual basis where individuals can book an appointment to learn to make something they have a specific vision for. To this date, these workshops have collectively taught others to make items from those as simple as a cardholder to the more complex ones such


as shoes and bags. Under Maketh Project, the group also lends its studio space and rents out tools to more experienced crafters who wish to work on their own projects. COFFEE TABLE TO STUDIO SPACE Forest Child is the first entity established by the group. It began with Dynna making journals, necklaces, and other accessories within the space of her own home. At the time, her work comprised mainly of using bits and pieces of remnant leather, tying and making them into earrings and other accessories. A lot of her creations at the time bore feathery, leaf-shaped motifs and paired with chains and drawings on canvas to give them the rustic look of what can only be described as a deliberate “beautiful accident”. The designs of the pieces are so seeing how Dynna is, as her friends and colleagues describe her, an introverted, “nature girl”, who had lived on St. John’s Island until she was thirteen before moving to the mainland. Her interest in the craft lies mainly in the quietude of the creative process. Joelle, on the other hand, comes from a background in apparel merchandising and art. Given her background, she was interested in the marketing aspect and helped to sell the pieces that Dynna made. As Joelle was the more comfortable of the two with technology, she set up a Facebook account to showcase and sell Dynna’s pieces in 2012, giving them intriguingly anthropomorphic names such as ‘The Journey’, and making

sure to wear the creations when she was out. Together, they rented spaces in free flea markets at places such as now-defunct The Vault (at South Bridge Road) and Maad1 at the Red Dot Museum on weekends.. The name Forest Child came about from Dynna’s childhood background, which is a unique one in the glass and concrete Singaporean cosmopolis. Before teaming up with Dynna and Joelle, Adlina, who was certain of wanting to have her own business from a young age, was busy with her home-based blogshop business where she sold apparels and other fashion items. Her first experience with leathercrafting was at a workshop where she learnt the fundamentals of cutting and finishing the leather before turning it into a seamless cardholder. Knowing of Adlina’s own ability with crafting works, Joelle had had the intention of recruiting the former into their posse. Adlina, on her end, saw the opportunity for collaboration in renting flea market spaces, complementing her own products with the duo’s leathergoods. One example of such a complement, Adlina recalls, was a handmade leather case to go with a pair of sunglasses she was selling. As such, they would showcase at flea markets as Forest Child and Travelling Trunk, Adlina’s then-name of her blogshop. Adlina found herself happily co-opted into Forest Child after going to Dynna and Joelle’s home “workshop” in Woodlands. She was tasked to make a wallet which was posted onto the group’s Facebook page. From there, she found herself having to make a travel wallet, a feat for the novice leather craftswoman and one that she pulled off wonderfully. As she became more involved in the crafting process, she found less time for her blogshop and eventually, she decided to focus solely on leatherworking. As the artistry and quality of their leather goods became more popular through 1

Market of Artists and Designers

advertising and outreach done on Facebook and Instagram, as well as by word of mouth, the group found themselves in need of a workshop space; for, as they quipped, their backs were breaking, having to bend over the coffee table. After some searching, they found one in Bali Lane, at the back of a vinyl store, Straits Record. Maketh Project came about when the trio needed a new source of capital to cover the rent of this roughly 25 square metre space. Recalling their past experience where fellow craftsmen were often guarded about sharing their knowledge with others, they decided to conduct workshops where they could share their skills with others and earn enough to be able to afford the studio’s upkeep. In a humorous anecdote, they shared how their first workshop saw their studio packed to the brim and as there was no air-conditioning, all of their participants were sweating over their pieces. However, not a single complaint was heard. A BIG FLEA AND A BIG BREAK While their business grew mainly from social media and word of mouth, their big business breakthrough came when they were showcasing their products at larger flea markets, such as the Public Garden and those organised by Makers of SG. It was through one such flea market that the restaurant Cut by Wolfgang Puck, which is located at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), and Four Seasons Bahrain got to know them. Upon seeing their workmanship, both chains had placed large orders of handcrafted leather placemats. With nostalgic humour, the ladies recollected the experience. While a placemat may seem like a simple thing, the tasks of cutting the leather, burnishing and polishing, puncturing each individual hole for sewing were all done by hand. So, imagine this done for upwards of 400 placemats per order. For Joelle, there was also the additional stress of figuring out the legal and logistical procedures of warehousing and shipping large orders without prior experience.

Over time, the ladies of Maketh Project and Forest Child received more of such orders, citing busy periods during the Hari Raya and Christmas holidays. As a result of this and growing workshop numbers, they needed a proper office and in mid-2015, they moved to their current space at Jalan Kledek. In this bigger locale, arrivals are met by a cosy setup, racks of tools and the group’s products, and the distinct smell of leather. When asked if their journey has been a difficult one, Joelle and Adlina said that it had felt natural. Needless to say, it was not without struggle, rather that they understood it as part and parcel of the whole process of the business. In this highly commercialised world where a company’s success is measured in terms of millions in annual turnovers, small businesses like Forest Child and Maketh Project are making headway by counting success in terms of meeting the needs and delivering value-added services to an increasingly diverse and demanding society. n The Maketh Project workshop is located at 751 North Bridge Road, #02-02, S (198719). For personal or corporate workshop bookings, you can email them at makethproject@gmail.com. They can also be found on Instagram, @maketh_project, and Facebook, @ makethproject. Forest Child leathergoods can be found and purchased on their website http://forestchild-leather. com, where interested customers can also place custom orders for the products of their design and choice. Forest Child can also be found on Facebook, @forestchildren, where you can see the beautiful products they make and past event-based showcases and collaborations.

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Transforming Passion into

Opportunity: Seafood at Your Doorstep BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD

One can never go wrong with food in Singapore. With the advent of technology and a surge in entrepreneurial spirit and online transactions, more and more entrepreneurs are launching businesses from their homes. Consumers who subscribe to these services do it mainly for the convenience, and in other cases, for the procurement of products and services that are otherwise difficult to get in the mainstream markets. Home-based businesses can be just as lucrative as an office or industrial job. Whether you are interested in crafts, personal services, or food, homebased businesses offer the freedom to work from home at your own pace and be your own boss. DO WHAT YOU LOVE AND THE MONEY WILL FOLLOW



The question is, how do you choose the right business to start? By following trends and anticipating what consumers will look for next? Or do you look for a gap in the market? Would it be a business you would enjoy investing very long hours in every week? Since most start-ups require a weekly commitment to long hours, finding something you love to do would be a key part of sustaining the business.

