PUBLISHED BY: ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS • VOLUME 13 ISSUE 4 • OCTOBER 2018 • MCI (P) NO: 027/06/2018 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434
Homelessness in Singapore: Living in the Shadows
CONTENTS OCTOBER 2018
EDITORIAL BOARD 01
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
SUPERVISING EDITOR Abdul Hamid Abdullah
COVER STORY 08
Homelessness in Singapore: Living in the Shadows by Nurdiyanah Mohd Nassir
National Day Rally 2018: The Key Issues by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim
Reflections of An Aspiring Eco-Warrior by Siti Hazirah Mohamad
Negotiating School Literacy: 34 Why Is It Difficult for Some Children? by Dr Mukhlis Abu Bakar
Obsession with Accuracy: Harnessing the Islamic Methodology of Discernment to Combat Fake News by Alwi Abdul Hafiz
Infidelity: A Growing Problem? by Zaleha Ahmad
The World Cup: More than Just Football? by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim RELIGION
A Conversation with Ex-Muslims by Nabilah Mohammad
Towards A Common Balanced Standpoint 0n Apostasy by Dr Muhd Haniff Hassan
ARTS & LITERATURE 36
A Singaporean’s Perspective on Fostering Inter-Religious Relations in Malaysia by Imad Alatas
Yes, I Go to Acting School by Tysha Khan LIFESTYLE
China: Misunderstood, or Might of the Dragon? by Zaidah Rahmat PERSONALITY
Thai Cave Rescue: Lessons on Humanity by Mysara Aljaru
The Theatre of Our Minds: An Interview with Dr Farhan Ali by Nabilah Mohammad BOOK REVIEW
Re-Viewing Orientalism by Shirley Chew
EDITOR Mohd Anuar Yusop EDITORIAL TEAM Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Nabilah Mohammad Nuraliah Norasid Nur Diyana Jalil Winda Guntor
We welcome letters, comments and suggestions on the issues that appear in the magazine. Please address your correspondence to: Editor, The Karyawan Association of Muslim Professionals 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4 #05-11 Singapore 519457 T +65 6416 3966 | F +65 6583 8028 E firstname.lastname@example.org
The 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. © Association of Muslim Professionals. 2018. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction.
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
The recent video clips from Israeli-Arab travel vlogger Nuseir Yasin on how Singapore is an “almost perfect” country drew mixed reactions from within Singapore. While many Singaporeans were pleased to have our country featured positively online for the world to see, some questioned whether it was a true reflection of Singapore. Perhaps in comparison to many countries around the world, we could be seen as “almost perfect”. However, Singapore is not without flaws. There are many issues of concern in Singapore; some are well-debated and take centrestage in many discussions, such as inequality and increasing costs of living, to name two, while some are not as widely discussed, such as homelessness, perhaps because they are less visible to Singaporeans. Many may say that homelessness is not a major issue in Singapore, especially since the government has made many housing options available, such as public rental flats and interim rental housing to Singaporeans in need, such as those from a low-income background. Despite this, however, we do have Singaporeans who are homeless or who choose to sleep in the streets due to their personal circumstances, and this shows that there is still work to be done in this area. Nurdiyanah Mohd Nassir, a case officer with AMP’s Adopt a Family & Youth Scheme (AFYS), works closely with low-income families, some of whom have faced homelessness before. In her article on Page 8, Nurdiyanah highlights the struggles that these families face with finding a suitable home and what can be done in order to help raise awareness of the issue of homelessness. I hope that this article will spark a discussion among our readers on the issue and generate ideas on how we can help families and individuals facing homelessness. Happy reading.
ABDUL HAMID ABDULLAH SUPERVISING EDITOR
National Day Rally 2018: The Key Issues BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM
Judging from responses on social media, Prime Minister (PM) Lee Hsien Loong’s National Day Rally (NDR) Speech 2018 was well-received this year, compared to last year when a number of commentators in mainstream and social media suggested he left out some pressing issues affecting the everyday life of the average Singaporean. A GLOOMY GLOBAL OUTLOOK At the start of his speech, PM Lee gave an overview of the global economy, painting a somewhat worrying picture of it. The current and emerging trade and geopolitical tensions do not augur well for a small and open economy like Singapore which is heavily dependent on multilateral trade. The escalating rhetoric from the United States (US) and China is fuelling concerns of a protracted strain on the international system. For the laymen, the primary concern is about the implications that this disquieting global trade situation will have on things that matter to them, like employment. Earlier this year, the Monetary Authority of Singapore’s (MAS) forecast gave cause for optimism: job market will remain resilient. It said the labour market conditions are improving based on a broad range of indicators like reduced retrenchments and falling unemployment rates. However, the picture painted by PM Lee raises doubt about how sustainable this scenario is. HEALTHCARE A recent healthcare issue that was debated, including in Parliament, is the CareShield Life, a revamped version of ElderShield. In his speech, PM Lee described the scheme, which will start in 2020, as a “good deal” as the Government will be providing subsidies on the premiums for lowerand middle-income families.
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The scheme, which is compulsory for those born in 1980 or later but optional for those older, will pay out significantly more than ElderShield – $600 a month instead of $300 or $400, and lasts a lifetime instead of six years. A criticism levelled against the scheme is the differentiated premiums between genders. In response to questions by Members of Parliament (MP), Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor, citing both local and international statistics which showed women's longer life expectancy and their likelihood of staying disabled for a longer time than men, argued that it thus made actuarial sense. Opposition MP Sylvia Lim expressed concerns about the stringency of the criteria for making a claim. To be eligible to do so, a person must be assessed to be unable to perform at least three activities of daily living (3-ADLs). She argued that, it would exclude disabled persons facing high medical and care costs and that, by the time a prospective claimant reaches such a stage, he may require nursing home or full-time care. She called for a review of the 3-ADLs test, suggesting that it be lowered to 2-ADLs.
and technicians (PMET) and 16.6% for clerical, sales and service workers. To compound the problem, the increase of sexagenarian and older age groups in the former is larger than for the PMET and the clerical, sales and service categories. Being mainly in the lower-wage category and facing the prospects of working beyond retirement age, the recognition of the healthcare needs of the “Merdeka Generation” is timely. HOUSING In Singapore, for about 80% of Singaporeans, their flats hold the key for financing their retirement. Recently, owners of older flats are becoming increasingly concerned about whether they would be able to unlock sufficient funds in their property to provide for their retirement as their flats approach the end of their 99-year leases and values tend to zero. The anxiety of owners of older flats was stoked when, in 2017, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong cautioned home buyers not to assume that all old Housing Board flats will be automatically eligible for the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), a scheme through which residents are compensated for their existing homes and given discounts on brand new flats.
Those born between 1950 and 1959 received a healthcare boost with PM Lee announcing the new Merdeka Generation Mr Wong had said that, for most HDB Package in recognition of their contribution flats, their leases will eventually expire to Singapore’s remarkable economic ascent. and the flats returned to HDB, which in turn surrenders the land the flats are on to the State. The initiative is especially welcomed as ageing takes its toll on the labour force. The share of those aged 60 and over in the In his NDR 2018 speech, PM Lee tried to allay concerns by pointing out that resident labour force rose substantially even the oldest flats in Singapore, about from 6.1% in 2007 to 14.0% in 20171. 52 years old, have considerable amount In terms of the earning potential of this of time left on their leases (47 years in age group, it is worth noting that they are a 99-year lease). HDB estimates that overrepresented in the production and owners outliving the lease of their flat transport operators, cleaners and labourers will happen to only less than 2% of category at 34.6% compared to 6.9% for households, including those who have that of professionals, managers, executives bought resale flats. 1
PM Lee also announced a new scheme for flats that are not suitable for SERS, the Voluntary Early Redevelopment Scheme (VERS). Under the new initiative, the Government will compensate residents whose flats are acquired early but the terms of VERS will be less generous than SERS. While it is a less attractive option than SERS, it offers a way out for residents stuck with flats with expiring leases. However, details of VERS are not concrete yet, in particular which precincts would be selected and what the terms are. Will a much larger proportion of flats qualify for VERS, compared to the mere 5% for SERS? If the VERS package is less generous than SERS, will participants of the scheme be able to purchase a new flat from the proceeds of their old flat? Most owners of old flats are likely to be older residents who may not be in a strong financial position. It also has to be borne in mind that the government has yet to plan how to “afford VERS for the long term”. Along with VERS, PM Lee also announced an expanded version of the Home Improvement Programme (HIP), which he called HIP II. It offers older flats a second round of upgrading when they hit the 60- to 70-year mark. It is expected to decelerate the decline in value of flats with expiring leases. However, it remains to be seen, given HDB’s rhetoric about flats being assets, whether people will buy 70-year flats with 29 years left on their leases, for example, even if upgraded. PM Lee also explained the rationale for the 99-year leases. In summary, the Government needs to consider housing for the future generations, which can only be built on land the State reacquires. This, according to PM Lee, cannot be facilitated if flats are sold freehold. It could thus lead to a “split” between those who inherit properties and those who do not.
ALL FIGURES ON EMPLOYMENT ARE CITED FROM THE MINISTRY OF MANPOWER’S LABOUR FORCE IN SINGAPORE 2017.
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Banking one’s retirement security on one’s HDB flat is based on the premise that its value will continue to appreciate in the longer term. Academics and industry professionals have weighed in, pointing to a rapidly ageing population, slower population growth and economic volatility as some of the factors that could place downward pressure on prices of HDB flats. In the case of ageing population, by 2030, one in five Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above. Given the surge in supply of flats as the elderly monetise their flats, prices may fall considerably, thus dashing hopes of retirement adequacy.
In the Smart Nation era, mobile phones have become a necessity even for the low-income. However, the Chinese Development Assistance Council (CDAC) found that some low-income families had telecommunications bills as high as $300, which is more than 10% of their household incomes, while those of others come up to only $100. CDAC has been giving households financial advice and suggesting ways to bring down their telecommunications bills.
Perhaps, what could have also been addressed are worries about the proposed GST increase, from 7% to 9% announced during Mr Heng’s Budget speech earlier this year, with a firmer timeline than its falling between 2021 and 2025 so as to allow individuals and businesses to prepare for its eventuality in light of the rising cost of living.
The plight of elderly workers could also have been touched on in greater detail. The Merdeka Generation Package PM Lee For parents with infants, the cost of announced is very much needed but formula milk is a concern. The aggressive focuses only on healthcare expenditure. marketing of infant formula makers for Though better off than the pioneers, many their premium brands is partly responsible in the age group are staring at the COST OF LIVING for this. Regulations for labelling of infant prospects of working well into their old The topic on cost of living is touched formula will be tightened to counter age and in lower employment categories mainly in PM Lee’s Chinese speech. He misleading advertising. as the 2017 survey on the labour force outlined four key reasons why Singaporeans suggests. A more holistic package that still feel cost of living pressures: the In his Malay speech, PM Lee called on the looks into their employment challenges concerns of young families particularly Malay/Muslim community to “work more would have been helpful. over housing and education, the worries closely together” with the “3Ms” – MUIS, of the sandwiched generation meeting MENDAKI and MESRA – or better known ageing parents’ medical expenses while as M3, to help them to be more effective in supporting young children, lifestyle fulfilling the needs and aspirations of Abdul Shar iff Aboo Kass im is a Researcher changes that made what were yesterday’s Malays. PM Lee said that the community /Projects Co ordinator w Ce nt re for Rese luxuries today’s necessities like the mobile “has made great strides forward” and “have ith the ar ch on Islam Affairs (RIM ic and Malay A), the rese phone, and inflation. built a strong culture of self-reliance”. arch su As sociation of
Households are facing higher utility bills. The second and final phase of increase in water prices kicked in on 1 July 2018, as announced during Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat’s Budget 2017 speech. The price of water is now 30% higher than it was before the first phase on 1 July 2017. To compound households’ utility woes, electricity tariffs have also increased recently. However, PM Lee pointed out that prices are lower today than they were 10 years ago. The Government gives direct subsidies to low-to-middle income families for their utilities bills, such as U-Save rebates for all households living in HDB flats to help them cope with escalating cost of living. Smaller flats receive the most U-Save rebates.
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M was first touched on by Minister-incharge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on May 14 this year during the debate on the President’s Address. He outlined how the community must tackle three external challenges – the erosion of cultural values by foreign influence, economic disruption and foreign extremism – failing which the community’s progress in the future will be hindered. To address them, Mr Masagos pledged to build up the collective strength of M3. 3
CONCLUSION In this year’s NDR speech, PM Lee touched on issues besetting a larger segment of the Singapore society: healthcare as population ages, the depreciating value of older HDB flats, and the rising costs of living.
bsidiary of th e essionals (A MP).
Negotiating School Literacy:
Why Is It Difficult for Some Children? BY DR MUKHLIS ABU BAKAR
Researchers have pointed out that schools may not always be the place where everyone has an equal chance, because hidden inside are all kinds of ways in which certain kinds of social, cultural and class positions are being privileged. And literacy is one of the dominant ways of doing that.
By literacy, I do not mean the mechanics of reading and writing per se but rather literacy as embedded in social practice just as eating is a social practice. We are not born with a particular disposition to eat with our hands or chopsticks; we acquire these particular ways of eating as we observe and take part in daily meal
activities with the family and in the community. Similarly with reading and writing. Children do not just acquire language and literacy skills; they learn different ways of relating to texts, different ways of being a reader and writer, through participation in social practices, and through the pursuit of social relations. OCTOBER 2018
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WHAT ETHNOGRAPHY HAS REVEALED Ethnography has exposed the range of meanings and functions which literacy can have in different contexts. There is a suggestion behind much of the work that models of literacy which operate in schools are rather specialised in comparison with its range of uses in people’s everyday lives, and that for some children, the purposes and meanings which are attached to literacy in school may conflict with those they experience in their family and community.
other hand, they are able to link two situations metaphorically and recreate scenes, but these are not tapped in school.
My own ethnographic work on eight Malay families more than 12 years ago offer a glimpse of the lived literacy experience of Malay children. All the families, without exception, have high hopes for their children whom I observed when they were in Kindergarten 2 (K2) and Primary 1 (P1). However, how literacy is transmitted to the children varies between families, and the difference can Shirley Heath’s ethnography of three be traced to socioeconomic status: namely, communities in the United States – income level and parents’ linguistic and Maintown, Roadville and Trackton – educational background. This placed the is iconic1. In Maintown, a black and white children on a different starting point when urban middle-class community, she found they enter school. I’ll offer a brief account that children learn through their experience of four of these families focusing on how of bedtime stories with their parents how they do literacy at home, what counts to to give the ‘what’ explanations, reason them as literacy, and the implications explanations and affective commentaries, for school. which are valued in schools in relation to texts. A LOOK INTO 4 FAMILIES THROUGH THE LENS OF LITERACY PRACTICES In Roadville, a white working-class Ikhsan’s (not his real name) parents, both community, children come to school with non-graduates, invested in a Montessori experience of number and alphabet books, phonics class for him. They bought for religious stories and real life stories about him phonic readers and graded series children like themselves, but they see texts books. The mechanics of reading and as inflexible records of the truth which writing was emphasised by the father, and shouldn’t be played about with. Initially so Ikhsan could recognise English words they do well at school, but fall back later rather well. But he wasn’t very interested when they are expected to relate ideas in a in making meaning from stories as this did story imaginatively to their own experience, not count as an essential part of reading at and to take knowledge learned in one home. When Ikhsan reads, he reads aloud context and adapt it to another. and on his own. Ikhsan and his brother were also into play supported by their In Trackton, a black working-class father who bought for them educational community, children are unfamiliar CDs. Before long, Ikhsan could read with storybooks, but skilled in oral instructions from computer games. storytelling and in performing and In K2 and P1, Ikhsan faced little difficulty interacting with an audience. In school, negotiating the literacy curriculum. these children are faced with unfamiliar kinds of questions about texts which ask Sanah (not her real name) was the opposite. for labels, attributes and discrete features She was not able to decode words. Books of objects and events in isolation from the were hand-me-downs from friends and context. Nor are they familiar interacting neighbours. But Sanah loved being read to with text on an individual basis. On the by the mother and would ask questions if 1
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there were twists in the plot that did not sound right. And this happened because the mother, who did not speak much English, sometimes herself made mistakes as she read with her daughter. Both mother and child resorted to English and Malay to comprehend English texts. It was quite clear that Sanah enjoyed reading; she was curious and engaged with adults well. In school, however, she was considered a ‘weak’ student and was sent to the language support programme. The third child, Naila (not her real name), had access to considerable supplementary educational resources. The family had the economic capital to buy the resources they need and the cultural capital to know what to get. In instructing Naila on literacy, her mother, an ex-teacher, focused on the meaning and purpose of written texts, ventured into explicit teaching of concepts and introduction of new information. Naila had extensive exposure to printed materials and ways of learning from them, including worksheets. And so Naila could use oral and written language with ease and bring her knowledge to bear in school-acceptable ways. Lastly Adam (not his real name), who learned to read in a Montessori class which provided him with a good base to engage in the kind of interactive reading sessions he had with his highly educated mother. Taking meaning from texts was carried out through talk and play, indoors and outdoors, and not limited to pen and paper. The boy has learned that text, primarily English texts, is a way of engaging in reason arguments and a time to form opinions. He was prepared well as a learner, but a divergent one, which in some ways clash with what is expected of a P1 student in a Singapore school. When I was documenting these children engaging in literacy more than 12 years ago, in their homes and in school, and when I looked at how literacy was taught
HEATH, S. B. (1986). WHAT NO BEDTIME STORY MEANS: NARRATIVE SKILLS AT HOME AND SCHOOL. IN B.B. SCHIEFFELIN & E. OCHS (ED.), PP. 97-124, LANGUAGE SOCIALIZATION ACROSS CULTURES. CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS.
and learned in the Singapore classroom, I could almost predict their academic outcome. Recently, I reconnected with the families and enquired about the children who are now 19-year-olds. There were surprises but in general my prediction wasn’t off the mark.
capital. I remember receiving a text message from Adam’s mother not long after he started P1. She was not a fan of worksheets but realised that her son’s class did worksheets regularly and so she asked if she should purchase them so that her son could practise at home.
researchers have called for school literacy practices to be set within a wider context. Students’ informal literacies (often ignored by teachers and even researchers) provide important evidence about their personal and social values and about the functions of literacy.
