The Karyawan — July 2021 Issue

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PUBLISHED BY: AMP SINGAPORE • VOLUME 16 ISSUE 3 • JULY 2021 • MCI (P) 010/07/2021 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434

Dreams Realised, Dreams Deferred: Understanding and Addressing the Racial Gap in Educational Achievement in Singapore







FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK COVER STORY Dreams Realised, Dreams Deferred: Understanding and Addressing the Racial Gap in Educational Achievement in Singapore by Assoc Prof John A. Donaldson



Building Resilience Amidst Uncertainty: The Future of Work in the Age of 34 Digitalisation by Norakmal Hakim Norhashim and Poon King Wang The ‘Hwa Chong Woman’ Incident: How Do We Discuss Racism in Light of Mental Illness? by Shantini Rajasingam

13 “What’s Climate Change Got to Do with Me?” – Tips for Environmental Action in the Malay/Muslim community by Sofiah Jamil 17

Environment, Sustainability and Islam by Sheikh Mohamad Farouq Abdul Fareez


Equal Shares of Inheritance for Muslim Children: A Forgotten Perspective by Ustaz Dr Muhammad Haniff Hassan

Harassment in the (Virtual) Workplace by Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices Losing it All: Stories of Bankruptcy by Nabilah Mohammad The Intelligentsia of the Asatizah Community by Ahmad Ubaidillah Mohamed Khair

SUPERVISING EDITOR Dr Md Badrun Nafis Saion EDITOR Zarina Yusof EDITORIAL TEAM Nabilah Mohammad Nur Diyana Jalil Ruzaidah Md Rasid Sheikh Mohamad Farouq Abdul Fareez Winda Guntor


Private Banking in Europe with Sharifah Ferdaus Albar by Nur Diyana Jalil

We welcome letters, comments and suggestions on the issues that appear in the magazine. Please address your correspondence to:


Book Review: The Years of Forgetting by Sofia Abdullah by Nurul Atiqah Jamari

Editor, The Karyawan AMP Singapore 1 Pasir Ris Drive 4 #05-11 Singapore 519457 T +65 6416 3966 | F +65 6583 8028 E

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


Social Media = Social Change?: The Benefits and Pitfalls of ‘Slacktivism’ by Ahmad Abdullah

© AMP Singapore. 2021. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction.


The recent Singapore Census 2020 data showed that Malays are making strides in education as compared to a decade ago. More are attaining post-secondary qualifications across all age groups, particularly amongst the younger Malays. While the Malay community has benefited from the various policies and assistance programmes over the years designed to support our students in performing better academically, there still appears to be a gap defined along racial lines. Though the figure for Malays aged 25 and above who graduated from university (10.8 percent) in 2020 census is nearly double that of the 2010 census (5.5 percent), we are still far behind the other ethnic groups – 34.7 percent for the Chinese, and 41.3 percent for Indians. There isn’t much publicly available data about students who do not fare well academically. While it may appear that a greater proportion of Malay students are underperforming, does this necessarily mean the issue must be viewed through the lens of race? Or are there other issues for underperformance that cut across racial lines? To look into why there seems to be an education gap that appears to be defined along racial lines, AMP and our research subsidiary, the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), partnered with Associate Professor John A Donaldson from Singapore Management University (SMU), to conduct a research project based on the life experiences of those from the Normal (Technical) stream. Assoc Prof Donaldson shared findings from the study, which you can read on Page 9. Despite having a world-class education system, we will still have students who may fall through the cracks. As such, we should work together to fill these cracks and ensure that every student has a chance to succeed and realise their dreams.




Digitalisation has given rise to monumental shifts in the future of work. With numerous predictions about the disruptive effects of technology, workers and the organisations they work for are inundated with negative messages of disruption. Furthermore, the future of work is not immune to further complications brought about by other global phenomena. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has further disrupted the way we work and will eventually entrench a new normal upon us. Indeed, in the Future of Jobs Report 2020, the World Economic Forum (WEF) stated that “the ongoing disruption to labour markets from the Fourth Industrial Revolution has been further complicated – and in some cases, accelerated – by the onset of the pandemic-related recession of 2020” 1. The accumulation of all the disruptions, shifts and transformations have thus precipitated increasing uncertainty for workers. Nevertheless, amidst the portents of disruption, there are signs of optimism. A PwC study showed that 85 percent of Singaporeans surveyed felt that “technology will change their work for the better” 2. Our challenge is to harness our optimism and brave the relentless uncertainties as we confront our future of work. DIGITALISATION AND FUTURE OF WORK Understanding how disruptions occur may lay the foundations for the way forward. Research by industry and academia has




shown that technology transforms work not job-by-job but task-by-task. For example, a McKinsey Global Institute study showed that a majority of occupations have at least 30 percent of constituent activities that can technically be automatable 3. Brynjolfsson, Mitchell and Rock have also shown that “tasks within jobs typically show considerable variability in ‘suitability for machine learning’ while few – if any – jobs can be fully automated using machine learning. Machine learning technology can transform many jobs in the economy, but full automation will be less significant than the reengineering of processes and the reorganisation of tasks” 4. The gradual and piecemeal nature of disruption suggests that to determine the impact technology has on work, jobs must first be decomposed into their constituent tasks. Only through analysing which individual tasks would be automated or augmented by technology can workers and organisations determine precisely how each job will be affected 5. The divergent nature of technology’s impact on work thus presents a form of uncertainty for workers. Indeed, workers might ask – where will the balance between automated tasks and tasks that remain in workers’ hands shift after the transformation? What new tasks will they have to do? After digitalisation has transformed work, will workers have to transform too? The discourse surrounding workers adapting to digital transformation often centres around what workers can do to

1 World Economic Forum. The Future of Jobs Report 2020. 2020, October 20. Available at: 2 PwC. New world. New skills. Accessed on 2021, June 7. Available at: Manyika, J., Chui, M., Miremadi, M., Bughin, J., George, K., Willmott, P., and Dewhurst, M. A Future that Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity. McKinsey & Company. 2017, January 12. Retrieved from: 4 Brynjolfsson, E., Mitchell, T., and Rock, D. What Can Machines Learn and What Does It Mean for Occupations and the Economy? AEA Papers and Proceedings 108, 2018. pp. 43-47 Infocomm Media Development Authority and Personal Data Protection Commission. A Guide to Job Redesign in the Age of AI. 2020. Available at:

ensure that they remain relevant to the job market of tomorrow. With a multitude of avenues for workers to upskill, including the Government’s SkillsFuture programme, workers are encouraged to pursue lifelong learning to “develop their fullest potential throughout life” 6. This approach aligns with the conventional “plug-and-play” model where employers seek to recruit people who are already skilled or experienced 7. However, the consensus is shifting towards a shared responsibility – one undertaken by both workers and their employers to ensure employees’ career resilience. In fact, both industry players and the Government are urging employers to play a key role in upskilling workers. McKinsey, for example, is advocating for employers to “lead the way”, arguing that “employers are best placed to be in the vanguard of change and make positive societal impact – for example, by upgrading the capabilities of their employees and equipping them with new skills” 8. Similarly, the Ministry of Manpower is urging employers to “consider reviewing their approach”, highlighting the various government schemes available to help with training 9. In return, employers get to expand their talent pool by upskilling workers already within the organisation or broadening the search to include job seekers from previously precluded occupations. This diversification of talent sources could therefore bolster the organisation’s resilience at a time when talent shortages could be widespread, particularly for new and emerging roles. As it stands, digitalisation will transform work. While the responsibility of adapting to the ever-changing circumstances ultimately falls on each individual worker, employers can play a role too, especially when ensuring workers’ career resilience means ensuring the overall resilience of the organisation. STAYING RELEVANT: THE CASE FOR BUILDING RESILIENCE IN THE MICE SECTOR The MICE 10 sector in Singapore has been devastated by the COVID-19 pandemic. The conventional model of hosting physical events is no longer viable. In addition, trends in digitalisation and Industry 4.0 threaten to forestall a return to previous ways of doing business post-pandemic in what has been dubbed the new normal for the sector 11. Here, digitalisation offers a solution. The MICE

sector in Singapore has been recognised as having adapted quickly to changing circumstances brought about by the pandemic 12. Their answer (among others) – a ‘hybrid event’ format that weaves physical and digital presence into one seamless experience for event attendees. Still, the question of emerging roles and the talent sources to cater to this newly innovated model remains. The transformation required has created a need for more talent with new skills where workers will be expected to fill emerging roles that combine technical expertise with their event management experience 13. As succinctly put by an events industry director, “…(we) need skills from different industries and schools. (We) need to replace lost staff too.” Can organisations then train workers with cross-sector skills fast enough? In addition, more changes to work are needed as organisations further transform. In order to ensure resilience in an uncertain world, can organisations design new roles and chart pathways for workers continuously as the sector keeps on transforming? Future of work research on the MICE sector done by LKYCIC 14 in collaboration

Tasks from existing roles 3D tasks

with U FSE 15 and SACEOS 16 hopes to point the way forward. Adopting the task approach, the research aims to provide a lens to the future of work that is as clear, granular, and detailed as it is flexible, creative, and humanistic. To do that, existing roles that could be affected by digitalisation or other forms of disruption are first identified. For the MICE sector, as the disruption to the sector is far-reaching, the impacted roles are also wide-ranging. Next, the roles are broken down into their constituent tasks, giving us a more granular view of their work. With a more detailed understanding of what workers do day-to-day, organisations (ideally in collaboration with workers) can recombine these tasks in interesting new ways, creating new roles in the process. Organisations must also consider how the new and emerging tasks created as part of the transformation can be introduced in these roles. For the MICE sector, innovation leads to new roles that fit the newly developed hybrid event format. By continually exposing workers to new and emerging tasks as the sector transforms, organisations help ensure both organisational and career resilience.

New and Emerging tasks

Game engine tasks Broadcasting tasks Tracking tasks

Tasks of new hybrid roles e.g. Digital broadcaster, 3D virtual events

HR tasks Fire safety tasks Other sector tasks Events management tasks

Creating new roles for the MICE sector

6 7



10 11


13 14 15 16

SkillsFuture Singapore. About SkillsFuture. Accessed on 2021, June 7. Available at: Ministry of Manpower. Jobs Situation Report 19th Edition. 2021, March 12. Retrieved from: Hancock, B., Lazaroff-Puck, K., and Rutherford, S. Getting practical about the future of work. McKinsey & Company. 2020, January 30. Retrieved from: Ministry of Manpower. Jobs Situation Report 19th Edition. 2021, March 12. Retrieved from: Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions Tan, S. Industrial Transformation Asia-Pacific event goes hybrid amid Covid-19 pandemic. The Straits Times. 2020, October 20. Retrieved from: Government of Singapore. Hybrid events, virtual demonstrations - how Singapore’s MICE sector is adapting quickly to COVID-19. 2020, September 14. Retrieved from: Ibid Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative Cities (LKYCIC) at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD) The Freelancers and Self-Employed Unit (U FSE), a National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) initiative Singapore Association of Convention & Exhibition Organisers & Suppliers (SACEOS)

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The clarity that tasks provide in understanding what workers do can also help them transition to the new roles. Tasks from current roles can be compared with tasks from new ones. This comparison allows workers to know exactly how similar they are to the new roles and what tasks they have to train for. In doing so, organisations can illuminate pathways that guide workers as they transition. Current Role

LKYCIC Tasks Pathways Similar Tasks

New/Future Role

Tasks to Train

Experiential Live Event Producer

Events Marketing Executive/Marketing Manager Project Director Operations Manager

Charting task pathways with clarity for MICE workers to transition to new or future roles

Organisations can leverage these pathways as well by using them to look for sources of talent. By repeating the process of matching new roles to existing ones organisationwide or even further afield, organisations could potentially uncover unexpected matches that are a close fit for the new role across the whole economy. Furthermore, if organisations standardise how tasks are defined across jobs internally, organisations can take advantage of the powerful possibilities of using existing algorithms and standardised databases to rigorously and rapidly generate these pathways 17. This advantage is especially useful in quickly scaling up the search for new talent sources. Organisations can automatically scan thousands of job descriptions, with the algorithm comparing each role task by task and generating task pathways for all. By utilising this process, organisations can significantly broaden their search and identify a wider variety of talent sources to recruit from, including ones not considered before.

Existing Role Tasks from Role #001 Tasks from Role #002

New/Future Role

Experiential Live Event Producer

Tasks from Role #003 Tasks from Role #004 Tasks from Role #005 Tasks from Role #...

Overlaying the lens of tasks on work thus allows organisations to peer through the uncertainties that shroud the question of their future. Using the language of tasks, what is hitherto ambiguous can now be made concrete. Moreover, the task approach can be the conduit through which resilience can be ensured in a mutually beneficial way. On the one hand, organisations forced to adapt can reap the benefits of a diversified talent supply to power the next wave of transformations. On the other, workers can keep themselves up to date with the latest developments in their sector and enrich their careers through exposure to new and emerging tasks. BEYOND DIGITALISATION: RECOGNISING OUR WORKERS’ BROADER LIFE EXPERIENCES AND GOALS We are more than just our jobs and careers. Throughout our lives, we have played numerous roles and have taken on many responsibilities beyond those at work. These experiences can include our previous careers, caregiver roles, gigs, hobbies, volunteer work and more. From these myriad experiences, we pick up a diverse set of skills that are potentially relevant for future transformations. Recognising and incorporating them into

Charting task pathways with clarity for MICE workers to transition to new or future roles



Infocomm Media Development Authority and Personal Data Protection Commission. A Guide to Job Redesign in the Age of AI. 2020. Available at:

New and Emerging tasks

Tasks from Our Life Experiences Tasks from previous careers/jobs

Tasks from existing roles

Tasks and skills we can build on and train for the future

Tasks from caregiver roles Tasks from our volunteer experiences and hobbies, etc.

Building on workers’ broader life experiences

the new roles would not only provide organisations with an expanded source of talent and skills to tap on but also allow workers to benefit by building on what they already have familiarity with. Making workers’ ‘side hustles’ a more significant part of their primary work experience increases the breadth of their tasks that are career-relevant, thereby diversifying and building resilience in their careers.

organisational goals while keeping in consideration personal ones. The value that the task approach brings is in its ability to be put together and rebuilt in a multitude of ways, affording flexibility and diversity of choice to both workers and organisations. Roles can now be further individualised. In this way, the task approach helps to elevate the humanistic aspects of our work experience.

Organisations can take it further by recognising workers’ personal life goals. Goals such as finding purpose or passion in our careers by helping others, seeking creative or engaging jobs that energise us, or looking for jobs that ensure we have time for family and friends are goals we would have in tandem with fulfilling our duties at work. Furthermore, these goals are not static, and they may change throughout our lives. By aligning the objectives of transformation with personal goals, organisations can ensure that the overall purpose of resilience is not an individual or organisational endeavour but one in which organisations and workers can progress together. Organisations can achieve this with the task approach. Through overlaying task pathways with humanistic considerations – for instance, whether grouping specific tasks together allows workers to take on a particular role part-time or whether adding a certain task will enable employers to increase a person’s salary – organisations can generate pathways to future roles that cater to

In an increasingly volatile and complex world filled with much uncertainty for the future, workers will naturally look ahead with much trepidation. However, our future of work is also brimming with opportunities. As organisations continuously navigate the never-ending changes and transformations brought about by new waves of digitalisation, they can steer workers to where the future is. With the help of guided task pathways, workers can make the transition with clarity and confidence. The future will always be uncertain, but with organisations playing an ever-increasing role in ensuring our shared resilience, workers will not be facing the future alone.

r Norakmal Hakim Norhashim is a Senio l Digita e Futur the r unde tant Assis Research tive at the Economy and Digital Societies initia Cities. Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovative and His research combines data-driven studying human-centred methodologies to e Futur the for ions solut oping devel and of Work. of the Poon King Wang is the Direc tor e Lee Kuan Yew Centre for Innovativ y of ersit Univ e apor Sing the at s Citie Technology and Design, wher e he also leads the Future Digital Economie s and Digital Societies initiative, and the Smart Citie s Lab.