Most successful entrepreneurs love what they do. Regardless of whether you are working in a large corporation or running a home business, being passionate about what you do can make the difference. If you are passionate about what you do and excited about delivering a high quality product or service to your customers, your customers will pick up on your enthusiasm and pass on their satisfaction to friends and neighbours. Transferring this passion is one of the most important things you can do when you meet with your customers. Passion, along with quality inspires confidence, commitment and loyalty among your customers. All of these qualities are incredibly valuable to people who are looking to run home businesses, and that was how this unique Malay/Muslim business got started.

Hardy’s wife, Siti Maimunah Razalie, better known as Maya among her customers, stepped in a few months following the launch of EATING-CRABS.COM to help the brothers with administrative duties. Unfortunately, Hardy lost his life in an accident in late 2014, leaving behind Maya and their two daughters, then aged four and two. The business is now solely run by Anuar and Maya. The following is an emotional and inspiring interview with Maya and Anuar, as they recalled how the late Hardy transformed his passion into a successful business, and how the two of them braved through the odds and continued to build EATING-CRABS.COM.

by friends and relatives at the time but things slowly picked up and EATINGCRABS.COM became better known through word of mouth. Maya: My late husband liked to eat seafood, especially crabs. He did not like eating out and knew that he was not the only one who thought that way. He preferred to stay home and eat seafood at home with his family. The business stemmed from his personal interest, from his heart. It was not about what was in trend or what was in the market at that time. The brothers went to Sri Lanka and Perak to research and study the market for about half a year. It was a tough period as the brothers had both left their careers so we were financially tight then.

Most successful entrepreneurs love what they do. Regardless of whether you are working in a large corporation or running a home business, being passionate about what you do can make the difference.

EATING-CRABS.COM Two brothers, the late Muhd Hardy Abdul Aziz and Anuar Hidayat Abdul Aziz, left their careers to transform their passion for seafood into a successful business. They started EATING-CRABS.COM in mid-2013, with a mission to supply high quality live crabs and other seafood products straight to the customers, be it to a home, a chalet or the local parks and beaches. Shopping at EATING-CRABS.COM means no more pushing through the crowds at your local wet market or searching for quality seafood products as everything can be purchased from one place and delivered at one go.

Q: How did EATING-CRABS.COM get started? Anuar: We started way back in 2013. The business was a plan of my late brother and I when we were both working as audio visual engineers. We felt that things had gotten stagnant and we needed to do something new. We then decided to venture into importing crabs and started off as distributors to restaurants. From then, there were demands for other kinds of seafood such as fish, prawns and squids so we started to bring in a few of those items. The first year was difficult as there was no customer base. EATING-CRABS.COM was solely supported

What is different and unique about our business is that our services are personalised and customised to our customer’s specific needs. Our business also focuses solely on seafood so you can be assured that we always try to provide the best quality. Q: What is the primary reason to start from home? Maya: One main benefit is that we save a lot. We do not have to worry about paying for rental of retail space and additional monthly bills for electricity and water. J U N E 2 0 1 6 37 © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


Anuar: We used to have a retail space at Vista Point but it was not fully utilised as items are freshly caught a day before delivery. If there is a retail shop, we will end up buying more and storing them. That would eventually affect the quality of our products. Q: What are the challenges or concerns you face in running your business? Anuar: The challenge was getting our name out there as nobody knew about us or the services that we provided. We are blessed that we have not faced any discrimination so far. The wholesale market mainly consists of Chinese people but they have treated us very well and even gave us good prices for the supplies. They have helped us to build up our business in a way. Maya: Another concern is trust. We needed people to trust us to clean, cut and choose the food they wanted to eat as customers do not get to choose the product themselves, like how they would if they were to buy from supermarkets. Customers have to trust both of us 100% to choose the best quality. It took time to gain our customers’ trust and for a chance to prove ourselves. Eventually, the quality of seafood did a lot of marketing for us. We had personal recommendations and reviews from customers. The Malay community is not afraid to share information, especially about food, and they recommended EATING-CRABS.COM to people they meet. Social media also helped us a lot. The challenge with using social media for our business, however, is that our followers need to constantly see something new. We cannot use the same photos and we need to keep brainstorming for new ideas on how to take better and new photos. There is a need to constantly engage our audience. I feel there is no competition or threats so far as I personally feel that EATING-CRABS.COM is special as we communicate closely with customers so service is customised and attended to personally. 38 K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

Q: Did you reach out for help in setting up your business? Maya: There were investors who were interested in EATING-CRABS.COM during the initial stage. There was also someone who offered us help in terms of a grant. Unfortunately, when we were just about to lift off and utilise the opportunities that were offered to us, my husband met with an accident. That was when everything spiralled downwards. We ended up not utilising any grants and for a while, we lost the drive to pursue EATING-CRABS.COM. Q: What are your future plans? Maya: The aspiration to grow EATINGCRABS.COM is definitely there. Now that things are doing well for EATINGCRABS.COM, there are hopes to do more. However, we do not want to be too greedy and move too fast but then end up not being able to meet the demands of our customers. One of the main obstacles in running our business is not having enough supplies to meet our customers’ orders. We are also looking to increase our manpower to help with the delivery service. Q: Do you have any words of wisdom for aspiring entrepreneurs out there? Maya: The idea has to be something different and unique. If you launch something that everyone else is doing, it will likely fail. And if you really want to do that, then you have to think of something different or better than the current one. Anuar: It is about introducing something new to the community and you have to make sure you have enough capital to cover your operations for at least two years. Secondly, do not be easily discouraged when you get ridiculed by others. Your friends and relatives may not be as supportive during the initial phase and people may express their lack of confidence but you should be resilient and not be discouraged. Also, do not expect to succeed overnight, or anytime soon. You

have to be consistent, work every day and brainstorm for something new regularly. You have to sacrifice time with family and partners to be able to strive. n

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(LIFE) to life

Literacy Initiative For Equity


Having been in the education industry for over 10 years in various teaching and training roles, I have noticed the correlation between urban poverty and educational gaps. These gaps between the different social classes are often made worse by policies and the structure of the system. To understand better the issue of urban poverty, educational gaps and low-income households, I started looking at the data gathered from my research study, current literature, and statistics from the Singapore government. I then formulated a plan for a project to help underprivileged children. This led me to start a social volunteer initiative called Literacy Initiative For Equity (LIFE) in March 2015, which was initially called the Iqra Movement.