Sanah, the girl who couldn’t decode words when she started P1 but loved stories, went to the Normal (Technical) stream. She finished her Nitec and now plans to pursue Higher Nitec. Ikhsan, who already knew how to read aloud in P1, made it to the Express stream and has now completed his 2nd year in a polytechnic in IT. Naila, who was groomed in school-sanctioned ways, went on to the IP programme in a top school and has got a place at the university. Adam, the boy who had difficulty fitting in school initially despite his intelligence and maturity of mind, did well in the Express stream and is also in the polytechnic.
The problem is not a result of school prejudice or teacher incompetence, but rather from disjunctures between family uses of literacy and practice in school: A child whose father works as a truck driver might not experience much reading or writing at home and the kind of interactions around texts that are valued in school; while pupils in school are expected to read complete texts, at home some children might emulate adults in searching for and reading only the piece of information which they need; while extended solitary reading for pleasure is encouraged in school, in some families this could be seen as a sign of social inadequacy.
Students are not inherently weak or unmotivated when they cannot cope with the demands of school. Rather, at home they have limited access to the dominant literacy while their own family literacy find little value in the classroom. They need help to learn school-type literacy but not because they are ‘weak’ or ‘slow’. Sorting them early into a low achievement track and ignoring their cultural and bilingual resources only serve to penalise their social and cultural background. And the impact we all know too well – a spiralling sense of inferiority, low confidence and low self-esteem, which makes progress in school difficult.
THE ROLE OF SCHOOL VS CULTURAL CAPITAL If the children’s educational outcome is predictable from the literacy practices in the home when they were 5 or 6 years old, it raises questions about the value school adds to a child’s education. Take for example Sanah, a child of regular intelligence, brought up in a loving, caring family that valued education, but who clearly did not have the cultural capital that mattered in school. If school is a place to level up students from disadvantaged families, then it had not done so well for Sanah. Adam provides a contrast. This is a child who was raised to value talk as a means to explore knowledge and identity but which did not quite fit with how learning took place in his classroom. And here is how his situation differs from Sanah’s. For a child from a middle-income family like Adam, any disadvantages are temporary and can be rectified because the family can mobilise their huge cultural and social
Schools might also evaluate children through the schools’ own cultural lens – providing the children with what they sor deemed to be lacking rather than help ciate Profes akar is Asso B yang u an Ab N is n, hl io them build from what they have. A child Dr Muk of Educat rests nal Institute search inte re is at the Natio H who cannot decode letter-sound . ity rs ve d ni an U l y, ca ac Technologi alism, biliter correspondence will almost surely be lds of bilingu the domains of lie in the fie an drilled in phonics; this is an important ning, and sp literacy lear ttings. and faith se ol ho sc skill to have but can be damaging to a e, hom child if his/her ability to appreciate and critique stories is lost on the teacher. Likewise, a child who is skilled at negotiating English texts collaboratively with his/her mother bilingually in English and Malay will not find that skill replicated or valued in the classroom. Particular literacies are thus valued over others and children are differently positioned in relation to their access to the dominant forms. This in turn affects children’s participation in classroom language activities, their curriculum experience and their educational achievement. To address this issue,
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Homelessness in Singapore: Living in the Shadows BY NURDIYANAH MOHD NASSIR
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Escaping the eye of the citizen-consumer majority living in Singapore, the homeless are largely forgotten and often misunderstood. Despite Singapore’s international reputation for successful urban planning, with 80% of its population living in HDB flats, there are still those who are homeless here. In contrast to the reality of Singapore being home to the rich and privileged as portrayed by Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, theirs is a reality relegated to the shadows. Yet it is a reality that deserves our attention, despite being easier to ignore. In this article, I will touch on the need for more research to be published on homelessness as a unique and complex phenomenon in Singapore; recognising dignity as a basic human need, and finally, the necessity of public education and open discussions about the issue.
to be homeless over the options provided by the housing assistance schemes, there is a need to look at these “options” from their perspective – are they not viable alternatives to homelessness? Understanding these choices require a closer study of what being homeless means in Singapore.
STUDIES ON HOMELESSNESS: BRINGING MATTERS TO LIGHT Outside of the official statistics on homelessness in Singapore there have been significant efforts made by certain social service organisations to study the homeless community. These observations – as found in annual reports by Catholic Welfare Services and Montford Care – show that the homeless often face a broader ecosystem of surrounding systemic factors, such as a lack of social support. In order to tackle these factors, social workers themselves require close ON THE SURFACE Thus far, local media and research papers collaboration between various stakeholders have relied mainly on published statistics to overcome the structural barriers that on homeless families and individuals that prevent their clients from securing a home. have received assistance from the Ministry This collaborative approach appreciates of Social and Family Development (MSF). the complexity of problems that the homeless face, ranging from trauma and In 2017, The Straits Times reported that isolation from their previous lives, to there has been a declining number of threats to their safety on the streets, and homeless families identified by the ultimately, the unique circumstances that authorities and admitted into shelters, render them ineligible for public housing. based on MSF’s statistics from between 2014 and 2016. This decline was attributed In a study by SW101 and Montfort Care to the increased efficiency in referring in 2017 it was found that half of the 180 vulnerable families to family service homeless individuals they surveyed held centres for assistance. In the same report, Associate Professor Irene Ng and sociologist jobs, while a quarter already have registered Tan Ern Ser from the National University addresses. It was the first time that such a point-in-time survey was used to capture of Singapore (NUS) mentioned that the destitute have more housing options now, the demographics and experiences of the homeless in Singapore. It was interesting with the latter suggesting that they may to find that most of them were men above now become “less choosy when offered the age of 50, although some were in their shelter or interim housing”. 20s to 40s, and employed in full-time jobs. While the efforts made by the authorities Many had either primary or secondary school education, and none of them had in tackling the problem of homelessness sought help from the transitional shelters, should be lauded we can only begin to or any other help agencies for that matter. understand the real impact of policies on As a result, some have been homeless for the destitute after hearing their stories, extended periods of time, ranging from and expanding research beyond those cases recognised by government agencies. 1 to 5 years. Instead of disregarding those who choose
These findings brought surprise to many who held stereotypical preconceptions of the homeless community, which is that they work part-time jobs, are physically or mentally unsound and have no means of supporting themselves. But Professor Ng Kok Hoe, who was part of the research effort, reflected that the survey findings were a reminder that people with lower skills and education do face volatile wage conditions. You could be working a full-time job yet end up on the streets. Professor Ng highlighted the need to address larger issues of economic opportunity and in-work poverty in Singapore, on top of focusing on rehabilitation through transitional shelters or welfare homes. He argues that many people do have the means to support themselves, except that they are limited. So the question remains: why do they remain homeless? THE AVAILABLE CHOICES: PUBLIC HOUSING IN SINGAPORE To appreciate the needs of the homeless is to have an awareness of the available ‘choices’ they have, in the form of government housing schemes or assistance. First of all, families in search of affordable homes usually seek public rental housing, as they are the most heavily subsidised. However, the outcome of their applications depends on certain requirements: 1) they must not have bought and sold subsidised flats twice, 2) they must not be under the 30-month debarment period, and 3) they must not have a total income that exceeds $1,500. Singles aged 35 and above may also apply for housing under the Joint Singles Scheme, where similar requirements apply. However, it is important to remember that it can be challenging to share an apartment with a stranger, or find a co-tenant to live with in the first place. For those waiting for their new flats, public rental housing, as well as those waiting for their 30-month debarment period to be over, there is the option of applying for interim rental housing. These are managed by private operators, and OCTOBER 2018
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require tenants to share a 3-room flat between themselves. Tenancy periods can be extended from six months to a year, and are renewable for up to two years, or until their rental or purchase flats are ready. While these flats provide a buffer to those who are (sometimes suddenly) unable to own or rent their own homes, it also poses a challenge to families who are forced to share limited living space. Meanwhile, transitional shelters cater to those who have exhausted all housing options and require immediate shelter. These families and individuals are assigned caseworkers at the shelters and social workers at Family Service Centres to focus on improving their family situation, sourcing for relevant assistance and making plans to secure long-term housing. Individuals and families are only allowed to stay for up to six months in the shelters, at very low rental fees. Finally, welfare homes cater to individuals who are unable to work, have no financial means and have neither accommodation nor family support. These people have no other place to turn to and have complex needs and risks that prevent them from being discharged into the community. DIGNITY: A BASIC HUMAN NEED In all the options mentioned above, it is evident that there is little room to be “choosy” and homeless families and individuals would just have to make do. One might say that it is understandably so, as the majority of Singaporeans have to pay premium prices for the purchase of HDB flats. Yet the process of seeking assistance and proving that they are worthy of assistance can be arduous and demeaning to vulnerable and marginalised individuals who have worked hard, but have not yet achieved enough to reap their rewards. Clients report having a sense of helplessness as their efforts bear little to no fruit in achieving their goals of home ownership.
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In order to bridge the widening gap in income and empathy in our society, there is a need to acknowledge the structural factors that have persistently prevented a fairer distribution of resources and opportunities. We need to challenge the assumption that we live in a “meritocratic” system that rewards citizens for their efforts, and that homelessness is the result of a lack of trying. We need to consider how those born with economic and social capital might have an invisible edge over those who are not, yet their achievements are often celebrated as born of their own efforts. Bearing these disparities in mind, the homeless not only deserve but need to be treated with dignity. Addressing this need for dignity in helping the destitute is as important as addressing their more tangible basic needs, such as food, shelter and security. In order to bridge the widening gap in income and empathy in our society, there is a need to acknowledge the structural factors that have persistently prevented a fairer distribution of resources and opportunities. We need to challenge the assumption that we live in a “meritocratic” system that rewards citizens for their efforts, and that homelessness is the result of a lack of trying. We need to consider how those born with economic and social
capital might have an invisible edge over those who are not, yet their achievements are often celebrated as born of their own efforts. Bearing these disparities in mind, the homeless not only deserve but need to be treated with dignity. Addressing this need for dignity in helping the destitute is as important as addressing their more tangible basic needs, such as food, shelter and security.
WHAT CAN SINGAPOREANS DO TO HELP? Abraham Yeo, founder of the Homeless Hearts of Singapore, believes that it is important to provide the homeless with emotional support and companionship. In an interview with Channel NewsAsia, he expressed that humans need to feel needed and cared for in our relationships. Living in the shadows of society often is an alienating experience, especially when the prospect of “home” is shrouded by tedious paperwork and a long, afflicting wait. When it comes to housing assistance schemes, Professor Ng noted that their being “residual, highly selective, and strictly means-tested” has contributed to a social stigma in which the homeless feel unworthy, as long as they are unable to display the deficiencies that allow them to qualify for help. I have to also add that, from my observations of my clients, especially when it pertains to housing in particular, I find that most mothers will fight tooth and claw to provide a safe environment for their children. However, the fact that none of those surveyed by SW101 and Montford Care had sought help reflects their negative perception of social service agencies, which I have also seen in my own clients. Having to churn out detailed accounts of one’s daily expenditure, and have every seemingly relevant decision scrutinised by a caseworker, can sometimes be painful and debasing for a person. Hence, when the going gets tough, the tough often stick it out on their own. Consider Mdm Haifa (not her real name), a client of the Adopt a Family and Youth Scheme (AFYS) under the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), who became homeless with her two children after her divorce forced her to sell her matrimonial flat. Not only did her divorce crush her self-esteem, she was told that she did not qualify for public rental housing because she could not justify spending all her sales profit on basic needs, as well as the purchase of insurance as a form of forced
savings for her children’s future. Feeling frustrated with the system and disappointed by the people around her, Mdm Haifa fought the desire to turn in on herself. Thankfully, her children provided her with a gift that many destitute do not have – a vision that allowed her to see beyond her loneliness, pushing her to seek alternative sources of help. While Mdm Haifa managed to survive on food rations from assistance schemes and food distributions by voluntary groups, it was her involvement in such distributions that really strengthened and restored her sense of dignity. She found friendship in other members that share a passion for community work and purpose in knowing that her efforts brought ease to others. Although she eventually got a public rental flat after waiting for four years, it was this sense of belonging that made her feel like she had a home.
sectors and backgrounds. For instance, platforms such as the CommaCon campaign by AMP can also be used to discuss homelessness, and plant seeds of change for the better. While homelessness is certainly a complex issue, it is all the more pressing that more people are given space to talk about it and push for action.
Nurdiyanah Mohd Nassir is currently a case officer at the Association of Muslim Professionals. She graduated from the National University of Singapore with a Bachelor in Social Sciences (with Honours) in Sociology and is pursuing a grad uate diploma in social work.
While making connections within their smaller communities are crucial for the destitute, it is important to also consider how the larger community might be able to communicate and share their resources with the homeless. But in order for this to happen, the public first needs to know that such a vulnerable community exists and deserves their support. It then becomes the joint responsibility of government agencies, social service organisations and independent groups to work together not only in understanding the needs of homeless persons, but also in making these needs known. In an interview with The Straits Times about social workers’ perception of poverty, Professor Ng once said that issues such as poverty and social policy should be given greater emphasis in education. He also believes that there must be platforms beyond just organisations, where social workers can connect and discuss such issues. But in addition to discussions among students and professionals, there is also a need to raise public awareness about homelessness among people from various OCTOBER 2018
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Infidelity: A Growing Problem? BY ZALEHA AHMAD In recent times, newspaper stories of celebrities and high-ranking officials having extramarital affairs are becoming commonplace. However, culturally, extramarital affairs, adultery or infidelity, is still frowned upon by society and considered immoral. Because of this, many of those involved are reluctant to admit their wandering ways. Extramarital affairs can have serious emotional effects on spouses, children and other family members.
not forgive or forget what he had done. She fell into depression and was unable to accept her husband’s apology nor was she able to continue with the marriage. After three counselling sessions, she called it quits and decided to proceed with divorce.
