PUBLISHED BY: AMP • VOLUME 14 ISSUE 1 • JANUARY 2019 • MCI (P) NO: 027/06/2018 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434
Food Insecurity in Singapore
CONTENTS JANUARY 2019
EDITORIAL BOARD 01
FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK
SUPERVISING EDITOR Abdul Hamid Abdullah
COVER STORY 13
EDITOR Mohd Anuar Yusop
Food Insecurity in Singapore by Assoc Prof John Donaldson & Pearlyn Neo SOCIAL
Selective Benefits and Poor Options by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim
The Threat of Ageism by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim
Infertility: Myths and Realities by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim & Nabilah Mohammad
Gems of Staying Healthy: A Medico-Islamic Perspective by Dr Zuraimi Mohamed Dahlan ISSUES
Halal Issues: The Need for a Balanced Discourse by Khartini Khalid
Dancing to His Own Beat: A Parent’s Perspective on Autism by Julianawarti Jumali PERSONALITY
Revolutionising Digital Media: An Interview with Mr Jamal Hassim by Abdul Hakeem Akbar Ali
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Bitcoin: A Medium of Exchange or a Highly Speculative Asset? by Nabilah Mohammad HEALTH
More than One: A Look at Polygamy in Muslim Marriages in Singapore by Nabilah Mohammad FINANCE
EDITORIAL TEAM Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Nabilah Mohammad Dr Nuraliah Norasid Nur Diyana Jalil Ruzaidah Md Rasid Winda Guntor
No One Place for the Spirit: Review of For[god] by Noor Iskandar by Dr Nuraliah Norasid
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CLARIFICATION In our last issue (Volume 13 Issue 4), the article by Imad Alatas was titled, “A Singaporean’s Perspective on Fostering Inter-Religious Relations in Malaysia”. The author has since clarified that he is a Singapore-based Malaysian, and not a Singaporean.
FROM THE EDITORâ€™S DESK
From street food to posh restaurants, and an array of local and international cuisines, Singapore is a true foodieâ€™s paradise. We have affordable food that is readily available even without stepping out of the comfort of our homes. With this abundance of food, the majority of us have become privileged enough that having food on our tables is no longer a hardship. However, according to some experts, it is estimated that between one in ten and one in seven Singaporeans live on an income less than what is needed to secure basic necessities, including food. A survey conducted by Assoc Prof Donaldson and Ms Pearlyn Neo of close to 300 households revealed some interesting findings linked to food insecurity in Singapore. According to their survey, though non-representative, factors such as educational level, household income and size, and employment status, are linked to the food security of households. You can read about their findings on Page 13. While Singapore prides itself with a low poverty index, the reality is that relative poverty does exist. Our close proximity to our neighbours further imposes the obligation that we do not fill our stomachs while they go to bed hungry. I hope this article will bring forth new insights on the vulnerable communities amongst us and encourage us to do more in ensuring their adequate access to food.
ABDUL HAMID ABDULLAH SUPERVISING EDITOR
Selective Benefits and Poor Options BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM 02 T H E K A R Y A W A N Â© ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
In discussions on poverty, conventional knowledge is that income redistribution will only have limited impact in alleviating poverty if the behavioural attributes that contribute to adverse socioeconomic outcomes are not tackled. In ‘anti-welfare’ states, a key reason why welfare is selective is that the alternative is deemed to undermine the incentive to work and erode values such as selfreliance and resilience that are instrumental in helping the low-income wean themselves off assistance schemes. Incorporated in the targeted approach is intervention in how choices are made. This includes education on prudence in managing finances and strategising for eventual self-sufficiency. Selective benefits regimes claim that welfare schemes are calibrated to target those most in need and are most effective in relieving a recipient of his most pressing problems, thus placing him on the path towards self-sufficiency.
Even meritocracy has been debated intensely as social stratification becomes more apparent. For decades, the philosophy was held in high regard because of its perceived fairness in according rewards based on merit rather than background, status, wealth or connections. However, as inequality loomed large, people are beginning to learn that meritocracy may be complicit in perpetuating class divide.
The ongoing debates are not all in vain. It has induced rethinking on welfare, as is evident in the last two Budget announceMeritocracy does not have inbuilt features ments, which included the sandwiched to mitigate the advantages that the middle-income groups in certain wealthy and the well-connected have in schemes2. However, it retains much of its seizing opportunities even as it purports selective attributes and has thus far to reward the deserving. A unique term shown no indications of compromising. had be coined: “compassionate meritocThis would mean that applicants of racy” – which entails urging those who welfare schemes will continue to be have benefitted from meritocracy to give subjected to rigorous means testing to back to society1. demonstrate need.
Sociologist Teo You Yenn, whose ethnography of inequality arguably ignited the intense debate on inequality, underscored the need to unpack the nuances underpinning the term “deservThe goal of getting the needy to be ing”. In a society blinded by meritocracy, self-sufficient makes sense and, in all it is possible for a person achieving an likelihood, the poor themselves may also outcome with less hurdles to clear to be not wish to face the stigma of being on seen as more deserving than a person assistance schemes, especially in a from a disadvantaged background with status-conscious society. far more obstacles to overcome and who achieves a lesser outcome, the latter THE MYTH OF MERITOCRACY? having worked harder notwithstanding. In recent times, particularly in light of the This is because of the tendency to pay national level discussion on inequality, attention to what one achieves, not how there have been calls to revisit minimum it was achieved. wage and to consider universal benefits as it has the effect of promoting social It is quite common, for instance, to see solidarity, an antidote to elitism and the cut-off points specified by recruiters for resentment that taxpayers feel against certain jobs or admission to higher those benefiting from social schemes. institutions of learning, say a GPA of 3.5. It effectively rules out those who have The ensuing exchanges between the to struggle against the odds to achieve a government and proponents of reforms GPA of 3.3. point to the former retaining its existing policies albeit with tweaks at best to meet It has to be acknowledged that looking emerging challenges. into how a result was achieved would 1 2
require more resources that not many organisations may be willing to expend, such as interviewing a diverse lot of applicants to find those with the desired attitude. However, not doing so would mean that they deny themselves prospective candidates with a better set of attributes, the cost of which would be felt in the longer run.
BURDENS OF THE POOR MADE HEAVIER In a welfare model that is premised on selective benefits, attention on beneficiaries will inevitably turn towards the behavioural aspects: values, habits and practices. They are supposed to ‘graduate’ from the schemes. Hence, commitment, discipline, positive mindset, industriousness and prudence are necessary traits for a successful outcome. Consequently, beneficiaries who fail to make progress while they are on welfare schemes will have their behaviour scrutinised. A man on an assistance scheme who spends money on cigarettes will have his habit questioned because the opportunity cost of smoking is expenditure on a basic need. If taxpayers and donors were to find out that a beneficiary is spending on a wasteful habit, it is likely to confirm the notion held by some of them that people are poor because of the choices they make. Social workers will have to advise the man to quit his habit.
HTTP://WWW.ASIAONE.COM/SINGAPORE/COMPASSIONATE-MERITOCRACY-KEY-FUTURE REFER TO BUDGET SPEECHES 2017 AND 2018
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However, in many developed countries, smoking tends to be higher among the low-income for various reasons3. Some of the reasons cited, that may be applicable to the Singapore context, are that the lower-income groups may have limited access to materials educating them on the harmful effects of cigarettes and effective ways of quitting the habit. With limited means of relieving oneself from battered self-esteem, worries, stress and loneliness, smoking is a very tempting outlet. A man with the means may have alternative ways of coping with his troubles, such as going on a vacation.
“Televisions play important roles in the everyday lives of low-income persons, probably more so than those with higher income. Singapore is an expensive city. Going out involves money – children asking to buy things, paying for food, transportation, or entry fees to attractions. Parents worry about bad influences in the neighbourhood. It is boring to be at home without toys and games, and with limited capacity to partake in other hobbies. Television is therefore especially important entertainment.”
Once a household’s circumstances are This is not to say the poor man’s smoking taken into account, television looks more habit should thus be tolerated. At the very like a necessity than a luxury. If the longer-run costs of not owning a least, it should be acknowledged that his choice is contributed by the poor options television are factored into consideration, a television may be a more prudent choice. he has in coping with his plight. It will be hard for sceptics to reconcile their beliefs with this view unless they Social workers must continue to educate him on kicking the habit but policymakers are able to see that the household has must also consider measures that enhance poor options. his coping mechanisms, such as exploring Discussions on inequality, among other the possibility of including low-cost recreation in the list of basic needs as it is things, revealed the tension between sociology and social work. While the a factor that contributes to well-being. Well-being may increase the odds of him former sheds light on why poor options rather than poor choices is the problem, beating the deeply-rooted problems that thus drawing attention to the existing have been incapacitating him. welfare model, the latter argues that poor In reality, the choices one makes are more options is not a reason why spending visible than the options one has. It is a key choices and needs should not be subjected to interrogation. reason why when the poor or those who empathise with them attempt to justify It is not that social workers are not possessing ‘luxury’ items in a targeted welfare landscape like Singapore, some of empathetic towards the plight of the poor but they have to practice “tough love” if the harsher but common responses are their beneficiaries are to attain that the poor should live within their self-sufficiency. Social workers testify that means and stop complaining. such an approach has produced tangible results as PAVE Executive Director, Dr An example is the television set which is deemed a luxury for someone on a welfare Sudha Nair, did in her commentary for The Straits Times (June 23, 2018). She scheme. Society rarely probes further to understand what the role of the television further added: “If we say the poor should be spared set in a poor household is, a task that hard questions or being challenged, Professor Teo undertook in her visits to and be given help without conditions, such households4: 3
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we would in effect be conceding that such families are hopeless and helpless. A cardinal principle in social work is that everyone has the potential to do well and social workers harness that potential.” However, from a more macro perspective, the legitimacy of subjecting a group to such treatment will shape perceptions towards them and will hardly facilitate the social mixing that the government envisions. Contrary to what one may believe, poor choices are made by everyone from time to time regardless of their socioeconomic background. However, in a landscape where welfare is delivered selectively, only the poor, for reasons understood, will be made to account their poor choices even though they are constrained by poor options. Hence, if inequality is to be mitigated and a more cohesive society is to be nurtured, as academic Ng Kok Hoe, in his commentary for TODAY (June 14, 2016) urged: don’t write off the benefits of universal social policies.
Abdul Sh ariff Abo o Kassim Projects is a Rese Co arche Research ordinator with the Centre fo r/ on Islam ic and M r (RIMA), th alay Affa e researc irs h subsid iary of AM P.
HTTPS://TRUTHINITIATIVE.ORG/NEWS/WHY-ARE-72-PERCENT-SMOKERS-LOWER-INCOME-COMMUNITIES 4 TEO YOU YENN (2018), THIS IS WHAT INEQUALITY LOOKS LIKE
The Threat Of Ageism BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM JANUARY 2019
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Singapore is bracing itself for an ageing population. By 2030, about one in five residents Another point to note is that life expectancy would be 65 years of age or older. is increasing. The rise from 78.8 years in 1980 to 85.3 years today is substantial. However, old age support ratio is falling CHART 1: POPULATION OF ELDERLY IN SINGAPORE dramatically. By 2030, there will only 1000K 30% be two citizens in the working age band of between 20 and 64 years for every 900K 24% 25% citizen aged 65 and above. This stands in 800K stark contrast with the situation in 1970 21% when there were about 13.5 in the working 700K 20% age band. 600K
200K 100K 0K
Number of elderly citizens (aged 65 years and above)
15% Arresting the slide in total fertility rate
(TFR), according to Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) Managing Director 10% Ravi Menon, is the best and most lasting solution to the ageing problem but its 5% positive effects on the labour force will only occur in the very long run. The outlook is not rosy as fertility hit a 0% seven-year low of 1.16 in 2017.
% of elderly in citizen population
SOURCE: SINGAPORE DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS
A point worth noting from Chart 1 is how steeply the red line is climbing. It raises questions about whether policies, programmes and infrastructure are keeping pace with the red line. Are stereotypes and biases about this group increasing as well? CHART 2: LIFE EXPECTANCY OF A CITIZEN AT AGE 65 YEARS
Measures are also being undertaken to increase resident labour force participation rate but its effects on resident labour force growth will be quite limited. Immigration is a solution but it is also a thorny issue, given the rise in the number of social problems pertaining to it1. One of the lessons that can be derived from the above figures is that the way we see our elderly must change – they are an asset, not a drain.
At the policy level, there are already a slew of measures being implemented to keep seniors healthy, promote active ageing, A citizen aged 65 today is expected to live up to 85.3 years, provide senior-friendly housing and communities, making healthcare affordable, compared to 78.8 years in 1980 integrating care across health and social sectors and addressing workplace discrimination. This will put them in good stead to be net contributors socially and economically.
19 70 19 ^ 75 * 19 80 19 85 * 19 90 19 95 20 00 20 05 20 10 20 15 20 20 20 25 20 30 20 35 20 40 20 45 20 50 20 55 20 60
^ Pertains to total population. Figures on resident/citizen life expectancy are only available from 1980 onwards. * Interpolated figures as data are not available
SOURCE: MINISTRY OF HEALTH, SINGAPORE
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Less intervention, however, seems to be happening at the micro level where an older person’s experiences with ageism could undermine positive outlook,
self-esteem and social inclusion. This has longer-term implications if allowed to take root in society, militating against efforts to promote active ageing, paying lip service to appreciating the experiences and wisdom of seniors, and condoning age discrimination.