I knew that I needed a team consisting of individuals who have different strengths in various areas to help me and thus, networked to market the idea. I took into consideration feedback that I felt was valuable for this upcoming project and made the necessary revisions. I did extensive research in this area to avoid duplication with other existing projects. I promoted the restructured idea again and then formed the pioneer team. The core volunteers spent time with three families residing in rental flats, observing the children and learning more about their families. With the data acquired, I decided to brand the project as an initiative to reach out to pockets of society that established organisations may have missed. The focus was on underprivileged children of preschool and lower primary school levels. Realising the needs of the families, I came up with the outline of the programme, and the extras that we should provide such as transportation from home to school. CHALLENGES FACED Starting a project from scratch, with no funds and with limited experience in social initiatives, is a difficult task. Sometimes plans fail due to unexpected circumstances. One of the most pertinent issues we faced was the recruitment of volunteers. Initially, we thought that personal networking was sufficient, but it was not so. The number of volunteers we had was inadequate to run the project. We persevered and continued trying several methods such as using social networking sites as a platform and then leveraging on public schools. Unfortunately, those efforts, for various reasons, flopped miserably or received lacklustre responses. It got worse when many of the core volunteers from the initial team fell out due to differences in opinion. The commitment required to start and sustain a project was too much for most, and it did not meet their objectives. 40 K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

Starting a project from scratch, with no funds and with limited experience in social initiatives, is a difficult task. Sometimes plans fail due to unexpected circumstances.

This was when I realised how important passion was. Many of the core volunteers who left were graduates and professionals and/or experts in their areas. Most of those who stayed were non-graduates, but passionate about the cause. The takeaway from this is that while qualifications are necessary, whoever one recruits has to have their goals and beliefs aligned with that of the group or organisation and, more importantly, the commitment and ability to work against all odds – an attribute imperative for start-ups. There was also the issue of funds or lack of it. With no capital, and being a nonregistered group with no idea about funds and grants, we relied solely on soliciting donations from the public. For 10 months, we managed to survive on these donations. Again, social networking platforms played a huge part in this. These donations also made us work harder. As the project gained recognition, many groups and organisations started coming forward to help and collaborate with LIFE. We received more attention

after our presentation for Sensing 2065, SG50KitaX. Thanks to Khairu Rejal from Majulah Community and Ibnur Rashad from Ground-up Initiative, we managed to come up with proper business plans and financial projections. Through them, we also learned about seeking funds and grants, and more importantly, the issue of registration. I was happy for us to remain as a volunteer group but it was impossible to get enough funds to sustain the project with no official registration. We needed to register and this means that it would no longer be just a “project”. We also realised then that “The Iqra Movement”, as it was initially named, would cause us problems. In this day and age, anything remotely Islamic would be subjected to the authorities’ scrutiny. To address the problem and be clear on what we do, we came up with Literacy Initiative For Equity (LIFE). We wanted people to ask, “Why equity and not equality?” The difference is that, while Singapore does make an effort to ensure there is equality, we are far from equity. What we love most about the acronym LIFE is that it encompasses everything that we stand for. REGISTERING LIFE We were advised that it was best to register with ACRA as a company limited by guarantee as it meant “no one would be held responsible if the organisation runs into trouble with the law”. I wondered what the real implications were and, for the next 6 months, there was constant research, evaluation and pivoting. Each and every hurdle we faced taught us ways to overcome it. It was education in its best form. We decided to register LIFE as a society because of the credibility and accountability it offered as a social initiative. Our sole aim was to help the underprivileged and we needed to raise

money to ensure the sustainability of our programmes. Due to the nature of our organisation, with donations collected and funding received, it was essential to have a constitution in place to ensure accountability of the money collected. We came up with our constitution and registered with the Registry of Societies (ROS). Problems nevertheless persisted. We realised registration of a society required a proper “place of business” that was not someone’s home (or Starbucks). We had no funding and relied solely on donations. We were faced with the challenge of raising the required amount for rental of a space. We were thinking of ways to pay the rent when we were introduced to Common Space by Young AMP (YAMP). During the presentation for Sensing 2065, SG50KitaX, we met the president of YAMP, Shamir Rahim, who happened to be one of the judges. Common Space is an initiative by YAMP to support start-ups, be it non-profit, for-purpose organisations such as LIFE, or for-profit organisations. The initiative gave us an office space, thus enabling us to finally register with ROS.

FUTURE PLANS FOR LIFE My long-term aspiration is for LIFE to expand. With rapid globalisation and urban migration, the world will be facing problems such as child and urban poverty, which may then impede the life of the future generations. People experiencing urban poverty are also known as the “invisible poor” due to the lack of awareness in this area. Urban poverty is often masked by the supposed success of the urban world in cities such as Singapore, New York, London, Sydney and Auckland. Until recently, most of the discussions focused on rural poverty in developing countries such as Indonesia, Philippines and Cambodia. While this is still a valid issue, in the near future, once these countries have developed their economies, they will face similar problems as the developed countries. There are many organisations such as UNICEF and World Vision that focus on improving the daily lives of children and adults suffering from rural poverty. However, it is imperative to have a contingency plan to address issues surrounding urban poverty before it takes root.