Radha Vinod is an Algorithm Engin eer under the Future Digital Economy and Digital Societies initiative at the Le e Kuan Yew Centre for Inn ovative Cities. He r emphasis is on Na tural Language Processing and Automation. She is responsible for co nverting Future of Work research insights into applications . Darion Hotan is a Senior Re sear ch As sis tant under the Futur e Digit al Economy and Digital Socie tie s initiative at the Lee Kuan Yew Ce ntr e for Innov ati ve Cities . He studie s emer ging paradigms of work and their attenda nt implications for the futur e work force .

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THE INCIDENT In a video uploaded by Twitter user Ryan Kalmani, a woman dressed in pink was heard questioning other commuters in the MRT cabin about their ethnicity and education whilst taking videos of them. When another commuter had identified herself as Malay, the woman replied with,

“Malay is it? Okay, no wonder” 1. Claiming that she was being harassed, she had allegedly counted the number of Malays in the cabin to report to the police. After this incident went viral online, netizens took it upon themselves to find out more about her identity. They discovered that the same woman – Tan Beow Hiong or the

‘Hwa Chong woman’ as she is commonly referred to – had a YouTube channel. Though her channel has since been removed due to its violations of YouTube’s harassment and cyberbullying policies, at the time, out of the 29 uploads, 28 were self-recorded videos in which she alleged she was a victim of racism. Yet, in most of

1 Rajah, O. Police investigating ‘Hwa Chong’ lady and her YouTube channel showing similar racist incidents. The Independent. 2021, April 28. Retrieved from:


We run the risk of what psychologist Steven Bartlett calls the “social consequences of disease labelling”7. That is, racism becomes an individual problem to be tackled psychologically, thereby downplaying the situational and structural conditions that have allowed for such acts to emerge in the first place. Rather than moving us to critically analyse taken-for-granted notions of multiracialism, racial harmony, and one’s sense of belonging to Singapore, it becomes too easy for us to reduce this whole incident to an anomaly, an extremity, a one-off incident that we can dismiss.

these clips, like “Malay/Indian Harassing Chinese” and “Indian sexually harassing 56-year-old Chinese lady”, they show people going about their day in public places while she accuses several of them of being racist and harassing her2. Though her first video dates back to 2016, she only started regularly uploading some time in April 2019, amassing more than 260 subscribers and between 6,000 to 90,000 views. The fact that she had been doing this for years angered many, especially those of the minority races, who were appalled that her behaviour had gone unpunished for so long. Soon after, she was also fired from her job as netizens had found and given feedback to her company3.

user-generated digital content that reappropriate existing visual, textual or auditory forms, incorporate humour, irony or subversion, and are then circulated via informal social networks. Indeed, numerous images and videos of her were quickly repurposed and reshared4. Some Singaporeans even went to the extent of purposely boarding the train along the East-West line – where she reportedly frequents – in hopes of running into her, with failure to do so being met with disappointment. This sort of behaviour towards a supposed racist is unheard of. Yet, while most Singaporeans acknowledged that her actions were blatantly racist, a significant proportion of them did not seem to take them seriously. Instead, her antics amused many who MEMEIFICATION OF THE INCIDENT welcomed her subsequent memeification. In typical Singaporean fashion, the viral Of course, such a convenient response video immediately led to a proliferation of allows us to make light of an otherwise memes on social media, which refers to extremely uncomfortable situation that 2


4 5


would have contributed to the rising racist and xenophobic sentiments in Singapore, especially amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic. When this incident was first reported in The Straits Times, the article concluded with “[T]he woman's mental state is currently being assessed”5. Similarly, discussions surrounding her mental health were popular online as citizens passed judgement on whether she was suffering from a mental illness, whether her racism could be attributed to her poor mental state, and significantly, whether her mental state could excuse her racism. Some Singaporeans made tasteless jokes such as, “IMH6 pls collect her,” and “why is she not in IMH yet?”. Others, in noting that she did not seem mentally stable, urged us to ignore her and to focus our attention on dismantling other forms of institutional racism instead. A few argued that her mental state should not excuse her from racism and she ought to be dealt with accordingly. As she herself was from the majority race, some wondered how the outcome might have differed if she was from a different race. Though most Singaporeans agreed that her actions were indeed racist in terms of its form and content against Malays and Indians here, there was evidently less agreement about the best way to respond. Yet, do the two need to be mutually constitutive? One’s mental illness need not produce nor excuse racism. FRAMING RACISM AS A RESULT OF MENTAL ILLNESS: USEFUL OR COUNTERPRODUCTIVE? The fact that her actions were overwhelmingly framed as that of a ‘crazy racist’ woman has significant consequences. By immediately drawing a parallel between her racist actions and her mental state (being ‘crazy’), it instantly creates a situation that reifies an ‘us’ (rest of society) versus ‘them’ (those with mental illness) mentality that already exists. It implies that the only logical explanation for her outrightly blatant racist actions was her mental illness that prevented her from acting

Rajah, O. Police investigating ‘Hwa Chong’ lady and her YouTube channel showing similar racist incidents. The Independent. 2021, April 28. Retrieved from: Sun, D. Woman allegedly involved in racist incident on train loses her job and YouTube channel. The Straits Times. 2021, April 28. Retrieved from: Dean, J. Sorted for Memes and Gifs: Visual Media and Everyday Digital Politics. 2018. 17(3), 255-266. DOI: 10.1177/1478929918807483 Sun, D. Police investigating alleged racism and harassment in incidents in S’pore linked to YouTube channel. The Straits Times. 2021, April 27. Retrieved from: Institute of Mental Health

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In addition to institutional racism, there is another form of highly subtle but equally problematic form of racism – casual racism – that perpetuates racial inequalities.

rationally. This sort of distinction essentially others her as someone separate from the rest of ‘normal’ society. This shows just how misunderstood mental illness continues to be in our society if we are so quick to distance ourselves. To attribute racism solely to mental illness only perpetuates the stigma around mental illnesses that advocates have long sought to eradicate. This is worsened by the fact that words like ‘crazy’ or ‘insane’ that draw on stereotypes to conjure up images perpetuating false and overly simplistic ideas about mental illness, are still loosely used to describe individuals like Tan. Medical professionals have long debated if racism should be considered a product of mental illness or even a mental illness itself. While some have unsuccessfully fought to have racism recognised as such, disability and mental health advocates have actively resisted such an association for while racism is a choice, mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are not7. To conflate the two is then not only stigmatising, but also counterproductive. Before we quickly attribute her racist tendencies to her psychological state, it is worth asking ourselves: would framing

racism as such help us fight racism or make it harder? We run the risk of what psychologist Steven Bartlett calls the “social consequences of disease labelling”8. That is, racism becomes an individual problem to be tackled psychologically, thereby downplaying the situational and structural conditions that have allowed for such acts to emerge in the first place. Rather than moving us to critically analyse taken-for-granted notions of multiracialism, racial harmony, and one’s sense of belonging to Singapore, it becomes too easy for us to reduce this whole incident to an anomaly, an extremity, a one-off incident that we can dismiss.

Hence, there is a need for us to consciously unlearn our prejudices and biases to counter this.

MOVING FORWARD While Tan herself might benefit from professional support if she is found to require it, it should not be second nature for us to diagnose others based on the assumption that if they are acting in a way that directly contrasts with what we have been instilled with, they must be mentally ill. Both racism and mental illness thrive in silence and isolation. Hence, both aspects need to be handled with care, and it is imperative that we continue to centre the lived experiences Hence, if we were to accept such a of the minority races and use incidents discourse, it becomes convenient for us, as like these as opportunities to practice a society, to attribute her racism solely to sincerity and empathy whilst frankly her own individual pathology without confronting our own shortcomings. considering underlying prejudices that she herself could be harbouring. We can then, on the surface-level, criticise her actions and make fun of them – as we have evidently done – to reassure ourselves that we are not like her and that her actions Shantini Rajasingam is are not a reflection of our society. While a research intern at the Centre for Resear conveniently allowing us to falsely ch on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). She is currently a believe that we are harmonious, it is third-year Sociology und ergraduate at alarmingly ignorant of the slew of racist Nanyang Technological University. incidents that have been happening and are happening in greater frequency now. This is particularly problematic since the lived experiences of racial minorities have long been downplayed or worse, rejected by the Chinese majority here. CASUAL RACISM In addition to institutional racism, there is another form of highly subtle but equally problematic form of racism – casual racism – that perpetuates racial inequalities. As Velayutham explains, it often takes the form of racist microaggressions against minority groups that thrives on singling out a person's phenotypic characteristics and other biological features and relies on simplistic, essentialising cultural stereotypes for discrimination9. Because it is integrated and reinforced via our everyday interactions with one another, lay Singaporeans are its key perpetrators.

Love, S. Is Racism a Mental Illness? Vice. 2020, July 8. Retrieved from: Byrd, C. W., and Thomas, M. J. How racism came to be called a mental illness — and why that’s a problem. The Washington Post. 2016, June 7. Retrieved from: 9 Velayutham, S. Races without Racism?: everyday race relations in Singapore. 2017. 24(4), 455-473. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2016.1200050 7



Dreams Realised, Dreams Deferred:

Understanding and Addressing the Racial Gap in Educational Achievement in Singapore BY ASSOC PROF JOHN A. DONALDSON

JULY 2021



Many students in Singapore’s Normal (Technical) (or NT) stream do indeed have specific dreams and aspirations.

To this end, we designed this research project to address these questions – and more. The research also allowed us to scrutinise even more fundamental assumptions about NT students. Do NT Some of these students fail to achieve their dreams, but many others succeed – students lack aspirations? Is ITE a discouraging dead end? with the help of specific kinds of interventions. And – the most sensitive one – is there evidence to support or invalidate racial Singapore’s Institute of Technical stereotypes? Education (ITE), commonly derided as “It’s the End”, might be better celebrated MOTIVATION, THE PSLES, AND as “It’s Truly Excellent”. THE ‘MALAY STEREOTYPE’ Singapore indeed faces an education gap The ‘Malay stereotype’ – that Malays that appears to be defined along racial lack motivation and aspiration – is just lines. According to the General Household that, an unfounded stereotype. Survey, just over one in seven Malays These and other findings – some surprising, between 25 and 39 years of age (those in school after the NT stream was established) others confirming what we already believed but lacked evidence to demonstrate graduated from university, compared to – are substantiated in the upcoming report more than one in two for the nation as a whole. Nearly one in three Malays Dreams Realised, Dreams Deferred: Understanding and Addressing the Racial Gap between 25 and 39 did not finish a postsecondary education, versus one in six in Educational Achievement in Singapore, for the entire population. What explains co-authored with seasoned researcher Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim. The research this gap? project, conducted with and supported by Academic research allows us to probe AMP Singapore’s research subsidiary, Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay uncomfortable questions such as these. Can the so-called ‘Malay stereotype’ Affairs (RIMA), incorporated interviews explain the education gap? Or are other with more than 100 participants – adults factors that affect many NT students, who, as children, experienced the NT regardless of race, better explanations? stream first-hand. These participants generously shared their stories with our research team members, including dozens To this end, we asked our interviewees to recall whether, when they were young, of the meticulously trained Singapore they studied diligently to prepare for the Management University undergraduates Primary School Leaving Exams (PSLEs). and RIMA staff members. And indeed, based on this self-report, The project was inspired by a conversation nearly 70 percent of respondents with RIMA and AMP leaders. They pointed acknowledged that, as primary school students, they lacked motivation to study. out that organisations like AMP run essential programmes designed to support This result is not surprising, since the only students financially, as well as to help way into NT is to perform poorly on the them perform better, allowing them to emerge from the NT stream or even never PSLEs. And one way (but, as it turns out, not the only way) to perform poorly on the to enter it. PSLEs is to not prepare for them. These leaders also recognised that less is But far from providing evidence in support known about those who remain in the stream. How did NT students fare over the of the ‘Malay stereotype,’ the results undermined it. long-term? Why have some performed well? Why have others failed? What can In fact, roughly equal proportions of Malays we learn by comparing cases of success and non-Malays acknowledge not studying and failure? Can we leverage that knowlsufficiently. Thus, the stereotype that NT edge to design and innovate programmes students were not motivated to study that will help others succeed? indeed appears among our interviewees – but not disproportionately across the races.


In addition to delinking the lack of motivation from race, our study uncovered two other actionable aspects of motivation. First, motivation is not fixed. Of the students who were unmotivated as primary students, nearly two-thirds subsequently applied themselves and found motivation at some point between the PSLEs and our interview, even though they recognised they had not studied hard enough in primary school. Moreover, there was no discernible racial pattern to explain those who subsequently became motivated versus those who did not. Second, motivation exists alongside personal or contextual factors that also affect student outcomes, often decisively. If two-thirds of our interviewees were unmotivated, how did the motivated remaining one-third end up getting streamed to NT? For most of these, other issues – related to family dysfunction, such as physical abuse or divorce, or some kind of trauma, such as a recent death of someone close to them, derailed harderworking primary students. Moreover, many of these students – though not all – did not get back on track, and failed to emerge from a vicious cycle of academic failure. So if not the ‘Malay stereotype’, what explains the education gap? We considered more than a dozen potential factors in our research. Some of these factors, such as poor math skills, parenting style, and family dysfunction, caused the students to be streamed into NT – but these were not systematically associated with race. Other factors that were linked to race, such as family income and family size, we could rule out via our results as causes of students’ entering the NT stream. Thus, while our study failed to identify a consistent factor or set of factors that explains the racial gap, we could rule out the ‘Malay stereotype’ as an explanation. DREAMS REALISED, DREAMS DEFERRED What about post-secondary school? To what extent did NT students succeed? And what factors allowed some to succeed and some to fail?

But far from providing evidence in support of the ‘Malay stereotype,’ the results undermined it.

falling into the hole might help others avoid falling into a similar hole. But imagine how helpful it would be to identify how some people managed to get out of the hole. In the same way, the causes of success were not simply the opposite of the causes of failure.

In fact, roughly equal proportions of Malays and non-Malays acknowledge not studying The Ways into NT… Moreover, as it turns out, there are several sufficiently. Thus, the stereotype that ways into a hole, and nearly all of our – successful or not – had NT students were not motivated to study interviewees encountered one or more of these common indeed appears among our interviewees – pitfalls. Our participants included… hands-on learners who are not but not disproportionately across the races. • …academically inclined but often find Success can be difficult to evaluate – do we measure success based on the interviewee’s own aspirations, or based on social standards? Success as defined by personal aspiration, while sounding straightforward, may be more complicated than it appears – a chosen occupation may reflect a dream, or may reflect settling for something that seemed more realistic while fatalistically rejecting the true dream. At the same time, we felt even more uncomfortable judging success only by society’s measures. In the end, we applied both standards.

were facing a crossroads at the time of the interview, such as applying for a programme or a job that would fulfil their dream.

Asking interviewees about their dreams also allowed us to test the commonly held belief that NT students lack aspirations. In contrast to this stereotype, we found that more than 70 percent of our sample described to us a specific, identifiable aspiration or dream, and a further 16 percent held a non-specific or non-material dream. However, we also found that, while most did hold specific dreams, 40 percent of these cases involved dreams that we believe society may not recognise as being legitimate. These included people who aspired to be bakers or technicians, Muay Thai teachers or rugby coaches. This finding gave us pause – is the belief that NT students lack aspiration based on their actual lack of aspiration, or primarily on the fact that they hold aspirations which society might not recognise?