It would have been easy to dismiss his story as just another complaint, as many whose job applications have yet to come to fruition are wont to do. However, employers’ reluctance to recruit an older worker is a well-documented problem, which prompted the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment According to the World Health Organisation Practices (TAFEP) to initiate campaigns (WHO), ageism is everywhere, yet it is for change in mindset on older workers. the most socially “normalised” of any prejudice, and is not widely countered – Older workers also face instances of like racism or sexism. These attitudes lead indirect discrimination. For example, a to the marginalisation of older people “young working environment” meant that within communities and have negative older workers are not a good fit even if impacts on their health and well-being2. they have the relevant experience or are willing to learn. A recruiter may feel insecure if a senior job applicant is a Just as WHO is waging a global campaign to combat ageism, considering former PMET (Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians) who has a the demographic future of Singapore, organisations and individuals in Singapore wealth of experience and who is a former high income earner, as he may find it a too can begin combating ageism. challenge to exercise his authority over the job applicant if the latter is recruited4. Perhaps a good way to start is to compile personal stories of seniors experiencing ageism to gain a better understanding of During a performance appraisal, an older why it happens, where it happens most, worker was told by his supervisor that who are the ones prone to harbouring ageist there are areas the former can improve on views and what outcomes they have led to. but, given his age, he may be “hardwired” or set in his ways. The latter believes it is The following are anecdotes of how easier to “mould” a younger worker but ageism transpired in the lives of some not someone in his fifties. This is a view ordinary older Singaporeans. commonly espoused by management and human resource personnel but the A senior shared his experience in a letter scientific validity of such assessment sent to The Straits Times (October 6, 2015)3. remains doubtful. As WHO highlighted in He was 55 then, pursued his studies in the one of its bulletins, such views are socially financial industry and passed his exams. accepted and usually unchallenged However, his job applications were in vain. because of its largely implicit and A convenient argument that can be made subconscious nature5. is that this is an experience that even younger job applicants may face or that his Professor Sattar Bawany, a human resource resume needs to be touched up further. consultant to organisations, and a career However, the letter writer shared that, in and executive coach to PMETs impacted one of his applications, he omitted his age by restructuring, wrote in a letter to The and received a call to attend an interview. Straits Times (February 26, 2018) that he At the reception counter, however, he was found that there is clearly a prevalence of greeted with these words: "Uncle, you have age discrimination in the workplace. This, come to the wrong place." he said, is evident in the form of human resource policies and processes, such as 2 3 4 5
recruitment and compensation that reveal a bias against older employees – a situation which is potentially limiting business performance and preventing older employees from contributing fully. He thinks ageism may be responsible for the rise in the number of redundancies and the difficulties faced by older Singaporeans trying to re-enter the workforce. In another instance, a manager shared how her elderly aunt found the learning curve too steep when her company made the switch to digitalisation. The latter’s management began generalising that older workers have trouble embracing new technology, which may have a bearing on deployment and recruitment of older workers. Such views resonate because of the widespread perception that seniors are averse to learning how to use state-of-theart products. It may be true that some seniors are overwhelmed by the myriad of features and applications that today’s digital equipment come with. However, this may stem from a number of reasons. For instance, unlike the young who have the benefit of being exposed to digital gadgets early, the tech phenomenon happened much later in the lives of the elderly and it would understandably take a while for them to find a community of fellow users, which would give them a reason to actively use the digital applications. Hence, they are behind but certainly not out where embracing a new technology is concerned. The Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore’s (IMDA) data show that the already high proportion of internet users among those aged between 50 and 59 climbed a further 10 percentage points, from 75% in 2015 to 85% in 2017. The proportion of internet users among those older – aged 60 and above – is substantially lower but it sloped upwards by 11% during the same time period, from 31% to 42%.
HTTPS://WWW.WHO.INT/AGEING/AGEISM/EN/ HTTPS://WWW.STRAITSTIMES.COM/FORUM/LETTERS-ON-THE-WEB/A-SENIORS-EXPERIENCE-WITH-AGEISM HTTPS://WWW.TODAYONLINE.COM/VOICES/AGEISM-BIGGEST-OBSTACLE-EMPLOYABILITY-OLDER-SPOREANS HTTPS://WWW.WHO.INT/BULLETIN/VOLUMES/96/4/17-202424/EN/
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CHART 3: PORTABLE EQUIPMENT USED TO CONNECT TO THE INTERNET WIRELESSLY BY AGE GROUP, 2015 – 2017 92%92%
85% 86% 85%
58% 47% 31%
60 YEARS AND ABOVE
AGED 7 AND ABOVE
BASE: RESIDENTS OF AGED 7 AND ABOVE WHO HAD USED A PORTABLE EQIPMENT IN THE PAST 3 MONTHS SOURCE: INFOCOMM MEDIA DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY. ANNUAL SURVEY ON INFOCOMM USAGE IN HOUSEHOLDS AND BY INDIVIDUALS FOR 2017
Moreover, IMDA reported that there was a significant growth in senior citizens using portable infocomm equipment such as smartphones and tablets to connect to the Internet wirelessly in 2017, when compared to 2015. Residents aged between 50 and 59 who had used portable infocomm equipment in the past three months rose by 12 percentage points from 67% in 2015 to 79% in 2017. The figures for those 60 years old and above are more staggering: from 31% in 2015 to 73% in 2017, a more than two-fold increase.
Considering that ageing demographics is now at our doorstep, it is time for ageism to be elevated to the same level as racism and sexism. Intense discussion on racism has led to a more nuanced understanding of the issue, such as what casual racism and microaggressions mean. Likewise, sexism, which for a long time was condoned in a largely patriarchal society where women find it difficult to raise instances of it without fearing the repercussions, is seeing some signs of progress albeit having some way to go.
The deterioration of mental faculties and physical attributes is often cited as a reason why the elderly are slow learners and/or have difficulty adapting to technology such as using digital equipment. This may be true of certain groups among the elderly but to generalise this notion by virtue of a person’s age borders on ageism. Some of this prejudice arises from observable biological declines and may be distorted by awareness of disorders such as dementia, which may be mistakenly thought to reflect normal ageing.
According to WHO, research suggests that ageism may now be even more pervasive than sexism and racism. This has serious consequences both for older people and society at large. For example, ageism limits the questions that are asked and the way problems are conceptualised is hence a major barrier to developing good policies6.
The widespread prevalence of such views could lead to internalisation of the stereotype among seniors: that they are incapable of capitalising on technological innovations.
WHO even argues that, “like racism and sexism, ageism serves a social and economic purpose: to legitimise and sustain inequalities between groups. It’s not about how we look. It’s about how people that have influence, assign meaning to how we look.”
WHO added that ageism is the common source of, the justification for, and the driving force behind age discrimination. Socially-ingrained ageism can become self-fulfilling by promoting in older people stereotypes of social isolation, physical and cognitive decline, lack of physical activity and economic burden. It is imperative that we re-examine our own beliefs about older persons and whether there is a legitimate basis for the views that we harbour about them. Outdated concepts of older people need to be countered and the wide diversity among them acknowledged.
Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim is a Rese archer/ Projects Coordinator with the Cent re for Research on Islamic and Malay Affai rs (RIMA), the research subsidiary of AMP.
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Infertility: Myths And Realities BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM & NABILAH MOHAMMAD
Not everyone dreams of becoming a parent but, for those who do, failing to conceive is an agonising realisation. There are couples who spend a portion of their married lives attempting to avoid unplanned pregnancies and assume that, once they are ready to conceive, it will occur with little difficulty. They imagine that ‘shifting gears’ from preventing pregnancy to planning procreation is as easy as shelving birth control. A failure to conceive can then be devastating, often unsettling otherwise well-adjusted couples. In addition, the persisting stigma associated with the subject of infertility compounds these reactions. According to the World Health
Organisation, infertility is described as the diminished or absent ability to conceive or produce an offspring. It can also be defined as failure of couple to conceive after 12 months of regular intercourse without the use of contraception in women below 35 years of age; and after six months of regular intercourse without the use of contraception in women aged 35 years and above.
In fact, over the years, treatment for infertility has become more effective with fewer side effects. It has become more affordable too. New methods of diagnosing and treating infertility have improved many couples’ odds of having a baby.
However, infertility treatment is sometimes seen as a luxury, involving significant financial costs that places it beyond the reach of the socioeconomically disadvantaged. In addition, INFERTILITY OVER THE YEARS although tremendous strides have been While there has been an increase in the number of patients dealing with infertility, made in treating this relatively common according to doctors we interviewed, the condition, infertility is typically not good news is that there are treatment openly discussed. options available for it. JANUARY 2019
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The reality, however, is that infertility is common and affects even healthy couples. There is a 15% to 20% probability that someone you know is struggling with it, even if you are not aware of it.
and Intrauterine Insemination (SO-IUI). When it failed to produce results, she saw another doctor the following year who prescribed IUI as the couple were both “normal”. However, Nora said she was “impatient” and insisted on In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). She did get pregnant but, as blood tests indicated, she lost her pregnancy before an ultrasound scan could be done. Two years later, she gave IVF another shot but was again left disappointed.
DECIDING ON FERTILITY TREATMENT Generally, when a couple fails to conceive after a period of time has lapsed following marriage, concerns over their ability to conceive naturally will begin to set in. Based on interviews done by The Karyawan team, the decision to pursue medical options tend to happen between one and three years after marriage or sooner if a couple’s age has crossed the 30-year mark. Diana (not her real name), for example, did so after three years of marriage, at 28 years of age, fearing that it will be harder to conceive once she hits her thirties. Prior to this, she tried various means – from traditional medicine and massages to vacations to combat stress – in her bid to conceive naturally.
Lisa (not her real name) also underwent IUI once. When she failed to conceive, she proceeded with IVF. After three attempts, she was successful and has since given birth to a pair of twin baby girls.
Our interviews suggest that husbands recognise that infertility affects both men and women but there is a lingering myth that women are more vulnerable. Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Pacific Healthcare Specialist Centre, Dr Nurhidayati Mohamed Suphan, explained that, theoretically, there is an equal chance that infertility could be due to the “male factor” as it is with the “female factor”. Each factor can be further broken down into different fertility issues. For example, for males, even if sperm count and volume are good, problems with sperm motility and morphology could still cause infertility. Similarly, women may face issues such as blocked fallopian tubes or polycystic cysts on ovaries. It is also The decision to consider medical options possible for male and female factors to was not an easy one. This is because, combine to contribute to infertility. She while awareness about infertility issues emphasised the complexities involved in has increased over the decades, especially assessing each case and cautioned against with the median age of marriage oversimplifying the causes of infertility increasing, it remains a subject fraught along gender lines. with myths and misconceptions, which often leaves people struggling with WHICH PROCEDURE SHOULD infertility to suffer in silence. COME FIRST? Given the responses of interviewees, MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT INFERTILITY there appears to be uncertainty about The reality, however, is that infertility is which fertility treatment should be common and affects even healthy couples. attempted first. Nora (not her real name) There is a 15% to 20% probability that was approaching her late twenties when someone you know is struggling with it, she decided to see a doctor after “about a even if you are not aware of it. According year of trying”. As she and her husband to HealthXchange.sg, one in six couples in were both assessed to be “normal”, she Singapore are unable to conceive within was advised to try again for another six 12 months of trying for a baby. months. Six months later, she was back at the clinic and opted for Super Ovulatory 10 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Looking back, Lisa wished she had skipped all the other procedures and went straight to IVF. She was advised that the success rate of IVF declines with age. Dr Stephen Chew, Head and Senior Consultant at the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, National University Hospital Women’s Centre, however, explained that an aspiring parent should try IUI three to four times before considering IVF. It is only in some circumstances like bilateral blocked fallopian tubes or very low sperm count – for example, less than five million per millilitres – that IVF is needed from the start. His views is concurred by Dr Nurhidayati, who advises against going straight to IVF before trying out IUI or Clomid (clomiphene), a non-steroidal fertility medicine. In the case of women, it is possible to have one fallopian tube which is normal and another which is blocked. This reduces the likelihood of pregnancy but IUI could still be considered. IVF is most useful if the fallopian tubes are completely blocked. CHANCES OF SUCCESSFUL OUTCOME Dr Chew also debunked the misconception that the success rate of IVF is 100% as
Dr Chew also debunked the misconception that the success rate of IVF is 100% as many think or hope for. It is in fact in the region of 30% to 40%. He has seen couples rushing to do IVF and ending up failing, then getting pregnant on their own or after IUI.
30% – 40%
many think or hope for. It is in fact in the region of 30% to 40%. He has seen couples rushing to do IVF and ending up failing, then getting pregnant on their own or after IUI. This is true in the case of Nora. After her second IVF attempt failed, she took a two-year break and then saw another doctor who strongly advised her against considering IVF again before trying IUI at least three times. She settled for IUI and finally became pregnant – a journey spanning more than six years. Dr Nurhidayati has a patient who went for numerous IVF cycles, only to conceive naturally at the age of 43. There may be many chemical factors to it but if, for instance, a person relaxes, the possibility of pregnancy rises. Dr Chew also shared that there are other steps to take to increase chances of successful pregnancy: lose weight if one is overweight, take folic acid and have regular intercourse – two times per week if one has no time to determine ovulation timing. HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE? Is it normal for an attempt to conceive a child to take many years? According to Dr Chew, for a couple with good sperm, normal fallopian tubes and who is ovulating every month, in most cases, pregnancy will occur within a year. This is on the condition that the couple has regular intercourse, not once a month but about two times a week. If the couple does not manage to conceive after trying for a year, it is time to seek help. For women older than 37, he recommends seeking help earlier, after six to eight months of trying, so that they can be quickly assessed and fertility treatment, IUI or IVF, started earlier if needed. Couples who start too late risk going through multiple IVF cycles and still failing to get pregnant despite the best efforts from everyone, including the doctors’. His advice: do not wait till it is too late.