What sets LIFE apart from established organisations is our passion to not only “see change” but to “BE THE CHANGE!”. The parents and the children are treated as significant. Our programme flourished from love and is provided through love, with love. We have a strong desire to transform – not only the lives of the children and the parents, but also the mindset of society towards poverty and those experiencing it. Every day, we strive to reach our goal of “GETTING BEYOND BETTER”. n

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In Defence of the


DEATH OR REBIRTH OF THE RENAISSANCE MAN? A ‘Renaissance Man’, or polymath, is a person who possesses a broad base of knowledge and is skilled in multiple fields or disciplines, and to whom all manner of human knowledge existed as part of an integrated, ordered whole, rather than separate, exclusive ideas. The term traditionally referred to the various artists and scholars of the European Renaissance, such as Leonardo da Vinci, whose intellectual and creative powers encompassed the realms of not just the visual arts but also botany, civil engineering and military science. Extending the term’s reach outside of Europe, Rabindranath Tagore was a well-known poet in the Bengali literary canon, composer of much-revered music, and an author of political commentary. Closer to the Muslim community, there was also al-Khawarizmi, perhaps the most famous scholar of the Islamic Golden Age — who invented algorithms and algebraic solutions, on top of being both a geographer and astronomer.


Today, however, the prevailing view is that this ‘Renaissance Man’ is no more. Rather, the predominance of specialised degrees has all but erased the belief that it is possible for people to repeat this multi-threading feat. The single field expert is revered for being the master of his discipline, whilst those who may form a serious interest in many areas are looked down upon as dabblers who lack the aptitude to excel in any one occupation. So it seems. Currently, Singapore is witnessing a burgeoning trend in multidisciplinary higher education, a trend which may spell the decline of specialisation and herald the revival of polymathic intellectuals. Termed the ‘liberal arts’, this mode of study traces its origins to the kind received by free citizens of ancient Greece. Today, European public schools under the gymnasium system (mainly in the German-speaking countries) place considerable emphasis on the liberal arts, whilst the ‘liberal arts college’ in the modern sense has taken shape by the higher education that is famously offered by higher-learning institutes in the United States. To put it simply, an education in the liberal arts involves the relational study of different subjects as opposed to a fixed technical discipline for a clearly intended vocation. In specialised degrees such as Medicine or Law, for instance, the course of study is specifically designed to help the learner acquire the set of necessary skills for either a medical or legal profession. Beyond the mere imparting of skills, a liberal arts education aims to furnish one’s mind with different ways of thinking, through the study of philosophy, the classics and history. However, despite being stereotyped as the dream degree of ‘artsy’ people, liberal arts defies the norm of conventional humanities and social science degrees by incorporating the ‘hard sciences’, such as physics, chemistry and

mathematics. It breaks down this false binary that modern thought has created between the two, and demonstrates the inextricable links the two share thus shaping a better understanding of the world. The setting up of Yale-NUS College in 2011 as Singapore’s first full-fledged liberal arts college is a visible paradigm shift in the current Singaporean thinking. Its students are offered a common, broad-based curriculum for a period of two years, in which their studies range from comparative ancient philosophy to the natural sciences. With source materials ranging from the Mahabharata to Machiavelli, or from Chinese history to molecular biology, the programme demands students to adroitly manoeuvre from one mode of thinking to another. However, as the three-percent dropout rate reveals, some are of the mind that this broad coverage lacks depth. This experimentation with ‘American-style’ liberal arts education famously pioneered in renowned colleges like Columbia and Georgetown on the U.S.’ East Coast is a fresh and exciting development in both Singaporean education and mindset, but bringing an American academic tradition to a society used to Confucian rote learning is a tall order. Such stumbling blocks are not abnormal to a project this ambitious. However, this concept of a ‘do-all’ liberal arts education is not entirely alien to the Singaporean education system. Before Yale-NUS, the University Scholars’ Programme (USP) had offered a broad-based higher education concept for National University of Singapore (NUS) students. Based on Harvard’s core curriculum, it offers special interdisciplinary modules only USP students have access to. Participants take part in group discussions where each member represents his or her chosen discipline, and when given an issue, would

offer their inputs from the perspective of their own area of study. The objective of these group discussions is to make students more adept at considering any problem from multitudinous viewpoints, broadening their approach to resolving issues. Where some may question the use of such adeptness, such skills need to be cultivated in this connected global society where international issues become increasingly perplexing and multifaceted. An armed conflict cannot be understood through the lens of theories embedded within international relations, historical investigation, or protocols alone for there are questions of political economy, religious fundamentalism and moral ethics to consider. There are the biases of contending sides which may be rooted in worldviews shaped by different cultural narratives or social institutions. There is, in short, a great deal to unpack when it comes to examining current issues — a task that requires an increasingly multidisciplinary touch. Even technological institutions see the wisdom of doing away with the distinction between science and the arts. The Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) follows a system of education that is closely modelled after the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). The latter has its own thriving school of the Humanities and Social Sciences despite being a leading centre of instruction in the applied sciences. SUTD, likewise, hosts a Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences (HASS) faculty, which offers fascinating electives on early modern history and even ancient Chinese urban planning. SUTD’s core curriculum also includes two major modules on world civilisations and pre-modern cultural history, alongside its foundational introductory classes on physics, mathematics and engineering. J U N E 2 0 1 6 43 © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


SINGAPORE – A TECHNOCRACY Given these new developments in Singapore’s higher education and attitudes towards higher education, there is still a prevailing emphasis that has been unfairly placed on excellence in science and technology, to the extent that Singapore has, all things considered, become a ‘technocracy’. The state is characterised by austere simple pragmatism with little consideration for such things as art — which is itself increasingly being treated like an industry rather than a way of life. Poetry is viewed with cynicism and we demand that beauty serves a practical purpose. What needs to be known is that beauty, cross-cultural intelligence and inquisitive philosophic doubt are all-toohuman needs. As Rabindranath Tagore, our polymathic friend once argued, despite the necessity of science to sustain life, the truth is that science is not Man’s nature; it is mere knowledge and training. By knowing the material laws of the universe, you do not change your deeper humanity. You can borrow knowledge from others, but you cannot borrow temperament. Reflecting this, there appears to be a growing belief that scientific knowledge alone is insufficient to produce groundbreaking technological advancement when not paired with the influence of ‘softer touch’ from social sciences, humanities, and the arts. Interestingly, this recognition of human needs constitute part of the innovative process, just as Steve Jobs himself claimed that it is only then that technology can produce the results which “make our hearts sing”. It can then be argued that a balance between the two can help cultivate individuals who are at once not carried away by the wistful idealism of literature and philosophy and will not coldly reduce the world around them into rational digits and compounds. There is no denying that one must acknowledge pragmatic considerations that are necessary for survival in order to become truly whole 44 K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