Take these results with some caution. These outcomes are not fixed, but are snapshots in time. Moreover, our sample is not representative of Singapore’s NT population as a whole. Nevertheless, based on these snapshots, a surprisingly large proportion of interviewees seemed to be thriving. Some seemed to be doing fine. Others were clearly not.

The remaining half? Their dreams were deferred. But even among these, about a half (a quarter of the entire group) were content nonetheless. They hadn’t achieved their dream, but reported being satisfied with their lives – holding a decent job, having close friends, raising children. The remaining quarter had their dreams deferred, and ended up feeling bitter or discouraged.

IDENTIFYING THE FACTORS BEHIND SUCCESS AND FAILURE Comparing interviewees with contrasting outcomes surfaces key differences that separate those who succeeded and those who did not. But we quickly noticed that the keys to success were not simply the opposite of the pitfalls.

To understand why, consider the analogy of someone falling unsuspectingly into a In any case, based on these criteria at least, deep hole. To get out of a hole one has many of our interviewees – about 40 fallen into, one does not simply fall percent – had realised their dreams, or else upwards. To be sure, understanding the were well on their way. A further 10 percent factors that contributed to that person

inspiration in vocational settings. • … late-bloomers who could have been academically inclined, but did not apply themselves as primary school students. Such students find NT to be too slow, but often struggle to move out. • … those weighed down by family dysfunction, including some of those who superficially appeared to be unmotivated. • … people with learning disabilities, often untreated. • … those who spoke non-English languages or dialects at home. • … many whose families faced severe economic problems.

… are Different than the Factors for Success Similarly, we identified a number of factors that helped people get out of their holes – interventions or solutions that helped some of our interviewees succeed. Most of those whose dreams were deferred lacked such interventions, or encountered pitfalls that rendered these interventions ineffective. Can understanding these pathways help suggest interventions for students who are struggling academically, as even our successful interviewees did? The successful interventions included… • … discovering a passion. For hands-onlearners, this was often discovered in ITE, but rarely in secondary school. • … having someone who unconditionally believed in them. However, this was

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effective only when it was sustained, unconditional, and organic. We found not a single successful participant whose gains came from a ‘mentoring programme’ or from being presented with distant, high-flying role models, such as successful business people or policymakers. • … wake-up calls and even trauma. These, too, must be organic. Most of the successful cases who experienced trauma had support from friends, family, or social workers. • … institutional support and flexibility that provided second, third, or even fourth chances. • … financial aid. This was nearly universal among successful cases, and was vital to their success. In addition to identifying several types of interventions that proved effective at helping some interviewees succeed, our analysis generated several additional encouraging findings. First, teachers matter. The interviewees’ experiences showed that NT teachers can often make or break a student. A discouraging, dismissive, or burnt-out teacher can set them back. But one or two genuinely encouraging teachers can sometimes overcome even a slew of discouraging ones.

those who could not secure sufficient financial help, such as those with parents who were too disengaged or too overwhelmed to apply for aid, as well as those whose aid applications fell through the cracks. Given the patterns, we concluded that continued financial aid is absolutely necessary. Yet we found not a single case who found financial aid by itself sufficient for their success. In addition to aid, other interventions also proved necessary.

For those on the lower ends of academic performance, our report evokes some straightforward suggestions – many of which are within the capabilities of Singapore’s VWOs, government agencies, and other helping organisations. Continue generous financial aid, but keep vigilant for those who fall through the cracks, and realise that any amount of aid is rarely While these findings were encouraging, sufficient by itself. Help students identify fundamental issues remain. As much as at least one adult who organically cares ITE made a difference, salaries for fresh about them. Help them discover their graduates remain low. How low? Recently, passion. Accept their aspirations as according to National University of legitimate, and do whatever we can to help Singapore’s Social Work Professor Irene them to realise their dreams. Ng’s calculations, a family of four in Singapore would require a monthly income of at least S$1,913 to meet their basic minimal needs. By contrast, the Assoc Prof John A. Donaldson, Associate mean starting gross monthly salaries of Professor of Political Science at the School of Social Sciences, Singapore Management fresh graduates from ITE in 2019 varied University (SMU), researches politics, rural depending on the school, ranging between development and poverty in China and S$1,632 and S$1,846, according to the elsewhere, having conducted extensive Ministry of Education’s graduate fieldwork in rural India and Thailand, as employment survey. well as in Singapore.

Taken together, these imply that an average starting salary of an ITE graduate is insufficient to keep a family out of poverty. It suggests we must redouble our efforts to generate meaningful employment for vocational graduates, and to ensure Second, many of these factors – finding a that the remuneration is sufficient to passion and institutional flexibility, as support a family. These are issues that are well as unconditional encouragement and probably too fundamental for Singapore’s support during trauma – came from an Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs) unexpected source: ITE. Many of our to tackle on their own. Likewise, VWOs hands-on learners found success at ITE. can do little about changing social At ITE, many of our participants had the attitudes – the stigma that NT and ITE opportunity to engage, perhaps for the first students still experience. time in their lives, in hands-on activities at which they could actually excel. For many The Ministry of Education is fundamentally late-bloomers with poor N-level results, reforming Singapore’s streaming system, ITE provided a much-needed flexibility – courageously promising to eliminate a fresh start. The renewed commitment to streaming in secondary schools by 2024. ITE is apparently paying dividends. In any The reforms have garnered much praise as case, ITE’s positive influence was profound well as some concern. Some analysts, such for many of our interviewees. as National Institute of Education lecturer Mardiana Abu Bakar writing in the pages We hope that ITE will no longer be known of The Karyawan, have also questioned as “It’s the End” but instead stand for “It’s whether whatever system emerges in Truly Excellent.” place of streaming will be more like the old system, if not in form then in function. Third, financial aid proved vital, and played an indispensable role in most Irrespective of these concerns, Singapore successful cases. Many failed cases were will always have students who perform


better than others. And we should continue to do all that we can to ensure that every student has the chance to succeed.

Dreams Realised, Dreams Deferred: Understanding and Addressing the Racial Gap in Educational Achievement in Singapore (2021) seeks to identify critical factors that explain the differences in outcomes among adults from Singapore’s NT stream. It is intended to be a practical guide, with research-based ideas on how to address the needs of underperforming students and help them achieve their goals. Co-authored by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim and John A. Donaldson, with support from SMU, RIMA and AMP, the report is based on an analysis of the life experiences of a diverse group of more than 100 lower- income Singaporeans with experience in the NT stream. The publication is part of a research project examining Singapore’s streaming system, and is scheduled to be released in the third quarter of 2021.

“WHAT’S CLIMATE CHANGE GOT TO DO WITH ME?” Tips for environmental action in the Malay/Muslim community BY SOFIAH JAMIL

In February 2021, Singapore’s Parliament debated its first motion on addressing climate change. Filed by six Members of Parliament (MPs), the motion included several recommendations, including “regular reviews to increase the carbon tax, encouraging the setting up of more electric vehicle (EV) charging points in


public, expanding climate education in schools and adding climate defence as a seventh pillar of total defence” 1. At the end of the six-hour debate with various inputs from the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Workers’ Party (WP) MPs alike, the Parliament declared that:

Ong, J. 6 MPs file Singapore’s first parliamentary motion on climate change. The Straits Times. 2021, January 29. Retrieved from:

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“It is time for faith groups and religious institutions to find their voice and set their moral compass on one of the great humanitarian issues of our time. Overcoming poverty, caring for the sick and the infirm, feeding the hungry and a whole range of other faith-based concerns will only get harder in a climate challenged world.”8

predominantly by millennials, and in particular, a greater understanding of environmental consciousness as being an innate part of Islam. Civil society groups such as FiTree have, since 2013, conducted environmental awareness campaigns targeted specifically to Singapore’s Muslim community. What is particularly noteworthy are their efforts during Ramadan, where they have collaborated with mosques to organise green iftars and promote their Wudhu’ with Less Water campaign. In addition, they have also organised regular nature walks as a way of increasing awareness and appreciation of the environment. Such strides are a far cry from the late 2000s when I was advocating for the need for greater Muslim environmental action 5. With the exception of some interest from Muslim The second response, cynicism, seems societies in tertiary institutions and to emerge as a result of what is perceived Islamic environmentalists overseas, the as policies that provide little tangible response from Singapore Muslims was benefits. Charging for plastic bags, thus generally lukewarm, ranging from, far, seems to have limited effect, as “Oh, this is very new age” to “The takeaways and food deliveries especially community has other more pressing during this pandemic have only increased issues to think about”. the amount of single-use plastics. With regard to the recommendations mooted in Herein lies the problem as to why February 2021, there are concerns that indifference and cynicism remains – urban increases in the carbon tax would result societies have not fully comprehended in higher costs of living, and worse, the links between environmental causing small and medium-sized degradation, economics and societal enterprises (SMEs) and lower-income well-being, and still deem climate change families to bear the brunt of these as a middle to upper class problem. increased costs 3. (In fact, the introduction Unless you are a farmer or a fisherman of the carbon tax in 2018 had already depending directly on the environment caused some cynicism, with some for your livelihood, climate change seems “… climate change is a global emergency opposition party members mentioning it irrelevant, and only felt on a hot, humid and a threat to mankind and calls on the during the 2020 election campaign as yet day. Unless you live next to a polluted Government, in partnership with the stream that is your only source of clean private sector, civil society and the people another example of high costs of living.) While MPs such as Louis Ng have water, reducing plastic waste seems far of Singapore, to deepen and accelerate acknowledged that it will be necessary to off, as far as your 15th floor rubbish chute efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate is to the garbage bin on the ground floor provide further support to these groups change, and to embrace sustainability of your HDB block. Environmentalism in and cushion the impact on small in the development of Singapore.” 2 the 21st century is no longer simply about businesses when the carbon tax is implemented, it remains to be seen how conservation and corporate social With the exception of those with some responsibility, it is about social justice interest in environmental issues or active this would actually pan out 4. and collective responsibility 6. in environmental circles, it seems to me that there are two sets of responses among From my observations, responses from the Malay/Muslim community generally In this regard, behavioural change Singaporeans. The first is indifference. mirror these trends. On the one hand, activities are fundamental, but not The second is cynicism. In terms of the enough. Rather than simply thinking former, climate change is essentially just there has, over time, been an increased interest in environmental issues, about how we can all do our own part to another news headline as Singaporeans have, thus far, become accustomed to the top-down technological advancements and policies that ‘fix’ the problems of the day. In other words, it is the government’s job to handle environmental challenges, such as flash floods and rising sea levels. For the most part, much of the government’s sustainable development policies over the years have been commendable. From the diversification of our water sources and greening of the urban landscape, to progressively more ambitious efforts in the periodical sustainability plans and the ‘30 by 30’ food security plan – all of which are concrete measures to mitigate and adapt to climate change, and other socioenvironmental challenges associated with it.

2 Kurohi, R. Singapore Parliament declares climate change a global emergency. The Straits Times. 2021, February 1. Retrieved from: 3 CNA. PAP MPs file first parliamentary motion on climate change and its impact on Singapore. 2021, January 29. Retrieved from: 4 Robert, C. In pushing for climate policy, Louis Ng recognises need for trade-offs and to cushion impact on businesses. 2021, February 4. Retrieved from: 5 See: Project ME: Muslims & the Environment. Available at: 6 Borunda, A. The origins of environmental justice—and why it’s finally getting the attention it deserves. National Geographic. 2021, February 25. Retrieved from:


It’s 2021, so green mosques should not simply be pilot projects, they should be a prerequisite in every mosque blueprint. The incorporation of energy-and watersaving systems do not only help to mitigate climate change and minimise costs, it is in itself a testament to the multiple Quranic verses on preventing wastage9.

protect the environment, it would be more beneficial to think about how we can collectively grow and thrive in an increasingly volatile environment. This reframing through a community lens, not only hits at the heart of charity and assistance to fellow Muslim brothers and sisters, but is also an ability to explore community-led systemic change. In particular, there is a need to think more creatively about how we can better streamline environmental sustainability into wider development needs of Muslim communities, be it locally or internationally. Here, I highlight three aspects that Malay/Muslim Singaporeans should reflect on for immediate action. 7 8 9 10 11

12 13

SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT THROUGH IBADAH As I have discussed elsewhere, the growth of faith-based environmental action is gaining traction 7. In the words of former executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christiana Figueres, in 2014: “It is time for faith groups and religious institutions to find their voice and set their moral compass on one of the great humanitarian issues of our time. Overcoming poverty, caring for the sick and the infirm, feeding the hungry and a whole range of other faith-based concerns will only get harder in a climate challenged world.” 8

United Nations’ 2019 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World report, about 4.14 percent of Singaporeans faced moderate to severe food insecurity between 2016 and 2018. In a local study by the Lien Centre for Social Innovation at the Singapore Management University that surveyed 236 Singaporeans in four low-income neighbourhoods, it noted that nearly 1 in 5 of these respondents experienced severe food insecurity in 2018. Qualitatively, those working on the ground are well aware of the realities of families struggling to afford basic necessities, and often not getting nutritious and healthy meals.

While food drives are periodically organised by social welfare groups to provide basic food supplies to low-income Muslim/Islamic groups and institutions families, these supplies are often limited therefore have a massive opportunity to to dry goods. What is often missing from contribute in this regard. But it requires their diets are vital yet perishable items innovative and holistic solutions to such as fresh fruits and vegetables. address multiple challenges. For instance, Introducing sustainable urban farming we often come across fund raising schemes would be able to fill this void. campaigns to establish new mosques or Moreover, in addition to being a source of expand existing ones. Indeed, it is said free to low-cost farm to table produce, a that contributing to such initiatives is a comprehensive production system would form of sadaqah jariyah (or on-going allow members of the community to be charity). That said, could we not further trained to gain skills in urban farming enhance the environmental benefits of and basic business skills. Such an such sadaqah jariyah? How many of these initiative, which has been tried and tested mosques have incorporated energy and regionally 12 and internationally 13, would water saving systems into their building also complement existing policies to plans? Are Muslim communities planning promote urban farming in Singapore, to retrofit their existing mosques with and thus develop cohorts of Singaporeans these systems? It’s 2021, so green mosques skilled to fill in such jobs where necessary. should not simply be pilot projects, they In this regard, addressing environmental should be a prerequisite in every mosque challenges isn’t simply about protecting blueprint. The incorporation of energythe environment; it’s about improving and water-saving systems do not only our resilience to climate and economic help to mitigate climate change and shocks and creating livelihood minimise costs, it is in itself a testament opportunities for communities in need. to the multiple Quranic verses on preventing wastage 9. SUSTAINABLE FOOD SYSTEMS FOR CULTURAL PRESERVATION Another area to explore is the productive Through developing communities of use of wakaf funds (or other forms of urban farmers, there is also much that alms) for food security initiatives, namely can be learnt and shared about our urban farming 10. While there is no cultural links to the environment. national data on the extent of food Notably, there is much to be said about insecurity in Singapore, there are other how biodiverse edible plants are, and the indicative reports 11. According to the extensive range of indigenous foods in

See: Breaking Silos Collective. Breaking Silos with YSEALI | EP 7: Faith, Nature and Environmental Justice. (YouTube). Available at: Figueres, C. Faith leaders need to find their voice on climate change. The Guardian. 2014, May 7. Retrieved from: See: Abdelhamid, A. Islamic Principles on Waste Minimization. EcoMENA. 2018, December 31. Available at: See: Karni, A. S. Masjid Sebagai Lokomotif Wakaf Produktif (in Bahasa Indonesia). Majelis Ulama Indonesia. 2021, February 18. Available at: See: Tong, G. C., Yip, C. and Tiah, C. Why in a cheap food paradise, some Singaporeans are still going hungry. CNA. 2020, February 16. Available at: See: Urban Hijau. Urban Sustainability Centre. Available at: See: Vida Raiz. Our Vision. Available at:

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We are what we eat. And we eat what we produce. With the growth of HBBs, it is important for us as a community to think about what we are selling to one another, especially given the high incidence of preventable medical conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, in the community15.

the Malay Archipelago. Similar to language, food gives us insight to our cultures. And a disconnect from the land, potentially means a disconnect from culture. How many of us urban Malay/Muslims, for instance, know what jantung pisang, buah kedondong or daun kelor are, let alone have consumed them? Probably not many, since all we often see in the supermarkets are bananas, apples and kailan.

awareness and growing traditional foods on our own or supporting our regional saudara serumpun (or cognates) in market development. Such efforts in preserving food heritage would go a much longer way than simply reacting to instances of ‘disrespect’ or cultural appropriation of Malay foods on social media. This push to save forgotten indigenous foods, however, begs the questions: Is there a market for these old foods? Why would people want to eat kampung vegetables? Indeed, some of these vegetables may take some getting used to for the urban palates. But therein lies opportunities for the wider Muslim business community. SUSTAINABLE AND WHOLESOME PRODUCTS BY CONSCIOUS BUSINESSES OWNERS Creating a demand for indigenous foods or healthier food products requires a collective conscious effort from all of us. Branding will need to be on point. Sleek, modern with a strong social or environmental message. Moreover, there is no doubt that celebrities and social media influencers can play a significant role here in creating a movement advocating and supporting home-based businesses (HBBs) that sell healthy and environmentally-friendly products that are sustainably and ethically sourced and packaged.

items should be shunned, but rather it is important to reflect on whether the Malay/Muslim community is given a sufficiently diverse range of options for consumption. It is understandable that many people increasingly depend on HBBs as a source of income, especially in these turbulent times. That said, it is equally important to understand the long-term vision that we wish to see for ourselves as a community. Our community may not understand much about climate change, but our community does have some of the solutions to address the real-life effects of climate change. The key here is not to bog society down further with rhetoric about the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, but rather to refocus the attention on how the environment provides us with opportunities to create positive change within the Malay/Muslim community.