Emotional affairs on the other hand, though not as obvious, can be equally damaging. It is sometimes called the ‘affair of the heart’. While the two do not engage in a physical relationship, they are deeply entwined in each other’s minds. They are constantly flirting, exchanging messages Within the Malay/Muslim community, and thinking about each other most of infidelity is one of the top three reasons the time. This shared intimacy affects and cited as grounds for divorce according to drains the energy from their primary the Department of Statistics (2017). The relationship and can actually be more rate of divorce due to infidelity had risen to devastating. 23.5% in 2017 as compared to 10 years ago which was 18.8%. From my experience with working with Generally, from statistics, it is observed such couples, many regard infidelity as the that more men commit infidelity. However, worst “crime” a partner could commit in a AFFAIRS COME IN DIFFERENT SHADES we now seem to see more reports of relationship. Many, if not all, couples that There are different types of affairs, women being caught cheating on their have experienced infidelity will end up however, the more significant ones spouse. In an article in The Straits Times divorcing as it marks a violation of sacred include the physical/sexual affair and the on 15 May 2016, it was reported that a emotional affair. Sexual affairs are the trust between them. An example I would noticeable number of marriages in most common, where the wandering like to highlight would be a case of a Singapore break down because of an partner is only in it for the sex and a couple who had been married for more unfaithful wife. hushed affair makes them feel sexually than 30 years. The husband was caught chatting with a lady from Batam whom liberated. The secrecy makes the relationship From my personal observation in he had met while holidaying with friends. more adventurous and thrilling. counselling married couples, it is quite Despite the husband’s insistence that it common that when women cheat, they are, was only a one-off dalliance, the wife could to some extent, already thinking of divorce. 12 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
This is what we term an ‘exit affair’, where a partner uses the affair as a reason to leave the marriage. Generally, for these women, they are unhappy and dissatisfied with their marriage, and when someone comes along and is able to offer them the emotional intimacy they often find lacking in their marriage, they are likely to enter into an affair. These women are usually looking for a long-term stable relationship where they are emotionally fulfilled, which they may not have in their marriage.
is just a matter of fun or socialising. They believe that they can simply leave the illicit relationship at any time, or when their partner finds out. There is often no commitment or strong bond with the other party. A case that I had seen recently involved a successful couple with two lovely children. The wife found out that her husband had a “close” female colleague at the workplace and confronted him. The husband maintained that she was just a good friend. During one of the counselling sessions, the husband CAUSES OF AFFAIRS: indicated that there was nothing NOT WHAT YOU THINK untoward in the relationship because he Although there are many cases where still wanted to be with his wife and his infidelity takes place when one partner is children. He maintained that he could let unhappy or dissatisfied with certain go of the other woman anytime he wanted, aspects of the marriage, it can also occur in however, he did not want to do so yet in a stable relationship. This is what we call case his wife decides to divorce him. If that the ‘existential affair’, where couples are happened, he would then take his happy in the marriage but they still cheat relationship with the other woman to the on their partner. These often involve those next level. The marriage ended in divorce. who want to keep the third party on the side for a variety of reasons. Many of them A more common reason for affairs is feel that having another relationship related to a breakdown in the relationship. outside their marriage is not a big deal and The relationship becomes vulnerable
when a partner finds his/her needs, emotional or sexual, are not being met or ignored by their spouse. This could be due to the lack of time spent with each other leading to the couple feeling disconnected. As a couple matures, life presents bigger challenges in their lives. Children, illness, death and financial loss have a tendency to turn a couple away from each other. They often find comfort in the arms of someone new, perhaps someone not connected to their tough circumstances. TECHNOLOGY: HACKING INTO PEOPLE’S RELATIONSHIPS FOR THE WORSE Yet another contributor to the increasing number of extramarital affairs is the effect of modern technology. Modern lifestyles and current technology in particular the internet, instant messaging, mobile phone cameras, social networking and pornographic websites are becoming new platforms for couples to conduct their illicit affairs. These social networks encourage users to connect with new people and reconnect with their old flames. OCTOBER 2018
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Many extramarital affairs were uncovered through WhatsApp, WeChat, Snapchat and Facebook. I have encountered a number of cases where affairs began after old flames reconnect on social media, specifically Facebook. Many of these couples are older and have been married for more than two decades. Through such connections, these individuals tend to reminisce about the good old days when they were younger and start to fantasise with one another about what their lives could have been like if they had stayed together, which can quickly snowball into a deeper relationship.
Finally, the existence of cybersex also creates havoc in relationships. While some might see it as a casual or fantasy relationship, their spouse might see it as a form of infidelity as sex, even if it isn’t real, is involved. The advent of new technology may not be the main contributing factor in the rise of extramarital affairs but it becomes an easy means for people to commit infidelity.
Extramarital affairs do not happen out of the blue. In fact, there are many reasons that lead couples to cheat on each other. Lack of sexual intimacy between couples can lead to unhappiness in many areas. There was another interesting case Additionally, without an emotional involving a married grandmother of two connection and validation between and her old flame whom she had couples, partners may feel that they are reconnected with over a reunion dinner not appreciated for the commitment and organised by their former classmates. sacrifice that they have made in the Fatima (not her real name) reconnected with marriage. Therefore, with the lack of her old school friends through Facebook physical and emotional engagement, and was excited to learn that her old many couples begin to fall out of love with boyfriend, Razak (not his real name), would their spouses and fall for others instead. also be attending. As busy professionals, Extramarital affairs clearly represent a Fatima and her husband hardly had time complex mix of reasons and needs and the to be with each other, though she admitted eventual result could be the ending of a that her husband is a devoted husband. marital relationship. Her husband consented for her to attend the reunion dinner alone as he was busy with work and other commitments. Following the dinner, Fatima and Razak started with reminiscing about their teenage love and ended with them falling in love with each other all over again. The husband only found out after reading his wife’s suggestive messages to Razak. Fatima admitted to the relationship and asked for a divorce. Extramarital affairs can also begin from websites such as Ashley Madison, which is an easily accessed website for married people seeking extramarital affairs. Such websites permit individuals to meet online, browse profile photos, specify desired characteristics and check out potential partners in advance before identifying discreet locations for a meeting. 14 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
e currently the Centr Zaleha Ahmad is P. She AM of b Hu e ag rri Director of the Ma years’ experience has more than 20 She les and families. up co h wit working Professional in ce ien Sc of r holds a Maste er of the serves as a memb Counselling and Ministry the r de un g rin Committee of Foste d ly Development an of Social and Fami ittee of the mm Co l ne Pa n tio Publica ment ons Media Develop Info-communicati ). DA Authority (IM
Modern lifestyles and current technology in particular the internet, instant messaging, mobile phone cameras, social networking and pornographic websites are becoming new platforms for couples to conduct their illicit affairs. These social networks encourage users to connect with new people and reconnect with their old flames. Many extramarital affairs were uncovered through WhatsApp, WeChat, Snapchat and Facebook.
The World Cup:
More than Just
Football? BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM
The 21st instalment of the FIFA World Cup took place in Russia from 14 June to 15 July. As at every tournament since its inauguration in 1930, what makes it spectacular is the array of international talents it parades â€“ from established superstars to new stars unveiled as the tournament progresses. MASSIVE FOLLOWING The World Cup has a massive following, second only to the Olympics. It is broadcasted to every continent and followed by millions across the globe. At the final whistle of the 2018 World Cup, there were 187 million viewers from across 21 territories who watched the match on television, according to Eurodata TV Worldwide. Apart from television, a record number of fans tuned in to the games via a variety of devices. Data published after the four quarter finals by video analytics company Conviva found that, worldwide, there was an average of 64.6 minutes of viewing time streamed per unique viewer not watching on traditional television. UPS AND DOWNS OF BROADCASTING IN SINGAPORE In Singapore, there was public disquiet in 2014 when delays in securing a deal to broadcast World Cup 2014 in Brazil threatened a replay of the fiasco of the 2010 edition when a last-minute deal jacked up prices. Relief greeted Singaporeans as the 2018 version was spared such a debacle. In addition to the People's Association (PA) screening all 64 matches live for free at community clubs (CCs) around Singapore, there were nine key matches on free-to-air television with Mediacorp, five more than in previous years. Local companies Singtel, StarHub and Mediacorp retained the same rates offered four years ago, the first time there is no price hike for World Cup subscription in Singapore.
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However, these positive developments fell short of what was achieved in other countries, like neighbouring Malaysia, which screened 41 matches, 27 of them live and 14 delayed. It managed to secure sponsors to absorb part of the costs. In addition to this, Malaysia has the advantage of spreading taxpayers’ share of broadcast costs over a larger population, making per capita costs substantially lower than Singapore’s.
Hence, from an entertainment point of view, the quality inherent in the World Cup justifies the million-dollar expenditure by governments in collaboration with broadcasters and sponsors.
WORLD CUP IN HDB HEARTLANDS Perhaps, more compelling is the social aspect of the World Cup. While it is a game watched by people from across the social hierarchy, it has a special appeal to those from the lower strata, from which Given the high costs involved in securing Singapore’s iconic footballers, the likes of the rights to broadcast World Cup matches, the late Dollah Kassim and Fandi Ahmad, and considering that costs will continue to emerged. Dollah grew up in a kampung in Owen Road at Farrer Park, a humble rise (it rose dramatically from S$6.3 locality which was once Singapore’s million in 2006 to an estimated S$25 million in 2014), why should such costs be ‘football hub’. Fandi, Singapore’s “favourite football son”, once lived in the hospital borne for what is essentially a game, let alone screen more games live on free-to-air attendant’s quarters at Woodbridge Hospital where his father worked. television channels? ENTERTAINMENT QUALITY For football enthusiasts, the justification for broadcasting World Cup matches is patently obvious. It is a tournament featured only once in four years, which showcases the finest players in the world from all continents. An international tournament like the World Cup is probably one of the few events when players, motivated by patriotism and cheered by compatriots who have made the long journey to World Cup venues, play above themselves for national and personal glory. Even countries of lesser footballing stature are hardly there for a vacation. They have often risen to the occasion, some achieving stunning upsets against fancied teams. South Korea’s 2-0 defeat of then-defending champions Germany in the recent tournament is a case in point. Given that the World Cup is a marketplace for top clubs, European ones in particular, it presents Asian, African and South American players with the opportunity to secure lucrative contracts.
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The ardency with which they follow football matches on television and football news extends well into adulthood and even advanced age. Football thus has a special place among them and an added reason for major tournaments like the World Cup to be made accessible to them. THE POLITICS OF WORLD CUP The World Cup has had its share of political and social issues, ranging from controversies to inspirations, thus dishing out many insights that serve as food for thought. The France-Croatia final of 2018 has plenty to offer. France had 14 players of African ancestry in its 23-man squad in 2018. When it won the trophy, a flurry of comments linking Africa to the victory began circulating, one of which is by The Daily Show host, South African Trevor Noah, congratulating Africa, albeit jokingly, on winning the World Cup. It earned him a rebuke from France’s ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud.
Reminiscing Singapore’s yesteryears, many males would recall growing up playing football, not only at open grassy areas between HDB blocks and parks but also the unlikeliest of places: void decks, basketball and badminton courts and even The crux of the matter is identity. Noah subscribes to the idea of an individual lift landings long before futsal pitches having multiple identities, which people were available. indeed have: national, ethnic, community, religious faith, class, country of origin, etc. While passion for playing the game may have somewhat waned among the younger He saw nothing wrong in including the generations in the gadget era, enthusiasm players’ African identity but it was for it in the HDB heartlands is still evident, rebutted by Araud, arguing that France with authorities having to resort to various does not recognise hyphenated identities. Contrary to what it may seem, his stance measures to prevent it from being played was just as inclusive. He asserted that in certain areas, most notably the void calling the French team African, even in decks. The Straits Times reported in 2016 that railings were erected to prevent “ball jest, legitimises the ideology that whiteness is the only definition of being games”, very likely football. French and is akin to denying the A possible reason for its popularity among “Frenchness” of the Africans in the team. those of lower socioeconomic backgrounds is the less restrictive nature of playing the As was apparent, which of one’s identities should be thrust to the forefront and game: no costly equipment or facility is celebrated, given the context, is a delicate required. All it takes is an open space and for one among friends or acquaintances to question. If the China-born players and coaching staff of Singapore’s national have a ball or everyone chipping in to purchase one. Their affinity for football is table tennis team were to celebrate their Chinese roots after a major victory or if a thus developed. commentator says it is a win for China too, this is likely to touch a raw nerve.
OVERCOMING ADVERSITY If one were to strip the French and Croatian line-ups in the 2018 final of their nationalities and ethnicity and place them in juxtaposition, two factors that will stand out immediately are class and adversity. Many of the French players have humble beginnings, hailing from poorer suburbs and satellite towns around Paris, which constituted a talent pool for French football. Bondy is one such commune from which Kylian Mbappe, the 19-yearold sensation who won the best young player award, hails from. It is located in the northeastern suburbs of Paris, home to large, working-class, non-white communities often fraught with riots and social strife and associated with being a breeding ground for crime and terrorism.
It was long believed that, to groom players who can compete on the global stage, there needs to be a robust development programme and infrastructure that nurture the young from school to feeder teams for top clubs and the country. France has a comprehensive one but Croatia does not. With a population of a mere four million, even smaller than Singapore’s, and few competition-standard stadiums, Croatia still managed to produce players among the 23 in its 2018 World Cup squad who play for top clubs like Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool, Juventus and Inter Milan, let alone feature in the final.
It brings to mind Singapore’s Goal 2010: to be in the 2010 World Cup tournament. It was mooted by then-Prime Minister Goh Croatia was embroiled in a war for Chok Tong in 1998, inspired by France’s independence between 1991 and 1995, first World Cup victory that year. The which killed 20,000 and caused about approach, in his view, was to review the 500,000 refugees and displaced persons. immigration criteria, bring in top football Most of the Croatian players grew up in this talent and make them citizens. During his environment of tension and conflict during National Day Rally Speech 1998, he cited and in the immediate aftermath of the war. man of the match and two-goal hero Golden Ball winner Luka Modrić is one of Zinedine Zidane’s Algerian descent and the those whose family had to live through rest of the French team, more than half of periods of displacement and poverty. whom he said “did not look French”, to justify his belief. Both finalists share stories of triumph against adversity, perhaps more so in the Twenty years later, the goal remains an case of the Croatians. elusive dream as Singapore’s FIFA rankings slipped 88 places from 81 in 1998 TALENT DEVELOPMENT to 169 in 2018, hitting its lowest the year Croatia’s accomplishment in 2018 before at 172. Apparently, the Foreign provides an interesting perspective. Its Talent Scheme failed to work its magic on case is not one of an underdog pulling off a Singapore football as it did for table tennis. gigantic feat as Denmark and Greece did in UEFA Euro 1992 and 2004 respectively. As Araud in his dispute with Noah pointed Croatia outplayed major opponents along out, the French African legion, except for the way, including thrashing Lionel two, were born, educated and taught Messi-led Argentina 3-0, and arguably did football in France and so was Marseilleso too against France, dominating the born Zidane, a point Mr Goh might have game but conceding an own goal and a missed. Hence, the French experience disputed penalty. suggests that a good system to nurture talent remains essential and local hopefuls be factored in ambitious goals like Goal 2010, as opposed to merely recruiting foreign talents as Mr Goh believed.
Croatia’s achievement suggests that other factors are important too. It is hard to make out what the x-factor in Croatia’s success is but the harsh childhood that many of its players went through points to strength of character and a will to succeed. Singapore may wish to try a combination of both – a good system (France) and character building (Croatia) – to revive its World Cup dream. WORTHWHILE INVESTMENT The World Cup is not about spending millions to watch 22 men chasing after a ball. It is special not only in terms of entertainment but also the life it brings to people – breaking down of social barriers, taking a breather from a stressful lifestyle and bringing families and friends together. It holds lessons on inclusivity amid diversity and resilience in the face of adversity. In fact, there are even episodes in the World Cup that are intellectually stimulating, such as the debate on identity that Noah and Araud were embroiled in.
Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim is a Researcher/Projects Coordinator with the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), the research subsidiary of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP).
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A Conversation with Ex-Muslims BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD
The Karyawan team had the opportunity to speak with a few ex-Muslims who were willing to share their stories. The team’s conversations with them provide a rare Based on our research, the reluctance of insight into the experiences that led to former Muslims in admitting that they some of them leaving Islam and can shed had left the religion often stems from their some light to corroborate or dispel some worry of social stigma, moral condemnation, of the speculations on the circumstances and ostracism that follows. Many do not leading to apostasy. It is hoped that this divulge their unbelief to their families, let sharing will raise awareness about the alone the wider Malay community where complexities underpinning the issues about 99% are Muslims. For the Malays faced by apostates and raise the prospects here, religion is central to their cultural of starting a conversation based on Due to the religious and cultural taboo identity. The imbrication of ethnicity and compassion and understanding within surrounding apostasy, it is difficult to have religion among the Malay/ Muslim the community. access, in a systematic way, to those who community is one of the main factors why many ex-Muslims among the community choose to stay hidden. Apostasy, commonly defined as the renunciation of one’s faith, or a clandestine rejection of a religious belief, is a topic that is rarely discussed, especially within the Malay community. Whilst a complex and sensitive issue, apostasy is not unlawful in Singapore and does not have legal ramifications like in some countries. Singaporeans have greater autonomy over religious affiliation and every person has a constitutional right to profess, practise, or propagate religious belief.
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have left Islam. Despite this, however, we must acknowledge that there exist ex-Muslims in our community.