as an individual, but this pragmatism must be tempered by an understanding of human nature such as that only instruction in the arts and humanities can provide. ARE WE TRULY GREAT? Singapore has been showered with appellations ranging from ‘efficient’, ‘sanitised’, ‘modern’ and ‘advanced’, but can our city be considered great? The mightiest city-states to have ever graced the pages of history — Venice, Florence and Athens — were so, not just due to the sheer impeccability of their social organisation, public administration or wealth. Rather, they were also renowned centres of art, philosophy and literature. Venice gave us the maestros Vivaldi and Canaletto; Florence, the masters of Renaissance painting the likes of which included Michelangelo and Botticelli, the writer of the famous Inferno, Dante Alighieri, and Niccolo Machiavelli, author of The Prince, a book that has, implicitly, offered the basis for Singapore’s very own style of governance. Athens sired the fathers of Western philosophical thought and conceptualised democracy as we know it. Of course, it is not to say that by merely investing in the liberal arts we shall be raised to the stature of these highly accomplished societies. However, recognising that technological advancement or economic growth alone is not enough for a meaningful existence is a good first step. Where this applies to the community in need, the very step towards becoming a better human being can lend our society the strength and compassionate it needs to be empathetic towards others. n

Singapore has been showered with appellations ranging from ‘efficient’, ‘sanitised’, ‘modern’ and ‘advanced’, but can our city be considered great?

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The Porous USB:



Can’t find your keys? Forget what you had for breakfast? Walked into a room and forgot why you went there? You are not alone. Everyone forgets things occasionally. Memory lapses can be frustrating, and most of the time these cognition glitches are not cause for concern. Cognition is the brain’s ability to retain and use information. It involves the recollection of facts and enables the individual to make sense of what he or she sees, hears and feels so that he or she can react appropriately.

The loss of cognitive capability is extremely debilitating as it represents a loss of self.

In many ways, our memories shape who we are. They make up our internal biographies—the stories we tell ourselves about what we have done with our lives. They tell us who we are connected to, who we have touched during our lives, and who has moved us. Our memories are crucial to the essence of who we are as human beings. It is not surprising then that one of the scariest things about getting older is the prospect of a decline in mental functioning. The loss of cognitive J U N E 2 0 1 6 45


capability is extremely debilitating as it represents a loss of self. It affects an individual’s social life, threatens one’s independence and eventually upsets a person’s quality of life. As we grow older, we experience physiological changes that can cause hitches in our brain functions. It takes longer to learn and recall information. We are not as quick as we used to be. There is no getting around the fact that the ability to remember can slip with age; but in most cases, if we give ourselves time, the information will come to mind. Still, memory loss should not be taken lightly, especially when it becomes so pervasive and severe that it interferes with our daily living and independence. This could lead to getting lost in familiar places, getting our conversations stalled, and forgetting how we are connected to your family and friends. If it gets bad enough, we may be heading for dementia. DEMENTIA IN SINGAPORE The number of people diagnosed with cognitive impairment in Singapore has been increasing in recent years, with the most prevalent cognitive disorder being dementia. Dementia is an umbrella term used to describe a group of symptoms that affect mental tasks like memory and reasoning. It represents a late stage of disease along the continuum of cognitive impairment. It may be caused by brain cell death, or even head injury, stroke or brain tumour among other reasons. This damage interferes with the brain cells’ ability to communicate with each other, leading to memory loss, deterioration of intellectual function and change in personality. Dementia may affect people differently, depending on the area of the brain affected, with the two most common types being Alzheimer and Vascular Dementia. 46 K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

healthy brain

advanced alzheimer’s


The Ministry of Health estimates that there are about 25,000 patients with dementia in Singapore at present. This number is likely to increase rapidly and set to reach about 53,000 by 2020 as Singapore has one of the fastest-aging populations in the Asia-Pacific region. Contrary to popular belief, dementia is not a normal outcome of aging. In fact, it is becoming more common among younger people. Known as Young Onset Dementia (YOD), the disease typically affects those in the 45 to 65 age group, or even younger. More aggressive than dementia in the old, YOD devastates the lives of sufferers at a time when they are still building careers and raising children. The rise in the number of YOD patients could be attributed to the increased prevalence of chronic diseases that can result in strokes, which in turn can lead to vascular dementia. A study which examined the prevalence of cognitive impairment and dementia in community-dwelling Singapore Malays found out that among elderly Malays, the overall prevalence of any cognitive impairment was 25.5%. The same study also discovered that the prevalence of cognitive impairment was higher among Malays as compared to the Chinese.

Experts from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) attribute the growing prevalence of the progressive brain disorder to lifestyle, diet, as well as the increasing prevalence of stroke, obesity, diabetes and hypertension that are risk factors for dementia. Studies have also shown that smoking and physical inactivity are significantly associated with cognitive decline. Also, some studies from the region have claimed that the prevalence of dementia is significantly greater among people with depression, have lower education, and those who are unemployed. Most of these factors are closely related to the community. Knowing dementia’s causes and prevalence helps policymakers plan services and raise awareness so that the community can recognise its symptoms and seek help early. NEUROPLASTICITY The central question is; while there are individuals who experience cognitive decline as they age, how do others maintain a healthy cognitive functioning throughout their life span? Fortunately, our memory is not completely at the mercy of time. Everyone has bad habits, but when it comes to boosting brain health and preventing memory loss, there are certain lifestyles which would be wise to practise or avoid. Whether we are students studying for exams, working professionals trying to stay mentally sharp, or seniors looking to preserve our ageing mental capacity, there are various measures we can take to improve our memory and cognitive functioning. Here are some approaches to keep our memory in check: Stay mentally active Our tendency to seek more stimulating environments throughout our lifetime is a fundamental element to cognitive

reserve. Findings from the IMH study showed that people with education up to the primary level were 3.6 times more likely to have dementia than those with tertiary education. One possible reason is that poor education goes hand in hand with other pathogenic mechanisms leading to dementia such as malnutrition, exposure to trauma and inadequate health care. Better lifelong education also provides greater cognitive reserve which buffers against deleterious exposure favouring the development of cognitive disorders.

the hippocampus, the region of the brain involved in the formation of new memories and the retrieval of old ones. Elevated amounts of cortisol - a natural hormone released when we are stressed – are also linked to the gradual loss of synapses in the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain that houses short-term memory. Synapses are the connections that help us process, store, and recall information. Repeated and long-term exposure to cortisol can cause these synapses to shrink and disappear.