Sofiah Jamil is the cofounder of Hornbills: Concepts and Communications, a boutique public relation s and research consultancy. With more than 14 years’ experience as a politica l analyst, she has turned to entrepreneur ship to create greater impact in hum an and sustainable development matters.

We are what we eat. And we eat what we produce. With the growth of HBBs, it is important for us as a community to think about what we are selling to one another, especially given the high incidence of preventable medical conditions, such as The loss of indigenous crops is a real and diabetes and obesity, in the community 15. Are we able to move beyond Nutella tarts global phenomenon 14. Yet, it also holds the key to addressing food insecurity, and and choose items without refined sugar? Can we as consumers be offered a wider providing natural nutritional boosts to range of products with higher nutritional our modern diets. Some initiatives have value and greater proportions of sought to address this, such as Javara vegetables? Did you know that there is a Indonesia, which strives to preserve market for vegan nasi rawon and vegan Indonesia’s food biodiversity through supporting indigenous farmers and food nasi ambeng? This is not to suggest that HBBs selling the conventional array of artisans. We urbanites can do so much more in this regard, whether it be creating high-sugar, high-fat and meat-laden food

14 Jha, P. Are forgotten crops the future of food? BBC. 2018, August 22. Retrieved from: Khalik, S. Malay population the most unhealthy group in Singapore. The Straits Times. 2014, December 21. Retrieved from: 15


Environment, Sustainability and Islam BY SHEIKH MOHAMAD FAROUQ ABDUL FAREEZ

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The groundbreaking Netflix documentary Seaspiracy shocked viewers by exposing the widespread corruption within the global fishing industry. It mainly focused on the harmful impact of industrial fishing on the ecosystem and how people and communities who rely on fish and fishing as a livelihood are affected1. In addition, the documentary highlighted the interconnectedness between humans and the natural world that requires one to see the world as a tapestry of cause and effect. Unfortunately, our modern, urbanised lifestyle has created a hyper-consumerist, hyper-individualistic society that has greatly contributed to this catastrophe, which is antithetical to the religious epistemic. Every religion, including Islam, calls on its followers to responsibly position themselves within this dynamic tapestry to maintain the natural order that is part of God’s cosmic plan. Failure to preserve this order results in imminent chaos and strife. Prominent Muslim thinkers such as Seyyed Hossein Nasr have contributed a lot to developing an Islamic eco-theology drawing extensively from the Islamic tradition to deeply understand modern scientific ecology2. However, the problem with such works is that their theories have largely remained theoretical and without having much influence on the lived realities of Muslim societies and states3. According to the renowned environmentalist Ibrahim Ozdemir, even though many Muslim states bear the brunt of climate change, climate action awareness remains peripheral and staggeringly limited. As a matter of fact, many Muslim countries, according to him, are contributing to the problem4. This article argues that this inaction stems from two factors. First is the reluctance to critically engage with modern concepts of environmentalism due to a climate of suspicion and fear towards the West. Second is the Islamisation phenomenon that hides behind a veneer of ‘Islamicity’ with little care for ethics, and disengaged from the inequities produced by abusive economic systems. This article further


argues that such approaches are counterproductive and will elaborate on the importance of connecting with the larger picture by analysing some of these ideas using Seaspiracy as an example. It will then conclude by outlining three recommendations that Muslims can refer to in addressing major contemporary environmental issues. DEFICIENCY OF MUSLIM CONTRIBUTION Siege mentality According to Fadl, in the age of postcolonialism, Muslims have had to confront social and political realities that have inevitably pushed them to be preoccupied with attempts to remedy a collective feeling of powerlessness by engaging in what he calls a ‘theology of power’5. This theology largely relies on unfounded claims about the particularities of a specific set of values and proceeds to classify it as either ‘Islamic’ or ‘Western’. As a result, this theology engages in a civilisational bifurcation to identify ‘One’ against the ‘Other’. Fadl maintains that this has more to do with one’s anxieties rather than an accurate account of the ‘Other’. By constructing the ‘Other’ as the antithesis, it gives one control within his circle to shape normative beliefs that are seemingly pure, Islamic and devoid of the dangerous Other6. In this case, the Other is the West or the global North. This defensive mode of thinking is disassociated from the Islamic civilisational experience that is rich and diverse7. Unsurprisingly, it reduces Islam to a single facet, which is, power.

engaging with modern environmental concepts. Islamisation What followed from the siege mentality were efforts to make Islam a ‘one-size-fitsall’ solution to every problem. A key factor of this Islamisation phenomenon was the growing attachment of Muslims to Islam which emerged in the late 20th Common Era (CE) that was rooted in the pursuit of power as a response to Western modernity9. What ensued was the total rejection of any systems from the West by creating Islamic alternatives to re-strengthen the wounded Ummatic (or Muslim community) identity. It is during this period that we see the exponential growth of Islamic economic and political systems. Similarly, we see attempts to Islamise environmental concepts by sprinkling Islam on development models as an antidote to our ecological crisis10. However, it is in the interest of this article to argue that such attempts will be counterproductive as it does not engage and critically question the development models forced on both industrialised and more impoverished developing societies. It is not to say that Islamisation efforts are categorically uncritical of Western models that promote consumerism and radical individualism. Still, one can hardly find a deep engagement of these models from within the Islamic tradition in the name of the higher ethical goals such as justice, solidarity and dignity. This ethical commitment is not an outright rejection of these systems to save Muslims only. Instead, it lies in questioning structures related to development projects and models for human flourishing at large. In short, the Islamisation project is simply an effort to Islamise modernity that aims to set up systems that maintain the rationalism of the West clothed in an ‘Islamic’ paradigm. Moreover, efforts that are disengaged from these structures will always remain insular and marginal, which makes them counterproductive.

What prevails is an aggravated siege mentality, which leaves no room for analytical and creative thought, and impoverishes the Islamic intellectual tradition8. Concerning environmentalism, many Muslim countries and societies are reluctant to bow to pressures from Western groups for fear that it is interlinked with the ongoing process of colonialism, inspired by secular Western values that are insensitive to indigenous cultures. Though there is weight to this Why is it important to engage deeply with concern, which we will explain later, it these structures? It allows us to understand should not stop Muslims from critically the philosophical underpinnings objectively

1 See: Seaspiracy. Accessed on 2021, June 4. Available at: 2 See: Nasr, S. Religion & the Order of Nature. New York: Oxford University Press. 1996 Harmala, I. Transformative Islamic Ecology: A Study of Islamic Ecology in Action. 2019, June 13. Retrieved from: 4 Ozdemir, I. What does Islam say about climate change and climate action? 2020, August 12. Retrieved from: 5 El Fadl, K. A. Injustice in God's name: The corruption of modern Islam. ABC. 2012, September 24. Retrieved from: 6 El Fadl, K. A. Which clash? What civilizations? ABC. 2011, May 16. Retrieved from: 7 El Fadl, K. A. Injustice in God's name: The corruption of modern Islam. ABC. 2012, September 24. Retrieved from: 8 Ibid 9 Rosyad, R. A Quest for True Islam: A Study of the Islamic Resurgence Movement among the Youth in Bandung, Indonesia. Canberra: ANU Press. 2006. pp.17-18. Available at: 10 See: Islamic Development Bank. Sustainable Development Goals. Accessed on 2021, June 4. Available at:


without blindly demonising the West. Using Seaspiracy as an example, although it has its advantages which we have briefly highlighted earlier, a deep engagement of the series tells us of a few things that are antithetical to Islam and religion in general, but we will only highlight two. ENVIRONMENTALISM AND EUROCENTRISM White veganism It somewhat alludes to the idea of veganism that intersects with a certain ‘whiteness’. We are not referring to biological traits or geographical location but a particular form of mentality that perpetuates superiority and entitlement that is insensitive towards indigenous cultures and apathetic towards power structures that are causing these inequities in the first place – namely capitalism. Capitalism is a powerful force that influences the production of cultural commodities but also determines who benefits from them11. The fact that documentaries such as Seaspiracy offer no alternatives to the numerous communities across the globe that depend on fishing for survival is problematic. Giving up seafood is a privilege and would not solve the issue. Instead, we should channel our energy on transforming policies to uplift these fishing communities.

and ideologically14. Thus, any Muslim efforts concerning Western development models must first engage with this discourse on a philosophical level to decolonise and re-sacralise man’s relationship with the natural world. Not much will change unless a serious attempt is made to address capitalism and its underlying utilitarian philosophy, equating happiness with material satisfaction. In order to satiate this gratification, it commodifies everything and alters our value system that profits on inequalities and exploitation.

RECOMMENDED APPROACHES Reconnect with our mortality The late German sociologist Zygmunt Bauman (d. 2017) characterised the liquid modern society as constantly pursuing a goal but lacking a clear final destination. Due to this, it compels individuals to consume and turn them into objects of consumption to escape the insecurity and fulfil fleeting satisfaction15. As Muslims, this end goal represents death as the culmination of life. The idea of death would urge us to be good. Unfortunately, today, death is a distanced reality. It is easier for us to forget death and harder for us to be reminded of our mortality. We tend to isolate and conceal death in unfamiliar spaces such as hospitals and hospices16. The historian Richard Bulliet has blamed this on the social shift from domesticity to post-domesticity17. Domesticity refers Uncivilised natives Against this backdrop, it is unsurprising to communities’ social, economic and to see an unfair representation of Asians intellectual characteristics in which its and indigenous communities in the members are in close contact with animals documentary. They are depicted as vicious, other than pets. Unlike a post-domestic uncivilised and requiring a White society where its members live far away man/woman to save them from their from the animals that provide them with ‘backwardness’. Referring to Edward Said's food, they consume them in abundance notion of Orientalism, the West is always yet psychologically feel guilt when they the actor, and the Orient is a passive think about the industrial processes of reactor12. It is a discourse created by the meat industry18. It best describes the European culture and political power that current condition of how we see our meat: forces the world into binaries. According a pound of flesh, tightly packed with its to Arjana, for the longest time, people in calculated worth. We are far removed the global North have thought of from the metaphysical element of the themselves as modern humans and sacrifice to an extent that we fail to everyone else as different or unmodern13. recognise that a life was taken at all. It has This attitude has enabled Europeans to theological implications that need to be control the Orient culturally, politically, discussed further but is beyond the scope of this article19. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

The Quran has underlined our duty to establish and maintain God’s moral and social order to preserve Tawhid 21. Therefore, any effort that supports the well-being of His creations is critical for a Tawhidic society 22. Thus, in the name of Tawhid, we need to ensure that our consumption habits are not causing harm to the environment, and we need to challenge power structures that allow our lands and seas to be exploited.

Arjana, S. R. Buying Buddha, Selling Rumi: Orientalism and the Mystical Marketplace. London: Oneworld Publication. 2020. p. 90 Said, E. Orientalism. New York: Random House. 1979. p. 109 Arjana, S. R. Buying Buddha, Selling Rumi: Orientalism and the Mystical Marketplace. London: Oneworld Publication. 2020. p. 100 Said, E. Orientalism. New York: Random House. 1979. p.120 Bauman, Z. Liquid Modernity. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2000. pp.74-76 Farouq, M. Is Social Responsibility a Religious Duty? 2020, August 10. Retrieved from: Bulliet, R. Hunters, Herders, and Hamburgers: The Past and Future of Human-Animal Relationships. New York: Columbia University Press. 2007. pp. 22-25 Ibid, p.177 Nguyen, M. Modern Muslim Theology. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. 2018. pp. 30-33

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Ethical consumption based on the Purpose of Creation (Maqasid Al-Khalq) Our relationship with the natural world is not human-centric, where humans are at the top of the food chain and everything else is subservient. But the Quranic vision of man’s position in the natural world is a symbiotic relationship, in harmony with nature. According to Al-Raghib Al-Isfahani (d. 502), this Quranic vision outlines three main tasks that inform how a man should act and behave ethically20: i. Cultivation of the earth (‘imãrat al-ard) to benefit man and the environment. There is an element of reciprocity. One of the pioneers of environmental ethics, Aldo Leopold, coined the term ‘land ethic’ in which we have to respect the land and protect it from being exploited. ii. Acting as a vicegerent or trustee on earth (khilãfa) with a vicegerental vision that is theocentric not anthropocentric. iii. Religious obligations and rituals (‘ibãda).

of life, are thoroughly dependent on the integrity of the environment23. Thus concepts such as sustainable development must be critically analysed to ensure that it promotes the common good of humankind and the environment. Perhaps moving forward, what is required is an interdisciplinary approach to the environment that brings together Muslim scholars, food scientists and experts working on theoretical and practical frameworks to solve contemporary food issues, food safety, sustainability, security, fair trade, alternative farming and modern technologies that can help to build a better future24. In short, we need a transformative Islamic ecology that combines fields such as Islamic eco-theology, political ecology, behavioural sciences and social sciences. It is vastly different from a literalist theology of the environment that is apathetic towards modern scientific ecology.25