Dr Nurhidayati added that, generally, the younger the couple, the better their prospects of getting pregnant. If a person is in his or her forties, he or she could go for medical consultation right away. There are many reasons why a person should seek one. While age 35 is a good guide, it remains an arbitrary cut-off. Thus, in the case of a woman, the younger she is, the brighter the hopes of fertilisation. EMOTIONAL AND FINANCIAL SUPPORT Undergoing fertility treatment requires time commitment and emotional support. Diana shared her experience of juggling work and fertility treatments. Going to the hospital frequently, injecting herself every day, taking medical leave and enduring the emotionally-taxing wait. She worries about taking too many days of medical leave. Fortunately, her manager and colleagues were supportive. Moreover, she kept her spirits up by participating in online support groups. Her husband’s support has been instrumental in seeing her through the difficult times. She is now pregnant with her first child. Procedures like IUI and IVF are costly and may pose a challenge for those in the lower-income brackets. The cost of IVF in Singapore for private hospitals ranges from $12,000 to $20,000 while that for public hospitals from $10,000 to $15,000. This includes doctor’s consultation, ultrasound, egg collection, egg transfer, lab charges, nursing fees, use of the operating theatre and recovery room. The price excludes medication, additional lab fees and optional procedures. For IUI in private hospitals or fertility centres, a patient may pay between $850 and $1,000. However, there are schemes available that mitigate the prohibitive costs of such procedures. The Enhanced Co-Funding for Assisted Reproduction Technology (ART) treatment initiative aims to make ART treatments more affordable. This refers to treatments such as IVF and its variations. Eligible couples seeking ART treatment in public hospitals can receive up to 75% in co-funding from the government for a J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 9 11 © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
maximum of three fresh and three frozen by male infertility. She has even heard IVF cycles. remarks such as her not knowing how to have intercourse. Occasionally, she will PRESSURE FROM SOCIAL CIRCLE be upfront about her condition to curtail All of The Karyawan’s interviewees further probing about her plans. experienced pressure that is brought to In her quest for a baby, there were times bear by their family and/or social circle. Nora feels that people should refrain from when she tried “whatever people suggested thinking that a couple who is childless are that might work”. not trying hard enough or are deliberately The experiences of those who struggled delaying having a child. This is the last with infertility suggest that there are thing, she said, a couple wants to hear still substantial gaps in knowledge of and that it is best for them to keep their infertility among the masses and that speculations to themselves. casual questions about when a couple plans to have a baby should be made a Lisa wished that people would stop socially taboo topic. asking casually about when a couple plans to have a baby. She said, “These are private matters between husband and wife. We have friends who have not yet conceived but we never tell them what we did (the fertility treatments) because we understand their plight, having been through it ourselves. Society is not ready to accept couples’ decision to try IVF because of the prevailing stigma: relatives and friends will think that the husband or wife has a problem. This is village thinking in a modern country.” Diana thinks people still tend to put the “blame” on women although the inability to conceive could as likely be contributed 12 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Diana thinks people still tend to put the “blame” on women although the inability to conceive could as likely be contributed by male infertility. She has even heard remarks such as her not knowing how to have intercourse. Occasionally, she will be upfront about her condition to curtail further probing about her plans.
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 AMP. Nabilah Mohammad is a Research Analyst at RIMA and holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Specialist Diploma in Statistics and Data Mining.
Food Insecurity in Singapore BY ASSOC PROF JOHN DONALDSON & PEARLYN NEO JANUARY 2019
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Every night, the sun goes down on Singaporeans who have not had enough to eat, or who do not know where their next meal is coming from. Surprised? As Singapore has shifted from Third World to First, the nation has shaken off the widespread hunger and food insecurity that prevailed at independence. Yet, this “developing world” version of widespread hunger and endemic deprivation has been replaced by a very first-world problem: hunger and food insecurity afflicting individuals or pockets of neighbourhoods, even in one of the world’s wealthiest nations.
What we found was that people were not just struggling, but that incidents of actual hunger and food insecurity were not infrequent. In our research on vulnerable communities, we found people straining – and sometimes failing – to put food on the table. These groups of Singaporeans included single parents forced into debt – forgoing paying rent and utilities, and sacrificing sufficient food for themselves – so that their children might have enough to eat. They included elderly people who went to bed early to avoid the pain of an empty stomach. They included people with serious disabilities who had formerly depended on parents who were now aging, If you are surprised that hunger and food sick, and no longer able to provide. The insecurity are pervasive enough in way this food insecurity manifested itself Singapore to write about, we were too. was as diverse as the poor themselves. To be sure, in researching a series of Through no fault of their own, they had vulnerable communities in Singapore fallen through the cracks of Singapore’s with the Change Lab of the Lien Centre for web of social services. Many more were Social Innovation (LCSI) at the Singapore not immediately hungry, but were “food Management University (SMU), we insecure,” – not knowing where their next expected to find poverty. After all, based meal was coming from or having to skip on a back-of-the-envelope calculation, meals or stand in food lines to ensure they LCSI’s then-director, Jacqueline Loh, had enough to eat. found that between 12 and 14 percent of Singaporean citizens and permanent Given this surprising amount of food residents were poor. Former GIC economist insecurity that we were discovering Yeoh Lam Keong, using somewhat among the low-income elderly, people different methods, calculated a similar with disabilities, and single parents in number of between 10 and 12 percent (see Singapore, we decided to focus our the LCSI Report, Smith et al 2015, pp. 14-15). research on food insecurity itself – trying These figures are relatively low compared to understand the problem, and figuring to those in other countries; still, it is out additional ways to address it. We startling to reflect that this means experts surveyed people living in low-income estimate between one in ten and one in areas – a total of 296 households, all with seven Singaporeans live on an income at least one Singaporean citizen.1 Our below what is needed to secure basic survey was based on an internationally necessities. We needed to follow up to find normed survey of food insecurity, but out who was poor, and why. We knew that modified slightly for Singapore’s context. the poor are a diverse group and that The questions asked about specific aspects poverty itself can manifest in many of food security. In the past year, had the different ways. So rather than studying family worried about food? Had they ever “poverty” or “the poor” per se, we focused run out of food? Had they skipped meals one by one on vulnerable communities in for lack of funds? Had they ever gone a Singapore, including the low-income whole day without eating due to lack of elderly, people with disabilities, and economic resources? The questions were single-parent households. carefully worded so as to identify people 1
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who were missing meals not to lose weight or for religious reasons, but because of a lack of economic resources. We followed up these initial questions with about 100 intensive interviews with members of the surveyed households, both food secure and food insecure. For this phase of the project, we broadened our measure of food insecurity by asking questions not just about insufficient quantities of food, but also about lack of access to nutritious or culturally relevant food. We are still analysing the data, but we present some of our findings here. It is important to remember that we were not attempting to get a snapshot of Singapore, but to focus on a rich variety of low-income Singaporeans to try to understand the various ways that these people managed to attain sufficient food. The numbers we came up with cannot be said to represent Singapore as a whole. Our sample was not random: we focused on lower-income areas of Singapore, spending time in specific places where we knew poorer people congregated – including near places that helped to distribute food – and door-knocking on rental flats and interviewing people living in these areas. Ultimately, although our method may have left out people who could not answer the door or who had not come out to the areas where we were, we knew we would still be overestimating the problem through this method. However, that still met our purpose: understanding in a more nuanced way the root causes of food insecurity – the better to suggest interventions to non-governmental organisations (NGOs), government officials, and others who are concerned about poverty in general. Still, despite our far-from-representative sample, we were surprised by our results. We were gratified that about 47 percent said “no” to every question on food insecurity, as can be seen in Table 1. But we were sobered by the fact that more than
THIS IS AN EXTENSION OF LIEN’S FIRST REPORT ON FOOD INSECURITY, WHICH WAS PUBLISHED THIS YEAR (GLENDINNING AND SHEE 2018).
50 percent of our sample of 296 answered “yes” to at least one of our seven questions. We classified the remainder of responses based on their severity: about six percent reported worrying about food, but answered “no” to the remaining questions, while about 11 percent reported eating less food or a monotonous range of food due to lack of resources. A further 36 percent were food insecure based on the survey.
INCIDENTS WITHIN SAMPLE
PERCENTAGE OF SAMPLE
Worries about food
Eats less /less variety
TABLE 1: RESULTS OF NON-REPRESENTATIVE SURVEY Our results reveal that food poverty can be found among the old and young. It does not exempt any race or religion or gender. Even those with employed members of the CATEGORY CHINESE MALAY family, those living in larger flats, and those with higher levels of education were Food secure 77 41 not exempt. Yet in spite of this range of experiences, some clear patterns emerged. Worries about food 6 9
With regard to educational level: the nine households we surveyed with at least one university graduate were all food secure, while only 14 of our 21 households (67 percent) with an equivalent of a polytechnic diploma, and only 11 of our 20 households (55 percent) with the equivalent of a vocational diploma were food secure. These proportions are similar to those at the other end of the education spectrum as well: among the 43 families with at most a primary school education, 25 (58 percent) were food secure. In terms of household composition: of the 21 households with only one adult and with at least one child (not necessarily a single parent, but someone who is parenting alone), nine were secure, while nine were at the other end of the scale, classified as insecure. As for the factor of race: whereas nearly two-thirds (62.1 percent) of Chinese we surveyed were food secure, less than one-third (32.8 percent) of the Malays were (see Table 2).
ON FOOD INSECURITY
Eats less /less variety
TABLE 2: RACIAL BREAKDOWN OF DEGREE OF FOOD SECURITY WITHIN OUR SURVEY
food insecure households. A per capita income of S$750 seemed to be a tipping point: only seven households out of 47 (about 15 percent) with at least that income were food insecure, compared to 94 of 226 households (41 percent) whose incomes fell below that level that were food insecure. Surprisingly, 24 of the 68 households that reported having an income of zero were food secure, indicating that some help is getting to those without an income, many of whom are elderly retirees and thus might have savings as well. Also surprising, three of the 24 households we surveyed with per capita incomes above S$1,000 per month were food insecure.
the differences are pretty close. This makes sense: after all, counted in the ranks of the food insecure are large families with too few breadwinners, as well as small families – including some elderly people living alone (10 of the 29 such people in our survey were insecure) as well as single adults with at least one child (only nine of 21 were food secure). What made a bigger difference was the dependency ratio – the number of adults compared to the number of children. Indeed, the dependency ratio among the food secure was less than half that of the food insecure households.3
Work status helps enhance food security, but even full-time employment is no guarantee. Among the 82 households Not surprisingly, food security is linked to Food insecurity is also linked to household with at least one member with full-time household income, although not perfectly. size, but in a nuanced way. The food employment, some 48 (59.5 percent) When divided by household size, the insecure families were slightly larger were food secure, while nearly one third monthly incomes of food secure (averaging 3.23 people) than that of the (33 percent) were insecure. On the other households were nearly double those of food secure (2.84 people on average). But end, of the 75 families whose breadwinners 2 3
THE “OTHERS” CATEGORY IS BROADER THAN THAT NORMALLY USED IN SINGAPORE AND INCLUDES MORE PEOPLE THAN JUST EURASIANS. DEPENDENCY RATIO OFTEN INCLUDES ELDERLY PEOPLE AS DEPENDENT. HOWEVER, GIVEN HOW MANY ELDERLY IN SINGAPORE REMAIN ECONOMICALLY ACTIVE – AND OFTEN CONTRIBUTE TO HOUSEHOLDS IN WAYS OTHER THAN GENERATING INCOME (SUCH AS CHILDCARE) – WE ONLY INCLUDED CHILDREN.
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Singapore is a large cosmopolitan city. While much has been done to combat poverty and food insecurity, it is not surprising that Singapore, like every other city in the world, contains a not insignificant number of people for whom sufficient food is far from assured. What makes Singapore unique is not that it is home to some people who are food insecure, but rather the impression people sometimes have that the nation has no poor people, much less people who struggle to ensure adequate access to food. 16 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
were unemployed (as opposed to retired), 28 (45 percent) were considered food insecure. The length of time being unemployed mattered quite a bit, but not in the way that we might expect. Nearly 60 percent of those who stated they had been unemployed less than six months were food insecure, whereas less than 40 percent of their counterparts with longer stints of unemployment were food insecure. Could it be that the longer-term unemployed have already established a safety net? On the surface, the fact that only one in nine of our retirees are food insecure is impressive. However, in Singapore, most elderly people who cannot afford to retire will continue to work if they can. Those who need to work but can’t may list themselves as unemployed rather than retired. This applied to eight of our 29 elderly people living alone – and such a categorisation may contribute to an overly optimistic view of food security for those of retirement age. Living in a one-room flat is the widely used ‘rule-of-thumb’ for poverty – yet this simple measure has also been criticised as being biased against those with larger families, which Malay families tend to have, on average. Not surprisingly, only 60 of our 145 households (41 percent) living in one-room-flats were food secure, and nearly the same number, 58 households (40 percent) were insecure. At the same time, of the 90 families we surveyed living in a three-room flat or larger, only 59 (64 percent) were food secure, whereas 18 (20 percent) were food insecure.
makes Singapore unique is not that it is home to some people who are food insecure, but rather the impression people sometimes have that the nation has no poor people, much less people who struggle to ensure adequate access to food. Despite the efforts of the government, voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), friends, family, good neighbours, and countless selfless volunteers, many Singaporeans still face food insecurity. And given Singapore’s size, it is unlikely that anyone in Singapore lives far from at least one person going to bed hungry. For that reason alone, we must redouble our efforts to understand and combat this scourge.
Assoc Prof John Donaldson is Associate Professor of Political Science at Singapore Management University. Pearlyn Neo has been accepted to the Fulbright Student Program and will be starting graduate school in the Fall.
Are these preliminary results surprising? In many ways, they should not be. After all, Singapore is a large cosmopolitan city. While much has been done to combat poverty and food insecurity, it is not surprising that Singapore, like every other city in the world, contains a not insignificant number of people for whom sufficient food is far from assured. What
REFERENCES: GLENDINNING, EMMA, SIEW YING SHEE, TANIA NAGPAUL, AND JINWEN CHEN. 2018. “HUNGER IN A FOOD LOVER’S PARADISE: UNDERSTANDING FOOD INSECURITY IN SINGAPORE.” SMITH, CATHERINE J., JOHN A. DONALDSON, SANUSHKA MUDALIAR, MUMTAZ MD KADIR, AND LAM KEONG YEOH. 2015. A HANDBOOK ON INEQUALITY, POVERTY AND UNMET SOCIAL NEEDS IN SINGAPORE. SINGAPORE: SINGAPORE MANAGEMENT UNIVERSITY, LIEN CENTRE FOR SOCIAL INNOVATION.
More than One: A Look at Polygamy in Muslim Marriages in Singapore BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD
Polygamy is a topic of discussion that is often open to contentions among Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The domestic lives of polygamists are usually kept private and closely guarded, making it quite a challenge to understand what actually goes on in polygamous relationships. The practice of polygamy, or more accurately, polygyny1, within the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore though seemingly rare, is allowed under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA). It is not, however, permitted in civil marriages here. Under AMLA, the right to polygyny is based on Syariah law, which conditionally allows a man to marry up to four wives. 1
According to Singapore Fifth CEDAW Periodic Report, polygamous marriages constitute 0.3% of Muslim marriages registered from 2009 to 2014. However, the numbers may not be reflective of the actual phenomenon as there may be a number of unregistered polygamous marriages which take place outside of Singapore.
problems – for instance, when women consent to their husbands marrying another due to their illnesses or inability to bear children.