Just as physical activities help keep our body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep our brain in shape — and might keep memory loss at bay. Staying mentally active does not necessarily mean we have to attend school or classes throughout our life span, but rather, keeping yourself mentally engaged. Just as physical activities help keep our body in shape, mentally stimulating activities help keep our brain in shape — and might keep memory loss at bay. Do crossword puzzles, take alternate routes when driving or learn to play a musical instrument. Keep stress in check Stress is one of the brain’s worst enemies. While short-lived stress primes the brain for improved performance, chronic stress has been shown to compromise cognitive functioning. When we are stressed, we waste a lot of our mental energy worrying, leaving lesser mental energy for paying attention to the things that need to be remembered. Over time, chronic stress destroys brain cells and damages

Managing stress thus has some real benefits in the long run. Make time throughout the day for a few minutes of meditation or quiet time. Socialise with family and friends and limit time spent with negative people or in stressful situations. Avoid “multi-tasking,” get organised, set your priorities, and simplify your life. Sleep well Research shows that sleep is necessary for memory consolidation, with the key memory-enhancing activity occurring during the deepest stages of sleep. When we sleep, slow brain waves are carried from the hippocampus where memories are stored temporarily, to the pre-frontal cortex in which they will be retained in long-term memory. Thus, not getting enough sleep will eventually affect the brain’s ability to store memories permanently. Memory, creativity,

problem-solving abilities, and critical thinking skills are all compromised when you do not get enough sleep. Therefore, ensure that you practise good sleep hygiene. Maintain a regular sleep schedule, get at least 7-8 hours of shut-eye time, avoid lighted screens at least an hour before bed and cut back on caffeine. Stay active The benefit of exercising goes beyond the body and extends to the brain. Higher fitness level and physical activities have been linked to greater brain integrity and higher cognitive performance. Physical activity increases blood flow to our whole body, including our brain. Exercising stimulates the brain plasticity by promoting the growth of new cells connections in a wide array of important cortical areas of the brain. This helps keep your memory sharp. Invest at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise every day to get an oxygen boost to the brain. If you do not have time for a full workout, squeeze in a few 10-minute walks throughout the day. Make better lifestyle choices today and set yourself up for a sharp mind in the future. n

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Turkish Inspirations BY ZAIDAH RAHMAT

In the not-so-distant past, the mere mention of Turkey conjures images of grandiose palaces, breath-taking mosques and churches and magnificent historical locations in the collective memory. Not that a similar reaction isn’t expected today, but current popular sentiments about the Eurasian country, unfortunately, has been marred by detestable events that have sullied her reputation, the extent of which cannot be ascertained.


Before the recent unfolding of these calamitous chain of events, one of the few threats to travellers is the imminent extension of waistlines due to the gastronomic local cuisines coupled with the largely unsurpassed hospitality of the Turkish people who will make sure one is well-fed. (I was duly warned by a well-meaning supervisor, to which I replied, “Too late!” and gestured to my already prosperous physique.) That was probably why my parents did not object when I told them I was travelling to

I crave a different life when I travel – I seek to walk in different shoes, see life through different eyes, and breathe in, hopefully, fresher air. (This is especially true during hazy months in Singapore). Walking along rows of shop houses displaying some of Turkey’s finest – handmade pottery, carpets, tantalising food – I felt transported into a different era, one that was more laid-back, refreshing and welcoming. I wondered when my country last saw such days. Singapore is known for its fast-paced lifestyle. We have a thriving economy, high GDP per capita and globallyrecognised education standards, but at what cost were all these achieved? Are our people gracious and friendly? Does our society take good care of her weaker and more vulnerable? Are we truly happy? Whatever the answers, I was grateful for the opportunity to see a different side of life in Turkey and in my other solo travels. HAGIA SOPHIA

Turkey on my own before meeting some friends in a neighbouring country a short flight away. FAMILIARITY IN DIFFERENCE There was a familiarity to Turkey that I cannot really explain. Perhaps it was because of how Istanbul’s cosmopolitan state mirrored my country’s own. Perhaps it was the city’s close proximity to the sea. Perhaps it was the food I have loved long before I first stepped on Turkish soil. Perhaps it was my country’s socio-political landscape, especially in the spheres of ethnicity and religion, which prepared me to embrace differences and challenges, whatever they may be. Whatever it was, I was not uncomfortable or frightened as a lone traveller in Turkey. I stayed mainly in Istanbul, with the exception of a day trip to Çanakkale, a

seaport city nearest to the ancient city of Troy to visit the latter’s historical location I had only read about in books and seen displayed Hollywood-style on television. The whole trip to Çanakkale lasted over 14 hours and I spent less than 2 hours in the Trojan excavation site itself. However, the history buff in me was satiated. The small family-owned hotel I stayed at is located in the Sultanahmet area and is approximately 10 minutes away from world heritage sites like the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace , the Basilica Cistern, and the Grand Bazaar, just to name a few. They were the reasons I chose to stay in the Old City, and I wanted to immerse myself in what was left of “authentic” Turkish life, even though I remained sceptical of any claims to authenticity the entire time I was there.