These alternative ecologically-minded solutions and methods must challenge the deadly confluence of capitalism and consumerism that has made sustainable development a reality for the rich but Thus, the closer one gets to fulfilling these remains an unfulfilled dream for the poor tasks, the more moral one becomes. and marginalised. An Islam that uses Success (falah) is interlinked with the human agency not to usher in exploitation, fulfilment of these tasks. Furthermore, but to make goodness a reality for all, as Muslims, we need to rethink our is the culmination of human dignity and relationship with the environment flourishing. through a Tawhidic (or Oneness of God) paradigm. Tawhid is not just an abstract concept but is also a guide for social action. Sheikh Mohamad The Quran has underlined our duty to Farouq Abdul Fa reez is a Research An alyst at the Centr establish and maintain God's moral and e for Re search on Islamic 21 and Malay Affairs social order to preserve Tawhid . Therefore, (RIMA). He holds a Master’s degre e in any effort that supports the well-being of Islamic Thought and Applied Ethics . His area of interest inv His creations is critical for a Tawhidic olves issues conc erning religion, human society22. Thus, in the name of Tawhid, development and ethics. we need to ensure that our consumption habits are not causing harm to the environment, and we need to challenge power structures that allow our lands and seas to be exploited. Interdisciplinary thinking The economist Amartya Sen argues that development cannot be divorced from ecological and environmental concerns. He further adds that essential components of human freedom, including the quality Mohamed, Y. The Path To Virtue: The Ethical Philosophy Of Al-Rāghib Al-Isfahānī. Kuala Lumpur: International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization. 2006. pp. 105-139 21 Quran, 4:135. 22 Farouq, M. Is Social Responsibility a Religious Duty? 2020, August 10. Retrieved from: 23 Sen, A. Sustainable Development and Our Responsibilities. 2010. Accessed on 2021, June 7. Available at: 24 Schatzschneider, I. Food Ethics and Islam. Research Center for Islamic Legislation and Ethics. 2012, August 29. Retrieved from: Harmala, I. Transformative Islamic Ecology: A Study of Islamic Ecology in Action. 2019, June 13. Retrieved from: 20




Muslim estates in Singapore are regulated under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA). Section 121 of the Act stipulates that estates belonging to Muslims domiciled in Singapore and died intestate (without will) shall be administered in accordance to Islamic law of inheritance (Faraid). Under this condition, the eligible heirs to the estates and their shares would depend on the inheritance certificate issued by the Syariah Court of Singapore. The exact share of each heir varies depending on the actual composition of heirs. After the fraction of shares for heirs has been allocated, the balance will be distributed among the children where sons would be given double the share of daughters. For example, if the balance is SGD100,000 and the deceased leaves behind one son and three daughters, it would be divided into five shares; the son would inherit SGD40,000 (2 shares) and each daughter would inherit SGD20,000 (1 share each). This situation has become an issue among parents who wish to distribute the estate to their children equally – is this permissible under the shari’ah or does the shari’ah provide a solution to the issue? This article seeks to provide a positive answer to the question and the way it could be done in accordance with the shari’ah, without being prejudiced against Muslims who choose the Faraid option. This article is premised on the opinion that allocating equal share of estates among children, regardless of gender, is permissible as long as it is done through proper instruments and meet the necessary conditions approved by the shari’ah. Also, there is no evidence (dalil) that explicitly prohibits such practice. MISUNDERSTANDING OF ISLAMIC INHERITANCE LAW The first misunderstanding is the idea that the law of Faraid is the only way of distributing Muslim’s estate. The truth is that Faraid is not the only way in the shari’ah for Muslims to administer their estate. The shari’ah provides many other instruments such as hibah (gift) and waqf (endowment) for the purpose of estate distribution. Each could be utilised individually or by combination with

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Faraid, as long as it meets the conditions of CASE EXAMPLE An example is a Muslim father who has each instrument. three children. One of them is a daughter with Down’s Syndrome and the other two Faraid is the default way of estate distribution when a Muslim dies without sons are a lawyer and an accountant. a will that stipulates the use of other Both sons are successful career persons instruments so as to prevent conflict among eligible heirs and to ensure justice and are thus, living comfortably. In view of this, the father intends to leave behind for all. for the daughter a greater share of his estate than what the Faraid stipulates to This is also the position that could be secure her welfare and so that she would implied from AMLA that stipulates that not become a financial burden to other the distribution of a Muslim’s estate has family members. to be in accordance with “Muslim law”, which carries a wider meaning than Faraid. Such an intention is noble and a rational thing to do. It should also not be The second misunderstanding is that misconstrued as a challenge to divine Muslims are not allowed to deviate from law or a doubt on divine wisdom in the the fraction that has been stipulated by shari’ah. While Muslims must believe that Faraid for each heir’s share. This is based in general all divine laws are just and good on the understanding that allocated fractions have been fixed in the Quran and for Man, reality informs that a law may not result in the best outcome when applied to by the Prophet (peace be upon him), and a specific context. It is for this reason that Man has no power to adjust them according to situations or their wishes. To the shari’ah also provides and allows for do so is equal to changing God’s law. Also, rukhsah (deviation from original rule) as exceptions in order to accommodate to what has been stipulated by Faraid is special situations such as the above. definitely just because it is decreed by Allah who is Most Just, Knowledgeable The father in the above scenario may and Wise. None is more knowledgeable than Allah Ta’ala on what is good and just consider steps that will be illustrated below. for Man. Thus, Muslims are expected to surrender and obey only Allah’s decree on Step 1: By consent of all eligible heirs Muslim estates can be disbursed to all the matter. There is no need to think and children equally when all eligible heirs consider other possible options, except consent to the arrangement, despite the when a Muslim is considering part of his stipulation in the inheritance certificate estate to be disbursed to parties who are issued by the Syariah Court. not the eligible heirs by way of will. This has been mentioned in a fatwa by the Fatwa Committee published in Kumpulan Fatwa 3 in 1998. The fatwa states that the distribution of Muslim estate must be This can be seen from various instruments done in accordance to Faraid. Each eligible heir must know his rightful share. However, other than Faraid in fiqh traditions for the purpose of estate distribution. In fact, it is permissible to distribute the estate equally to all the heirs provided they Islam encourages Muslims to have an voluntarily agree on such an agreement active attitude, not passive, in matters of (Question 50, p. 33). estate planning, to ensure that justice, being an important objective of the shari’ah, is fulfilled for all relevant parties. Although the fatwa clearly allows for equal share for all children, it could also be used for allowing greater share for the This can be deduced from the fact that Islam encourages Muslims to ensure that daughter with special needs based on the spirit of the example shown above. they leave behind a will before death and to always renew it in accordance to situations because, in the absence of such a This is the best approach for the above will, Faraid would be the default instrument. scenario because it is decided consultatively and with mutual consent of all eligible However, this may not provide the best heirs in order to waive the Faraid stipulation. result for a specific situation. The truth is Islam empowers Man with multiple options for estate planning, be it for eligible heirs or others.


This could be achieved in two ways: Firstly, the father should secure consent of all eligible heirs before writing his will. While writing the will, the father may include the consent of the heirs as proof in the future. A lawyer’s advice is necessary to draft the will that would bind all parties. Secondly, the father may not leave behind a will but the eligible heirs themselves decide to waive the Faraid stipulation and mutually agree on equal shares. If an heir could not agree with an alternative arrangement to the Faraid stipulation, he cannot be forced to waive his rightful share in the inheritance certificate. His share should be deducted from the share and the balance could be distributed in accordance to any arrangement agreed upon by other heirs. In a situation where a consultation cannot produce a consensual arrangement for the estate distribution, the father could then consider the steps below. Step 2: By wasiyat nazariyah Wasiyat nazariyah is a will that contains a nazar (vow) on the part of the testator that he bequeaths his estate to all his children on equal shares effectively from three days or an hour before his death. Wasiyat nazariyah is valid as stipulated in a fatwa in Kumpulan Fatwa 3 (Question 42 – 44, pp. 28-9). Its application could also be seen in a fatwa on joint tenancy property issued in 2008. However, a caution must be made to any Muslim who wishes to use this instrument because of the Singapore High Court’s decision in Mohamed Ismail bin Ibrahim and others vs Mohammad Taha bin Ibrahim (2004, 4 SLR 756-783). In this case, the court ruled that wasiyat nazariyah is void and could not be executed when it was challenged by an heir who argued that the contested estate should be distributed in accordance with the inheritance certificate issued by the Syariah Court. Thus, the use of this instrument is risky when there is a potential that it may be challenged in court by any aggrieved party.

Advice from asatizah and lawyer is therefore needed in drafting wasiyat nazariyah to ensure that it fulfils the necessary conditions in the shari’ah and law.

The steps could also be used for distributing estate to non-eligible heirs such as adopted children, children born out of wedlock or other parties (i.e. charitable organisations or endowments).

Otherwise, the next step could be another option.

This article began by stating that the use of instruments as an alternative to Faraid stipulation is not prejudiced to the Step 3: By hibah ruqba intention of a person who wishes to utilise Hibah ruqba is a gift that is executed via a them. Admittedly, the instruments could will. A testator can stipulate in the will also be used for unscrupulous purposes that he is giving his estates to all his children equally upon his death. However, such as to unjustly favour an heir above the rest and to cause injustices to others. the ownership of the gifted estate/share For this reason, the article would close will return to the testator if any of the with a reminder that any person who receivers dies before him and, thus, it could not be distributed as an estate to the wishes to utilise the mentioned instruments in order to deviate from Faraid stipulation deceased’s heirs. should only do it with pure intentions Hibah ruqba has been an instrument used and to be conscious that Allah is for the transfer of property ownership for All-Knowing. To Him, we shall all return some time in the Islamic finance industry. and be accountable for every single deed we make in this life. Its use has been recognised by the Fatwa Committee for the transfer of ownership Prudence therefore, needs to be exercised. of joint tenancy property from a dead This requires the seeking of advice from tenant to a surviving partner and for transfer of CPF money through nomination learned asatizah with experiences in estate planning and lawyers in order to provide from an account holder to nominee. the necessary checks and balances before the final decision is made. It must be cautioned that the use of this instrument is not risk-free from legal challenge in the court on the basis that it This article was adapted from the original contradicts the inheritance certificate’s stipulation. However, there is no precedent Malay article titled, “Boleh bahagi harta sama binding yet that rules hibah ruqba is legally rata kepada anak lelaki, perempuan dalam Islam?” first published by Berita Mediacorp, void, unlike wasiyat nazariyah. on 8 January 2018, at Thus, it is advised that consultation with commentary/komentar- boleh-bahagi-hartaasatizah and lawyer is critical to ensure sama-rata-kepada-anak-lelaki/3929638.html. the validity of the will under the shari’ah and law. CLOSING REMARK The article has been focusing on an equal share of estate for Muslim children when there is a mixture of sons and daughter. This is because an unequal share in Faraid only occurs when the children are composed of different genders. When the children are of the same gender, Faraid provides them with equal shares.

The truth is that Faraid is not the only way in the shari’ah for Muslims to administer their estate. The shari’ah provides many other instruments such as hibah (gift) and waqf (endowment) for the purpose of estate distribution. Each could be utilised individually or by combination with Faraid, as long as it meets the conditions of each instrument.

san Haniff Has uhammad nam School of M r D az Ust ajarat w at S. R anyang is a Fello Studies, N Singapore. al n io at , ty si Intern er iv ical Un Technolog

Although the article focuses on equal share of estate among children, the abovementioned steps could also be used for other arrangements, i.e. unequal share among children based on needs recognised by the shari’ah.

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The Benefits and Pitfalls of ‘Slacktivism’ BY AHMAD ABDULLAH


It is a familiar enough situation to many who spend enough time online (which is probably too many of us). A controversy or conflict arises and within days, hashtags are created, profile pictures are changed and statuses are updated to ‘bring awareness’ to a cause. With much of human communication happening over the internet over the past couple of decades, it is only natural that activism too has moved into the online space. Yet such form of raising awareness has often been described pejoratively as ‘slacktivism’ or ‘clicktivism’ - a ‘lazy’ form of activism that asks little of its participants and affects little change in the real world. But is this a fair assessment of social media activism? Slacktivism – a portmanteau of the words ‘slacker’ and ‘activism’ – purports to show support and raise awareness for any number of causes. The criticism of such so-called slacktivism comes from it being low-risk activism, requiring little to no sacrifice on the part of the participant, and with acts such as likes and retweets having little influence in influencing policymakers or alleviating crisis situations. In a 2010 article for The New Yorker titled Small Change, author Malcolm Gladwell – paraphrasing the poet Gil Scott-Heron – wrote that the “revolution will not be tweeted”, arguing that the low-risk nature of slacktivism meant it had little impact 1.

The use of social media to raise awareness for causes goes back more than a decade. In the early 2010s, it was credited with helping to organise movements as varied as Occupy Wall Street in the United States, and the Arab Spring in the Middle East. Through the #MeToo movement – which gained ground in 2017, following sexual abuse allegations against film producer Harvey Weinstein – social media has also helped amplify the calls against sexual harassment and sexual assault. Closer to home, Monica Baey helped kickstart a national debate on sexual harassment in 2019 by sharing her own experience with a voyeur as a National University of Singapore undergraduate on her Instagram account. A year later, the backlash against misogynistic content on popular local podcast OKLETSGO – which also drew condemnation from political leaders as well as President Halimah Yacob – began on another social media platform, Twitter. Social media has also been credited with reshaping the conversation around Israel and Palestine, allowing the four billion people who use social media a closer look at the conflict. In May this year, Palestinians living in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of disputed East Jerusalem were able to share videos of themselves getting evicted from their homes to billions of Facebook and Instagram users.

This led to actress and Academy Award winner Viola Davis sharing a post by Instagram account @soyouwanttotalkabout Even humanitarian organisations jumped – which posts bite-sized infographic in on the criticism, with non-profit breakdowns of trending topics – explaining organisation Crisis Relief Singapore the situation in Sheikh Jarrah. Davis’ post running an advertising campaign in 2014 was in turn shared by fellow actress and called Liking Isn’t Helping – in reference to Oscar winner Natalie Portman – who herself viral hoax posts popular on Facebook at holds dual Israeli-American citizenship – the time that claimed ‘liking’ or sharing in her Instagram Stories. Both women have such posts would result in money being more than seven million followers on donated to help those in need, at no their respective Instagram accounts. expense to the social media user. In the most recent round of Israeli airstrikes, Despite this however, the real-life evidence Palestinians living in Gaza also shared suggests otherwise, with numerous videos of life while they were under examples of social media being used to try bombardment on platforms such as to create social change. TikTok and Instagram.

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A New York Times article in May, titled ‘Social Media Is the Mass Protest’: Solidarity With Palestinians Grows Online, quoted pro-Palestinian activists describing social media as the new “mass protest”, allowing them to present their cause unencumbered by traditional media outlets – including the New York Times itself – which they said had long sidelined their views 2. Speaking to new media outfit Vox, Michael Bröning, executive director of German think tank Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung’s New York office, described the current situation as a ‘TikTok Intifada’ – referring to the term used for previous Palestinian uprisings 3. In a paper for the journal Science last year, Deen Freelon and others from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill argue that digital media is critical for modern activism 4. Even low-effort clicktivism, based on status updates and retweets, is politically consequential, said Freelon, an associate professor with the Hussman School of Journalism and Media. In fact, according to him, it supports offline ‘real world’ activism by putting the spotlight on otherwise little-known movements. Social media’s global reach has also helped build bridges between otherwise disparate movements in different parts of the world, as could be seen a few years back when Palestinians tweeted advice to Black Lives Matters protestors on how to cope with tear gas. WHERE SOCIAL MEDIA FALLS SHORT Yet for all its positive impact in trying to effect social change, social media campaigns have also been criticised for its shortcomings in doing so, oversimplifying complex issues and spreading misinformation. Kony 2012 was an early example of a social media activism campaign, with its half-hour long video documentary going viral and garnering 120 million views, becoming the most watched video on YouTube ever at the time.