SEEKING FAITH, LOSING FAITH According to the ex-Muslims we spoke to, the process to renounce Islam in Singapore is straightforward and brief. The procedure includes taking a Statutory Declaration of Oath at the Supreme Court and making an appointment with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) to remove their names from the MUIS database. This means that they will no longer receive correspondence from MUIS pertaining to Islamic matters, such as zakat obligations. They would also be given an option to attend a counselling session before confirming their status, but most of them would skip the option.
Andy added, “There is this common misconception that we renounced Islam because we want to drink, we want to eat pork, or because we have to abide by all the strict rules, but that is actually not the case. As for me, I left Islam simply because I do not believe in it anymore. We want the Malay/Muslim community to accept that we have a different opinion. We shouldn’t be shunned just because we are of the same race but have different religions.”
“At the age of 20, I was very into Islam, trying to connect science and Islam, trying to prove to people that our religion is the right one. As I got deeper into it, I started to wonder,” Andy said. He says that he is now an atheist and officially renounced Islam at the age of 38.
“Leaving Islam had something to do with my life. I was questioning a lot of things throughout my life as a Muslim. Another factor was the rise of LGBT discrimination within my own community,” Bob said.
ex-Muslims choose not to renounce Islam officially due to various reasons, one of which is to guard their family ties. “My family did try to talk me out of it, but after explaining my situation, they still accepted me as who I am. My mum is the one who is worried most and maybe it’s because of her that I have not renounced Islam officially,” Bob said.
As apostasy is a sensitive issue to be discussed, the primary emotional and Like Andy, ex-Muslims who choose to ideological outlet for ex-Muslims has renounce Islam officially are no longer mostly been the internet. The Karyawan bound by the Administration of the team found an online support group for Muslim Law Act (AMLA) in Singapore, local ex-Muslims which claims to be a which have ramifications in terms of The Karyawan team spoke to Andy (not his marriage, inheritance and burial rites. platform where participants can share real name) who stated that he had his name However, there are many others who their thoughts anonymously. removed from the MUIS database. have yet to remove their names from the “Some were originally Christians, Hindus MUIS database. Andy, now 42 years old, was born Muslim or Buddhists before they converted to and according to him, practised as Islam. They later converted back to their One of them goes by the name of Bob devoutly as he could for more than 20 (not his real name). Although Bob, 43, was a original religion when they left Islam. years. Islam guided every aspect of his life, non-practising Muslim, he believed in the However, most of them are generally but towards the later years, he suffered a atheist or agnostic,” Bob shared. teachings of Islam and held the culture deep crisis of faith. He started questioning close to heart. However, growing up, Bob the logic and rationale of the scriptures in always felt that there was something odd The Karyawan team also had the the Quran. Eventually, his doubts and opportunity to interview Risya (not her about him and that he couldn’t align questions led him to reject the religion. real name). himself to his gender identity.
Bob added, “For me, it’s rather simple, I no longer want to think of what people “Although my official renunciation was not think of me. Since Islam can’t accept me on paper till recently, I was already a as an LGBT member, I would rather leave non-believer inside for a very long time,” the faith that can't accept me as who I am Andy explained. to spare myself from further heartache. Furthermore, I think I am better at defending Religions can provide core guiding myself as compared to trying to defend a principles that help believers focus on religion which I may not fully understand, what matters most in their lives. When we especially when it is not in my native asked Andy for his guiding principles in language.” life, he said, “It’s simple; don't do unto others what you don't want others to do Bob shared that his family is aware of his unto you.” apostasy although things have been different since. According to him, many
Individuals like Risya prefer the term Agnostic Muslim as it is a better reflection of their doubts as well as their faith. They occasionally draw on many aspects of Islamic wisdom and teachings, despite rejecting other parts. “I grew up with a faith. I believe, but I just have questions. The Muslims around me were very judgmental and frowned when I questioned the religion. They judged me for not agreeing with certain rulings, for not practising, and for not dressing modestly. When everyone around me keep telling me that I was not a Muslim, I was faithless, that was when I decided to withdraw from Islam,” Risya explained. Risya disaffiliated with Islam for a while until she chanced upon an “open mosque” while she was abroad. According to her, OCTOBER 2018
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the mosque was built to establish a safe space for LGBT Muslims, many of whom feel obliged to hide their identities when entering mosques or avoid them entirely. “Some were praying with whatever they had on. You can pray in a scarf that doesn’t cover your hair and no one will judge you. The prayer was led by a woman when I was there. It was in this liberal mosque where all Muslims – women and men, Sunnis and Shiites – can pray together in the same row. I had never met a Muslim community that accepts you as who you are (before this). They were really welcoming and that was when I truly saw that this is the type of God that I want to believe in, and this is the type of Muslim community that I want to be a part of, very loving and inclusive,” Risya shared.
assistance in doing so from asatizah is also advisable, and then make a fair comparison between the two religions. If a fair comparison is done through proper research then the truth will prevail to them.” When asked how the community should approach former Muslims, he shared, “It is mentioned in the Islamic text that, if the apostate is our parent for instance, we must treat them in the best manner and our responsibility towards them remains unchanged. Whatever the relationship the ex-Muslims have with us, we are advised to be patient and help them clarify their doubts or misconceptions about Islam. We should also seek help from experts if we are not equipped with the proper skills to communicate, because, sometimes, our action may actually worsen the situation.”
The Karyawan team also spoke to Sarah (not her real name) who recently held a dialogue session between Muslims and ex-Muslims. According to her findings, the factors that lead one to renounce Islam are multidimensional. The most common reasons for leaving Islam turned out to be the ex-Muslim’s perception on how Islam perceives women’s roles, the Islamic inheritance rulings, and their sexual orientations. Some of them were mistreated by the Malay/Muslim community for being different, causing them to form a negative association with Islam and eventually retreating from the religion completely.
FORGING MUTUAL RESPECT There are clearly many and varied reasons for apostasy. Walking away from religion is seldom easy. Based on our interviews, the whole cognitive process of losing one’s faith can be psychologically difficult and emotionally painful.
APOSTASY: AN USTAZ’S PERSPECTIVE The Karyawan team spoke to Ustaz Syahid (not his real name), an Islamic University of Madinah graduate in Shariah Law, who explained that Islam prohibits apostasy and considers the act to be a grievous offence.
Similarly, there is likely an emotive seed for those who reject their faith. A troubled relationship with society, early environmental conditions, experienced acts of religiously-themed trauma – there are many things that can cause a person to leave his/her faith.
For those who have doubts about Islam, he advises them to research and gain a deeper understanding about Islam before making their decision. He said, “My advice to those with doubts is to read, learn and research about the religion they are leaving and the one they are about to embrace. Requesting 20 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Most religious individuals were born into their faith and grew up surrounded by its creed and cultural reflections. Their identities emerged from their experience, which is then idealised and introjected from childhood to adulthood. There is often an emotional tie that binds them to their faith.
It is with this humility of recognising our emotional motives and the limitations of knowledge and reason that we should also begin to find mutual respect and empathy for others. Not just for those who uphold the faith, but for everyone.
Nabilah Mohammad is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Resear ch on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psycholog y and a Specialist Diploma in Statistics and Data Mining.
Towards A Common Balanced Standpoint on
The objective of this article is to highlight the complexity of the issue of apostasy within the unique context of Singapore’s Muslim community. It delves into key pillars towards building a balanced standpoint and humbly proposes a possible way forward. BACKGROUND ON APOSTASY Apostasy is regarded a grave sin in Islam. The Quran contains many verses that disprove apostasy. The severe gravity of apostasy in Islam has an impact to the continued existence of any Muslim community. Muslims generally show grave disapproval, concern and will not condone any act of apostasy by fellow Muslims. However, calmness and rationality must be the order of the day on this issue. We should strive to put the issue in the right perspective based on sound theological understanding rooted in the syariah and with further historical facts and contemporary sociological data. SINGAPORE’S CONTEXT AND RECENT DEVELOPMENTS It is inevitable for Singapore’s Muslim community to be confronted with the apostasy issue. The Muslim community in Singapore must be careful not to be overwhelmed by emotion when facing this issue; especially given that we live in a multi-cultural and multi-religious context. It remains to be seen how the community across all segments – asatizah/ulama, community leaders, Muslim civil societies, ordinary people etc. – could be guided towards a commonly held position that is principled, contextual and civil.
BY DR MUHD HANIFF HASSAN
TOWARDS A BALANCED STANDPOINT A good starting point on this issue is to recognise that apostasy is inevitable and it is part and parcel of God’s natural law. The Quran states that part of the natural law is the presence of a continuous dialectic relationship between opposing ideas/religions until the end of time. The OCTOBER 2018
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Quran also states that God guides whom He wishes to Islam or other religions. As a result, some individuals would accept Islam, while some would choose others and some who have chosen or were born into a religion might choose Islam at some point in their life and vice versa. Apostasy incidents were also reported during the life of the Prophet and among his companions who received his direct guidance and da’wah (spreading the teachings of Islam). A companion by the name of Tulaihah bin Khuwailid was an apostate from Islam and claimed to be a prophet during the Prophet’s lifetime, although he reverted to Islam during the rule of Abu Bakr, the First Caliph, after his army was defeated in a battle. A companion who was among the early converts of Islam became Christian after migration to Abyssinia. Another companion who was a Christian became Muslim and was appointed as the Prophet’s scribe. Later on, he returned back to Christianity and claimed that the Prophet did not know much except what he had taught him from Christianity. Another companion, Abdullah bin Abi Sarh left Islam and joined the Meccans who were the enemy of the Prophet. However, he repented and returned back to Islam and was appointed a governor by Uthman, the Third Caliph. In fact, the Prophet signed a peace agreement known as the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, with his Meccan enemies, which guarantees anyone who runs away from Medina i.e. those who left Islam to join the Meccans would not be repatriated back. Finally, many Arab tribes left Islam and rebelled against the newly appointed Caliph after the death of the Prophet.
When we assess contemporary issues facing Islam in Singapore, it is pertinent to take a balanced overview in the larger scheme of things pertaining to da’wah. Apostasy must be treated as one of many serious challenges within da’wah that requires the Muslim community’s attention and action. Thus, it must be assessed in accordance to the overall priorities vis-à-vis all the challenges and problems as required by fiqh al-awlawiyat (jurisprudence of priorities). Taking a helicopter view of the overall priorities and the larger picture may highlight that this apostasy issue may not be the top most priority that needs immediate attention, despite being a grave sin theologically. Similarly, the issue must also be balanced with the need for preservation and attainment of other maslahah (benefit) or prevention and elimination of other dharar (harm). One way of looking at the issue is to make a simple deduction between the number of people leaving Islam (loss) and the number who convert to it (gain). If there are more gains than losses, the issue may not be as serious as one may perceive.
In a similar vein, if we look back at the Treaty of Hudaibiyah, the Prophet accepted the lopsided conditions in the treaty because he took into consideration the larger picture and maslahah at the time and in the future. History proved that the Prophet was correct in his decision. Due to the peaceful conditions brought about after the Treaty, the number of people converting to Islam increased exponentially compared to the pre-Treaty period. The The Prophet himself, despite being the most dedicated and wise preacher of Islam, period after the Treaty allowed the Prophet to focus all his resources on could not prevent apostasy incidents during his lifetime. His attitude and stand peaceful da’wah without fear of war and hostility from the Meccans and their allies. on the matter was to manage them when they occurred, not to eliminate it from It is impossible to call upon the Muslim happening. community to strive for a zero apostasy rate. This kind of rhetoric fuels possibly 22 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
dangerous enthusiasm and emotions, and, in actual fact, is an unrealistic proposition which goes against God’s natural law. TWO KEY PILLARS FOR A BALANCED STANDPOINT This article highlights two key pillars for a balanced standpoint on the issue. Firstly it is crucial to rethink the dominant theological rule on apostasy. Secondly a clear guiding principle can reiterate the proper social conduct and norms to take towards apostates we encounter. Rethinking of the Dominant Theological Rule The discussion on apostasy in Islam cannot be separated from the Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) standpoint pertaining to the punishment of apostates. The dominant view pertaining to the punishment of apostates among Muslim scholars is death penalty after all the necessary due process has been exhausted i.e. investigation, proper trial, conviction and opportunity for repentance. However, it must be highlighted that there are differences of opinion among scholars on the punishment of the death penalty. These differences of opinion have existed since the classical period. Abd Al-Razzaq Al-Sari’aniy in his book titled Al-Musannaf related a few differing opinions from the early generation of Muslim scholars. Among them is a view held by Al-Nakha’iy related by Sufyan Al-Thawriy that an apostate is required only to repent. In another report, a companion by the name of Anas asked Umar about the punishment for apostasy. Umar answered that he preferred to arrest the person and demand repentance from him. If he refused, Umar would send him to prison. Al-Baji, a Maliki scholar, wrote in his book titled Al-Muntaqa Sharh Al-Muwatta’, viewed that apostasy is an abomination with no specific hudud law.
When commenting on a hadith on the death penalty for apostate, Ibn Taimiyah opined in his book titled Al-Sarim Al-Maslul that the hadith refers to a person who has committed both apostasy and hirabah (serious crime involving violence and threat to public order such as armed robbery, banditry and terrorism).
The scholars view that action against apostasy falls under the discretionary power of the Muslim authority depending on the maslahah of the time. Furthermore, the differences of opinion among Muslim scholars should provide flexibility for contemporary Muslim scholars to formulate new measures and approaches that better suit the current context, instead of preserving and defending the The Hanafite school of jurisprudence (mazhab) holds to the view that punishment dominantly held view. for apostasy does not fall under hudud law Proper Social Conduct and Norms which are immutable. Scholars of this school regard apostasy as an offence under Towards Apostates The right social conduct and norms ta’zir punishment; where power to determine and implement falls under the towards apostates are equally important to the contextual theological stand. The way prerogative and discretionary power of Muslims treat former Muslims at a social Muslim authorities. This also includes level has an impact on the image of Islam power not to impose any criminal and Muslims. These behavioural norms punishment at all. are especially relevant to the immediate relative or family members and, to some Based on these differences above and the extent, Muslim counsellors, social workers contemporary realities today, current Muslim scholars have attempted a critical and asatizah who may have to deal with apostates when the case is brought to their review of the dominant fiqh position that attention. stipulates death penalty for apostasy. The following is an excerpt taken from an Among them is Mahmud Shaltut, former online interview with a self-claimed Grand Shaykh of Al-Azhar University. In his book titled Al-Islam; ‘Aqidah Wa Shari’ah, agnostic, Mr Zim Aliwal and his experiences he was of the view that apostasy only does ever since he chose to leave Islam. not entail death penalty. A similar view “For 26-year-old Zim Aliwal, four nights was expressed by Muhammad Salim spent sleeping on the staircase landing Al’Awwa in his book titled Fi Usul outside his HDB flat has turned into six Al-Nizam Al-Jinaa’iy. years since he last set foot at home or saw his family. The crux of the various works from some contemporary Muslim scholars is that As for what kept him going, he tells me: Islam does not command a specific “One of the last things my mum said to me punishment for apostasy such as death was, ‘You will never survive. You will penalty, although it is undoubtedly a grave sin. The death penalty mentioned in never make it. You will come back to me begging for forgiveness.’ That was the exact scriptural evidences and the war against opposite of what she should have said… apostates during the rule of Abu Bakr, the First Caliph, was not due to apostasy Four nights after being thrown out of the alone. It involved other serious offences house, Zim decided to leave home for good. such as hirabah, treason and rebellion He packed two bags, hopped into a cab, against the Muslim ruler that threatened and left for the hostel 5Footway Inn in public security. Kampong Glam…
The right social conduct and norms towards apostates are equally important to the contextual theological stand. The way Muslims treat former Muslims at a social level has an impact on the image of Islam and Muslims. These behavioural norms are especially relevant to the immediate relative or family members and, to some extent, Muslim counsellors, social workers and asatizah who may have to deal with apostates when the case is brought to their attention.