Despite religious injunctions to enact perfect justice among multiple wives, research has found that many husbands lapse in this regard. Not all men have the If the intent for a polygamous union financial and psychological capacity, among consenting spouses is to preserve among other conditions, to deal justly personal happiness, protect and raise with more than one wife. Given that we children, and maintain social welfare of often hear the inability of a number of the family as an alternative to marriage polygamists to practice polygamy the way dissolution or illicit affairs, then polygamy that it is intended, as well as the social may be an option. In other cases, polygyny stigma attached to it, perhaps a better could offer a solution to complex marital understanding of polygamy in Islam is needed. This article intends to gain
POLYGAMY REFERS TO THE PRACTICE OF HAVING MORE THAN ONE SPOUSE WHILE POLYGYNY IS A FORM OF POLYGAMY WHERE A MAN HAS MORE THAN ONE WIFE. SINCE ONLY POLYGYNY IS THE ONLY FORM OF POLYGAMY ALLOWED UNDER AMLA, THE TERMS POLYGAMY AND POLYGYNY ARE USED INTERCHANGEABLY IN THIS ARTICLE.
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insights into the practice of polygamy in contemporary settings.
teaches them to be cautious of their actions and to always set exemplary attitudes to their children. Mdm Liza The Karyawan team interviewed two agreed and added that their living Malay/Muslim men who practise polygyny situation also allows for an extra helping to have an insight into the practice and hand with the household chores and experiences of polygyny in Singapore. child rearing. We also spoke to a legal expert as well as a religious expert who shared their When the Karyawan team asked Mr Azri thoughts on polygamy in Singapore on the circumstances that led him to and Islam to proffer diverse viewpoints. marry his second wife, he said that it was Pseudonyms are used for all of our because Islam made it permissible for men interviewees to maintain their privacy to do so and added that he is a man of as well as their families’. sufficient financial means and is capable of supporting two households. LIVING UNDER ONE ROOF The Karyawan team met Mr Azri, together LIVING WITH THE CO-WIFE with his family, who was keen to share Mdm Wani admitted that coming to terms his experience of being in a polygamous with her husband having a second wife marriage. was not easy initially: Mr Azri introduced us to his two wives – “Obviously, I was resistant at first and kept Mdm Wani, his first wife, and Mdm questioning myself: Have I not given him Liza, his second wife – who sat with us what he needs as a man? Have I not throughout the interview. Mdm Liza is a fulfilled my role as a wife? Eventually, year younger than Mdm Wani and was a I agreed. I’d rather he take a second wife divorcee with one child when she married than keeping a mistress behind my back.” Mr Azri. The Karyawan team also asked the two Mr Azri stays with his two wives, seven ladies on their views on polygamy: children (aged 9 to 25) and his aged parents, in a four-room HDB flat in the eastern part “I believe that polygamy can work well if of Singapore. They have been in the the husband treats the wives well. It is also polygamous marriage for 17 years now. important that the wives are informed and Mr Azri currently runs his own company, consent to the polygamous marriage,” while Mdm Wani works in the healthcare Mdm Wani said. sector and Mdm Liza is in accounting. “We have a sisterly bond with each other Mr Azri has always believed in keeping now while being co-mothers. This his family together under the same roof, female-female support can free up a lot of where he can be there for everyone at mental space and time for us as well,” all times. Mdm Liza added. “I believe the one that works best is when the wives stay together because they can see whether they’re being treated fairly. If they stay apart, they will start assuming,” Mr Azri said. Both Mr Azri’s wives agreed that staying in the same house is advantageous. Mdm Wani explained that living together 18 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Mr Azri and his two wives mentioned that they live harmoniously as a family. Their children perform well in school and do not differentiate between their biological mother and their stepmother. They address one as ‘ibu’ and the other as ‘mak’. They were also taught to love both mothers equally.
We also spoke with Hadi, one of Mr Azri’s son, and asked his thoughts on being in a polygamous family: “I think it’s good. If I can’t get something from one mother, I can go to my other mother. My Malay friends think it’s weird to have two mothers. My non-Malay friends think it’s cool.” When the team asked Mr Azri how he maintains harmony in the marriage, he said, “Your intention of taking on another wife is very important to keep the marriage successful. My second wife is an ‘add-on’, not a ‘replacement’ of my first wife. Also, do not keep your second marriage a secret because it will sever family relationships.” MARRYING OUTSIDE SINGAPORE Unlike Mr Azri whose wives are both staying with him, some husbands choose to house their second (and subsequent) wives separately or tie the knot abroad. The Karyawan team met Mr Hasan, a successful general manager of a big company in Singapore, who has a second wife overseas. At the age of 40, Mr Hasan married his second wife who was 18 years old at the time. He has four sons, now aged 22 to 32, from his first marriage, and another two daughters, now aged 1 and 3, from the second marriage. He shared that one of his sons is of the same age as his second wife. When asked what led him to polygamy, he said, “I want to avoid sins. I do not want to commit adultery.” The team also asked him about the challenges he faces in a polygamous marriage: “My first wife always asks to be prioritised but I don’t blame her. It took me about two years to stabilise the situation at home. My first wife had initially asked for a divorce and said that I had betrayed her. However, after reassuring her, she finally gave in.”
According to Mr Hasan, his two wives have now forged a good relationship with each other.
Ms Halijah mentioned that a careful reading of the Quran makes it clear that Islam does not condone polygyny unconditionally:
Mr Hasan believes in being fair to both of his wives by being fair and equal, for “How many of these polygamous men example, in providing them with material marry out of altruistic reason? Far from possessions such as homes and cars of actually marrying orphans or protecting equivalent value. women, they are marrying younger, prettier second wives instead.” When asked if he has any advice for those who are considering a polygamous POLYGYNY: BETWEEN SCRIPTURES marriage, he shared: AND MISCONCEPTIONS According to the Quran, “Don’t make irrational decisions without considering important factors. Are you And if you fear that you will not deal wise enough? Can you afford it? Do you justly with the orphan girls, then have the time? Always try to be fair and marry those that please you of [other] continue to improve your family managewomen, two or three or four. But if you ment skills. Polygamy can be successful if fear that you will not be just, then the man has the ability to lead.” [marry only] one or those your right hand possesses. That is more suitable MODERN POLYGAMY: that you may not incline [to injustice]. NOT IN THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM? – Surah An-Nisa, 4:3 While the individuals we talked to believe that polygyny shouldn’t be frowned upon The Karyawan team spoke to Ustaz Izwan, by society, there are some who feel that it who graduated in Arabic language and has no place in the modern world. One of literature with a minor in Syariah from them is Ms Halijah Mohamad, a social Kuwait University, to get a religious activist and a lawyer whose work primarily viewpoint on polygyny. involves family cases in both civil and Syariah courts, including a number of He explained that Islam permits polygyny polygamous marriages. Ms Halijah but has placed various conditions for the strongly believes that the present state of practice that could make it difficult to polygyny is not in line with what is observe: intended in Islam, and that it should be subjected to strict conditions to ensure “Polygyny is permissible in Islam. A Muslim that women are treated fairly. man is allowed to marry a maximum of four wives at a time. However, he must be She suggested that the law take measures able to provide and maintain the family, to stamp out the abuse of polygyny by and also be just and fair with his wives. making it mandatory to have the existing If these criteria are not met, the wives may wife’s consent. Ms Halijah also suggested file for a divorce in the form of khulu' (a that women should be allowed to stipulate divorce which favours the wife) with the in a marriage contract that her husband Syariah Court.” cannot take another wife, and a breach of the contract would grant them the right Ustaz Izwan shared that while polygyny is for divorce. often perceived as benefiting the husband or to the detriment of the wives, the reality is that it’s far more arduous for the husband, if practised the way it is intended in Islam. He has to not only fulfil the
rights of all his wives and support the family financially and emotionally, he also has to juggle his time between them, and settle any disputes and difficulties that may arise – all the while ensuring that he’s being just. His treatment of his wives will be raised on the Day of Judgement. Ustaz Izwan added that the Quran makes it quite clear to men that they are truly better off with only one wife if they doubt their ability to be just with more. POLYGAMY: GOOD OR BAD? Having more than one wife demands a lot of patience, tolerance and compromise. It is not just about marrying another woman. It is about being ready in more ways than the obvious to undertake a major responsibility. Undoubtedly, polygamy is an inherently difficult choice. Men should consider their own capabilities, as well as the interests of their first wives and children before taking the plunge. The law on polygamy entails complexities that cannot simply be addressed with a sweeping ban or a complete socio-legal acceptance. Polygamy will remain a controversial topic, and its practice does not suit everyone. Done right, polygamy can lead to stable, happy and blessed marriages. Done wrong, it can cause a lot of pain and marriages to fail.
Nabilah Mohammad is a Research Analyst at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). She holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology and a Specialist Diploma in Statistics and Data Mining.
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A Medium of Exchange or a Highly Speculative Asset? BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD
The cryptocurrency revolution is well and truly underway, and is showing no signs of slowing down. The cryptocurrency floodgates have been flung wide open and the bandwagon is taking on passengers aplenty. Popularised by a specific type of electronic cash called Bitcoin, cryptocurrency has enjoyed widespread interest for its rapidly growing influence, and the volatility surrounding its real worth.
popularity for being the first digital cryptocurrency that cracked the USD 1000 threshold. In December of that same year, it made headlines again due to a breathtaking rise in value, topping at USD 19,000 before shedding about 50 percent of its value early this year. As of 14 December 2018, the price of Bitcoin stands at about USD 3,261.17.
Bitcoin is the progenitor of all the other thousands different cryptocurrencies in existence today including the famous Our guess is you might have heard the alternatives such as Ethereum, Ripple and Bitcoin techno-jargons which are filling conversations from boardroom to dining Litecoin to name just a few. While many room and on most days, occupying news people have heard of Bitcoin, far fewer understand it. People are rushing to the columns both online and in print. crypto markets even before they clearly Once upon a time, Bitcoin was trading at understand the underlying principles of how these coins work. Most people USD 0.10 when it was first mined, but over the years, Bitcoin has been breaking are taking digital coins as a form of investment due to the increase in prices one price point after another. Its value of various coins over the last few years. rose to USD 1 in 2011 and continued to increase to about USD 100 two years later. They are buying this virtual currency hoping it will appreciate in value. In January 2017, Bitcoin gained 20 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
However, the Bitcoin story has so much more to it than just headline-grabbing pricing swings. It incorporates technology, currency, mathematics, economics and social dynamics. It is multifaceted, highly technical and still very much evolving. So, what exactly is a Bitcoin? Bitcoin is a new form of money – a digital currency to be exact – that can be traded or used over the internet. More specifically, Bitcoin is a cryptocurrency, which means, it utilises a system that uses encryption to create a secure information-based economy. It is not a physical coin that you keep in your purse or wallet. Rather, it is a virtual currency – a digital computer code you store in a virtual wallet in cyberspace and access with a computer or smartphone app. Bitcoin is an algorithm-based mathematical construct – a unit of measurement invented to quantify value,
and is produced by high-performance computers all around the world, using free software.
value. You can use them to purchase goods and services just like you would with your physical money. You can also accumulate bitcoins and keep them in a Unlike paper currencies which can be virtual wallet. The bitcoin in your virtual printed indefinitely, the Bitcoin is wallet remains there until you spend it designed to be limited at 21 million coins, just like how your money remains in which is expected to be reached by the your bank until you withdraw it. year 2140. A small number of new bitcoins trickle out every hour, and will The Bitcoin, however, differs from fiat
Virtual digital currency exchanged between two parties with no middleman
Not controlled by any bank or government
continue to do so at a diminishing rate until the maximum number of coins has been reached. This makes bitcoin more attractive as an asset, because logically, if demand grows and the supply remains the same, the value will increase.
currencies such as the dollars, euros and pounds in several important ways. When Nakamoto came up with the idea of the Bitcoin, one key factor was destined to play a major role: decentralisation. Bitcoin is purely a transparent peer-topeer electronic cash system which is The years leading up to the emergence of regulated by a distributed network of its the Bitcoin protocol had seen the world users so it can’t be manipulated or immersed in an economic downturn with controlled by any bank or government the years of 2007/2008 being known as the entity. Unlike fiat currencies which are global financial crisis. Bitcoin was created backed by the country issuing them, in 2009 by a developer using the alias bitcoin is not backed by any country. The Satoshi Nakamoto who saw certain concept of bitcoin aims to put the seller problems with the mainstream financial in charge and eliminate the middleman, infrastructure. One of the biggest thus allowing online payments to be mysteries in the technology world is the sent directly from one party to another identity of Nakamoto, which is also a without going through a financial pseudonym that could represent a man, institution or a banking system. Skipping a woman, or even a group of people. To the third party would also mean lower date, no one has been able to figure out transaction costs. who Nakamoto really is. Bitcoin uses a technology called As with all currencies, Bitcoin functions blockchain which allows for all finalised as a means of exchange and a store of transactions to be available for everyone
to verify and validate. Although the transaction details are publicly stored, the identities of users remain relatively anonymous. The blockchain is a permanent public record of all confirmed transactions that occur in the system and forms an integral part of the Bitcoin ecosystem. It is essentially a giant record book of all Bitcoin transactions.
Bitcoins are stored in an online wallet or a wallet app which allows user to send and receive payments
Bitcoins can be obtained through Bitcoin mining, or from Bitcoin exchanges and Bitcoin ATM
Cryptocurrency has also emerged as a lucrative financial asset class that has captured the attention of investors around the world. The Karyawan team talked to a young investor in his mid-20s who wants to be known as Mr Aziz, who has invested in crypto assets and has been benefiting from riding this current trend. “I have no background in finance technology (fintech) but I did a fair amount of research on it for quite some time and my interest grew. I read, watched online videos and attended talks on cryptocurrencies before delving into investing in crypto assets. I am now seeing the returns of my investment. I believe cryptocurrency will remain relevant for a long time. It is not just a temporary hype, it is here to stay,” Mr Aziz shared. According to Mr Aziz, the Malay/Muslim community is still not familiar with the latest fintech trends. JANUARY 2019
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“I’ve been meeting a lot of people and most of them have no idea what cryptocurrencies are. They prefer fast cash and not digital currency, but they have to face the future. If any of the currencies collapses, at least we have something to fall back on, in this case, crypto assets,” Mr Aziz explained.
considered as ‘money’,” Mr Nuzaihan explained.