ENCHANTED BY BEAUTY, HUMBLED BY SIMPLICITY Turkey captivated me. Iconic landmarks like the Blue Mosque – and no, it is not blue in colour; it is more grey than anything else – Hagia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace have been on my “ToVisit” list for a long time. They did not disappoint. I was awe-struck by many things: the beyond stunning architecture which, to date, is unsurpassed for me; religious arts so enchanting they have the ability to keep one rooted in place admiring them for a long time; extensive collections of precious pieces of artefact detailing momentous and ordinary events in human history. And this is just to name a few. Not to downplay all the incredible things I saw and experienced in Turkey, but I came to the realisation that it really was the simple things that made the most impact on me during my trip. I probably reached that epiphany after my visit to the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) J U N E 2 0 1 6 49 © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


Companions’ graves. I had chanced upon a “Sahabe Tour” organised by a travel agency when I was doing research on Turkey – I had not known before that Turkey is the final resting place of so many Companions – and I knew I had to embark on that journey. My limited knowledge about Islamic history could use a boost, and what better way to enlighten myself than to find out more about the people who served in the Prophet’s (Pbuh) way. I happened to be the only one keen on the tour that week and so was told that only a half-day programme could be arranged for me. I accepted; I was not going to lose out on the chance to do something I really wanted to do just because no one else was interested. My guide was a 60-year old Sufi man. Together, we walked around Istanbul for some hours, stopping for tea once. The Dervish father told me stories about the lives of the holy Companions throughout our journey in his limited English which I actually had little trouble understanding. What really surprised me about most of the tombs I visited was how simple everything about them was. I had expected to see opulence, the way tombs of great kings and figures tend to have; to see them situated in grand mausoleums guarded by soldiers. These were and still are important persons who had served the Greatest. However, some of the tombs I saw were located in the middle of unassuming streets, in small mosques in ordinarylooking neighbourhoods, and some looked just like the graves of the common person. I got to thinking, Were Istanbulites not interested in religion anymore? Did they not care about the Companions? Why aren’t all tombs and graves of the Companions “presented” or preserved in a more “befitting” fashion? This did not happen immediately, but I later realised that Islam has always been a religion of simplicity. All complications come from us. To begin with, there is no law stating that Muslim graves must be 50 K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

bathed in grandeur reflecting the status of the dead. If anything at all, Islam teaches that no matter how high one’s earthly status, one’s time here is still borrowed and, eventually, one returns to God. The only things one takes along are one’s deeds. So, why does it matter that the Companions’ graves and tombs are not lavishly decorated or presented, or that they seem unknown to the common traveller and are not “marketed” as travel destinations? The Companions’ rewards are with The Almighty, not with the adoration of the public. And, for the ones that seek, God-willing, they will find the Companions. It was also about then that I realised how it was not merely the splendour of Turkey that had made my trip so wonderful. It was also the peace I felt when I sat down, exhausted, in the park between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia during ‘Asr, and the adhan from the two iconic giants echoed each other’s. It was the peck on the cheek that I got in Yeralti Camii, an underground mosque, from a random woman who had travelled over 12 hours from another part of Turkey to visit the tombs of the Companions. (I think she was touched that I had travelled even further to visit friends of the Beloved). It was the random “Hello, Malaysia. Welcome to my country” from a stranger in the streets. (My identity is always indiscernible for most people I meet when I travel – and sometimes to my own country folks – and that man’s guess was the closest to the right answer I’ve ever received). It was also the new friend from China who spent the evening with me after we caught the sunset at Galata Tower. She, too, was a solo traveller. It was the simple things that made the journey. At the end of the day, it is not what we have monetarily that makes us who we are. It is what we do with the time we have left that will leave an impact on another,

for better or for worse. True wealth is not material but is founded in the richness of the soul. If we commit our actions to the glorification of God and to the betterment of ourselves, no task will be insurmountable. That is what beautiful Turkey has taught me. n

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Men In Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition BY DIANA ABDUL RAHIM



It is through the study of these personal accounts that one could truly see that the patriarchal understanding of these concepts does not stand in contemporary reality.

In 2015, Musawah, a global movement for equality and justice in the Muslim family, published Men In Charge? Rethinking Authority in Muslim Legal Tradition (Oneworld 2015). The book is a product of a five-year Musawah Knowledge Building initiative that sought to critically engage with and re-think the two central juristic concepts of qiwamah and wilayah. The book tackles the question of how these legal postulates came to be and how the construction of male authority within Islamic legal tradition by classical jurists has stubbornly persisted till today. There are also suggested approaches to seeking egalitarian interpretations of these concepts, accounts of how women around the world experience them in their daily lives, and how muftis engage with the changing reality of contemporary spousal relations. The book also highlights the challenges faced by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in their attempt to suggest new ways of understanding these postulates in contemporary family law. The essays are thus interdisciplinary and provide a broad range of approaches to understanding qiwamah and wilayah, whether it’s from a legal, theological, historical or sociological lens. UNDERSTANDING QIWAMAH AND WILAYAH In the Muslim legal tradition, qiwamah and wilayah provide legal and religious legitimacy to the supposed authority of men over women, effectively institutionalising gender inequality and upholding the patriarchal household as not only the ideal but the only acceptable model of the family. To summarise, 52 K A R Y A W A N Š ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IS REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

qiwamah, a term that does not appear in the Qur’an but is derived from the word qawwamun (translated as ‘protectors and maintainers’) has generally been taken to denote the husband’s authority over his wife and his financial responsibility towards the family. This postulate has been called the “DNA of patriarchy” by Musawah Advocates Ziba Mir-Hosseini and Zainah Anwar as it affects all areas of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) relating to gender rights, especially when it comes to laws regulating marriage. The second term, wilayah, does appear in the Qur’an and though it is not once used to sanction the authority of men over women, it has been taken to refer to the guardianship male family members possess over female family members. Even for those unfamiliar with these concepts and their effects on fiqh, the book does a thorough job of introducing these terms, how they were derived, subsequently codified into law and why patriarchal interpretations have prevailed over more egalitarian ones. THE NEED FOR HOLISTIC APPROACH The introductory essay, “Muslim Legal Tradition and the Challenge of Gender Equality” by co-editor Ziba Mir-Hosseini, provides an excellent primer of the historical context that surrounded these juristic concepts. Mir-Hosseini details the problems in the Muslim legal tradition and the tensions that arose when the understanding, validity or interpretations of these concepts were contested in a climate of modern demands for more equal gender relations. These two postulates and their codification then are not simply understood through the theological lens but with the added awareness that they were susceptible to and shaped by socio-historical pressures. It is clear from the introductory chapter that a holistic approach is needed if we wish to intelligently problematise these two juristic concepts. In a particularly incisive prognosis, Mir-Hosseini suggests that