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GUIDANCE FROM SINGAPORE MUSLIM INSTITUTIONS AND SCHOLARS There are institutional bodies in Singapore to manage the issues of the Muslim community. One such body is the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious While this case is simply one anecdote, Teachers Association (PERGAS). Another an honest reflection would concede that is the Office of Mufti (OOM) at the Islamic negative treatment towards apostates is Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), not a singular incident, even though the severity differs. Various social studies have which is woven into the fabric of state established that intolerance by family and governance as a government-linked community in such incidents is common. statutory board. These bodies represent the voice of Muslim scholars and Islamic Thus, the same experience also could be religious authority in Singapore. However, found and related by those who leave other religions when converting to Islam. these bodies have yet to issue a statement or publish an irsyad (theological guidance) In some situations, the difficulty to deal with the incident by a family or community specifically on apostasy and apostates. leads to violence to the person or sectarian conflict between Muslim and non-Muslim MOVING FORWARD Wasatiyah (justly balanced) must be the communities. guiding principle when addressing the To mitigate this, theologically sound social issue of apostasy in Singapore. Two points are critical for consideration in order to conduct and norms at a familial and community level when dealing with such achieve wasatiyah. apostate incidents need to be socialised Firstly, we must recognise that apostasy is deeper among the Muslim community. a complex issue. Multiple factors are involved such as psychology, economy, The first consideration is the principle educational background, family and of “hate the sin, not the sinner”. This religious learning. It is far too simplistic principle continues to be deliberated by and naïve to point the finger to the asatizah many contemporary Muslim scholars. and other religious institutions for not Additionally, Islam recognises that a doing enough da’wah in the community or person’s door towards repentance is not closed as long he is alive. Stories of sinners to blame modern institutions and the media for promoting secularism and hedonism discovering or rediscovering the truth is not uncommon. This can be achieved best among Muslims. It cannot be addressed simply by educating the Muslim public when there is continuous da’wah with that apostasy is forbidden (haram) and a sustained attitude of compassion and grave sin that must be avoided. gracious relationships remain present with former Muslims. A deep collaboration between Muslim scholars and scholars of other disciplines is We remain compassionate and gracious necessary for a thorough deliberation on in our reaction to help and rehabilitate the apostasy issue. A good starting point those who had committed other sins would include inter-disciplinary insights and immoral acts such as drug abuse, pregnancy out of wedlock, teen offenders from experts in qualitative sciences of and those who are caught in crime due to sociology, psychology, economics, humanities and theology coupled with poverty. There is no reason it cannot be quantitative surveyed data. By taking in all applied to apostasy. possible perspectives, we are able to take into account the special consideration to the unique context of Singapore. Zim relates that a person like him is viewed by the community, “the “Malay pariah”, someone who has “stepped out of the culture and the inner circle”.”
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Secondly, as a starting point, it is critical to have a consensus among asatizah on what is the right theological position towards apostasy and social norms of behaviour towards apostates because the asatizah is a key segment responsible for guiding the Muslim community on theological matters. Issues such as theological sanction vis-à-vis freedom of religion and rule of law, persuasive and preventive measures need to be thoughtfully deliberated. This consensus among asatizah can be a good starting point to build towards a broad framework together with religious institutions, civil society and other stakeholders. An ever increasing globalised context makes it pertinent for key stakeholders of Singapore’s Muslim community to build a consensus based on sound theological footing. This is an edited version of an article published (with permission) in Wasat (no. 18/December 2017), available at https://wasatonline.wordpress.com/ 2017/12/01/towards-a-common-balanced-standpointon-apostasy-for-singapores-asatizah-communitywasat-edition-no-18-december-2017/ . The Malay version of this article was first published in Malay in two parts in Berita Harian on 19 & 26 May 2006.
at the Dr Muhd Haniff Hassan is a Fellow nal natio Inter of ol Scho atnam S. Rajar Strategic Studies (RSIS). He holds a PhD in nological Studies from RSIS, Nanyang Tech University (NTU). He received his early ol. education at Aljunied Islamic Scho Syar’iah in urs hono with uated grad also He an ngsa Keba rsity Unive from Law and Civil Malaysia. He is active in volunteer works as member of the Syariah Appeal Board under the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers rnance Association (PERGAS), Board of Gove and of Madrasah Al-Irsyad Al-Islamiyah under Political Film Advisory Committee of the Media Development Authority Singapore.
A Singaporean’s Perspective on Fostering Inter-Religious Relations in Malaysia BY IMAD ALATAS
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Interfaith relations are perhaps one of the most visible barometers one could use to assess a country’s state of social harmony. This is because of the difficulty entailed in administering a country where individuals who have different religious beliefs literally live side by side. With a population comprising 68.6% bumiputras, 23.4% Chinese and 8% of other ethnic groups, Malaysia is one such country1. Based on 2010 figures, Muslims make up 61.3% of the population, followed by Buddhists (19.8%), Christians (9.2%), Hindus (6.3%) and other minority religious groups. Freedom of religion is enshrined in the Malaysian Constitution, which provides that every person has the right to profess and to practise his or her religion. The Constitution also provides that Islam is the religion of the country but other religions may be practised in peace and harmony. While there has not been a major conflict between religious groups in Malaysia, forging interfaith harmony in Malaysia remains a work in progress. Relations between the different religious groups have been fraught with occasional tensions, prompting the Malaysian government to introduce three new acts – the Anti-Discrimination Act, National Harmony and Reconciliation Commission Act and the Religious and Racial Hatred Act2.
Malaysia and Indonesia had been using this term for decades. This state of affairs goes against the spirit of the Medina Charter, a document that was shortly drawn up after Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) arrival in Medina, in which he stated that members of all faiths, including the Jews and Christians, had equal rights and an equal say in governmental matters. Furthermore, the Charter obligates Muslims, when they are the majority, to ensure protection of religious minorities. Freedom was guaranteed for them to practise their own religion.
On the contrary, the status of Islam as the official religion of the country has been misconstrued by hardline conservative elements as a legitimate ground for curtailing the religious expressions of other faiths and even that of Muslim minorities. The pervasiveness of exclusivist orientations of Islam is manifest in Malaysian daily life. Some non-Muslims have been embroiled in inter-faith child custody disputes such as the custody case of Indira Gandhi and her child, Prasana Diksa3, or caught by policies meant to protect the Muslim community such as halal certification and labelling like in the case of the ‘pretzel dog’ saga involving US pretzel chain, Auntie Anne4. Parti SeIslam Malaysia (PAS) President’s tabling of the private member’s bill known as Hadi’s Bill In 2007, Malaysia’s Home Ministry or RUU355, to impose stiffer penalties for prohibited the Herald, the Catholic syariah offences, led to concerns over the Church’s weekly newsletter, from using wider implications of such legal changes the word ‘Allah’ in its Malay-language on the Federal Constitution, which is versions as it might ‘mislead’ Malay supposed to guarantee the freedom of Muslims into Christianity. In 2009, in minority religious groups to practise their response to a lawsuit filed by the Herald faith. While supporters of the bill asserted against this ban, a High Court ruling that it will only affect Muslims, some argued that the newsletter had the non-Muslims saw this as an ‘ominous’ constitutional right to refer to God as prospect of the Syariah law encroaching ‘Allah’, rendering the Home Ministry’s ban onto federal legislations in the longer run, as illegal. However, in 2013, the Malaysian which affects virtually all Malaysians. Government successfully appealed against These incidents demonstrate Malaysia’s the 2009 High Court ruling. The newsletter need for a more concerted approach to was thus effectively banned from using forge religious harmony. the term ‘Allah’, even though Christians in
In a meeting in July this year, Singapore’s Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Vivian Balakrishnan and his counterpart, Saifuddin Abdullah, discussed, among other issues, “the importance of encouraging more interfaith dialogue”. The Malaysian foreign Minister said that his country could take a cue on maintaining religious harmony among its multiracial, multireligious citizens from Singapore. He praised Singapore for having done well in that aspect despite differences in the issues it faced5. Singapore’s ability to enjoy interfaith relations could be attributed to both ground-up initiatives and a sound national policy towards the importance of interfaith harmony. The government adopts a no-nonsense attitude towards individuals or sentiments deemed to threaten peaceful relations between different faiths. The government’s decision to ban Mufti Menk, a religious preacher from Zimbabwe from entering Singapore is a case in point. While there were debates over whether such a ban was necessary and even extreme, the point is that the government saw how statements such as “wishing non-Muslims during their festivities is wrong” did not bode well for interfaith harmony. The Harmony Centre of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) adopts a softer approach towards interfaith relations by encouraging dialogue and organising events that bring people of different faiths together. This could be in the form of field trips to the Centre organised by schools or talks on contemporary issues in inter-religious relations. Outside the government, there are groups such as the Humanist Society and Roses of Peace that serve as noteworthy ambassadors of inter-religious dialogue. My point is that there is a synchronisation of sorts in Singapore; there is a mutual understanding between the public and the government that interfaith harmony is crucial to the overall social harmony of a country.
1 HTTPS://WWW.DOSM.GOV.MY/V1/INDEX.PHP?R=COLUMN/CTHEME&MENU_ID=L0PHEU43NWJWRWVSZKLWDZQ4TLHUUT09&BUL_ID=OWLXDEVOYLJCS0HUZZJYRUCVZEYXZZ09 2 HTTPS://WWW.NST.COM.MY/NEWS/GOVERNMENT-PUBLIC-POLICY/2018/07/393890/GOVT-INTRODUCE-3-NEW-ACTS-CURB-RACIAL-RELIGIOUS-HATRED UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF STATE. ‘INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT FOR 2017, BUREAU OF DEMOCRACY, HUMAN RIGHTS, AND LABOUR’. INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT, 2017, 12. 4 HTTPS://WWW.TODAYONLINE.COM/WORLD/ASIA/AUNTIE-ANNES-MALAYSIA-CONFIRMS-PRETZEL-DOG-NOW-PRETZEL-SAUSAGE-SATISFY-HALAL-CERT 5 HTTPS://WWW.MALAYMAIL.COM/S/1655695/MALAYSIA-CAN-LEARN-ABOUT-RELIGIOUS-HARMONY-FROM-SINGAPORE-SAYS-FOREIGN-MINI
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Singapore’s ability to enjoy interfaith relations could be attributed to both ground-up initiatives and a sound national policy towards the importance of interfaith harmony. The government adopts a no-nonsense attitude towards individuals or sentiments deemed to threaten peaceful relations between different faiths... Outside the government, there are groups such as the Humanist Society and Roses of Peace that serve as noteworthy ambassadors of inter-religious dialogue. 6
On the other hand, Malaysia is perhaps best characterised by its lack of a national policy on inter-religious relations. The Malaysian government in the last few decades has generally adopted a “hands off” approach when it comes to interfaith relations. Former deputy vice chancellor of the University of Malaya, Professor Osman Bakar, explains that the Malaysian government fears that religion is a deeply sensitive matter and thus, encouraging dialogue “could easily run out of control”6. It is noteworthy that, barring the 1969 racial riots, “Malaysia has been spared both ethnic and religious strife and conflict in the last fifty years”, as Professor Bakar observes. Nevertheless, Malaysia’s “hands off” approach is counter-intuitive as it is precisely because religion is a sensitive matter that there needs to be a body overseeing discussions on such a matter. After all, this is why a government is voted by the electorate: to govern the well-being of its people in both the material and non-material aspects. In terms of law enforcement, Malaysia has at least taken a step in the right direction. In July this year, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, the minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of religious affairs, spoke of plans to introduce a law that curbs religious hatred or actions with a deliberate attempt to insult another’s religion. Credit must also be given to civil society groups in Malaysia for engendering an inter-religious attitude. Projek Dialog is a good example here. Run by individuals with experience in academia and the media industry, it provides a platform for Malaysians to discuss topics pertaining to interfaith topics and ideological differences.
government understands the importance of interfaith harmony, incidents that even hint at religious hatred are kept to the minimum, if any. The new government in Malaysia is only several months old; only time will tell whether interfaith harmony will remain a long-term agenda for Pakatan Harapan. One may argue that because Malaysia has a much larger population than Singapore, it is simplistic to say “if Singapore can do it, so can Malaysia”. What is more important is that Malaysia can draw inspiration from Singapore in terms of its principles regarding inter-religious relations. Interfaith harmony should not simply be equated with being politically correct. Rather, its goal is to be correct politically, that is, to engage in dialogue that touches on sensitive issues without being insensitive. Focusing on the differences between religions is just as important as focusing on their similarities. To sound an alarm bell that Malaysia may be heading down the path of Trump’s America may be exaggerated, but one thing for sure is that politicians have the unenviable skill of blowing matters of faith out of proportion until they are capable of dividing a nation. A religion that has an official status in a country such as Malaysia need not preclude the just treatment of citizens who don’t subscribe to the religion.
Imad Alatas is currently an Executive at the Middle East Institute (MEI) in NUS where he co-manages MEI’s publications and social media. He enjoys writing on the topics of gender and religion in society. He plays football during his free time.
However, in Malaysia, voices outside the government tend to be more enthusiastic than those within when articulating the importance of interfaith harmony. This is where Malaysia could perhaps draw inspiration from Singapore. Because the
BAKAR, OSMAN. (2011). MALAYSIA’S NEED FOR AN ENLIGHTENED NATIONAL POLICY ON INTERRELIGIOUS PEACE: A DICTATE OF MAQĀS.IDĪ AL-SHARĪʿAH. ISLAM AND CIVILISATIONAL RENEWAL, 2, 388-392.
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Thai Cave Rescue:
Lessons on Humanity BY MYSARA ALJARU
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RESCUE MISSION: NO ROLE TOO SMALL The authorities called in the elite Thai Navy Seals, police and other rescue teams; a few local volunteers jumped on board the rescue as well. It was a dangerous and risky rescue mission as they figured out Earlier this June, the story of twelve how to get to the boys and their coach. schoolboys and their football coach from Thailand’s rural north caught the attention The heavy rainfall also posed a challenge of the whole world. Millions were glued to for them. their screens as the world went on an Amid the busy rescue operations, news got emotional rollercoaster ride. Everyone around and the sense of community waited for developments of the boys, started to spread. The families of the boys hoping for good news to be shared. kept awake at the cave, praying that the lives of the boys will be saved, including And for almost 18 days, we also saw the Coach Ake’s godmother, who climbed the beauty of humanity at its best. People mountain with fruits, incense and candles had put aside their race, religion and to show respect to the believed spirit that nationality to come together with one protects the cave. common goal – to get the boys out of the cave, safe and sound. Eventually, concerned teachers from the schools the boys were from also attended ADVENTURE GONE WRONG the vigil, hoping to be the first to welcome On 23 June 2018, a group of twelve boys the boys. Their classmates held group aged between 11 and 17 from a local junior football team called the Wild Boars prayers, sang songs and sent encouragement during the rescue mission. The selflessness set out to explore a cave with their of the villagers also shone through as they 25-year-old assistant coach, Ekkaphon “Ake” Chanthawong. Little did they know, came together to help in their own way. an adventure to explore the cave for just Villagers came together to donate money, an hour led them to a potentially lifeand hundreds of packages of food to threatening situation. the relatives of the boys and coach. Ms Rawinmart, who lived a 40 minutes’ Tham Luang is the fourth biggest Thai drive from the neighbouring town of Mae cave system that is a popular destination Chan, delivered food to the soldiers and for day-trippers and those looking for an adventure. People have gone missing and volunteers who were involved in the rescue. While she could have stopped it gets even more dangerous during the there, she went beyond that . Ms Rawinmart, monsoon season. Once the cave floods, who owns a laundry shop, offered to wash it’s risky even for experienced divers. their clothes for them. Together with a team, they collected the rescue workers’ They eventually found themselves four kits at 9pm and got them ready by 4am. kilometres from the cave entrance. They walked until they found a dry spot near a In hopes of letting the rescue go smoothly, water source and stayed there. Coach everyone played his or her part. Some Ake who was a former monk taught the farmers even sacrificed their livelihood, boys meditation techniques and to use as when water drained from the cave flooded little air as possible as well as to conserve their paddy fields. And while spirits were their energy – they had no food and their high, a fatal accident devastated everyone. only source of water was in the form of moisture dripping from cave walls. Outside the cave, a rescue operation was already in place. Switching on the television and catching a glimpse of the news might make some people be sceptical of humanity. However, from time to time, the human race reminds us how it is like to be united.
While the story may seem right out of a Hollywood film, it is as real and compelling as it can get. At a time where it seems like the world is falling apart and when we seem to be at risk of falling into cynicism, that glimmer of humanity still shines just as bright. And hopefully, we will continue seeing such humanity in us as well.
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Former Navy Seal diver Saman Gunan was one of the volunteers who helped in the rescue. While on a routine run to deliver air tanks, he lost consciousness after running out of air for himself. His dive buddy pulled him out and tried to revive him but he could not be saved. Saman was only 38 years old.
This episode reminds us that not all heroes wear capes. It also reminds us that the small efforts are just as important. We get reminded that heroes exist in all forms, from the cooks, to the villagers, to the divers whose names we might never know.