Gladwell, M. Small Change - Why the revolution will not be tweeted. The New Yorker. 2010, September 27. Retrieved from: Yee, V., and El-Naggar, M. ‘Social Media Is the Mass Protest’: Solidarity With Palestinians Grows Online. The New York Times. 2021, May 20. Retrieved from: Ward, A. The “TikTok intifada”. Vox. 2021, May 20. Retrieved from: Freelon, D., Marwick, A., and Kreiss, D. False equivalencies: Online activism from left to right. Science, Vol. 369, Issue 6508. 2020, September 4. Available at:

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The campaign had the stated goal of bringing Ugandan warlord and cult leader Joseph Kony, who had forcibly recruited child soldiers into his militia, arrested. Receiving the attention of celebrities ranging from singer Rihanna to billionaire technopreneur Bill Gates, Kony 2012 was however criticised for oversimplifying the situation around Kony, as well as failing to achieve its objective of having the indicted war criminal arrested by the end of 2012. Social media has also been blamed for the spreading of anti-vaccination misinformation, as well as being a catalyst for the growth of far-right extremism.

A spokesperson for Facebook later apologised and said the problem had been fixed, adding that the Silicon Valley-based company had never intended to deliberately “silence a particular community or point of view” 7. SOCIAL MEDIA AND SOCIAL AWARENESS So, can social media platforms be used for social change? Or, more importantly, should they be used for such purposes?

The evidence would seem to suggest that they already have shown their potential to act as a positive agent of social change, in tandem with more traditional methods of activism. In an age where so much of According to a report by British non-profit human communication happens on the organisation Centre for Countering Digital internet, it seems absurd that social Hate (CCDH) last year, as many as 31 awareness would not also go online. This, million people follow anti-vaccination however, comes with the caveat that the groups on Facebook, while 17 million use of social media is not without its people subscribe to ‘anti-vaxx’ accounts drawbacks, given the dependency of on video streaming site YouTube 5. relying on the use of a profit-driven platform to highlight what are often non-profitable causes. Last year, CCDH also published a report entitled Hatebook: Facebook’s neo-Nazi Yet, the use of the internet to raise shopfronts funding far-right extremism, awareness for pet causes can also come accusing Facebook and Instagram of with a dark side. A 2013 study of more hosting accounts selling neo-Nazi merchandise to fund far-right extremism, than 70 million posts on Chinese social media platform Weibo by Beihang adding that the social network had University found anger to be the most ignored intelligence pointing to far-right common emotion online, far ahead of networks operating on its platforms 6. other feelings such as joy or sadness 8. Critics also alleged that the billion-dollar companies behind social media platforms – But how does this relate to the use of social media to generate social awareness? Facebook, Inc. which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp made about I believe that our zeal for certain causes US$86 billion in 2020 – have acted to silence content relating to specific causes. should not translate into merely internet outrage – full of sound and fury, signifying More than 30 human rights organisations nothing, as Shakespeare would put it. claimed that Facebook had censored The medium is the message, as Canadian pro-Palestinian content during the most recent incidents of conflict between Israel philosopher Marshall McLuhan would put it, and the tendency is for social media – and Palestinians. They called for greater transparency over the social media giant’s experienced from behind the screen of a laptop, tablet or mobile phone – to flatten links to the Israeli authorities, writing an out the nuances that would be more open letter to Facebook chief operating obvious in a real world setting and present officer Sheryl Sandberg as part of a campaign called Facebook, We Need to Talk. what are often one-sided views as the Truth. In the application of social media as an avenue of social change, we should try to go beyond that.

Ahmad Abdullah holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Goldsmiths, University of London. He is a part-time writer.

Centre for Countering Digital Hate. The Anti-Vaxx Industry - How Big Tech powers and profits from anti-vaccine misinformation. 2020. Available at: 6 Centre for Countering Digital Hate. Hatebook - Facebook’s neo-Nazi shopfronts funding far-right extremism. 2020. Available at: Paul, K. Facebook under fire as human rights groups claim ‘censorship’ of pro-Palestine posts. The Guardian. 2021, May 26. Retrieved from: 8 Hogenboom, M. Online anger 'spreads faster than joy' on Weibo. BBC. 2013, September 20. Retrieved from: 5


In bringing social awareness to the virtual realm, we should keep an eye on its real-world implications. This means appreciating the complexities behind certain issues, and seeing situations in shades of grey, rather than in black and white.




will affect the morale and productivity of the organisation and risk damaging its reputation. Building a respectful and harassmentfree workplace is a shared responsibility of employers and individuals in the workplace.

or other physical contact, but it can also be non-physical in nature. For example, verbal harassment using threats, abusive or insulting language and making gestures can be considered harassment.

Victims of harassment need not be directly subjected to harassment – if they indirectly experience an uncomfortable or hostile working environment such as In this article, we will explore how this responsibility remains key regardless of a overhearing a co-worker making sexist or inappropriate comments directed at physical or virtual work environment. another person and feel distressed, they WHAT IS WORKPLACE HARASSMENT? can report this behaviour. Workplace harassment can occur when one party at the workplace demonstrates Workplace harassment is also not confined to the office. It can happen Companies are increasingly adopting a behaviour that causes or is likely to during business trips, at a client’s office zero-tolerance stance towards workplace cause harassment, alarm or distress to and through online platforms, and harassment, recognising that it is their another party. Such behaviour can can take place during or outside of duty to provide a safe and conducive work violate a person’s dignity or create an working hours. As working virtually environment that allows individuals to unfavourable work environment for becomes the norm, disrespectful and bring their whole selves to work and carry him/her, which poses a risk to the unprofessional behaviours which happen out their work productively. person’s safety and health1. at the physical workplace can also happen in a virtual setting. Workplaces that allow disrespectful Harassment can occur in various forms. and unprofessional behaviours to persist In some instances, it may involve touching


Ministry of Manpower. Tripartite Advisory on Managing Workplace Harassment. 2015, December 8. Available at:

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Video calls or messages on online platforms such as Microsoft Teams and Skype can be just as inappropriate or toxic if co-workers continue to be verbally abusive and disrespectful. While we often associate cyberbullying (i.e. bullying that takes place online) with children and teenagers, it can happen to any one of us at the workplace. It includes sending offensive messages, circulating degrading images of others and spreading rumours. This can happen through emails and work-related group chats on social media platforms (e.g. WhatsApp) that were originally created to facilitate work communication with remote teams. If these chats are not managed properly, they can act as virtual meeting points for gossiping and sharing of inappropriate content. Doxxing, a form of cyberbullying, can happen too when an individual publishes someone’s personal information with the intention to harass them (e.g. posting a co-worker’s or client’s photo, contact and employment details accompanied by denigrative and lewd captions). Another form of harassment that can happen in a virtual setting is cyberstalking. Individuals being stalked online may receive repeated nuisance emails, calls or text messages from a co-worker, and this can extend to social media platforms when a co-worker adds you as a friend (e.g. on Facebook), follows every post you make and leaves inappropriate comments. HOW CAN WE BE ACCOUNTABLE FOR OUR BEHAVIOUR AND AVOID BEING DISRESPECTFUL? More often than not, we do not have the intention to harm others with our behaviours. However, as unique individuals, we interpret things differently from one another and may unintentionally offend others with our comments or actions. A joke or a remark that one finds humorous or harmless can be offensive and humiliating to others, and all of us should be more conscious


Workplace harassment is also not confined to the office. It can happen during business trips, at a client’s office and through online platforms, and can take place during or outside of working hours. As working virtually becomes the norm, disrespectful and unprofessional behaviours which happen at the physical workplace can also happen in a virtual setting.

of the tolerance or acceptability of our remarks by co-workers. To be more mindful of one’s behaviour and avoid any unintended disrespectful behaviours, you could practise perspectivetaking by asking the following questions: •

How would others perceive my words and actions?

How would I feel if I were at the receiving end of this behaviour?

Would I use the same words or carry out the same act on my loved ones?

Would I want my loved ones to be subject to the same behaviour?

This helps to guide our behaviours and prevent any potential misunderstanding and unhappiness that can happen. The transition to working from home has also led to a blurring of professional and personal lives. Individuals working from home should demonstrate the same level of professionalism as you would in the office. To avoid potentially awkward or inappropriate moments and prevent any misunderstandings, practise good video call etiquette such as wearing workappropriate clothing and ensuring that the background is appropriate and uncluttered when conducting a video call. WHAT EMPLOYERS AND HR CAN DO TO PREVENT WORKPLACE HARASSMENT Employers and HR professionals among us can do our part to provide a safe and conducive work environment by: •

Implementing and enforcing an anti-harassment policy to provide employees with information and procedures on preventing and handling workplace harassment. As work-from-home and remote teams become prevalent, ensure your policies cover conduct beyond the physical workplace and include digital channels as well.

Fostering a safe and conducive organisational culture that enables building a respectful and harassment-free workplace. Consider the following: –

Does your organisation culture condone sexist jokes and remarks?

Is the management using degrading words to describe employees?

Training leaders to be more self-aware and communicate appropriately in different scenarios, so they can model desired behaviours and call out any unprofessional conduct. For example, instead of yelling at or making disparaging remarks at employees with sub-par performance, train managers to better communicate their expectations and coach employees to meet these expectations.

Providing opportunities for employees to increase understanding and interaction with each other. Poor workplace relationships could be a risk factor for negative behaviours such as bullying or cyberbullying and the lack of understanding among a diverse group of employees could also lead to misunderstanding and perceived harassment.

WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE BEING HARASSED A common misconception is that harassers will lose interest if they are being ignored. If harassment is not addressed, perpetrators can become more persistent leading to worse behaviours or escalate their behaviour with more co-workers over time. Whether harassment happens in a physical or virtual workplace, as an employee or self-employed individual working for your client, seek help immediately by reporting the incident to your supervisor, HR personnel or someone in the management team, so that they can intervene promptly to safeguard your safety and well-being. If external parties are preferred, you could: •

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File a report 2 with Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (TAFEP) or contact TAFEP Workplace Harassment Resource and Recourse Centre at 6838 0969 for advice on possible actions that you can take.

Make a police report for possible violations under the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) 3. Anyone who faces harassment can report the harasser and will be protected by the POHA which provides a range of civil remedies and criminal sanctions for the victim.

Here are some tips for you to protect yourself and stay away from potential harassment situations:

• •

seeking help from management or security personnel. Everyone in the workplace has a role to play in building a safe and conducive work environment. If you are experiencing or know of anyone experiencing harassment at the workplace, contact the TAFEP Workplace Harassment Resource and Recourse Centre and talk to us. If you need additional resources on workplace harassment, visit

Be familiar with workplace harassmentrelated procedures in your organisation and report potential cases to your management immediately.

Note: If you were dismissed or terminated due to the harassment or your reporting of harassment to the management or authority, you can make an appeal 4 to the Ministry of Manpower and file a wrongful Show confidence in your body language dismissal claim at the Tripartite Alliance so you do not appear vulnerable. for Dispute Management 5. Keep a distance from individuals who display unacceptable behaviours. If this is not possible, for instance, in the virtual workplace as you are unable to simply ‘walk away’, you could: –

Tell the harasser assertively to stop his or her unreasonable or unprofessional behaviour.

Warn the harasser that you will report the incident to a higher authority or to the management.

Disengage the call or leave the chat if the harasser continues with his or her disrespectful behaviours.

Adopt a buddy system and avoid having one-to-one conversations with the harasser.

Document and keep a recording of evidence (e.g. screenshots of messages, emails or audio recordings).

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employme nt Practices (TAFEP) helps employers build workplaces where employees are respec ted, valued and able to achieve their fullest potential, for the success of the organis ation. Employers can approach TAFEP for tools, resource materials and assistance to implement fair and progressive pra ctices at their workplaces. Employee s or individuals who encounter workpl ace discrimination or harassment can see k assistance and advice from TAFEP. For more resources and events from TAFEP, visit .

WHAT TO DO IF YOU WITNESS WORKPLACE HARASSMENT Without compromising your safety, you could try to stop it by calling out the undesirable behaviour, and alerting and

See: TAFEP. Contact Us. Available at: See: Singapore Statutes Online. Protection from Harassment Act. Available at: Ministry of Manpower. File a wrongful dismissal claim. Available at: See: Tripartite Alliance for Dispute Management. Mediation and advice for managing employment or payment-related disputes. Available at:

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Losing it All: S T O R IE S O F


Bankruptcy is not something many would consider as a solution when faced with a challenging financial situation. Along with it comes a host of negative clauses. And because few people see it coming, the people who become bankrupt rarely understand what they are subjected to and lose hope or do not know how to get out of it. BANKRUPTCY IN SINGAPORE According to Singapore’s Ministry of Law (MinLaw), bankruptcy is a process where a debtor is publicly recognised to be unable to pay the debts he owes. It is a legal status, declared by the High Court, of an individual who cannot repay debts of greater than $15,0001.

bankrupt’s affairs is often handled by a trustee, who can either be an Official Assignee (OA) or a Private Trustee-inBankruptcy (PTIB). The trustee’s duties include acting as the receiver of the bankrupt’s estate, investigating the conduct and affairs of the bankrupt, recovering and realising the bankrupt’s assets for distribution to the bankrupt’s creditors, and assisting the bankrupt in obtaining a discharge from bankruptcy. Bankruptcy or personal insolvency should be the last resort after exhausting all other avenues as it has far-reaching effects in many areas of one’s life.

assistance to clients who are in debt. Fadhilah shared that there are several restrictions imposed on bankrupts. “A bankrupt for instance, cannot leave Singapore without the OA’s permission. They are also not allowed to borrow more than $1,000 without informing the lender that they are bankrupt and are restricted from participating in the management of a business or to act as the director of a company without the permission of the OA or the High Court,” Fadhilah shared.

WHY WOULD ANYONE APPLY FOR BANKRUPTCY? In 2020, there were 2,833 bankruptcy The Karyawan team spoke to Nur Fadhilah applications and a further 965 bankruptcy orders in Singapore. From the start of 2021 Abu Hassan, a Senior Case Officer at the Debt Advisory Centre of AMP Singapore. to April, there were 1,046 bankruptcy A bankruptcy application can be filed applications and 254 bankruptcy orders A huge part of her work involves by either the debtor or a creditor. Once made2. Indeed, being an undischarged adjudged bankrupt, administration of the providing advisory services and


1 See: Ministry of Law. Who is the Official Assignee? Available at: Ministry of Law. Number of Bankruptcy Applications, Orders Made and Discharges. 2021, April. Retrieved from:


bankrupt can be very disruptive to one’s lifestyle, yet, there are many who opt to file for bankruptcy. Why is this so? We spoke to three people about why they declared bankruptcy, their experiences as bankrupts, and the impact it had on their lives. Rafi (not his real name), a 43-year-old safety officer, recently filed for bankruptcy over a $93,000 debt from credit cards and moneylenders. He had bills piled up from years ago that he could not pay off. Rafi finally sank into a quicksand of debt when his renovation business bottomed out. “I was struggling with debt for a few years. I had a few (credit) cards back then. My ex-wife spent a lot with my credit cards. I intended to pay but over time, the debt accumulated. The banks were chasing me for so many years. I paid once then I ignored them. I was still young back then, so I didn’t take it seriously. I took new loans to pay off old loans. I even borrowed money from licensed moneylenders. Recently, I took a $20,000 loan to start a renovation company, with hopes that it will prosper and recover myself. However, that failed too, and I ended up with no other choice but to file for bankruptcy,” Rafi shared. When asked why he filed for bankruptcy, Rafi shared that a bankrupt will see a lower payback amount in comparison to their present debts, because the amount needed to pay back monthly will be calibrated according to their income. Legal action from creditors will also cease as long as the debts were incurred before their bankruptcy. “I sought help from professional advisors and decided that bankruptcy was the best choice for me. After submitting my Statement of Affairs and discussing my monthly contribution plan with the OA, my target amount was reduced to about $24,000 instead of $93,000, which means I will only have to pay about $480 monthly for the next five years,” Rafi shared.