“The problem is not with the text but with context and the ways in which the text is used to sustain patriarchal and authoritarian structures. The strategy must be not just logical argument and informed reinterpretations from within the tradition; there must also be challenges on the political front.” The two subsequent chapters, “The Interpretive Legacy of Qiwamah as an Exegetical Construct” by Omaina AbouBakr and “An Egalitarian Reading of the Concepts of Khilafah, Wilayah and Qiwamah” by Asma Lamrabet, further provide a thorough understanding of these concepts for the reader. In the former essay, Omaina Abou-Bakr traces how a mere descriptive word, qawammun, had evolved to become the patriarchal construct of qiwamah and how this term came to be conceptualised and reconceptualised by medieval theologians and then modern Islamic thinkers. They each coloured the term with their conceptions of gender difference, essentialism and hierarchy. Lamrabet, in his essay then follows up to detail how current interpretations of khilafah, wilayah and qiwamah that uphold patriarchal notions of gender relations are in fact un-Qur’anic. By referring to injunctions in the Qur’an and directly analysing the semantics of these terms in relation to the Qur’an, that is, to interpret and understand these terms as they were to be understood, Lambaret uncovers how a reformation of these terms is not only possible, but Qur’anically valid: “To reduce wilayah to male guardianship over dependent wards or qiwamah to an assumed authority of the husband amounts to violating the spiritual principles of the Qur’anic message regarding the ethics of marriage and family life. We must not forget that the meaning of Qur’anic concepts will evolve over time, especially since the

Qur’an never set out to determine specific social roles for men and women.” By now, these central juristic concepts have been adequately demystified. They are not immutable divine laws that are subject to the whims of socio-historical contexts and human prejudice. Further suggestions on approaches to reforming these juristic concepts include considering prophetic reports as a source that can help point one to a more egalitarian framework (Ayesha S. Chaudry) as well as utilising Sufi discourses and perspectives to critique gender discrimination from within the tradition (Sa’diyya Shaikh). Sufism stresses on the complete equality of all humans – regardless of gender – before God and its distaste for egotism and the exercise of personal and social superiority provides ample opportunity to do so. Subsequent chapters then provide reallife accounts and observations of how these concepts work in reality, whether through challenges faced by activists and NGOs when attempting to enact proposed reforms or through muftis who have to grapple with outdated interpretations of these concepts in a world of shifting gender relations. These accounts take the reader away from understanding these juristic concepts theoretically and semantically, to understanding how they function as legal postulates that govern personal lives in our time and how they interact with international human rights law or human rights norms. The suggestions made at this point are not about re-interpretations of the terms but about how NGOs can refine their approaches in proposing legal reforms.



PERSONAL ACCOUNTS OF WOMEN ALL OVER THE WORLD Towards the last two chapters we then come to read of personal accounts of women from all over the world. In her chapter, Lena Larsen presents stories of women through the Global Life Stories project which documented and analysed personal accounts of 58 Muslim women from 10 different countries and how they experienced qiwamah and wilayah in their daily lives. It is through the study of these personal accounts that one could truly see that the patriarchal understanding of these concepts does not stand in contemporary reality. For example, males are no longer necessarily the main providers of the family, females often take on economic roles in the family and polygamous marriages are evidently likely to put women “at risk of economic marginalisation, spousal abandonment, lack of support for their children and lack of emotional fulfilment.” Perhaps the chapter that best provides a microcosm of the journey to seeking a more egalitarian formulation of laws is the concluding one by Amina Wadud. She begins by sharing her personal and intellectual journey in grappling with the issue of male authority as articulated in dominant interpretations of the Qur’anic verse 4:34. She then continues to talk about the polarised perspectives she noticed women themselves had with regards to Islam and patriarchy. These personal experiences then go on to shape her development of a new principle based on Tawhid (monotheism or the unicity of Allah). Often it is the personal experiences that drive the way people would proceed to function in society or the way they would choose to approach things like the reformation of laws. Paying attention to the personal and the real is what can


bring about the most effective ways of diagnosing problems and coming up with precise solutions. That the book concludes with personal accounts is probably no small matter. After all, the personal is political. CONCLUSION Men In Charge? is a valuable contribution to the production of knowledge centred on family law and preciously includes the lived experiences of women. It demystifies the concepts of qiwamah and wilayah and aids in the push for reforming laws to reflect a more equal relationship between married partners and de-institutionalising gender inequality. Though critical feminist and other social-scientific methodologies are used, the approach that Musawah chooses is still markedly rooted in the Islamic tradition. While these two approaches are not necessarily at odds, there has been a tension between the two discourses that activists continue to grapple with. Understanding that an approach based merely on human-rights will not suffice without also integrating those who wish to work within the tradition is what makes Musawah’s method of knowledge production particularly useful. The book itself is a testament to the holistic approach they have chosen to take, starting with a more theoretical understanding of the two concepts, how these concepts function legally and socially in reality and ending with understanding them through personal accounts and lived realities.

Men In Charge? can be purchased directly from its publisher, One World, at the site www.oneworldpublications.com or Book Depository. More information about the publication can be found on the Musawah website, at the following link: http://www. musawah.org/knowledge-building/men-in-charge.

sh at him read Engli Diana Abdul Ra and ical University log no ch Te g Nanyan thering her fur to g kin loo is currently same Masters in the studies with a s erested in issue int is e Sh ct. subje e and gender. Sh am Isl to ng r pertaini Equality is Ou er nd Ge th wi volunteers to the tes ibu ntr co d an Culture (GEC) the Hijab?’ blog ‘Beyond

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