“We have read and seen in the media about individuals who are into Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, and it seems that the number is growing. We hope more effort will be undertaken to reach out to the Malay/Muslim community so that they have a better understanding BITCOIN: A RELIGIOUS of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency,” Mr EXPERT’S PERSPECTIVE The rise of cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin Nuzaihan said. and developments in blockchain have However, he advises the Malay/Muslim also touched the Islamic world. The Karyawan team managed to speak to Mr community to do research on bitcoins and cryptocurrencies, and how they Muhammad Nuzaihan Hamdan who is work before deciding to be involved as currently an Associate Director with there are risks associated with them. CIMB Bank Berhad, Singapore Branch and Head, Shariah for Singapore and “Locally, they may refer to a qualified Overseas Branches. asatizah under the Asatizah Recognition According to Mr Nuzaihan, “The general Scheme (ARS). They may also refer to fatwa and irsyad issued by neighbouring rule of thumb for Fiqh Mua’malat or Islamic rulings pertaining to transactions countries on this issue,” he explained. is that everything is permissible unless According to a TODAY online article there is evidence stating that it is titled “Two sides to Bitcoin investment” forbidden. Therefore, there are different opinions between contemporary scholars published on 21 April 2018, views on investing in Bitcoin vary tremendously, on Bitcoin, cryptocurrencies and with advocates saying the only long-term blockchain. And these contemporary trend is up and opponents calling scholars have reasoning and evidence cryptocurrencies a “speculation” or worse. for their views.” The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) said that it advises the public to act He added that some scholars mentioned with extreme caution and understand the that cryptocurrencies may be a medium significant risks they take on if they of exchange like fiat money, gold and choose to invest in cryptocurrencies. silver, and hence they are permissible. However, there are also other scholars Indeed, Bitcoin is a financial tool that who suggest that cryptocurrencies are carries risks just like any other payment not legal tenders by any government, method or currency does, except that which then makes them impermissible. the risks are slightly different from the The Karyawan team asked if a Bitcoin may traditional ones. With some of the be classified as Shariah-compliant and he interesting features of Bitcoin presented, the fact is, many are still unaware of explained that it may, if its underlying concept is indeed Shariah-compliant. Mr digital currencies and Bitcoin. While Nuzaihan added that some contemporary there are merchants such as Amazon and Expedia that are accepting bitcoins, the scholars qualify Bitcoin as a medium of exchange like fiat money, gold and silver. list is relatively small compared to fiat currencies. Though some companies have taken the risk, some still doubt “As long as it is accepted by a local cryptocurrencies in general. community as ‘money’, it is therefore 22 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
The digital currency has also experienced sharp price fluctuations, a situation that undermines its ability to function as a currency and as a method of exchange. In addition, because of the decentralisation of Bitcoin as well as the anonymity that it can provide, there’s a good chance that many may try to abuse the system for financial gain. Because of the way it’s set up, there’s no way to deny any person or corporation from participating in the Bitcoin network. And this may make it favourable for black markets to use Bitcoin for criminal or legally questionable activities. In fact, Bitcoin was once a wildly popular de facto medium of exchange on the illicit Silk Road platform that traded every manner of contraband and criminal services. Bitcoin is still at its infancy stage with incomplete features that are in development. Through many of its unique properties, undoubtedly, Bitcoin allows exciting uses that could not be covered by any previous payment system. The Bitcoin market is packed with potential but the nuances of how it works coupled with the risks involved, can be difficult to grasp. So, while there is a potential to make money through bitcoins or other cryptocurrencies, it is also possible to lose plenty.
Analyst at ad is a Research Nabilah Mohamm and Malay ic am Isl on search the Centre for Re of Science r elo ch Ba e holds a Affairs (RIMA). Sh a in lom Dip d a Specialist in Psychology an g. nin Mi ta Statistics and Da
Gems of Staying Healthy:
A Medico-Islamic Perspective BY DR ZURAIMI MOHAMED DAHLAN
1. Try your very best to breastfeed and have better IQ compared with The health industry is a multi-billion your newborn babies for 6 formula fed ones. Avoid overfeeding dollar industry targeting consumers months to 2 years. Breastfeeding is too. Childhood obesity is associated (patients) and trying to influence them to with adulthood obesity and its not easy and requires a great deal of consume their health product or use their patience. The baby needs to practise consequent health issues as a result gadget with the ultimate goal of staying again and again to get the technique of the obesity. healthy. From head to toe, cradle to death, right. Avoid bottle feeding (especially everyone wants a pie of this industry. formula feeding) as much as possible 2. Avoid using electronic gadgets, videos or TV programmes to as this may cause nipple confusion As a consumer (patient), we need to resulting in refusal to latch (except teach young children language be aware of the truth in maintaining one’s especially non-verbal ones. for situations of extreme prematurity, health. transmission of communicable Instead, look into their eyes and diseases from mother to child or engage them with body language. The following is a list of things that one Speak to them in your own language. maternal depression). Seek expert should do to stay ‘young’ and ‘healthy’ in advice on this. According to research, Eye engagement is important in the most economical sense, from a Muslim speech development. Play, touch, breastfed children fall ill less often family physician’s perspective. JANUARY 2019
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eye contact, laughter, spending time with them lovingly are important. Children who lack eye contact and engagement when adults are engaging them especially at two years and above may require assessment to rule out speech or developmental delay. We worry about Autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder or Global Delay. In this situation, early detection and intervention is extremely crucial and can result in a good outcome.
first place. I have counselled many “And of His signs is that He created for smokers on the dangers of smoking you from yourselves mates that you and the ill effects on their loved may find tranquillity in them; and ones but many seem to be in denial. He placed between you affection and I know of a father who smokes but it mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a was his non-smoking daughter who people who give thought.” developed tongue cancer. I know of –Surah Ar-Rum, 30:21 another father who smokes and the young adult son who also smokes, 7. If you want to keep dementia at had developed leukemia. I know bay, learn new skills, new exercises, of a husband who smokes and his new games, new hobbies, make new non-smoking wife developed tongue friends, learn Arabic and Tajweed, learn cancer. I also know of a patient who new languages and learn new things 3. Let your children run around smokes and developed oesophageal consistently. Basically, let the brain in the sun, outdoors, exposed to cancer. I have patients who had a make new synaptic connections daily mud, sand, dirt, occasional rain, stroke as a result of smoking. My own when you learn new things daily. learn to cycle and do so as a family. relative passed on of heart attack This will reduce the risk of dementia This will enhance family bonds and due to smoking. I have seen enough which is literally loss of brain matter improve your family’s resistance to suffering as a result of the ill effects of and synaptic connections. Also make illnesses. This helps to reduce allergies cigarette smoking. The one thing that sure that your chronic diseases (type too. Being too clean may result in can greatly reduce disease burden is II diabetes mellitus, hypertension, worsening of allergies. We desperately smoking cessation. hyperlipidemia, asthma, etc.) are well need the vitamin D from a daily 15- to controlled too. 30-minute sun exposure, especially 5. Exercise, exercise, exercise. Start our kids! early, start young, start now, you’re 8. Does vitamin C help in improving never too old. Don’t stop and keep at your health? Studies have shown 4. Do not smoke. Or stop smoking. it. If you’ve had a heart attack, stroke, that vitamin C supplement does not Do not be trapped in a smoke-filled injury, knee issues, we recommend improve your immune system5. In fact, environment. This will shorten your rehab (exercise) after assessment by a it may lead to the formation of urinary lifespan, your families’ lifespan and doctor. If you want to reduce the risk stones instead6. Instead take fruits increase disease burden. Almost all of cancer, exercise regularly. regularly but in small quantities substance (drug) abusers start off as fruits are simple carbohydrates in 6. For the ladies, try to get married by the with smoking. Leaded petroleum nature. The natural vitamins normally age of 25, conceive before 30 to reduce has been banned, but not smoking reside in the skin of the fruit (e.g. apple, the risk of breast cancer3, and complete unfortunately. If you happen to pear, grapes, guava, kiwi etc.) smoke, stop now. The Singapore Fatwa the family before 35 to reduce the risk Committee agrees that smoking is of chromosomal abnormalities4. For 9. Do we really need supplements? prohibited because the harm on the a marriage to last, spouses need to Unless you cannot eat a balanced diet smoker and the people around him respect each other, speak nicely and (poor dentition, poor appetite), health is clear and definite, based on a fatwa not confrontationally, and understand supplements are not essential issued in 20061. that both need to compromise to your well-being. If you eat a and make sacrifices for each other. balanced diet, exercise regularly Furthermore, there are studies Consult one another before making and have regular (daily) exposure that show that cigarette filters big decisions. Do not cheat or lie to to the sun for 15 minutes, these are contaminated with porcine one another as this erodes trust. The should provide us with the necessary elements2. Addiction to cigarette emotional bank account needs to be nutrition, minerals and vitamins to smoking is one of the hardest to shed. topped up regularly with kind words, stay healthy. I would recommend not to start in the intention and acts. 1 MUIS, FATWA DELIBERATIONS REGARDING SMOKING, HTTPS://MUISFATWA.PRESSBOOKS.COM/CHAPTER/MEDICINE-HEALTH-AND-TREATMENT/#SMOKING, (DECEMBER 10, 2018). ROSS MACKENZIE, SIMON CHAPMAN, “PIG’S BLOOD IN CIGARETTE FILTERS: HOW A SINGLE NEWS RELEASE HIGHLIGHTED TOBACCO INDUSTRY CONCEALMENT OF CIGARETTE INGREDIENTS”, HTTPS://TOBACCOCONTROL.BMJ.COM/, (JULY 5, 2014). 3 BRITISH JOURNAL OF CANCER. “BREAST CANCER RISK BY AGE AT BIRTH, TIME SINCE BIRTH AND TIME INTERVALS BETWEEN BIRTHS: EXPLORING INTERACTION EFFECTS”, HTTPS://WWW.NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV/PMC/ARTICLES/PMC2361726/, (DECEMBER 14, 2004). OBSTETRICS & GYNECOLOGY. “IMPACT OF MATERNAL AGE ON OBSTETRIC OUTCOME”, HTTPS://JOURNALS.LWW.COM/GREENJOURNAL/FULLTEXT/2005/05000/IMPACT_OF_MATERNAL_AGE_ONOBSTETRIC_OUTCOME.11.ASPX, (MAY 2005). 5 AMERICAN JOURNAL OF LIFESTYLE MEDICINE. “VITAMIN C IN THE PREVENTION AND TREATMENT OF THE COMMON COLD”, HTTPS://WWW.NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV/PMC/ARTICLES/PMC6124957/, (FEBRUARY 9, 2016). 6 REVIEWS IN UROLOGY. “VITAMIN C SUPPLEMENTATION AND URINARY OXALATE EXCRETION”, HTTPS://WWW.NCBI.NLM.NIH.GOV/PMC/ARTICLES/PMC1472830/, (2004). 2
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11. Principles of weight loss (also good for them. This movement is much diabetic patients to adhere to): needed during prostration and a. Intermittent fasting (if you are sitting down during prayers. on diabetic medication, please check with your physician before 12. Go for regular health screening embarking on intermittent (weight, blood pressure, glucose levels, fasting). Basically, when you cholesterol levels, mammogram, Pap wake up from your sleep in the smear, and stool test for occult blood) morning, skip your breakfast, so that diseases can be detected early. milk and sweetened beverages. Early detection and intervention can Instead, take plain water or result in a good outcome. Be frank to unsweetened coffee/tea. Break your family physician and inform him your fast at lunch time or dinner. or her of your worries. Intermittent fasting helps us to use up our reserves in our liver 13. Get medical advice from thereby reducing our risk of physicians. Verify facts found on getting fatty liver. Since the liver Google and social media with a is in a fasted state, our body will physician and do not be taken in by then draw energy from our fat fake news. stores to use as fuel. I have spelt out the most effective ways b. Avoid simple carbohydrates. to stay healthy but the list is by no means Simple carbohydrates get digested exhaustive. Do consult your family quickly into simple sugars physician regularly when it concerns your which then induce insulin health and arm yourself with the required production to lower these sugars. knowledge to stay healthy always! Insulin is a growth hormone. Hence, stimulating our insulin production when consuming high glycaemic foods (white rice, white flour, sugar, brown sugar, fruits, fruit juices, honey, etc.) may result Dr Zuraimi Mohamed Dahlan is a Family Physician at banyan clinic @ jw and in weight gain and difficulty in is married to Dr Elly Sabrina Ismail (also a shedding it.
10. Enough sleep (good, uninterrupted sleep for 5 or 6 hours) helps your mind stay focused. If you have a snoring issue, this may hinder your sleep. This condition is also known as Obstructive Sleep Apnea. It makes you wake up multiple times to breathe without you realising it resulting in insufficient rest when you wake up and you are prone to getting sleepy in the early evening especially while driving home. You may even fall asleep behind the wheel while driving. Consult your family physician if you have this issue.
c. Eat complex carbohydrates (vegetables, brown rice, basmati rice, chapatti, spaghetti, etc.), protein and have a balanced diet. Follow My Healthy Plate portions. Avoid consuming recycled oil or trans fats.