While the story may seem right out of a Hollywood film, it is as real and compelling as it can get. At a time where it seems like And despite the grief, they knew the the world is falling apart and when we mission had to continue. seem to be at risk of falling into cynicism, that glimmer of humanity still shines just With news of the rescue spreading on social media and going international, more as bright. And hopefully, we will continue rescuers outside of Thailand came to offer seeing such humanity in us as well. their assistance. The first international rescuers arrived four days later. They came from the US, UK, Belgium and many other countries. There was even a Singaporean e diver, Douglas Yeo. Authorities called dent at th terâ€™s stu ational s a M some of the rescuers in, while many others a Aljaru is dies in N to that Mysara alay Stu r were volunteers. Risking their lives, they ent of M ore (NUS). Prio nnel m rt a p e p D a with Cha g r e in c S u f d o ro only had one thing on their mind and that ity p s rs ir e a iv ff n U ta a curren was to rescue the boys and their coach. she was ia. NewsAs
But beyond the bravery of the rescuers, the boys and the coach, the incident reminds people of the beauty of humanity. How the identity of someone becomes secondary, in saving another human. And for those 18 days, the world also had a chance to see the selflessness of the Thai people. There was no job too small for them. From donating food, cooking for the volunteers and rescuers, to cleaning the country park toilets and translating, everyone chipped in every way they could to help in the rescue mission. Not only did they show the world what it means to be selfless, they also showed how big their hearts can be. Despite being worried and concerned about the safety of their children, the parents of the boys in no way blamed the coach for the tragic incident. The parents have openly said they forgave him and in fact, worried that he would blame himself.
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Reflections of An Aspiring Eco-Warrior
BY SITI HAZIRAH MOHAMAD OCTOBER 2018
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Extremist. Annoying. And my personal favourite, environmental salafist. These are just some of the charges that have been levelled against me ever since I've started on my personal crusade to be more eco-conscious and environmentallyfriendly. Try as I have to inculcate the spirit of environmental awareness among my friends and acquaintances, I have always been singled as the odd one out, the tree-hugger oddity touting her eco-kit filled with a metal straw, utensils and fabric cup holder and waving it around to the extent that people roll their eyes at me and my odd behaviour. This includes sounding like a broken record when begging stall owners to not give me a plastic bag and to please not stick a straw in my drink. While I have always maintained an awareness about the importance of protecting and preserving the world that we live in, I can actually pinpoint the source of my awakening to a hot sweaty Saturday spent at Sungei Buloh Wetland Reserve with my professor who was our instructor for a module on biodiversity. I was then an undergraduate at the National University of Singapore and I was told by my professor that we would be going on a regular field trip on a Saturday morning. Little did I know that our morning excursion would turn out to be a cleanup event organised as part of International Coastal Cleanup Singapore. Realising that we had been tricked into the cleanup, we trudged grudgingly towards the mangroves and resigned ourselves to spending a morning as (less than) enthusiastic members of the cleanup crew.
dotting the landscape, each one lodged stubbornly in the thick, unyielding mud. I glanced across the horizon and realised that these straws had washed in from the waters across Sungei Buloh, both from Singapore and also Malaysia as I could spot the eating establishments on Danga Bay across the distance. I had to be dragged away by my friend after 30 minutes as my efforts were as good as grasping at straws. To this day, I am still unable to use straws. SINGAPOREANS’ ATTITUDE TOWARDS ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION Additionally, I have personally lost count of the number of times that I've had to tirelessly reiterate, no plastic bag please, no straw please, to cashiers, waiters, and food servers, especially drink servers. We have become so conditioned to the use of plastic that providing it has become the default and those of us who request otherwise present a challenge to the socially accepted schema of providing plastic unsolicited. One of the most frustrating incidents that I've had the misfortune of witnessing on more than one occasion is when drink servers, despite repeated reminders, stick a straw in my drink and when I protest violently, the straw is then thrown away right in my presence, thus making a terrible situation doubly worse. Other times, I would have to tell cashiers no plastic, only to have the cashier insist that I am not capable of carrying the item with my hands and that I should just take it as the item has been bagged anyway. One of the hardest things about being an aspiring environmentalist in Singapore is standing in line at the cashier and watching small inane things such as one pen or one canned drink getting mindlessly bagged and accepted by the person in front of me. At times like these, I have to physically restrain myself and refrain from saying “Hi, you don’t really need that bag, do you?”
at a paltry 21%. Additionally, a report produced by The Straits Times earlier this year cited the results of a survey that was conducted by the National Climate Change Secretariat which shows that despite the fact that majority of Singaporeans are concerned about climate change, they are less likely to believe that their actions would have an effect on mitigating this change. Anecdotally, among my friends and family, I have seen initiatives such as the Bring Your Own Bag programme at the supermarkets been dismissed as tiresome and troublesome. Some of the arguments that I have also heard from friends include, what’s the point of conserving if we're going to die in the future anyway. Also, if the world is already in trouble, one more straw or plastic bag is unlikely to make the already bad situation even worse than it already is.
Realising this lack of commitment towards the environment, a slew of campaigns directed at trying to get Singaporeans to change their mindsets have been implemented. 2018 has been declared as the Year of Climate Action by the government whereas the Sustainable Singapore Blueprint 2015 was launched in order to raise issues on development in tandem with sustainability in Singapore. However, these initiatives can be viewed as a top-down approach rather than garnering significant buy-in through a grassroots level approach. While commitment from the state is indeed crucial for the success of environmental initiatives, the lack of participation from the wider community and too much focus After initially getting the larger trash out on corporate regulations (such as through of the way, I bent down to try and get a the introduction of a carbon tax for the piece of plastic that was sticking out of the Year of Climate Action) presents a challenge mud among the mangrove roots. After as the movements become disparate. The tugging for close to 5 minutes, I managed state approach and a grassroots movement to get the piece of plastic out and realised Beyond our consumption habits, need to be integrated in order to bring that it was a straw. Subsequently, I individual attitudes towards environmental about true and lasting change among scanned the area, determined to remove all conservation also leave much to be desired. Singaporeans. the straws within the vicinity. Imagine my According to the National Environmental horror when I saw hundreds of straws Agency, our domestic recycling rate stands 32 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
For the most part, environmentalism remains a confined and esoteric movement practised by strange tree-huggers and hippies who are too sensitive or harping on an unimportant issue when there are other more pressing concerns to be worried about. In fact, Singaporeans seem to ponder about the state of the environment only when it presents itself as a persistent and unavoidable fact that we cannot ignore and additionally poses a significant challenge to us, such as the haze. Even so, we are wont to point the finger at neighbouring countries such as Indonesia without examining how our own consumption habits are contributing towards the exacerbation of the problem.
encouraged. My own mother has told me that she finds it harder to take plastic bags at the supermarket now as she hears my voice nagging her even when Iâ€™m not there. At a recent gathering organised by my friends and I, one of my friends took the initiative to bring reusable utensils for the group as she knew that the rest of our friends are still reluctant to adopt minimal waste practices. Going green does not simply entail saying no to straws and plastic bags. We must be willing to reexamine our own habits and attitudes towards the environment in order to be compelled to take ownership of our environment as a shared responsibility and resource.
A TIDE OF CHANGE? However, despite this picture of doom and gloom, change seems imminent over the horizon. Initiatives such as Zero Waste SG and the rise of green consumerism are budding signs that there is in fact a growing awareness among Singaporeans on the need for environmental consciousness. Shops such as the Green Collective, a one-stop venue that features brands and products that are eco-conscious and Unpackt, which is the first package-free grocery store in Singapore that opened this year, points towards an increasing demand from consumers who are beginning to examine their consumption habits. Food establishments are also heeding the call to action through the adoption of items such as metal straws. Individual and collective movements such as Tingkat Heroes and FiTree also show a growing passion among the young to inculcate values of environmentalism among Singaporeans.
Ultimately, I long for the day that those of us who wield eco-kits are no longer seen as the oddities, but the people who do not have the eco-kits are the ones who are seen as strange. While I personally believe that we have a long way to go to reach this stage, I have still not lost hope in trying to witness this change in my lifetime. Protecting the environment should be seen as so obvious and logical that it would be unthinkable to not adopt such a disposition towards the environment. After all, protecting the earth should in fact be considered second nature to us all.
I believe that in order to further grow this movement, we have to start at the level of providing options and granting people the space to start rethinking their usual practice. Individual action, no matter how small, can grow into a rallying cry for change. This could include examples such as hosting zero waste iftars, where disposable utensils are not provided and the usage of personal containers is
I believe that in order to further grow this movement, we have to start at the level of providing options and granting people the space to start rethinking their usual practice. Individual action, no matter how small, can grow into a rallying cry for change.
Siti Hazirah M ohamad is a Re search Associate at a centre for palli ative care. Besides work ing on end-of -life issues, sh also passionat e is e about the en vironment an other social ca d uses. While he r energy for change has oc casionally been misconstrued as anger, she believes that ultimately, an is essential as ger a catalyst for change.
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Obsession with Accuracy: Harnessing the Islamic Methodology of Discernment to Combat Fake News BY ALWI ABDUL HAFIZ
The Muslim community should be most immune to fake news. But only if we were true to the methods of discernment our scholars have developed and employed rigorously for hundreds of years. In a recent conversation, a very knowledgeable and articulate scholar very succinctly summarised how Islamic scholars determine what is true. The conversation incidentally started when he posed the question – what is the first thing which someone embarking on a quest for knowledge should ask themselves? The usual answers (purpose, objective, etc.) were offered but interestingly, none in the group thought about what he finally put forward – how do we know what is true? It occurred to me then, that this strikes at the core of an ancient danger – fabrications, misinformation and disinformation – which have become much more potent now because of their sheer reach and the speed at which they can spread. THE ISLAMIC METHODOLOGY TO DETERMINING THE TRUTH The good ustaz explained the Islamic scholars’ methodology as follows: In putting across a ruling or an opinion about something, a scholar must also back this up with the dalil (justification) – mainly
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courage to accept new or changing the chain. A single known defect in the character or competence of a narrator puts opinions when faced with unprecedented situations or contexts. In demanding his or her narration into question. reasoning and evidence, we will more easily, quickly and definitively reject MAKING DISCERNMENT A HABIT spurious and misleading opinions and While the above rigour and scholarship over time, discourage the proliferation of cannot be practically applied to every such opinions. Importantly, this habit of single piece of information we receive discernment would then hopefully be today, the thought process can. The carried over into our daily affairs to make pervasiveness and effects of fake news the community more critical and less are well documented. In some cases, vulnerable to the onslaught of fake news, false information has led to tragic events including the loss of lives. The parliamentary fabricated and misleading information. Select Committee on Deliberate Online This is of course not a new thing for our Falsehoods has reported instances of Islamic classes or curriculums. But the deliberate attempts of using fabrications question – how do you determine what is spread by social media to create divisions in society which could ultimately result in true – has become much more important strife or worse. Historically, misinformation now. More than ever, we all need to be ‘infected’ with our scholars’ obsession with has been used in propaganda to create the truth. In the simplest terms, Hadith are classified conditions where persecution of whole communities and even genocide are justified. as sahih (strong), daif (weak) or mawdu’ (fabricated). But there are many other I would argue that the onslaught of subcategories covering a broad spectrum information we experience today and the of possibilities and probabilities. The strongest are Hadith which are mutawatir. potential power it wields require that we Alwi Hafiz is a founding partner of Rekanext treat every piece of news critically. The There are effectively two conditions for Capital Planners and co-founder of a tech desire and ability to discern should be Hadith to be classified as such: (i) The startup. He is also the Sustainability Advisor to Golden Veroleum Liberia. Active in habitual. For the Muslim community, number of narrators must be many at all community and industry, Alwi served previously perhaps the discipline which has levels of the chain, and (ii) there is no on the boards of the Association of Muslim traditionally been demanded in matters possibility of the narrators coming Professionals (AMP), Yayasan MENDAKI, Land together to conspire to lie or fabricate. It is of theology and religious practice could be Transport Authority (LTA) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU). He is currently a harnessed towards this end. Revisiting and indeed one of the most rigorous ways of board member of the Malay Heritage Foundation, determining the truth when someone has emphasising the rigorous methodologies Mercy Relief and Mendaki SENSE and a of Islamic scholars in arriving at dalils and not actually seen it with his or her own Community Advisor at Honour.Sg. Alwi was in determining the truth or strength of eyes. For example, we do not deny that appointed as Trustee Emeritus of NTU in 2018. Hadiths can help us educate and remind there is actually a country called China even if we have never been there ourselves ourselves of the immense value our faith places on truth and rejecting falsehoods. to see and experience it. This is because there is just too much information about it I would suggest that the examination of these methodologies – the fundamental and it is just not possible that the diverse question of “how do we determine what sources have conspired to fabricate them is true” – be the prerequisite introductory (an example given by the ustaz). module or chapter in our religious classes and curriculums. Hadith which are not mutawatir can still be classified as sahih if there is an Besides strengthening the confidence we unbroken chain of narration by persons have in opinions backed by dalils which deemed to be both trustworthy and competent right up to the primary source have been painstakingly built and who is close to the Prophet. Scholars have documented by scholars throughout our history, emphasising and re-emphasising rigorously investigated and classified the veracity of each of the narrators claimed in this question of “how” will give us the based on what is agreed to be the recognised sources of all branches of Islamic sciences – the Quran and the Hadith. But of course, the step before this is the determination of the validity of both sources. In the case of the Quran, whether every specific word, sentence and order, is what has been narrated by the Prophet and in the case of the Hadith, whether these were indeed heard or observed by people who were actually there when it happened. The scholars have developed a very clear, rigorous and even scientific method of determining whether these were indeed narrated by the Prophet and those close to him. This is in the context of the proliferation of volumes of fabricated Hadith. Effectively, a method of filtering out fake news.
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ARTS & LITERATURE
Yes, I Go to Acting School BY TYSHA KHAN ACTING: WHERE DO WE START? Whenever I tell people that I am studying theatre acting, I always get the same set of responses: “Can make money?” “Acting so easy, must go school ah?” “So I will see you on Suria soon?” The answer to all of these questions is “Yes”, although I don’t know how soon you will see me on Suria or television. I can only hope that I would get the opportunity. When asked about the specifics of what I do, I never know exactly where to start: Do I tell the Grab driver uncle about having to learn Beijing Opera right now? Or that part of my training is climbing a hill at 7.30 a.m for Taiji exercises? How do I explain to my aunt why I need to go to school so I can pretend to be other people? I’m sure there are plenty of theatre students and even professional actors out there who find it hard to make people see just how much goes into what we do, so
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I’m writing this in hopes that it helps readers – including myself – understand what it is we do, and why we do it.
drama programme at the AMP Kindergarten in Katong, I knew it was something I wanted to do, be it on stage, television, or the silver screen. I also saw performing as a way of telling the stories that matter. As such, sometime in 2016, I decided to leave all the economic safety of mainstream full-time employment in order to pursue that dream.
ACTING NEED TO GO TO SCHOOL ONE ? I’m currently studying at the Intercultural Theatre Institute, or ITI, a lesser-known private theatre institution in Singapore compared to LASALLE College of the Arts or the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA). Prior to that, I went down a fairly Nevertheless, I knew that I didn’t have the typical, and Singaporean, educational path necessary tools an actor needs to captivate where I did my ‘O’ Levels at Anderson the audience, such as onstage presence, Secondary School, my ‘A’ Levels at Temasek vocal projection, or the techniques for Junior College, graduated with a Bachelor creating a character after reading a script. of Communication Studies from Nanyang Apart from the technicalities, I also knew Technological University (NTU) and held a that an actor’s body needs to be athletic: full-time job. However, throughout my full of vitality, versatile and agile. schooling and working life, I had always been involved in theatre, either as a I once went to an audition, and was told, co-curricular activity (CCA) or through “I see a good actor, but she’s trapped in your external training programmes. body”, meaning that my body was not expressing the same things my voice and Acting has been a lifelong dream, and ever intention were expressing. It couldn’t since I joined an after-class speech and keep up.