We also spoke to Ali (not his real name), now 52, and working as a part-time security officer. Saddled with a $80,000 debt at quite a young age, Ali was declared a bankrupt in 1998 over debt accumulated from three credit cards. “I was about 28 when I declared bankruptcy. I was working as a safety supervisor in the construction industry at that time. I had a few credit cards and overused them. I applied for a loan to buy cars among many other things. Eventually, my debt became uncontrollable. I was young and was enjoying life at that age, so I did not think about the consequences,” Ali shared. THE STRUGGLES OF BEING A BANKRUPT According to Ali and Rafi, the label of being a bankrupt is hard to shake especially when it comes to applying for jobs. According to them, bankruptcy can make it difficult to find employment given that many employers will disqualify a candidate with a bankruptcy filing found from a background check. “Of course, there are both pros and cons when considering filing for bankruptcy. I am at a disadvantage when it comes to job applications. I had to decline all the good job offers that came my way. I was deeply affected especially after turning down a particular company that I’d always wanted to work with because I had to declare my financial situation,” Rafi said. “I do not think the requirement for us to declare our bankrupt status when applying for work is fair as it affects the job application process. Why would someone want to hire a bankrupt? Employers need the best person. I feel that we are associated with rubbish,” Ali explained. According to Singapore Legal Advice, bankruptcy and insolvency search can be conducted by anyone, including employers, employees, investors and creditors3. Employers, for instance, may

Rafi shared that a bankrupt will see a lower payback amount in comparison to their present debts, because the amount needed to pay back monthly will be calibrated according to their income. Legal action from creditors will also cease as long as the debts were incurred before their bankruptcy.

want to conduct a bankruptcy search on a job applicant to be able to make an informed decision on whether to hire them and for which position, especially if it entails considerable financial risks. Aside from the job application process, Ali also shared that life as a bankrupt is extremely restrictive with officers keeping a close look at his expenses, especially anything deemed luxurious, including taking taxi rides over public transport. Ali added that his assets were also seized and liquidated to pay his creditors back. He shared that almost everything he owned was taken from him. “My car was repossessed, along with all my belongings in the car. I still had to pay the outstanding car loan by the way. They came to my house and tagged a

Singapore Legal Advice. Bankruptcy/Insolvency Searches for Singapore Individuals & Companies. 2020, October 22. Retrieved from:

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According to Singapore Legal Advice, bankruptcy and insolvency search can be conducted by anyone, including employers, employees, investors and creditors3. Employers, for instance, may want to conduct a bankruptcy search on a job applicant to be able to make an informed decision on whether to hire them and for which position, especially if it entails considerable financial risks.

price on almost all my furniture. The karung guni man came and bought my belongings at a very cheap price. Even then, that does not pay off my debt. I felt like it was just a process to disgrace me. They took everything, including my bed. The broom and dustpan were (the only things) left in my home,” Ali shared.


We also spoke to Aida (not her real name), aged 57, who is currently working in a childcare centre. Aida was declared bankrupt in 2006 after owing her creditors debts amounting to $60,000. She was initially besieged by demand letters which she attempted to honour. However, she was not able to continue to pay and failed to comply with the statutory demand to pay her debt for at least a month, and was eventually issued a letter to go to court and declare bankruptcy. Like Rafi and Ali, Aida too faced many challenges in her day-to-day life. “I had to close down my company. I had to return my credit card to the bank. It affected my monthly income. My ex-husband and I had to take up parttime jobs in order to pay our debts,” Aida shared. DISCHARGED FROM BANKRUPTCY Aida, who now holds a stable job, shared that her experience taught her many lessons including not to be a guarantor for anyone, including family members. Aida was legally bankrupt for ten years before getting discharged in 2016. Similarly, Ali has also been discharged from bankruptcy in 2018, after 20 years mired in bankruptcy. He shared that the extension was probably due to him defaulting on his monthly contributions. “My monthly contribution was set to $150 initially and was raised to $300 because

I had a better pay. It was too heavy for me as I had four dependants. I resorted to gambling in an attempt to pay off the debt, but I kept losing, causing me to be in deeper debt. There were many other problems during that time that led me to skip my monthly payment, which probably led to the extension of my bankruptcy (period). After 19 years, I finally told myself that I must change. I appealed for a lower monthly contribution which was approved, and I have honoured the payment (schedule) since then. I eventually got discharged in 2018,” Ali shared. Under the differentiated discharge framework, first-time bankrupts will generally be eligible for discharge in five to seven years while repeat bankrupts will generally be eligible for discharge in seven to nine years6. In deciding whether to issue a Certificate of Discharge to the bankrupt, the OA will take into consideration factors such as the bankrupt’s general conduct in bankruptcy and the level of the bankrupt’s co-operation in the administration of the bankruptcy estate7. According to MinLaw, there is no automatic discharge from bankruptcy in Singapore. So how does one get out of bankruptcy? “One way is by full repayment of debt which is by paying off all outstanding debts. Another way is through the settlement offer, which is making a proposal to creditors to repay your debts. A bankrupt can also be discharged by the High Court by applying to the court for an order of discharge, or discharged by the OA, by fully paying off their target contribution. Depending on which method is used, it is also possible to have your name removed from the bankruptcy register after that,” Fadhilah shared. BANKRUPTCY – THE STRUGGLES AND THE LESSONS The interviewees shared that society often looks at bankrupts as immoral or people who have taken the easy path out of their financial situations. This,

4 See: Ministry of Law. Information for Creditors. Available at: See: Ministry of Law. Bankruptcy Application and Impact of Bankruptcy. Available at: Vijayan, K. C. Fewer going bankrupt as relief measures kick in. The Straits Times. 2020, May 19. Retrieved from: 7 See: Ministry of Law. Discharge from Bankruptcy. Available at: 5


According to MinLaw, if a secured creditor holds security over a bankrupt’s property or goods, they have a right to sell the property or goods if the bankrupt does not continue to meet the payments when they are due4. However, some assets enjoy bankruptcy protection and are excluded from the bankruptcy estate. These assets include HDB flats where at least one of the owners is a Singapore citizen, his Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution, necessary household furniture, and property held by the bankrupt on trust for any other person5.

Ultimately, although stressful and painful, bankruptcy can sometimes be the necessary step, especially when you are in a tight spot with spiralling debt with no foreseeable way out. The important thing is not to see it as an impossible situation, but to take steps to repay and recover.

according to them, however, is untrue as going down this route often means facing obstacles in making even the simplest of choices in their daily lives, beyond living with the stigma. After so many years of losing nearly everything, Ali shares that he is now picking up the pieces and rebuilding his life. He is debt-free and the temptation to spend on credit does not exist for Ali today. When he filed for bankruptcy, all his active credit cards were cancelled, and he has not obtained any new ones since. “Now that I am free, I am relieved. No calls from officers chasing for payments. I dare not apply for credit cards now,” Ali said.

For Rafi, it was the most important decision he made, and the only way out of what he felt was an impossible situation. He felt that the decision had freed him from the ballooning debt that had been weighing him down. Being labelled a bankrupt is not a big deal to Rafi, but being paralysed by debt, was not something that he could imagine living with for the next few years, especially with his kids around. “Many people do not understand why some people end up being bankrupts. Most of them assume that we ended up in debt because we lost the money to enjoyment, but most of the time, it is not. Hear our story before judging us. My kids are growing. They are one of the main reasons why I made this decision. If I am always in bad debt, then I may not be able to apply for any more loans in the future if my kids pursue higher education,” Rafi said.

from harassing phone calls and unforgiving creditors,” Rafi shared. “We have to learn from the mistake and solve the problem instead of running away from it. If you can settle the debt, then settle it immediately. People will tell you that you can push through and make the payment. They will advise you not to file for bankruptcy, but they are giving advice based on what they believe. You need to think about what is best for you, then make your decision solely based on that,” Ali shared.

Nabilah Mohammad is a Senior Research Analyst at the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affa irs (RIMA). She holds a Bachelor of Scie nce in Psychology and a Specialist Diplom a in Statistics and Data Mining.

The interviewees caution against getting too swayed by friends who might offer unsolicited advice, especially at the prospect of bankruptcy. According to them, every case is different, so it warrants getting professional advice – even if it comes at a cost. “Seek advice from legal agencies for their expertise on the matter before making any decision,” Fadhilah shared. Ultimately, although stressful and painful, bankruptcy can sometimes be the necessary step, especially when you are in a tight spot with spiralling debt with no foreseeable way out. The important thing is not to see it as an impossible situation, but to take steps to repay and recover. “People usually delay (filing for bankruptcy) because they are scared or are in denial despite accumulating thousands of dollars in debts. They try to reassure themselves that they can eventually pay off the debt, but they end up in a worse situation with more debt. Seek professional help and go for counselling. I used to be so scared when I got unknown calls. Now, I am relieved

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THE ASATIZAH IN SINGAPORE The asatizah in Singapore have come a long way since the post-independence period of the country. Gone are the days where the asatizah were few in numbers, without much support from organisations — who faced challenges of their own — and lacking many opportunities, be it financial or in continuing their studies overseas. With much effort from the asatizah and support from the wider community, their current situation has changed since those days. Today, the asatizah boast large numbers while enjoying much support from organisations through various schemes, bursaries, internships and skills upgrading oppportunities1. It is with this support that we now see the elevation within the asatizah’s socio-economic status and the important role they play in the state, for example in the combat of religious extremism and the keeping of religious and multiracial harmony in Singapore.

emergence of social media also plays an important role. While its emergence brings many benefits, the community also has to contend with more ills emerging through this framework within the context of religion, through ideologies such as sectarianism, extremism and xenophobia. This means the onus falls upon the asatizah to provide religious guidance that is practical, contextual and holistic.

backwardness of the Muslim world in the late 19th century and was further refined by Hussein Alatas4.

Such a change requires strong leadership by the intelligentsia within the asatizah community. Such a change requires an amount of individuals who possess the necessary intellect to identify the problems from within and also the moral courage to speak the truth and instill a However, today we see there is much room change within the community. The for change from the asatizah in this asatizah requires a functioning intelligentcontext. On the pretext of providing sia that operates within the community, religious guidance, much improvement and thus are able to identify the problems can be made regarding the religious and offer the necessary solutions. Another content from the asatizah, especially with important matter is to look towards the current social environment surround- the future and ask ourselves what are ing the Muslim community. The asatizah the possible factors that would allow should possess both short- and long-term the intelligentsia within the asatizah thinking regarding the problems of the community to develop and flourish? Muslim community and be perceptive in addressing their needs instead of wants. As WHAT DEFINES THE ASATIZAH leaders and educators, the asatizah should INTELLIGENTSIA? possess a critical and independent mind, The definition of an intellectual has Since the post-independence period, the not a captive mind that disseminates long been outlined by scholars. From importance of the asatizah is very much in content without truly guiding the masses amongst them, I have utilised the works tandem with the centrality of Islam within to find purpose and peace, and assist them that I believe are relevant to define the Malay community. The religion holds in overcoming challenges. Here, the words the intelligentsia in the context of the much influence on the social, cultural and of Jawdat Said hold much relevance: asatizah community. economic aspects of the community, and therefore naturally, those who are “We live in an era that witnesses an absence In his book, Intellectuals in Developing well-versed in the religious sciences are of true intellectuals. The problem we face is Societies, Hussein Alatas wrote the seen as leaders within the community. within the intellectuals and people of knowledge. definition of an intellectual as “a person This influence increased with the dawn of They are the resigned ones, those who do not who is engaged in thinking about ideas and the Islamic Revivalism era in the eighties, trust what they possess.” 3 non-material problems using the faculty of which resulted in an increase in religious reason”. Within the context of the asatizah conservatism in the community. While Today, original and translation works community, it would be apt to use this this influence had its drawbacks2, it also from the asatizah are few in numbers, definition, though with an added quality: meant that religion had the potential to be though now there is a rising awareness “guided by the principles of Islamic a positive catalyst for the community. amongst youths who are engaging in more teachings”5. Therefore, the asatizah played an important article and essay writings. The contemporary hand in developing the present improved religious discourse within the asatizah Here, the writings of Hamka who state of the Muslim community in community is also an area that requires advocated for a balanced usage between Singapore. Figures such as Kiyai Zuhri, more improvement, though we have to reason and revelation – a usage he termed Fadhlullah Suhaimi, Sonhadji, Syed acknowledge that there are socio-religious as “guided reasoning” – holds much Abdillah Jufri, and many others, were barriers regarding this. Reflecting upon relevance6. The asatizah intelligentsia has instrumental in the process. to strike a balance between using these issues, it would be appropriate to conclude that the asatizah are in need of a academic and religious sciences. By this, Today, the role of the asatizah still holds it means to have the proper respect and rejuvenation of their intellectual spirit much importance within the community. that has been obscured with the passing of humility to acknowledge the expertise of Their sphere of influence has increased time. This is not a unique problem as it has others in their respective fields and take due to their assuming wider roles in the heed of their advice. Though there are long been an issue within the Muslim community, such as in finance, academia world. It was first raised by Jamaluddin exceptions, such a balanced attitude has and government organisations. The long been present within the asatizah Al-Afghani regarding the state of 1 2 3 4 5 6

Hassan, M. H., and Mohd Shuhaimy, I. H. Developing Asatizah in Singapore through the Asatizah Recognition Scheme. In: Saat, N., ed. Fulfilling the Trust. World Scientific, 2018 See: Osman, N. Chapter 18: Islamism in Singapore. In: Rasheed, Z. A., Zoohri, W. H., and Saat, N., eds. Beyond Bicentennial: Perspective on Malays. World Scientific, 2020 Said, J. Law, Religion and the Prophetic Method of Social Change. Journal of Law and Religion, Vol. XV, 2000-2001. pp. 109-110 Alatas, S. H. Kita Dengan Islam: Tumbuh Tiada Berbuah. Pustaka Nasional, 1979. pp. 51-52 Alatas, S. H. Intellectuals in Developing Societies. Frank Cass, 1977. p. 9 See: Aljunied, K. Hamka and Islam: Cosmopolitan Reform in the Malay World. ISEAS, 2018. p. 28

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The role of the asatizah intelligentsia is one that is laden with responsibility, but also one that is important for the sake of progress within the asatizah and Malay community. As how the asatizah have progressed from the post-independence period to their current state today, displaying a spirit of self-improvement that was exemplified by the older generations, it is appropriate for the community leaders and stakeholders in the Muslim community to work towards further developing the asatizah intelligentsia.

positive change, it also means to empower others and seek for them to understand the issues at hand. Azhar Ibrahim wrote, “First, we have to recognise the fact that the task of public intellectuals or the intelligentsia is to ensure the deliberation of ideas in the public domain. In a modern complex society, this is only possible through writing discourse.”9