Family Physician). They are bless ed with two beautiful children. Dr Zuraimi has been a general practitioner/family phys ician for 16 years. He volunteers his time and service to community organisations such as the Muslim Healthcare Professionals Association, Club HEAL and Jamiyah Nursing Home despite his busy clinic schedule.
d. Exercise consistently three to five times a week, one hour per session, resistance training, cycling, tennis, badminton, jogging, brisk walking, swimming, etc. At the end of every exercise regime, do squats 5 to 10 times. This helps in full flexion of our knee joints, hence preserving J A N U A R Y 2 0 1 9 25 ÂŠ ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Halal Issues: The Need for a Balanced Discourse BY KHARTINI KHALID
It could have been a slow day in the newsroom on 17 September 2018, but whatever the case, The New Paper (TNP) ran a story titled “Food sold in local cinemas not halal certified: MUIS” on Page 1 that day1. The story focused on how Muslim cinemagoers were “upset after learning that none of the four main cinema chains here has (sic) halal-certified counters”. It then went on to profile two Muslim cinemagoers who said that all cinemas should apply for the certification, otherwise Muslims should be allowed to
report, as only a single perspective was presented via the two persons who shared similar views on the matter. There were netizens who felt that the report was one-sided and not representative of the diverse views that exist on the issue. Some questioned the newsworthiness of the story, while others opined that the newspaper was “sensationalising” (sic) a sensitive issue. The responses to the article was covered by several online websites including Mothership and TNP’s report led to a strong response from Yahoo Singapore. netizens, especially Muslims, with many taking issue with the narrowness of the take their own food into the cinema halls. The reporters had written the story as a follow-up to a tweet on the @halalSG Twitter account which is managed by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS). A Twitter user had asked @halalSG whether food sold at a certain cinema was halal. The reply from @halalSG was that it had not received halal applications from cinemas in Singapore.
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ISHAK, NS; SUN,D. (17 SEPTEMBER 2018). FOOD SOLD IN CINEMAS NOT HALAL CERTIFIED: MUIS. THE NEW PAPER. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.TNP.SG/NEWS/SINGAPORE/FOOD-SOLD-CINEMAS-NOT-HALAL-CERTIFIED-MUIS
netizens took was largely measured and the views were mostly rational. The general sentiment was that the news report was not reflective of the Muslim community in Singapore as there were diverse views among Muslims, and this was not captured in TNP’s portrayal of the issue. There were also comments on how widely available halal food options are outside of the cinema hence even if snack counters at cinemas were not halal, it did not mean that Muslim cinemagoers were deprived of options in general.
Perhaps the interest and public curiosity on halal matters can be understood if placed in the context of increasing religiosity both globally and in Singapore, as well as the growing demand for halal food and services. After all, many countries now regard the halal industry as a global market force, as the global halal food business boom is currently estimated to be worth over US$1.1 trillion (SG$1.37 trillion). There is tremendous room for growth and the market is expected to grow to a staggering US$10 trillion (SG$13.7 trillion) by 20302. Locally, MUIS’s annual reports show a similar upward trend as its halal certification operating income has more than doubled over five years – growing from about $2.98 million in 20133 to $6.59 million in 20174. However, the placement of the story on the prime location of Page 1 and the extremely narrow views presented led many netizens to question i) whether the story was even newsworthy of publication and attention especially on Page 1 and ii) the validity of the claim that Muslims were “upset” at the lack of halal options as the single narrative and response on this matter. A FLURRY OF RESPONSES Thankfully, while there was a flurry of responses on the issue, the tone that 2
diverse views that people had on the issue. In that short video, Nur Jumaiyah not only provided an honest and diverse range of views on the matter, she also managed to convey a strong message using a tone that was not offensive. In fact, she even injected some humour in her delivery. This leaves us to ponder, what lessons can we learn from this incident?
HIGHER STANDARDS FOR JOURNALISTS For the media, regardless of whether it is One of the strongest and most candid traditional or online media – the first responses came from an online website, question would be whether a lead is Halalfoodhunt, which put up an 8-minute newsworthy or not. If it is newsworthy, is video5 on the issue where its Managing it a sensitive topic? In what context are we Director, Nur Jumaiyah Mahathir, shared running this story? In this instance, the sentiments and responses collected article was published several weeks after a through a 24-hour poll among their series of fairly explosive online reactions followers. Nur Jumaiyah categorised the to an announcement that Subway views into six different types of responses Singapore’s application to become halal on the matter and highlighted the had just been approved. The issue on diversity of reactions that exists, contrary Subway’s halal application had been to TNP’s monolithic portrayal of perspec- simmering since early 2018 (31 January) tives on the matter. Among other things, when MUIS confirmed Subway’s interest Jumaiyah said that cinemagoers should in obtaining halal certificates for its not force their needs and views on others Singapore outlets. The confirmation of and that businesses are not obliged to Subway’s halal status in August led to serve the halal market. After all, as MUIS polarising views on the matter. While mentioned, halal certification is voluntary many cheered the move, others jeered for all businesses. Jumaiyah proceeded to Subway and lamented their lack of access share various ways one could deal with to fast-food that serves pork options. the matter, such as eating elsewhere before a movie or having popcorn and Food, something which usually unites drinks which can be bought at stalls Singaporeans, had become a divisive without a halal certificate. factor. It is therefore worth considering whether running yet another story on the She reserved her strongest words for the halal issue soon after this incident, newspaper saying that the report “made especially with the prominence given on Muslims look like a very difficult bunch Page 1, would ignite another round of of people to deal with” and that most of fierce debate that can cause further social the views the website obtained showed a tension. In evaluating the position of the “really tolerant and graceful group of media in society, there is a fine line people who are OK with things not being between reporting on an issue that is halal because they know they have halal current and in “the public’s interest”, and options elsewhere”. She opined that the reporting on an issue that will further fuel “one-sided report” left Muslims embardivision in society. The media must take rassed, and it was not representative of the care to tread this line carefully and err on
CHEOK, J. (18 JANUARY 2016). BOOMING HALAL SECTOR OPENS GLOBAL PATH FOR LOCAL FIRMS. THE BUSINESS TIMES. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.BUSINESSTIMES.COM.SG/CONSUMER/SINGAPORES-FUTURE-ECONOMY/BOOMING-HALAL-SECTOR-OPENS-GLOBAL-PATH-FOR-LOCAL-FIRMS MAJLIS UGAMA ISLAM SINGAPURA (MUIS). MOVING FORWARD WITH THE COMMUNITY, ANNUAL REPORT 2014, PG104. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.MUIS.GOV.SG/-/MEDIA/FILES/CORPORATE-SITE/ANNUAL-REPORTS/MUIS_AR_2014-WEB-FA.PDF MAJLIS UGAMA ISLAM SINGAPURA (MUIS). SHAPING RELIGIOUS LIFE, ANNUAL REPORT 2017, PG121. RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.MUIS.GOV.SG/-/MEDIA/FILES/CORPORATE-SITE/ANNUAL-REPORTS/MUIS_AR_FULL_2017.PDF HALALFOODHUNT. (20 SEPTEMBER 2018). RETRIEVED FROM HTTPS://WWW.YOUTUBE.COM/WATCH?V=5ACREQTBGZG
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the side of responsibility. If the editorial In evaluating the decision is to run the story, a wider range opinions should be sought for a more position of the media ofrepresentative view, so that there is a balanced discourse on the matter. in society, there is a OBSERVING GOOD NETIQUETTE fine line between For netizens engaging on various online reporting on an issue websites and platforms, it is useful to remember that respect is not a one-way that is current and in street and that we live in a heterogeneous society which values diversity as a point “the public’s interest”, of strength. While discussions on this particular incident was fairly rational and and reporting on measured, there were other instances where discussions were fiery and an issue that will emotional. The importance of having internet etiquette or “Netiquette” is further fuel division good sometimes underrated. While heated debates can be exciting, it is important to in society. The apply the same standards online as we do in public – in other words, values that are media must take cherished in daily life should be upheld online too, such as courtesy, kindness, care to tread this responsibility and respect. Should there be abusive comments, one could always line carefully and choose to refrain from adding fuel to the err on the side of fire, or step in to moderate extremist and exclusivist views. If discussions get too responsibility. If the heated, leave. If the issue is presented in a manner, one could provide editorial decision is narrow different perspectives that are more representative of society. Lastly, discusto run the story, sions online can be meaningful and insightful if netizens uphold the golden a wider range of rule of online communication, which to some, is “tweet others the opinions should be according way you want to be tweeted”. sought for a more representative view, t who is a former journalis Khartini Khalid is ic em ad Ac so that there is a rer and now a Senior Lectu rning. titute of higher lea Manager in an ins ernational int e lud inc st ere balanced discourse Her areas of int unicass-cultural comm relations and cro tion. on the matter.
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Dancing To His Own Beat:
A Parent’s Perspective on Autism BY JULIANAWARTI JUMALI
alphabet forward and backward, describe complex shapes and identify names of the different planets in the solar system. He was not even two yet! Our first inkling that Aydan could be on the spectrum was at a routine check-up with his paediatrician. The doctor was not A person is diagnosed with PDD-NOS if they have some behaviours seen in autism impressed with what Aydan could do. He but do not meet the full criteria for having was more concerned that Aydan had not autism. All children with PDD-NOS do not met his milestones such as maintaining eye contact. Or the fact that Aydan did have the same symptoms. For Aydan, his not talk to us but communicated through symptoms were mild. grunts and gestures. He lined up his toy cars and gazed at them We thought the doctor was being too for hours. He jumped and shouted when presumptuous and dismissed what he said. he was upset or excited. He would wave But to be honest, I couldn’t stop thinking his hands close to his face and was very sensitive to loud noises. He was very picky about it. with food. He preferred to play and be alone, even when there were peers around. Our encounter with what life with autism would be like for Aydan hit us a year later. By then, Aydan was 3 and in pre-nursery. Back then, Aydan would rattle off the Our son Aydan Ziqry has autism. He was first diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified or PDD-NOS when he was about three and a half years old.
I received an email from his teacher suggesting perhaps it is best that he did not participate in the school concert. Aydan, his teacher said, preferred ‘to move around’ and was not able to follow the dance steps during practice, like the rest of his class. That email broke my heart. We took Aydan out of school at the end of the year, but not before insisting he perform with the rest of his classmates. It was about this time too that we decided to seek a diagnosis for Aydan. We sought second and third opinions from different medical experts, just to be sure. All said the same thing. Aydan was definitely on the spectrum and he needed help. JANUARY 2019
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A JOURNEY WITH AUTISM The wait was long – at least six months we were told – for a place at a governmentsubsidised centre. We were thankful that we had the means to send Aydan to a private centre and a home-based speech and language therapy while we wait. It was a financial struggle nonetheless before we finally secured Aydan a place more than a year later at WeCan, an Early Intervention Programme for Infants & Children (EIPIC) run by Autism Resource Centre (ARC).
In 2019, Aydan turns eight. He will be in Pathlight School Primary 1 Standard after ‘graduating’ from Primary 1 Foundation the year before. Aydan’s progress report at the end of Primary 1 Foundation reflected he had put in good effort and showed great improvement. To be honest, my husband and I were not too interested in how he did in English or Mathematics. We were just grateful he is being educated by teachers who accept him for who he is, in an environment that understands he learns differently, and who are as keen to see him grow as a person.
EIPIC provides therapy and educational support services for infants and young children with special needs by equipping them with the necessary skills to TOWARDS A MORE INCLUSIVE SOCIETY overcome developmental delays as far Singapore has come a long way – in a short as possible. space of time – in creating a more inclusive environment for people with autism, as Aydan’s therapists suggested he attend well as other forms of special needs. school at a mainstream kindergarten as he displayed the ability to assimilate in a There are many government initiatives, mainstream curriculum and environment. including the Enabling Masterplan, aimed He would also benefit from the interaction at creating a more inclusive society for with other kids. those with disabilities. Things are moving in the right direction. However, we spent several frustrating months looking for a school. All rejected There are more places for early intervention his application after we were upfront today and the number is set to increase about Aydan’s condition. We almost gave in the future. The government has up before we found Aydan a school, totally also pledged more support for Special by chance. Education Schools (SPED). The principal of the school saw in Aydan, Further upstream, plans are also afoot to not a child with special needs, but a child ensure special needs children are prepared with potential. for life after school, when they turn 18, including those who are unable to be Aydan stayed in this school for two years. gainfully employed. He was given opportunities to perform in the school concerts and even had his own For those who can work and contribute dance segment during his graduation to the economy, companies are given concert! incentives to hire them. It was also in this school that Aydan made As a parent of a child with autism, these a friend. developments are indeed welcomed.
statistics of one in 160 children, although experts have attributed this to greater awareness rather than a greater prevalence of autism here, according to a report by The Straits Times. Awareness of the special needs community, among the neurotypical members of society too, has been increasing in Singapore. Efforts from both government and non-governmental organisations have helped tremendously towards this cause. One such effort is the National Council of Social Service's (NCSS) ‘See the True Me’ campaign, a five-year public education initiative that started in 2016 to promote the inclusion of persons with disabilities in Singapore. The campaign helps create greater awareness and understanding of persons with disabilities, including children with special needs. I am often asked by friends, acquaintances and in media interviews about the level of awareness, and more importantly, acceptance of children with special needs in Singapore. How do we create an inclusive society? My answer to the first question is – it depends. Those who see Aydan as ‘less’ and a burden, will close doors and opportunities for him, thus fulfilling that prophecy. Then, there are others who can look beyond his limitations, appreciate his strengths, and encourage his potential to grow and develop like any other child. Some parents dream of their child becoming doctors, lawyers, inventors, or the next Mark Zuckerberg even.
We are forever grateful to the principal According to the 2016 Enabling Masterplan, and her teachers for giving Aydan a chance. one in 150 children in Singapore has Us? We dream of Aydan leading a autism. This is higher than the global meaningful and purposeful life. We want 30 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.
Aydan to know that his diagnosis does not questioningly, wondering why I do not stop him. define what he can or cannot do. We need a society that is willing to take a chance on children like Aydan, treating them as equals, providing them with all the opportunities they need to achieve their potential. Acceptance is key to more opportunities and a chance for Aydan to live his life meaningfully and purposefully. So how then do we create an inclusive society?
Aydan stims to cope. When his environment overwhelms him, it creates anxiety. Thus, stimming is his way of shutting things out so that he can calm down. To be kind is to understand that this is a reflex. When Aydan sits alone in a room, do not think he prefers to be left by himself. He longs for that human connection, but he does not know how.
Encourage your child to talk to someone like Aydan, show him something OUR ROLE IN THIS INCLUSIVE SOCIETY interesting, and invite him to play. It starts with you and me as individuals. No government masterplan or campaign In these instances, Aydan may not can imbue this sense of inclusivity if we respond immediately, but you would close our eyes, ears and most importantly, have given your child the opportunity to hearts to those who are different than us. show compassion, empathy, kindness and respect. You would have encouraged him I have lost count the number of times we or her to appreciate the differences and unique abilities that a child such as get rude stares and snide remarks when Aydan has a meltdown or stims in public. Aydan has. We can do this simply by being kind.