Just as a musician’s tool is her instrument, a writer’s her words, and a painter’s her paints and brushes, an actor’s tools are her body, emotions and energy. Where most artists could separate their tools to make art from themselves, an actor does not have the same privilege. As such, training becomes all the more important in order to build such a clarity. However, going to acting school never seemed like an option for me. The first reason is that I am an only child and had shown a proclivity for academic studies. As such, there were expectations from my family and a sense of responsibility from myself to pursue a path that would make it seem that my parents were successful in raising me. Furthermore, acting training in Singapore are only offered in private institutions. Course fees are expensive and when I was graduating from junior college, my father had just been retrenched. I didn’t know where I could apply to for financial help, especially for private education in a non-mainstream course of study. I did not see how I would ever make it to even LASALLE or NAFA, and never considered going overseas. All these points considered, I chose to pursue a university education instead. SO WHICH SCHOOL? An opportunity presented itself when I was at one of the events for the Singapore Writers’ Festival in 2015 during which graduating students from ITI performed their final year showcases made up of their individual devised work. The moment they started performing, I knew I had to find out more about this school. That same night, I met T. Sasitharan, one of the founders of the school, and its current director. He spoke to me with great warmth, sincerity and focus, informing me that he would love to tell me more about the school, and encouraged
me to apply. At the end of the brief, but life-changing conversation, he handed me his name card, which I still keep in my wallet to this day.
concepts of beauty and the nature, and role, of art.
To illustrate this, in Noh, movements are distilled to the bare minimum, so each The school’s other founder was the late movement has great energy and emotion Kuo Pao Kun, a man who has often been concentrated into it. Although, the idea considered to be the ‘father of Singapore of ‘emotion’ you might have in mind is theatre’ for his commitment to staging the probably not what is correct in Noh, where inherent realities of Singaporean society. the actors’ faces are often covered by a At the time he was writing for and creating mask, or if not, kept as blank as possible. theatre, people were only making, Even the music is simple, repetitive and performing, and watching theatre muted. The use of voice borders on being performances within their own race or monotonous, and sounds almost like dialect group. However, Kuo wanted to chanting. In modern Japanese aesthetics, create an encompassing ‘Singapore’ this minimalism is still clearly reflected. theatre, rather than separate Malay, Hakka, or English theatre. Famously, he wrote and Contrary to Japanese art forms, Indian staged Singapore’s first multilingual play art and culture is well-known for being titled, Mama Looking For Her Cat, which vibrant, saturated, and immersive, contains a scene of a Hokkien-speaking sometimes to the point of being auntie trying to communicate with a overwhelming. Kudiyattam is a 2000-yearTamil-speaking uncle, an everyday old Sanskrit dramatic form where the truth that he saw as part of daily life in movements are generally quite open and Singapore. Kuo kept moving forward with big. Emotions are clearly displayed on the this idea of intercultural theatre, and it face and extend into the body, following eventually led to him founding ITI. the knowledge of the Navarasas from the Natyasastra. The drumbeats are deafening ITI continues with its vision of trying to and mesmerising. Voices are used to their discover ways of allowing interculturality extremes to convey pure emotion. to exist on stage. The question that is often asked of us is, ‘In a world where we often ACTOR TRAINING IS LIKE TRAINING try to suppress or iron out differences to FOR THE OLYMPICS create a veneer of sameness, how can we Training is from 8 am to 6 pm every change to look at all our differences as weekday, and, as one can imagine, keeping something worthy of working with and to such a daily schedule can be exhausting. of sharing?’ Classes are almost exclusively practical, giving students little to no opportunity to The training at ITI reflects the intercultural sit down, or take notes. approach and mindset. Students’ training comprises both contemporary western In the first year, one of our foundation acting techniques, as well as traditional classes was ‘Movement for Acting & eastern forms. Students are trained in four Performance’, which comprises routines Asian traditional forms, namely Noh from made up of an amalgamation of aerobics, Japan, Wayang Wong from Indonesia, dance, and gymnastics. The class is Kudiyattam from India, and Beijing Opera designed to get us moving and using our from China. Each of these forms have a bodies in efficient ways, getting rid of bad unique set of ideas about time, space, habits we have built up over the course of
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ARTS & LITERATURE
Everything is work and every passion needs work. The important grounding lesson, I found, is to stay: accept one’s limitations and to work on moving the boundaries of those limitations further and further through small, incremental improvements and change. Through this, I found that the journey is as much the destination and I would not change that for another day in the corporate office. our lives. The trainer, Lim Chin Huat, has created a very special mopping sequence for this class, which we use to improve the use of our joints and the extension of our energy to all our limbs. As someone who has lived her life as a couch potato, I had plenty to correct, and still do. For example, I was using my quadriceps way more than needed as a result of posture and poor body use when doing things like climbing stairs. Since this class, I have relearnt how to do simple things like standing and walking for more efficient energy and muscle use.
WELL WORTH THE HARDSHIP AND SACRIFICE It was a difficult transition to go from someone who barely used her body (and in fact, barely liked to) to someone who has to use her body in ways that are often wildly uncomfortable for at least 10 hours. Within the second week of school I had already broken down crying, convinced that I was not meant to be here. My Beijing Opera teacher even went so far as to call me “the most physically uncoordinated person” she had ever met.
Students also need to take a ‘Voice’ class in which we discover different ways to use our vocal instrument and work on using it in performance. In taiji and yoga, we learn how to control the flow of energy by working physically with our bodies. The amount of physical work that goes into each class means that at the end of the day, students are often ready to fall to the floor and not move.
However, I always recall my Taiji shifu’s view of the school’s core training: developing a good attitude towards hardship and that one must still get up and put in the work. Everything is work and every passion needs work. The important grounding lesson, I found, is to stay: accept one’s limitations and to work on moving the boundaries of those limitations further and further through small, incremental improvements and change. Through this, I found that the journey is as much the destination and I would not change that for another day in the corporate office.
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Tysha is a Singapore-based actor and writer who has been a performer all her life. She has been involved in a number of productions, both on and backstage, and worked with theatre companies such as Teater Kami, HuM Theatre, and UNSAID. Also a screen and voice talent, Tysha hopes to increase her experience in those fields as well. She also hopes to further understand the human voice, and teach vocal training one day. She is currently pursuing her training at the Intercultural Theatre Institute, where she is a recipient of the
ITI scholars hip. She also won the Go Tong Youth h Chok Promise Aw ard in 2017, to Malay/Mus given lim youths w ho have the potential to be role mod els for the community .
Misunderstood, or Might of the Dragon? BY ZAIDAH RAHMAT
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GETTING STARTED When I decided to travel to Beijing in September last year, my decision was met with utterly lacklustre responses. More than that, close friends and colleagues whom I discussed my trip with, all of whom happened to be ethnically Chinese, vehemently protested and tried to get me to change my mind. When I told them that I would be travelling solo, my plans were, as clear as day, blatant madness to them, and they thought that I was the only one who could not see that. I got bombarded with a myriad of horror stories that served as warnings: I would be treated badly because even Singaporean Chinese who go to China do not get treated well; I would not be able to get help and would be unwittingly lost in a strange foreign land because I could not speak the local language (the smattering of Mandarin I knew apparently would not suffice – I would not be able to understand the accent of the locals – and so there would be no communication between me and the Beijing Chinese); I would get cheated of my money (Okay, my friends were right about this. But, I was given adequate warning to be vigilant even when I was there, so that was my fault); I would not be able to get real food (we had not even considered halal food at this point) because things that are sold in China are mostly made of fake ingredients; I would starve because I would not be able to find food that satisfied my religious obligations (there you go!), and the list that fed off stereotypes that we Singaporeans are so used to went on. While my biggest worry about going to China was flesh-eating bacteria (because my prosperous physique had me rule out kidnapping which appeared to me to not be a viable option for most potential abductors), my thirst for adventure – and my dream to visit the Great Wall – burned stronger. THE ADVENTURES – AND MISADVENTURES – BEGIN To be honest, the decision to go to Beijing came almost impulsively. The trip was decided after a plan to visit another 40 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
country did not materialise and after a short chat via Whatsapp with a friend whose husband was working in Beijing. My friend had visited Beijing with a baby in tow numerous times (If she could do it with a baby, I should have an easier time, shouldn’t I?). During our conversation, she assured me that commuting was not difficult because the train system is pretty efficient there (a big plus point!), and that she and her husband, a Malay-Muslim couple, had never been treated badly because they were foreigners in Beijing or looked different from the general population. This was true, barring, of course, rude taxi drivers who subjected everyone to their bad service. I was sold. After starting my trip with some misadventures and having visited some of the most beautiful landmarks I had ever seen, I went for dinner at a halal restaurant with my friend, who happened to be in Beijing when I was there, and her husband. I went over to Dongzhimen, a residential area where the restaurant was located. I was also informed that there were a few more halal restaurants in the area. The façade of the restaurant, which resembled a mosque, made it obvious that it served halal food. Upon entry, we were greeted by a man in an ethnic outfit. At first glance, the outfit appeared Turkish and resembled an Aladdin-type “Middle-Eastern” garb to the untrained eye (mine!). I later found out that the restaurant served food from the Xinjiang region, an autonomous territory in northwest China. Hence, the outfits the staff wore were that of the Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group. I was excited. I would be trying Uyghur food for the first time. As we waited for our food, folk music started playing over the speakers. A lady dancer walked out to an empty space at the front of the restaurant and started performing. She was elegant and her moves gentle and graceful. While my friend jokingly interrogated her husband about his frequent visits to the restaurant – presumably, it was because of the beautiful dancers – I walked over to a spot where I I
A VIEW OF THE FAMOUS GREAT WALL
could get a clearer view and recorded a video of the performance to be shared with those back home. I had not noticed earlier, but there was a group of brusque-looking men – deep, gruff voices, tattoo-covered limbs, frowns on their faces – who turned to look at me as I stood on the upper deck of the restaurant with a camera (perhaps they had thought that I was recording a video of them!). I have to admit, they were intimidating. I felt as if I had invaded their privacy – a strange feeling, considering that we were in a public space and the performance was for all in the restaurant. However, I persisted, for my moving away might be perceived as my having committed a mistake, and I had my foreigner status to “cover up” any missteps I may have taken by being there (and because I was indignant – I had every right to be there!). As I watched the performance, I stole glances at the men whom I then saw were drinking beer as well (clearly that was the restaurant’s attempt at catering to the tastes – and demands – of their largely non-Muslim clientele). They cheered merrily when the dancer got near, and ogled at her openly. Once in a while, someone passed the dancer some money.
became uncomfortable. The unapologetic feminist in me wanted to call the men out on their revolting behaviour and protect the dancer from their lustful gaze. Doing so, however, would spell trouble for me and the restaurant. I suddenly knew why I felt as if I was invading someone’s privacy – I was in the presence of those who were unabashedly engaging in lewd visual consumption of the female body as they lived out a warped sexual fantasy right before me. My being in that shared space and not partaking in the viewing of the performance for the same reason the men were made me an intruder who had disrupted their experience. I saw a tinge of discomfort come from the group, but it was momentary and it disappeared almost as soon as it surfaced. MUSLIMS IN CHINA: INEQUALITY, COMMODIFICATION AND (NON-)ACCOMMODATION What I had witnessed prompted me to think about the lives of minority groups in China, especially those from the Muslim community. How are they perceived and treated by the general population? Are they accorded similar rights as the Han Chinese given that they, too, are citizens of China? I wondered what the dancers thought about the way they were treated by the diners, specifically vile men who viewed them as sexual objects. Did the minority citizens (men and women) choose to work at the restaurant? Did they get a fair opportunity at receiving a good education and occupation like everyone else? These questions plagued me as I tried to savour my dinner. The sociopolitical inequality did not escape me: apart from the sexist environment within which the women worked, it was obvious that the Uyghur culture was being commodified – it was packaged prettily and sold to a bunch of culturally-unhungry diners who were out for a change in “ambience” at dinner time. At that restaurant, a minority group’s customs were put on display as mere spectacle to entertain (especially) those who lay claim to a supposedly more superior culture and whose
objectification of a minority group’s traditional practices was masked as cultural appreciation and support. I was not unaware of the sociopolitical landscape involving minority groups in China. The economic powerhouse’s reputation had long been marred by reports of its mistreatment of minority groups and intolerance of differences. Uyghur Chinese in Xinjiang, for example, are reportedly not allowed to fast during the month of Ramadan, perform their obligatory prayers, read the Quran or wear Islamic clothing. The men cannot even keep beards for beards are seen as a pledge of allegiance to a religion that is purported to be in direct opposition to national beliefs. These days, news of persecuted Muslim minority groups in China are rife on social media. Human rights activists and agencies have been trying to shed light on “re-education camps” where many Muslim men have been sent to in the attempt to “purge” Islam out of their heads and hearts. There, they are also forced to eat pork and consume alcohol, and some have been killed for their persistence at practising Islam. Numerous reports have also stated that Muslim women from marginalised groups have been forced into marriages with Han Chinese men so that the women and their children would pledge their allegiance to the atheist (Communist) government instead of Islam. Many people worldwide have also viewed the widely-circulated video of an elderly Hui Muslim man from Weizhou, northwestern China, who wept bitterly in a mosque that the Chinese authorities were threatening to demolish. With news of the ethnic and religious cleansing vigorously making their way onto social media platforms, I ask myself, where is the mainstream international media coverage and outrage at the atrocities happening in China? Is the international community going to keep burying its head in the sand and give knee-jerk responses in the hopes that the problems go away because the issues involving minority populations are far removed from their reality? Is the rest
of the world, in fact, silent because it is afraid of angering the eastern dragon due to the repercussions that may follow suit? Where is humanity? I do not judge the women or other staff at the restaurant I dined at for the way they choose to live their lives. I know that they are only doing what they can in order to survive in what is a hostile environment where they have to rely on – and exploit – their exoticised cultures in order to make a living. Rather, I feel for them and pray that circumstances will always be in their favour. BEIJING: NOT DEVOID OF BEAUTY However, don’t get me wrong. Despite my criticism of the injustice faced by the vulnerable groups in China and the scary stories friends and colleagues had told me to keep me from my solo trip, I actually enjoyed Beijing and met many nice locals. I remember a young mother who alerted me to my money showing and slipping out
GUBEI WATER TOWN
of a side compartment of my bag, and she reminded me to keep my money safely. I also met elderly couples on the climb up the Simatai Great Wall in the merciless September heat who offered me pieces of OCTOBER 2018
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tissue, bottled water (one of the lady’s own) and a seat on a flat platform that they had found en route to the top of one side of the wall (I was panting and they wanted me to rest). They later waved excitedly at me – the stranger they had just met – when our paths crossed again at the Gubei Water Town. When I visited the Niujie Mosque, the largest and oldest mosque in Beijing, there were numerous Chinese citizens there, and upon closer observation, I realised that they were earnestly speaking and listening to staff members from the mosque who were explaining the main tenets of Islam to them. The Niujie Mosque itself is a landmark that is testimony to the (possible) harmonious co-existence of Islam with nuances of Chinese-ness – the mosque reflects a blend of Islamic and Han Chinese architectural and cultural elements. It even houses an important tablet of an emperor’s decree from the Qing Dynasty. My friend’s husband waxed lyrical about the wonderful hospitality he received while working in Beijing. He mentioned the genuine interest in his culture that his colleagues expressed and the care with which his religious NIUJIE MOSQUE, THE LARGEST AND OLDEST MOSQUE IN BEIJING obligations were given consideration, especially when food was involved – sensitivity that he sometimes feels is accomplishments had been properly pretty much whatever it wants without lacking even in our country that boasts of recorded and remembered. much fear of backlash. With the massive its multi-religious, multi-cultural harmony. economic power it wields, the world Here’s the truth: Representation matters. would probably succumb to China’s So, is China really the profit-obsessed, pressures to leave its internal affairs alone. fake-food-and-products-producing, PARTING THOUGHTS But, surely China is better than that…or closed-minded nation that has often been Whatever it is, some daunting thoughts isn’t it? I choose to remain positive and portrayed in the media? Or is China remain with me. While I may not have believe in the former and in what is left of misunderstood, vilified for the advancement experienced the harsh reality of being a humanity. of the agenda of some in the global political Muslim in China, given the current stance and economic rat race? Perhaps, the China that China is taking against Muslim we know today would be different, and minority groups in the country, I wonder Zaidah Rahmat is an educator and a its Muslim and non-Muslim minority how long it will take before I, too, will face full-time daydreamer who enjoys solo groups better treated, had its prolific the wrath of the dragon should I decide to travelling as a way to hold on to the wonders of life and to inject excit admiral, Zheng He, who, to date, remains visit China again. Will China do a Trump ement into hers. one of the most prolific Chinese Muslim and impose a travel ban on Muslims? How figures, had been allowed to carry on with long will it take before a country-wide his expeditions and open China up to hijab ban is enforced? Could mass exoduses more cultural exchanges. Perhaps the the likes of the ones the Rohingya contributions of the Muslim population undertook in Myanmar happen in China? would have been more appreciated and For a country that once isolated itself and celebrated if, to begin with, Zheng He’s still thrived, China knows that it can do 42 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Many people imagine the stereotyped image of a scientist as someone dressed in a white lab coat performing experiments alone in the lab, deep in thought and surrounded by racks of test tubes. While most of that may be true, being a scientist encompasses much more than that. Scientists spend most of their time conducting research and studies with the eventual aim of developing a deeper knowledge of the subject. They delve into the untouched areas of life and give us a better understanding of the world we live in. Their job includes designing and conducting experiments, writing applications for research funding, working on scientific papers to report their research findings, and presenting their scientific discoveries in conferences. Scientists work in every field imaginable and in many places. For instance, companies hire them to work on products, and universities recruit them to conduct research or to teach. Regardless of the route the scientist chooses, the ultimate goal is to expand knowledge and provide insights to the larger community, as well as to help ignite new discoveries for the future.
The Theatre of Our Minds: An Interview with
Dr Farhan Ali BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD
At first glance, a career in science may seem intimidating and intense. But for those who are willing to take the plunge, they find a stimulating, rewarding, and varied work life that extends far beyond research and education. More importantly, a career in science is a social endeavour, fueled by a passion for research and a drive to extend the frontiers of knowledge. But what does a career in academic science really entail? To find out, the Karyawan team interviewed Dr Farhan Ali, a Singaporean who is a Postdoctoral Associate in the Department of Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine in the United States. He is currently a trainee scientist currently researching on how the brain functions in normal and diseased conditions, OCTOBER 2018
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particularly in those afflicted by schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Q: What’s your area of research? And why did you choose this field?
Dr Farhan: My current area of research looks at how the brain functions normally and in diseased brains, particularly in schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease. Dr Farhan: I am the second child in a I use mice to model these neuropsychiatric family of four boys. My parents held diseases. I was attracted to the field blue-collar jobs. Growing up, I went to because neuropsychiatric disorders have Bendemeer Secondary School then to imposed and will continue to impose Nanyang Junior College. I pursued my bachelor’s degree at the National University enormous personal, financial and societal burdens. Finding treatments and cures can of Singapore (NUS) followed by a PhD in Biology at Harvard University. I am now a help alleviate those burdens. Postdoctoral Associate at Yale University. Q: Can you share some of your interesting findings with us? I didn’t have much of a career outside of research before joining Yale University. I went from an undergraduate, straight to Dr Farhan: I have broad interests in brain and behaviour. During my PhD, I sought PhD at Harvard, then to Yale. I’ve been in to understand the learning of motor skills. an academic research environment since From speaking to writing to music to my undergraduate days. sports, a lot of aspects of human culture My wife and I have three young children, are enabled by dexterous movements of two of whom go to school. So, there is not muscles, fingers and body parts. I used the zebra finch, a bird that learns to sing much work-life balance beyond Netflix. a complex song to better understand how motor skills are learned. I found Q: Why did you become a scientist? that complex motor skills are learned What attracted you to the career? by distinct modules in the brain, one involving the cortex and the other Dr Farhan: Growing up, I looked up to various scientists including Muslim ones implicating the basal ganglia, an important brain area just below the cortex. such as Abdus Salam and Ahmed Zewail. Q: Could you tell us more about yourself?
Q: What’s a typical working day like?
In my current postdoctoral research, I use mice with mutations related to schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease to Dr Farhan: I perform experiments on better understand the pathologies mice. This includes imaging their brain associated with these neuropsychiatric and testing them with certain drugs. I also supervise students, analyse data and disorders. My results suggest that these disorders involve an imbalance between write papers. excitation and inhibition in the brain, Q: Why did you choose to work overseas? leading to dysfunctional neuronal circuits. And why the United States (US)? Q: What are the best parts of your job? What are the challenges? Dr Farhan: The US has the best environment to get trained in cuttingDr Farhan: The best part about my job is edge science. that I get to conduct new experiments that no one else in the world has done. The challenge, however, is that not all experiments work, and even if they do, the data may not support your hypothesis. 44 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
IMAGE OF A MOUSE BRAIN SHOWING A TYPE OF NEURON (GREEN) AND AMYLOID PLAQUES (MAGENTA) THAT ARE TOXIC PROTEINS ASSOCIATED WITH ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE
Q: What are the major issues or myths around your role? Dr Farhan: There is no grand “eureka” moment of discovery or a cure. Science moves slowly and incrementally. Q: What is the highlight of your career thus far? Dr Farhan: The highlight of my career would be publishing my PhD project in a major research journal. The paper has been cited many times and has influenced the field in multiple ways. Q: How hard is it to become a research scientist like you? Dr Farhan: It requires a very long training process, well over 10 years after a bachelor’s degree. Q: Any qualifications or professional development that has helped you develop in your role? Dr Farhan: Being immersed in research early during my undergraduate definitely helped me. Like any career, early exposure by way of experience or role models definitely helps.
If you were to summarise the main In my current post- Q: skills/attributes or qualities for your role into 3 words, what would they be? doctoral research, Dr Farhan: Someone in my role needs I use mice with to be analytical, self-motivated and a mutations related to risk-taker. Q: What contributions do you feel your schizophrenia and job offers to society as a whole? Alzheimer’s disease Dr Farhan: Beyond specific treatments to better understand and cures for particular diseases, science as a whole is extremely valuable to society. the pathologies Science as an enterprise that is data-driven evidence-based is what advances associated with these and society’s knowledge about the world. neuropsychiatric Q: Do you think science is communicated to the Malay / Muslim community disorders. My results well or the non-scientists in Singapore? suggest that these Dr Farhan: I have not been back to Singapore in ten years. However, I disorders involve co-edited a book published by Young AMP when I was still in Singapore, titled an imbalance “Igniting Thought, Unleashing Youth”, between excitation and I had a chapter on the lack of Malay representation in the sciences back then. and inhibition in the I feel that things have improved slightly since, but not much. brain, leading to Q: Do you know many Malay / Muslim dysfunctional scientists in Singapore? neuronal circuits. Dr Farhan: I personally feel that there
Q: Do you have any helpful advice for the Malay / Muslim youths who are aspiring to enter and succeed in this field? Dr Farhan: Being interested in science is very important (learn to build things, run experiments, analyse data, code programmes), but to pursue it as a career requires years of training with no guarantee of a high-paying job at the end. They have to be ready for a risky investment. You can read more about Dr Farhan Ali and his research work at bit.ly/drfarhanali.
yst at search Anal mad is a Re Malay am d oh an M ic h m ila la Nab search on Is ience Re r Sc fo of r re lo nt he the Ce holds a Bac e Sh . in A) a IM m Affairs (R ecialist Diplo gy and a Sp in Psycholo ining. M a at D d Statistics an
are not many of them in the field. In my opinion, Malay/Muslims scientists in Singapore are significantly underrepresented. Q: What are your plans after this? Dr Farhan: I hope to continue pursuing research, possibly in Singapore.
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Orientalism BY SHIRLEY CHEW
A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading – Italo Calvino
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Edward Said’s Orientalism was published by Routledge and Kegan Paul in 1988.1 Reading the work 40 years on, one is struck by its undiminished freshness and ongoing significance, and by the conviction that here, to borrow Italo Calvino’s definition,2 is a classic of our times. What constitutes then that ‘sense of discovery’, now as at ‘the first reading’, which signals Orientalism’s status as a classic?
A cultural critic and a historian of ideas, Said’s expertise covers a wide range of disciplinary fields. As he points out, his is a ‘hybrid perspective’: ‘I set out to examine not only scholarly works but also works of literature, political tracts, journalistic texts, travel books, religious and philological studies’ (p. 23). In so doing, Said’s critical engagement, he makes clear, is underpinned throughout by the understanding that ‘no production of knowledge in the human sciences can To begin, there is the force of its thesis. Orientalism, as propounded by Said, was – ever ignore or disclaim its author’s and remains today – a construction of the involvement as a human subject in his ‘Orient’ by the West and for the West. The own circumstances’ (p. 23). In other words, to Said, no knowledge can be ‘pure’ and discourse of scholars, creative writers, artists, journalists, statesmen, politicians, ‘disinterested’, believing as he does that and so on, which was at its most prolific fields of learning, as much as the works of from the 18th century onwards, Orientalism even the most eccentric artist, are encompasses a vast and diverse field. And constrained and acted upon by society, by as a manner of knowing and having cultural traditions, by worldly circumstance, authority over the Orient, it is, in its theory and by stabilizing influences like schools, and practices, deeply implicated in the libraries, and government; moreover, that operations of power, domination, and both learned and imaginative writings are cultural hegemony that govern the never free, but are limited in their imagery, relationship between the ‘Occident’ and its assumptions, and intentions; and finally, projected Other. that the advances made by a “science” like Orientalism in its academic form are less Equally impressive today is the geographical objectively true than we often like to think. and historical scope of Said’s study. While (pp. 202-3) centring upon the West’s relations with the Middle East, in particular ‘the Anglo-French-American experience of the Critical principles such as these lend Said’s interpretation of colonialist texts their Arabs and Islam’ (p. 17), Orientalism poise, circumspection, and inwardness. incorporates some other parts of the Eastern world as well, among them India, An example of his strategy as a critic is his analysis of the speech Arthur James Indochina (now Vietnam), Indonesia, Japan, China. Of these, the most important Balfour made to the House of Commons in 1910 justifying Britain’s occupation of Egypt. from the point of view of Britain is India and its links with Egypt from the later Excerpting judiciously from Balfour’s decades of the 19th century to the years speech, Said starts by delineating the following World War II. In its historical personal context out of which Balfour reach, Orientalism harks back from the speaks, pointing to his ‘involvement in interventions of the United States in Islamic regions in the 1970s to the imperial imperial affairs’ (p. 31), to his time as Prime histories of Britain and France to the era of Minister, his social status, his educational background, his learning and his wit. Such classical Greece and the conflict between Athens and Persia, as treated in Aeschylus’ a context, it is clear, accounts for Balfour’s authority as he sets about positioning The Persians and Euripides’ The Bacchae. Egypt as one Oriental country among ‘all 1 2
the Oriental countries’ that Britain knows. Implicit in his statements is of course Egypt’s inferiority, because Oriental, which his listeners will be quick to grasp. Furthermore, Said points out, by the repetition in his speech of ‘We know’, and what the phrase intimates of Britain’s power and its right to power, Balfour constructs and takes possession of Egypt with its ‘civilization from its origins to its prime to its decline’ (p. 32); its contemporary backwardness; and its need for order and progress which only Britain and ‘absolute government’ under Britain can bring about. ‘Is it a good thing for these great nations – I admit their greatness – that this absolute government should be exercised by us? I think it is a good thing’ (p. 33). Moving adroitly therefore from ‘we’ to ‘they’ to ‘I’, the trajectory of Balfour’s address leads up to an assertion of his ability and his right not only to speak for himself as an eminent statesman but also for Britain and the West. Said’s reading strategy draws attention on the one hand to Balfour’s skillful rhetoric, the confident pace of his argument, and the resounding conclusions he advances relating to Britain’s role in Egypt. On the other hand, it lays open the anxiety that, despite himself, lies below the surface of Balfour’s eloquence. [D]irectly the native populations have that instinctive feeling that those with whom they have got to deal have not behind them the might, the authority, the sympathy, the full and ungrudging support of the country which sent them there, those populations lose all that sense of order which is the very basis of their civilization, just as our officers lose all that sense of power and authority, which is the very basis of everything they can do for the benefit of those among whom they have been sent. (p. 34) From the above, it would seem that Britain’s supremacy over Egypt is precariously balanced given the contradictions upon which it rests. While there is military
EDWARD SAID, ORIENTALISM (1978; HARMONDSWORTH: PENGUIN BOOKS, 1983). PAGE REFERENCES ARE TO THIS EDITION AND INCLUDED IN THE TEXT OF THE ESSAY. ITALO CALVINO, WHY READ THE CLASSICS?, TRANS. MARTIN MCLAUGHLIN (1991; NEW YORK: MARINER BOOKS, 1999), P. 5.
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strength and action, and hence its ‘might’ Said may have some of the early writers and ‘authority’ as an imperial power, there and their works in mind while enlarging is also its professed moral commitment to in the last chapter of Orientalism on the the civilising task of empire. While there leverage the discourse continues to have in is to be faced at all times the perfidy of the modern times and with specific reference Egyptians, Orientals who will revolt at the to the West’s representation of “Islam”. smallest opportunity, there is on the part When a poet or novelist, he remarks, of the home government a certain ‘writes of his experiences, of his values, of ambivalence in their discharge of their his humanity (however strange that may military and moral obligations – ‘the full be), he effectively disrupts the various and ungrudging support’ – due to the men patterns (images, clichés, abstractions) by serving on the spot. In other words, the which the Orient is represented. A literary tiniest crack in the myth of the empire’s text speaks more or less directly of a living solidarity puts Britain’s ‘power and reality’ (p. 291). The following are a few authority’ in Egypt at risk. examples of the diverse voices of novelists to be heard in the years after World War II Orientalism has been the subject of much and the acts of power they undertake as critical attention, whether hostile or they write themselves as the subjects of sceptically inquiring or laudatory. Many of their histories and stories: the questions raised by its commentators revolve around the interpretation of I would be quite satisfied if my novels writers and disciplines. The key objection (especially the ones I set in the past) did no however relates to the homogenising more than teach my readers that this past – tendencies of Said’s disquisition itself for, with all its imperfections – was not one long as Bart Moore-Gilbert attests in his detailed night of savagery from which the first exposition of the contradictions inherent Europeans acting on God’s behalf delivered in the study,3 the binary oppositions set up them. (Chinua Achebe, ‘The Novelist as between power/powerlessness, coloniser/ Teacher’, 1964); colonies, lend themselves to a monolithic and essentialised reading of the discourse I try to think objectively now of the British of Orientalism. At the same time, the Empire as one founded accidentally by positive and far-reaching impact of commercial adventurers, who did the best Orientalism is undeniable. It has given rise for themselves, and, when it did not clash to innovative approaches in the study of with their interests, for the people whom the literature of empire, and Said’s own they were ruling. But no amount of reading and revaluation of such writers as objectivity can do away with the fact that Kipling, Conrad, and Forster are self-interest was always paramount. exemplary. In addition, Orientalism’s (Shashi Deshpande, ‘Them and Us’, 1993); appearance in 1978 was altogether apt coinciding as it did with the emergence I was proud of our revolution  and since the mid-1940s of a new field of proud to be a Wafdist. Our top priority literatures from countries once colonised was to get rid of foreign rule but democracy by the West. The influence of Said’s study was a close second. Egypt was the first has been crucial in staking out the ground country in our century to rise up against for the critical reception of these European occupation. (Naquib Mahfouz literatures that are a vital and distinctive speaking to and quoted in Milton Viorst, presence in what is now known as Sandcastles: The Arabs in Search of the postcolonial studies. Modern World, 1995).
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Orientalism, says Gayatri Spivak, is ‘the source book in our discipline … The study of colonial discourse, directly released by work such as Said’s, has however blossomed into a garden where the marginalized can speak and be spoken, even spoken for.’4 Above all, to read Orientalism today is to hear and discover again, in a world stricken by human and environmental disasters, trade wars, the ‘seductive degradation of knowledge’ (p. 328), Said’s voice – intelligent, learned, humane – and as salutary and needful as when the book first appeared.
ity at the Univers was educated ) and 77 19 D, Shirley Chew Ph ; (BA Hons, 1961 of Singapore ). She is ity (MPhil, 1969 , rs ive Un rd fo Ox ion of English vis Di e th in r esso (NTU) and ity currently Prof rs ive Un al nologic Nanyang Tech University of ofessor at the is Emeritus Pr mbent of the cu in she was the Leeds where Po d stcolonial monwealth an Chair of Com 03. Previous 20 to 93 19 m t Literatures fro the Departmen at ld he re s we e, and academic post or ap ng Si of iversity of English, Un rsity of Leeds. English, Unive s: the School of Moving World of ding editor ), 1— 00 (2 s She is the foun ing rit anscultural W rsity A Journal of Tr m Leeds Unive fro 11 20 ce sin ly in co-published de wi ed ish bl has pu and NTU. She atures. d Colonial liter Postcolonial an
3 BART MOORE-GILBERT, POSTCOLONIAL THEORY: CONTEXTS, PRACTICES, POLITICS (LONDON: VERSO, 1997). GAYATRI CHAKRAVORTY SPIVAK, ‘MARGINALITY IN THE TEACHING MACHINE’, OUTSIDE IN THE TEACHING MACHINE (LONDON: ROUTLEDGE, 1993), P. 56.
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