I am the first to admit though, that it is very hard to look away when you see someone stim.
Aydan has taught me patience, tenacity, determination and humility on a level that I never thought would be possible: to see Aydan wrestle with things that we take for granted and to see the kindness people show to Aydan when they don’t need to.
Stimming, short for ‘self-stimulatory behaviour’ is often odd-looking, random and the most conspicuous behaviour a person with autism can have. When Aydan stims, he is enjoying the sensation He has also taught me to slow down, live it creates and the state of mind that in the moment and seek joy. Aydan has no sensation produces. concept of age appropriateness nor is he affected by peer pressure. A person with autism can stim on almost anything. It just needs to be something Aydan dances to his own beat and he finds that appeals to them. Aydan used to stim joy in life. by jumping, yelling and singing. He now engages in self-talk (or TV-talk as we call it, He has been watching the same videos because he is saying lines from different and cartoons since he was three, pauses at cartoons) as he flaps his hands close to the same parts and still laughs. Aydan can his face. dance like no one is watching, even if it’s in the middle of a busy supermarket. He All these actions clearly look peculiar. sings like no one is listening even while Those who stare usually look at me in the crowded lift.
Encourage your child to talk to someone like Aydan, show him something interesting, and invite him to play. He may not be able to do as many things as other people can, but our son has taught us things that has enriched our lives. Our son’s story perhaps reflects the worst and best of society in accepting children with autism, and other special needs for that matter. Those like Aydan do not see the world the same way as we do. I wish more can see Aydan as someone with a different ability and not see his autism as a disability. Just like you and I, Aydan too is trying to find his place in the world. Aydan may be different, but he is not less.
Julianawarti Jumali is a Principal Consultant at Ong Teng Cheong Labour Leadership Institute, National Trades Union Congress (NTUC). She chronicles her family’s autism journey on Instagram @juliana_j. She is a mother to two boys – Aydan Ziqry & Aadil Haris.
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Revolutionising Digital Media: An Interview with Mr Jamal Hassim BY ABDUL HAKEEM AKBAR ALI
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Creative destruction is constantly redefining the limits of our material world. In the blink of an eye, industries have been torn asunder – they have fallen prey to the forces of production. Yet, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, swathes of new factories and plants emerge in their wake, ready to serve society once again. In time, however, they too will play their part in this grand dialectical process – a process commonly known as technological change. Welcome to the 21st century, an era in which this metamorphosis is perhaps most rapid and manifest. Technology has advanced on many fronts, and it is undoubtedly true that these innovations have benefitted a large number of us, especially in the industrialised world. A huge driver and product of this change has been the Internet. It serves as a gateway to the world, connecting people from distant localities in mere moments – from states in the Occident to those in the Orient. In short, and without getting bogged down in specifics, the Information Era we live in – heralded by improvements in Information Technology – is revolutionising the way we live.
Our premium content is multifarious: they include news, entertainment, information, sports, education, healthcare, games and more. We have also begun a communitybased trending content section where our The Karyawan team was fortunate enough community contributes content that they to be able to conduct an interview with Mr develop. The added value that BOLT.Global Jamal Hassim. Here, he shares his opinions brings – beyond the aggregation and about the industry and proffers his advice curation of content – is getting the community to validate whatever piece to individuals looking to enter it. of published content – to ascertain its trustworthiness. The intention is to reduce Q: Could you tell us more about the effect of “fake news”. yourself and your family? online media network, which provides an alternative secured and cost effective arrangement for one’s access to digital content.
Jamal: I have one younger brother who works with the Singapore government. My father served with the army before working with non-profit organisation Lembaga Biasiswa Kenangan Maulud (LBKM). My mother is a homemaker. I am married and have two sons (24 and 21 years old). I studied at Raffles Institution and Raffles Junior College. I did my Bachelor’s Degree at the University of Wales and read for my Bar in London.
The Token Ecosystem is the economic model around the BOLT.Global business. It provides a framework to reward content creators and community members for content contributions and community activity. It also facilitates with the acquisition of tokens for our institutional partners, as part of their rewards programme. Q: Why did you join the digital industry and why start BOLT.Global? Is this the first company you’ve set up?
Q: Could you tell us more about BOLT.Global? How unique are the Jamal: I ventured into the digital/mobile challenges in this area compared to the traditional entertainment industry? content space to address the underserved It is then hardly surprising that people communities in the emerging markets want to know more about it. What are the Jamal: BOLT.Global is a transaction-based with content of quality and variety. In implications of this digital dominance for mobile video content service that addition, the intent was to disrupt the me? How can I leverage on this new existing commercial model of the content addresses consumers in the emerging platform and tap into its productive industry. markets who are underserved with possibilities? content choices. More recently, we have This is my fourth venture. For my first been developing the next phase of A person who can provide nuggets of BOLT.Global’s growth on the blockchain. venture, I restructured a financially wisdom about some aspects of this distressed television network in Malaysia burgeoning sphere of activity is SingapoOur content offering comprises short 5 to which, with its shareholders, I jointly sold. rean Jamal Hassim, Chief Executive Officer 7 minutes trending content and “live” For my second, I launched a new Kuala of mobile entertainment company channels that our viewers can “snack on”. Lumpur- and Penang-based FM Urban BOLT.Global, based in the United We intend for our viewers to use our very Radio Station, which was jointly sold to a Kingdom. Started in 2016, this ambitious major print publication group. For my affordable, micro transaction-priced enterprise has a noble goal: to improve third, I started and operated my own service daily as opposed to movie-like access to information, entertainment and content that they watch occasionally on national free-to-air television network in education for the lot of the human Malaysia, which I sold to a large television other platforms, given their limited data, population, especially for emerging and radio network group. disposable income and time. markets. Its modus operandi is the use of blockchain technologies fused into its
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Q: What are some of the initial and current challenges you face(d) with BOLT.Global? What are some of the challenges you envision moving forward? Does working, in large part, in emerging markets present a unique type of challenge?
Q: What’s your biggest achievement with My advice would be the same for an BOLT.Global? Any other memorable entrepreneur in our field or any other: to moments? remain committed, retain focus and maintain an open and flexible mind to Jamal: It’s not for me but rather for our quickly fine-tune your strategy, even when BOLT.Global Community to decide if we nobody else believes that you can make it. have been successful in making a Also, have a good, proven mentor beside difference to their lives. you to consult at all times.
Jamal: The initial challenge, as with all projects, is proving that a theoretical A recent memorable event would be the model is commercially viable, and then to BOLT.Global service going “live” in Kenya. ensure that the project can be verbalised to users and investors. Q: What are some of the challenges you face as a Malay Singaporean The challenge moving forward will be to venturing and living overseas? scale the model at speed, and then solidify market leadership via increasing user Jamal: A simple answer: there are none. adoption. Have an open mind; everybody has a rightful place and role on this Earth. The unique challenge is reaching and Learn from everything that you see and communicating our messages to consumers experience and live a fulfilling and who don’t use the same communication meaningful life. channels as consumers in the mature markets. So we have to adapt accordingly Q: How do you maintain your roots in and use channels that our consumers in the Singapore? How does living in the UK emerging markets are comfortable with. differ from in Singapore? What are the different challenges? Would you Q: Do you do any social outreach recommend it to others? programmes through BOLT.Global? Jamal: Part of my family are in Singapore. Jamal: Our entire BOLT.Global Project is a Not just in the UK but everywhere I have social outreach programme: we intend to been, I have had to learn, adapt and be provide content creators in emerging independent. To truly discover yourself markets with a way to monetise and grow and what you are capable of, go out into their content. the world and have an adventure. Needing to be independent and adaptive isn’t a We also want to give our community challenge, rather, it’s reality. It makes me members in emerging markets a means of more appreciative of the conveniences earning BOLT.Global Tokens by perform- that are available in Singapore, which ing tasks on the BOLT.Global platform. many Singaporeans take for granted. The tokens can then be sold on Crypto Exchanges, where they will be listed. In Q: What is your advice for Malay/ addition, BOLT.Global performs token buy Muslim youth wanting to try out backs from community members at entrepreneurship or pursue a career various points of time during the year. in this industry? We also run apprenticeship and internship programmes in our Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and London offices for undergraduates and new graduates.
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Jamal: I worked for large organisations for half my career and as an entrepreneur for the other half. An entrepreneur has to be on his toes all the time; to truly excel in your chosen path, you have to let go of your safety net.
Abdul Hakeem Akbar Ali is a Research Assistant at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). His research interests include the political economy of mercantilism and the role of industrial policy in developing countries.
The Rose of Bussorah Street:
Wardah Books Midday, and though the sky is leaden signalling the rain that would soon come, the pristine common path between the rows of shophouses leading up to the golden-domed majesty of the Sultan Mosque is already teeming with arrangements of tables and chairs from the Turkish restaurants, racks of tourist-trap paraphernalia, displays of voluminous skirts, colourful pashminas, and opulent Persian rugs. But amidst the economic hubbub of the vibrant heritage space, respite can be found at number 58 on Bussorah Street, the only shopfront without any spillage into the common corridor.
BY DR NURALIAH NORASID
and magazines. Upon entry, it is almost easy to believe that you have walked into a private library.
studies in Ireland, picked up skills in thinking critically, interrogating one’s facts, observing patterns and identifying problems and pathologies. However, it was When told this, Mr Ibrahim Tahir, the not always a pleasant journey for everyone. grandson of the late Ahmad Mohamed Ibrahim shared that facing death and Ibrahim, Singapore’s first Attorneydisease every day brings with it an General1, reveals that the intention was to immense feeling of powerlessness. One make Wardah Books, which he co-founded can’t do anything about it, but the tragedy with his wife, also a book lover, feel like is that the patients look to you thinking one’s living room. This was the main that you can. That, amidst his own reason why in its earlier days, the bookstore personal tragedies, made it difficult for used to have a sofa and a coffee table, him to enter the hospital and he would before space constraints required Ibrahim often find himself broken-hearted. Upon to free up space for more shelves and books. returning to Singapore, he decided to pursue a career involving books, for if The entrance to the bookstore is helmed FROM MEDICAL DEGREE TO there is one thing he knows for certain, by two simple shop windows, one BOOKSELLER it is his enduring love of books and reading. allowing you a glimpse of the packed At one time, Ibrahim’s future looked set bookshelf in the far left and the other to be one pursued in medicine. Ibrahim He joined the book industry as an editor in displaying artful photographs, book covers loved the science of it, and, from his educational publishing with Education 1
VINOD, VEENA. 2016. “BOOK FEATURING STORIES ABOUT MALAY-MUSLIM ORGANISATIONS AND PIONEERS LAUNCHED.” THE STRAITS TIMES, JUNE 27, 2016.
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Publishing Bureau (EPB) and Singapore National Publishing (SNP)2, working mainly on textbooks, assessment books and workbooks for levels ranging from nursery to secondary school. He spent some four years in educational publishing before moving on to general publishing with Edition Didier Millet (EDM), where he was roped in to work on massive reference books such as Singapore: The Encyclopedia and Singapore Biodiversity: An Encyclopedia of the Natural Environment and Sustainable Development, the latter of which was produced just before the opening of the Lee Kong Chian Natural History Museum in the National University of Singapore (NUS). Ibrahim shared that the skills he had learnt in his training to become a doctor was immediately transferrable in editing, making the switch a pretty smooth and easy one for Ibrahim. It was during this time as an editor that he progressed into book distribution. Ibrahim had always harboured a love for Islamic books and found that many of the books he wanted to read, especially those in the English language, were not available in Singapore, what more in the general bookstores. Bookstores carrying Islamic books were often Malay bookstores with a single shelf of English books. To his recollection, in the past, some of the perfume shops on Arab street used to sell English medium Islamic books in their back rooms. However, those books were mainly from Karachi and Lahore, and written in a rather archaic, Victorian-style English that would not be appealing to readers today. Seeing a dearth of this specific reading selection, he decided to take matters into his own hands, working with publishers such as Fons Vitae, to bring their books in to Singapore and distribute them. He described himself as being almost like an agent for these publishers, introducing their books to the various Islam-oriented bookstores and also organisations such as the Muslim Converts’ Association of
WARDAH BOOKS’ SECOND FLOOR
Singapore. As he was working full-time then, he worked on Saturdays to “go from door to door with a suitcase of books” to introduce the titles to existing booksellers and taking orders for them. He even managed to distribute the books to major bookstores such as Kinokuniya in both Singapore and Malaysia; however, he found that the books were not “taking”. He realised that a person walking into an Islamic Malay bookstore would not be seeking out titles in English, and perhaps not books with a specific focus on Islamic philosophies when they enter a major chain bookstore. His first brick-and-mortar store came as a stroke of luck when he learnt from a proprietor of a perfume shop in 709 North Bridge Road that the property next door was up for rent. Ibrahim decided to take it despite having neither stock nor staff. The layout of the time comprised no more than 2 bookcases from IKEA, a sofa and coffee table. He was there for one and a half years before the collapse of the Nicoll Highway led Warees3, a company managing the property at that time, to consider the structure of the shop unsound and Ibrahim was given two weeks’ notice to leave. He was lucky enough to be able to rent the upper floor of a carpet shop, which would later become the Wardah Books that we see today. A VIBRANT HISTORY OF BOOKS AND READING Wardah Books’ current location on Bussorah Street, though quite by happy
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The first indigenous Malay/Muslim printers and publishers emerged in Singapore around the 1860s5. Many of them were immigrants from Java and who settled in the Kampong Gelam area6, then a “bustling commercial centre” of businesses which catered to the local Muslims as well as Hajj pilgrims on their way to Mecca7. Here they thrived right up to just after the 1900s. Ibrahim attributed the booming of the Malay/ Muslim printing and publishing industry to the halaqahs. He shared that in order for the halaqahs to go through a book, the text would be broken up into what we would conceive today as chapbooks. These chapbooks, better known as kitab kuning, were printed
2 JORAIMI, FARIS. 2017. “WARDAH.” S/PORES. JANUARY 29, 2017. STORIES, SHOPKEEPER. 2017. “THE BOOKSTORE SLOWS YOU DOWN.” SHOPKEEPER STORIES (BLOG). AUGUST 21, 2017. 4 HALAQAH - OXFORD ISLAMIC STUDIES ONLINE. GALLOP, ANNABELLE TEH. 1990. “EARLY MALAY PRINTING: AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BRITISH LIBRARY COLLECTIONS.” JOURNAL OF THE MALAYSIAN BRANCH OF THE ROYAL ASIATIC SOCIETY 63 (1 (258)): 85–124. 6 FURTHER READING: FAWZI, FADLI, AND FARIS JORAIMI. 2017. “THE INTELLECTUAL LEGACY OF KAMPUNG GLAM.” S/PORES. JANUARY 29, 2017. 7 ANUAR, MAZELAN. 2017. “EARLY MALAY PRINTING IN SINGAPORE.” BIBLIOASIA, OCTOBER 7, 2017. 3
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accident, is right smack in the historic site of Malay print and publishing, as well as reading, heritage. When asked about the history of reading and its development in the Muslim community in Singapore, Ibrahim explained that there are several traditions of reading known to Islamic scholarship and its communities. They can be classified into the more personal style of reading that we all understand, the halaqah (group-based) and khas (one-toone) styles of reading, and a much higher level where a teacher teaches the notes and commentaries – syarahs – on certain Islamic texts. The halaqah, meaning circle or ring in Arabic, generally refers to a group of students who are studying under a certain professor or teacher4.
during Singapore’s period of economic slowdown, but the thought of it was “like giving away a child”. Apart from that, when it first started, Wardah Books also faced the challenge of highly polarised attitudes towards religion and religious scholarship that existed within the community. Here, Ibrahim recounted experiences of people coming into the bookstore or writing in to forums to call WARDAH BOOKS’ FIRST FLOOR him out for selling books on Sufism or books that oppose Salafism, and even, on cheaply and staple-bound, and comprised centrality of knowledge to our lives. one occasion, an individual who outright just chapters of the texts that the students To lose this civilisational act of reading issued a death threat. In spite of these would bring to the mosques and to their would mean the loss of that instinct of challenges, Wardah Books pushed on, halaqahs. This then spurred the industry to truth-seeking, leading societies and driven by a love for books and a love for produce the books to meet the religious communities into regression. reading, and a heartfelt, deeply-held belief reading needs of the communities. in those two key aspects of a civilised society. Depending on the popularity of the sheikh When asked what could be done to bridge And 16 years on, I am glad that Wardah or teacher, there could be as many as this reading gap in our society, Ibrahim Books is still around to meet the needs of hundreds of students per halaqah needing answered that adults need to read more, as this generation’s readers of Islamic texts these publications for their studies. Some the essence of promoting book-reading, as and philosophies in the English medium. of the teachers, Ibrahim explained, would it is with the occupation of book-selling, is come with their own manuscripts to have the transference of enthusiasm. When you Coming down from the steps across them printed in the Kampong Gelam area. love a book, there is a chance that your Wardah Books’ shop windows, into the love of that book would transfer to another beginnings of a drizzle, with a bag full of READING AS A CIVILISATIONAL person. (That is how my fiancé managed to books (about the bleakest of human ACTIVITY, AND WHY IT IS IMPORTANT get me to read Ernest Hemingway’s prospects), I am recalled to Ibrahim’s There is a certain, much-needed quietude acclaimed novella, The Old Man and the Sea, sharing of a quote in a hadith that urges to reading, and Ibrahim considered it to be a story about the universal truth that one who held a seedling to plant it even a lot like meditation where one can centre which is our existence in this world.) For when the world is coming to an end one’s self, no matter what the subject of him, he found that he tended to push the around them. And I cannot help but feel the text. For sacred texts, such as classical books that he loves and opined that that this bookstore is that seedling sown in Islamic texts, there is the added dimension booksellers need to read and love the such an hour. of bringing the reader out of the mundane books before they could promote them. and towards a state of transcendence. This has led him to treat his business as a Much the way sacred art, such as Islamic service industry rather than a retail one. calligraphy, Islamic architecture, qasidas, Wardah Books is located at 58 Bussorah a form of writing poetry, songs and True to his word, when I sought Street, Singapore 199474. For more recitations of the Quran may do for others. recommendations for works on religious information, visit https://wardahbooks.com. eschatology for research, Ibrahim was not Dr Nuraliah Norasid is a Research Associate Ibrahim also considered reading to be a only able to give me valuable insights into at the Centre for Research on Islamic civilisational activity – an act or process of the topic, but also located a stack of books and Malay Affairs (RIMA) and author of civilising that brings an individual or on the topic. (I bought them all.) . She received her Doctor of group out of a less refined stage into one of Philosophy in Creative Writing and English Literature from Nanyang Technological civility – intertwined into which are BOOKSELLING, University (NTU) in 2015. truth-seeking and a love for knowledge8. NOT ALWAYS AN EASY TASK Books are the only way current civilisation As with any business, Wardah Books has can build on past knowledge and books, in seen its ups and downs. Ibrahim shared a way, also help to bring a level of that he almost had to sell the bookstore 8
FURTHER READING: FUREDI, FRANK. 2015. POWER OF READING: FROM SOCRATES TO TWITTER. BLOOMSBURY PUBLISHING.
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No One Place for the Spirit:
Review of For[god] by Noor Iskandar BY DR NURALIAH NORASID
Fully titled For[god]: a remembrance of love in the path of losing, the volume is a collection of short prose and poetry spanning 2014 to 2018, based on Noor Iskandar’s observations and ruminations during his travels. Many of the pieces in the collection are centred on the interplays of spirituality and the earthly states of human existence. Just as his journeys often took him down roads and to places less travelled, Noor chose to self-publish his debut collection. His reason was that he wanted to be more actively involved in the book’s production, 1
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including the book’s cover design, which depicts a scene from Khaju Bridge which he photographed while in Esfahan, Iran, in 20151. The book’s cover also depicts two women in dark dress and shows a line where a sand-coloured wall seems to meet water. Behind the title stamp, what appears to be petals, Noor described, are designs he had extracted from “[an] image of the white robes donned by the dervishes” during the whirling dance performed during the Sema, or Sufi worship ceremony2. The design of the book’s cover is testament to Noor’s talent
in using the medium of composite photography to express his spiritual and artistic philosophies. MINDFUL MEANDERS Noor’s journeys are featured prominently in the collection, expressed in lines such as “Mosques in Iran are exceptionally beautiful” (“Your Body is a Mosque”, p. 37), “I saw her as we were making our way to the car after the Nowruz festivity at Najjar” (“At All the Right Places”, p. 11), and “I remember praying in Kargil in darkness save a small oil lamp in a grand mosque”
AZHAR, ZARIFAH. 2016. “PHOTOGRAPHER, AUTHOR AND TRAVELLER NOOR ISKANDAR HAS JUST RELEASED HIS FIRST BOOK.” WEBSITE. #HHWT (WEBSITE). OCTOBER 5, 2016. 2 IBID.
(“Ninety-Nine”, p. 56). However, journeys, and also sojourns, figure into the very structure of the works themselves, expressed most distinctly by the meandering streams of thought. In the prose “A Poet’s Soulmate is Salt” for example, the poet writes, I dropped my shawl in Barcelona when alighting the taxi. The one I bought in Bursa. Segments of blue, earth brown and concrete grey. I lost the ring bought at the Sunday market in Lisbon, a copper ring with a shield as the core plate. On it, an insignia of doves and ferns. I skid sentimentalities across my skin. (p. 33) Here, the reader is able to trace a journey bound in the items that one may buy from places we visit, either out of some semblance of necessity – for example a winter jacket from a thrift store because temperatures were colder than expected, or perhaps even the shawl that the poet has lost – or as commemorative tokens of having been to a place – like the poet’s shield ring, maybe a fridge magnet or a mug with the city’s name emblazoned on it. However, as with the nomadic life where moving is a necessity and one brings only what is most essential, the poet shows that the material, in being lost as he moves from one place to another, is an impermanent thing – a non-essential – “skidding” across one’s skin. In some other instances, the meandering seems to emulate the fluidity of thought and memory. In “Your Body is a Mosque”, the poet’s exaltation, “Mosques in Iran are exceptionally beautiful”, segues into, A friend in Kuala Lumpur brought this up the other day, ‘What if your mouth is a burning mosque?’ And all that you do profess and don’t are both heaven and hell. (p. 37) Later, when the poet and another persona are at the Esplanade, “deliberating if to
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know someone is to understand them” (p. 38), the poet goes on to muse, I like the word ‘discover’ better. It connotes a certain mystery, the desire to get deeper with the comfort of knowing there is no ground. No walls. No mosques to burn because a mosque resides within your heart and your heart alone. (p. 38)
There is also a distinct focus on inwardness when it comes to the processes of discovering and connecting with one’s spirituality and religion. Noor’s writing ruminates on the idea that prayer and worship need not be bound by place or institution, and neither should it be governed by any group or boundary. Rather, both prayer and worship involve a coming into one’s self. He also hazards Places in For[god] often serve as sites for that this journey of selfhood should not trajectories into more spiritual and fall to the judgement and policing of philosophical musings – on the nature of any individual or society. We see this our existence, the forms of our worship, recurring critique in “Masjid Kita”, and the embedded places within our when the poet questions, Selves. Apart from places, the very I begin to ponder the faces of your geographies of the pieces are reminiscent guardians the way they question my of travel, and of the twin, often combined, name. My art is humble, my passing acts of wandering and wondering. here is simple. I wish they see that my way to God is a different stroke of HUMANITY AND THE DIVINE faith, but still very much in shade. These musings, and the meandering, Why are mortals the ones governing streaming mode of philosophical my conversation with You, within exploration would play a key role in Your Womb, anyway? (p. 42) shaping the next prominent theme within the collection, that of religion and And in “Yuna”, he hopes that “your heart spirituality. Here is where Noor’s writing does not make space for words like ‘kaffir’, seems to bear echoes of much earlier ‘infidel’, ‘shirk’ and instead be a room with Muslim poets such as Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya, gardens as walls, an ocean of calmness as Rumi and Muhammad Shams ad-Din floor and ceiling, permeating skylight” Hafiz, all of whom are described to have (p. 64). In “To Unholy”, the poet writes the “poetically convey[ed] the relationship of following closing verses, love between human beings and God, Perhaps, between lover and the Beloved”3. This I don’t want to be a temple concept of love in the sense of “apophatic4 had I known mystical” or religious experience5 comes through in many works within the my prayers won’t reach youcollection, most notably in pieces like, I want to unholy “To Unholy” (p. 2-5), “In Prayer” (p. 16-17), If to be and the titular one that sums it up in the unholy is to love you. (p. 5) end, “For God” (p. 67-69). In these pieces, there is no clear distinction as to whether To “unholy” oneself here can refer to the “beloved” that is mentioned refers to stripping oneself off the vestiges of ritual what we would think of as a conventional practice, convention and institution, in romantic partner, or to God. Often the order to arrive at a more transcendent references fold into themselves, erasing religious experience. In other works, such distinction, thereby bringing the “beloved” as “Khayal” (p. 48-49) and “We are Alright” intimately closer to the poet. (p. 57), Noor also shows how religious experience can be a multi-layered one, where religion and spirituality often have
O’DONNELL, P.S., 2011. POETRY & ISLAM: AN INTRODUCTION. CROSSCURRENTS 72–87. OF KNOWLEDGE OF GOD. O’DONNELL, 2011.
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Noor’s writing acknowledges how, in our daily existences, remembrance can become a challenge. And we tend to forget – our religious obligations, the minuteness of our first world sufferings in the vastness, as well as our own mortal state. This close duality of remembrance (for God) and forgetting (forgot) within the faith-driven life we lead is also a prominent theme within the collection. to coalesce and even contend with the real and the mundane. For many Muslims, their faith is woven into the fabric of their lives, governing their hours, actions and thoughts. Noor’s writing acknowledges how, in our daily existences, remembrance can become a challenge. And we tend to forget – our religious obligations, the minuteness of our first world sufferings in the vastness, as well as our own mortal state. This close duality of remembrance (for God) and forgetting (forgot) within the faith-driven life we lead is also a prominent theme within the collection. Surely, works such as “I Keep Forgetting” and the words, “The sides of my palms are straying apart. Keep them close. Keep us closer” (p. 15), resonate with many Muslims living today – fighting to keep their religion and God close, but who are also swept by the dizzying experiences and demands of the mortal world. To this, it seems that remembrance is embedded in contemplation, looping back to the earlier point on meandering and wondering: I have questions, full. Questions on salvation, civilisation, the origin of the veil, the conditions of a mosque, the 6
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verses of the Quran, thoughts on sexuality, lust, on love, death and the afterlife. (“On Will and Worship”, p. 18) Questioning and seeking, rather than falling into the traps of absolutes and certainties, may well be the best process of remembering.
Dr Nuraliah Norasid is a Research Associate at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA) and author of . She received her Doctor of Philosophy in Creative Writing and English Literature from Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in 2015.
CONCLUSION For[god] speaks to the minds of the faithful and to the hearts of those who are on spiritual journeys of their own. As such, Noor calls for us to respect another’s journey – freeing ourselves of malice, judgement and ego6. He also asks that we be “more sensitive and recognise the different struggles we all carry within ourselves”7. In the afterword, he expresses that his intention is for the book to encourage “deeper introspection and meditation” without offering any answers. To all these effects, I believe that the collection has lived up to what it had set out to do – but of course with every new reading, one can expect to still find more, for the mortal seeking is never-ending even as the material self will be gone one day.
AZHAR, ZARIFAH. 2016. “PHOTOGRAPHER, AUTHOR AND TRAVELLER NOOR ISKANDAR HAS JUST RELEASED HIS FIRST BOOK.” WEBSITE. #HHWT (WEBSITE). OCTOBER 5, 2016. 7 CHAI, AMANDA. 2018. “PHOTOGRAPHING ISLAM: MEET NOOR ISKANDAR, THE SPIRITUAL SOJOURNER.” BK. JUNE 13, 2018.
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