For the current asatizah intelligentsia, there is much room for improvement regarding the writing output. Though today we do have asatizah individuals who are consistently writing about important and relevant issues, be it in the form of articles, essays or books, in terms of quantity and content, the output leaves much to be desired. To write is important, but to write critically about important and relevant issues is an area that is possible to be improved. Such actions are exemplified by renowned religious scholars, be it in the past or present, regardless of their origin or school of thought. Notable examples would be Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Rushd, community, as seen in the development functioning intelligentsia to not only Muhammad Abduh, Yusuf Al-Qardhawi, and issuance of religious edicts. This is in think critically about the problems the Hamka, Said Ramadan Al-Buti, Khaled line with the principle of ‘wasatiyyah’ community is facing – be it the asatizah Abou El-Fadl, and Quraish Shihab. These (moderation) that is mentioned in the community or the Muslim community – are all religious scholars who are critical Quran, and also emphasised by Hamka but also speak truth to power. Here, I am thinkers whose writings have empowered and other religious scholars as a principle of the opinion that ‘power’ does not only that should be manifested in all aspects of refer to bodies of authority or organisations, the masses. a Muslim’s life, especially the intelligentsia but to the general public. In this era WHAT ARE THE FACTORS THAT in carrying out their role. of democracy and social media, the WILL DEVELOP THE ASATIZAH intelligentsia should not underestimate INTELLIGENTSIA? Hussein Alatas also defined four character- the power and intellect that lie in the It is important that we identify the istics an intellectual should have: 1) the hands of the public. Doing so requires possible factors to develop and assist ability to pose problems of their society, much courage and knowledge. the intelligentsia within the asatizah 2) defining the problems encountered, community. The first would be for the 3) analysing the problems, 4) finding This is in line with what an asatizah asatizah to reflect upon the past and solutions to the problems7. Thus lies the should be as Islam advocates such traits present intelligentsia of the asatizah essence of the intelligentsia, which is to that are also exemplified by the Islamic seek improvement in the lives of society. prophets. One good example would be the community. It is clear that the community possesses a rich writing tradition, though However, to do so means to speak and story of Prophet Ibrahim (peace be upon the intelligentsia and their works do not write the truth. him), who exercised his critical mind to have the attention they deserve today. identify who was and wasn’t worthy of From pre-independence, we should In his book, Peace and Discontents, Edward worship, and spoke truth to those who Said wrote, “The role of the intellectual is to supposedly held authority over him, such analyse the works of Syed Sheikh Al-Hadi, Haji Abbas Taha, and Tahir Jalaluddin. say truth to power, to address the central as his father, and also to his community. After them, we had Sonhadji, Syed Ahmad authority in every society without hypocrisy, Semait, and Syed Abdillah Jufri. And today, and to choose the method, the style, the critique Thinking critically and speaking truth to best suited for the purpose.”8 power are important for the intelligentsia we have senior asatizah figures such as of the asatizah community, but to make an Haniff Hassan and Mohammed bin Ali, impact in modern society, it is imperative who write about contemporary issues in For the asatizah community, just like in the community. It would be instrumental to write in the public domain. In seeking other communities, there is a need for a Alatas, S. H. Intellectuals in Developing Societies. Frank Cass, 1977. p.15 8 Said, E. Pause and Discontents. Vintage, 1996. pp. 184-185 Alwee, A. I. The Pedagogical Duty of the Intelligentsia: To Speak Up, To Write Down and To Reach Out. The Reading Group. 2000, January 31. Available at: 7



for the asatizah intelligentsia’s development by familiarising with the past works of their predecessors. Reading and writing with a critical perspective about their works are important and necessary steps that should be taken by the asatizah intelligentsia. The second would be for the current intelligentsia to display stronger leadership by reaching out to the younger generation of asatizah. Today, the published works and current initiatives and programmes such as Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies (PCICS) 10 and Committee on Future Asatizah (COFA) 11 are great efforts by the current intelligentsia and will surely contribute in developing the younger generations. Such efforts deserve praise and support, but improvements are always necessary. I believe that a stronger display of leadership by the current intelligentsia will imbue a much needed intellectual spirit in the wider asatizah community. By this, I mean to not only think critically, but to extensively and actively write and publish their thoughts and ideas in the public domain. Doing so will empower the younger generation of the asatizah community and create a culture of intellectual spirit. While my first and second points revolve around the actions of the asatizah community, my final point is related to the strengthening of the socio-religious system. Actions, no matter how relevant and beneficial, will not be as effective without a supportive ecosystem. This point is excellently surmised by Hj Mohammad Alami Musa:

One of the ways for the socio-religious ecosystem to be strengthened was suggested by former minister, Yaacob Ibrahim, in 2016, which was the idea for the setting up of a Singapore Islamic College 13. Such a full-fledged academic institution will undoubtedly assist in developing the asatizah intelligentsia. In the present situation, the asatizah intelligentsia lack a proper medium for them to analyse and study works produced by the asatizah community, engage in critical religious discourse and publish religious academic works. An institution whose sole purpose is to develop and produce religious graduates will also help in developing an organic and empowering relationship between the local older and younger generation of asatizah, as for so long, the graduate and post-graduate education of the asatizah have largely taken place overseas. If we look towards the religious intelligentsia community in neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia, they are able to spearhead and contribute towards discourse and empower the public and their successors due to the existence of local religious academic institutions, be it by holding academic positions, or just engaging in the discourse that is produced by these institutions. While setting up such an institution is a momentous task that requires the support of the community and stakeholders, the idea of a Singapore Islamic College should not be dismissed completely.

However, as written in the Quran, “Indeed, Allah will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” 14 Therefore, the asatizah community should reflect and take the necessary steps towards positive change, as they have done so in the past.

is an Ahmad Ubaidillah Mohamed Khair from Islamic Jurisprudence undergraduate an Yarmouk University, Jordan. He holds avid interest for local and regional tial literature, as he believes in the poten r for write a also is He s. word of r powe

The role of the asatizah intelligentsia is one that is laden with responsibility, but also one that is important for the sake of progress within the asatizah and Malay community. As how the asatizah have “Singapore’s future asatizah have the potential progressed from the post-independence period to their current state today, to become thought leaders, trail-blazers and displaying a spirit of self-improvement that trend-setters, who are highly-regarded as was exemplified by the older generations, authorities of Islamic knowledge, locally and it is appropriate for the community leaders internationally, with future asatizah and stakeholders in the Muslim community developing our own Islamic content in to work towards further developing the Singapore and reviving our strong writing tradition. To support this vision, it is crucial for asatizah intelligentsia. This is especially institutions within the socio-religious ecosystem so in our current context, where the complexities of modern life have brought to be strengthened.” 12 more challenges for the asatizah and Muslim community. 10

11 12 13 14

The Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies (PCICS) is a one-year programme by MUIS that aims to assist returning religious graduates readjust and contextualise what they have learnt overseas to local social and political contexts. MUIS established the Committee on Future Asatizah (COFA) in March 2019 to advance thinking about the skills and competencies of future asatizah, and advise on strategies to develop the asatizah workforce. Committee on Future Asatizah. Strengthening Religious Leadership for a Community of Success: Report from the Committee on Future Asatizah. MUIS, 2020 Ibrahim, Y. A Personal Reflection by Dr Yaacob Ibrahim. In: Saat, N, ed. Fulfilling the Trust. World Scientific, 2018 Quran, 13:11

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Sharifah (middle) and her children

Switzerland is one of the world’s leading financial centres and is highly diversified with a high concentration of international and local financial service providers. Its financial sector is one of the most important sectors of the country’s economy, contributing 9.7 percent1 to its gross domestic product (GDP) in 2020. To 49-year-old Sharifah Ferdaus Ali Albar, Switzerland was the birthplace of private banking for the elites. She arrived in the country 17 years ago and currently manages up to 50 client advisors globally with close to USD 1 billion worth of assets under the management of her team in Geneva. She shares with The Karyawan team on her profession as a private banker and the challenges she has faced while living in Switzerland. Q: Could you tell us more about yourself and your family? Sharifah: I was born into an Arab family and I am the youngest among two other sisters. My parents were rather protective of us girls but they were not too conservative. We were raised to be independent, value education and most importantly, be humble and respectful to all, especially the elders. I was raised and educated mainly in Singapore, where I completed my Bachelor’s degree and pursued my Master’s degree in Financial Management a couple of years after I started my career. I got married in 1998 at the age of 26. Now, I’m a mother of two children aged 19 and 22. My daughter is currently pursuing her second degree in medicine in the University of Aberdeen, while my son is serving his National Service in Singapore. Q: What motivated you to join the financial sector? Why did you choose to be a private banker? Sharifah: My father, who was an accountant by profession prior to being a businessman, had to deal with many bankers in the past. I would sit behind him in his car when he drove along Robinson Road and I would watch him passing cheques or arranging for a banker’s


guarantee with bank officers, who were always well-dressed and eloquent. But it was my mother who later inspired me to work in the financial sector because she said she could see that in me. Fortunately, I have always enjoyed economics! Hence, I am very thankful for her support.

disbursement of loans, etc. are completed efficiently and professionally.

Relationship management is delicate and bankers have to be completely professional. One has to be equipped with solutions, alternative solutions and manage expectations between client and the bank. Q: What does your job entail and what is Should something fall in between the your typical work day like? Is working cracks for one reason or another, there is long hours a norm? no time to name and blame. We work as a team and crack on until the matter is Sharifah: The banking industry has resolved. With HNW clients, time is of the evolved over time. When I used to work essence in providing solutions that meet as a Relationship Manager, I focused on their expectations. providing banking services to clients and hitting my sales targets. Q: What made you decide to move to Geneva, Switzerland? Today, I am managing a team running the Swiss Booking Centre in Geneva. The Sharifah: It began with a job opportunity service extends to Singapore, Hong Kong, to build my career 17 years ago and to Dubai and the UK. Due to the different sustain the lives of my growing children. time zones and working days, I am often If I had taken them back to Singapore busy replying to my emails, troubleduring their middle to high school period, shooting and assigning tasks to various it would have caused a disruption in their departments and my team members. If International Baccalaureate (IB) programme. calls are required to clear any urgent transactions, I will make sure to have a Q: What were some of the challenges conference call according to the time zone. you’ve faced while living and working overseas? How did you overcome them? As banks become the main spot for money laundering activities, checks and Sharifah: Language and culture were the compliance with regard to anti-money main challenges. In Switzerland, being laundering activities become a very late is almost unforgivable (while among important part of the business. This has the Arabs, the hours are totally elastic). kept me very busy of late. In my first week of work, I was watching Q: What kind of private banking my colleagues go out to lunch. Being new, products or services do your clients I kept to myself in my corner. I got my usually ask for? What are the challenges first lunch ‘rendezvous’ three weeks later. in dealing with these high net worth I thought it was a cold and unwilling (HNW) clients? gesture to go for lunch with me, but no, it wasn’t! It was because of appointments Sharifah: Our banking product covers that had filled up their calendar for at least from a simple time deposit placement one month ahead of time. to a subordinated loan against say, a commercial property, to sophisticated Swiss are very private and reserved people banking investment products backed by while I am outspoken and too witty a leverage portfolio. sometimes. I had to speak slowly and use simple English to be understood. French Our services include dealing with the is predominantly spoken in Geneva. There simplest things such as seeking a legal were times when I got lost in translation document update to handling sticky and ended up ordering something else. margin call situations. More importantly, However, there will always be a friendly on a daily basis, we ensure that the stranger to assist in translating the transactions required by or requested from language to English. the clients, say in the transfer of monies, execution of foreign exchange deals, Updated figures on the Swiss Financial Centre. 2021, April 20. Available at:

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Of course there were moments when I wished I was back in Singapore just because I would feel less alienated, blend in better, not be judged or just to get my frustrations heard in my best Singlish. But as I began to understand the lives of the people here, I learnt to adapt and began to go to places where the locals would do their shopping, walking, jogging, learnt the language and not take offence, but rather be part of the society. Q: What are the pros and cons of working in this industry in Europe compared to Singapore? Sharifah: Being an Asian in an European company based in Switzerland, I was a perfect fit for dealing with Asia Pacific, especially the Southeast Asian businesses. I had the ‘work hard, play hard’ attitude and got things done in a jiffy. The business numbers increased more than double as confidence surged and services improved. Work-life balance is an important aspect in the Swiss culture. While I do not mind working overtime, it is limited when the rest of my colleagues have left for the day. I would make the effort to cover their work and finish up. Over the years, it became a compelling expectation of service so I had to work smarter and not just hard. Q: How different is the culture and lifestyle in Switzerland compared to Singapore? Is it important to be fluent in French in order to integrate with the locals? Sharifah: For the younger generation of Swiss, English has become part of their spoken language. But as it is not the first language, I often have to speak English simply and slowly. The same can be said when locals speak to me in French. Their social activity often includes evening drinks, which for a non-alcoholic participant like me, would not get far in building further rapport especially when their English slowly starts to fade away as the evening goes by.

In Switzerland, women were allowed to vote when gender equality began in 1972. Compared to Singapore, it is still a conscious effort here. Q: Is there a community of Malay Singaporeans among the 200 Singaporean households living in the cantons of Geneva, Vaud and Zurich? Sharifah: Yes, most are in interethnic marriages. A few others are working in the embassy or Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Q: What have been the highlights of your career or life in Switzerland so far? Sharifah: In terms of my career, my team’s motivation is proof that empathy in leadership goes a long way. Diversity in my team is complete with a single mom, a young mom, a gentleman and a hijabi. I capitalised on their assets, discovered their talents, built their skills and strengthened their confidence. My team today is made up of motivated personalities who take pride in their job. That is an amazing and incredible feeling to witness. The highlight of my life in Switzerland is my kids’ successes, thus making it all worth the distance and effort. I encouraged them to break the boundaries and integrate European life into our Asian culture. I was very proud to see the enthusiasm in my son pursuing skiing as his main sport until he was made the team captain, representing his school. My daughter on the other hand, is autonomous and independent while pursuing her second degree. Her determination is masya’Allah. Both are amazingly responsible to their friends. And what keeps us close is being together, keeping one another in the loop about our lives and sharing our feelings openly. Q: Do you have any advice for Malay/ Muslim youths who aspire to be a private banker like you?

Sharifah: Aspiration and determination are key in anything you do. Doing what you like will only make your journey pleasant but nothing is a breeze as each We Asians have ‘semangat bergotong royong’ stumbling block diverts you to a path (or spirit of helping one another) but this where your strength will be further is much simplified here as the Swiss are discovered. It will be hard work and more very private. I miss that about us. hard work but most importantly, keep


your values and professionalism intact. Education is key. Opportunity will knock when you are ready and prepared to face challenges. Nobody knows what to expect as the economy will change, regulation will create new policies and guidelines or even the stages in our life will shift. But face life challenges with stubbornness to make it work – never give up, believe in yourself and pray to Him! Enter your dream with an attitude and make your way up with dignity.

utive at Nur Diyana Jalil is currently an Exec and the Centre for Research on Islamic social Malay Affairs (RIMA), managing its n. catio publi and ts media, even

Book Review:



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I have always been interested in the issue of gender inequality in the Malay/Muslim community but had not delved deeply into the issue of child abuse in the community. Reading Sofia Abdullah’s The Years of Forgetting is definitely a big step for me, as it is a way for me to learn, unlearn and relearn issues like child and sexual abuse in the community. Sofia’s memoir has enabled me to realise the trauma that the victims go through, and how they navigate their lives while trying to move on from the traumatic experiences.

When I first read the first chapter of the first part of the book, I wondered who the perpetrator was. It must be someone who is closely related to both Sofia and her mother. Her consecutive chapters then slowly revealed the man in black whom she saw in her dreams. It was indeed someone in their family. Sofia was angry while growing up, as she felt that her mother witnessed two different incidents of her being abused sexually. But as a reader, when I first read it, it probably did not cross her mother’s mind that the perpetrator was doing more than just Sofia separated her book into four “cleaning up after Sofia peed in the toilet different chapters: The Remembering, The and letting her sit in the bedroom”4. The Raging, The Healing and The Strengthening. perpetrator was someone her mother In these sections, Sofia expressed her looked up to, and someone she confided in feelings from the stage when she opened up and trusted. to her mother, while processing the trauma and sorrow and how she went The perpetrator was her mother’s father. It through the healing stage and moved was Sofia’s grandfather. forward. In the second chapter, Sofia opened up Speaking up about any form of abuse or about her struggles throughout her assault has always been mortifying, marriage. The traumatic episodes Sofia making it a taboo topic to discuss with had due to the child abuse had a detrimenparents and teachers. This is not unusual tal effect on her marriage. Sofia sees sex as as Sofia started her first chapter with how something dirty, and not an embodiment she opened up to her mother about the of a healthy relationship with the person abuse. Sofia was less than ten years old she loves. When her then-husband asked when she was sexually abused, but she for sex, Sofia would make excuses for not opened up many years later when she letting it happen. When her husband returned to Singapore after a two-year stint quoted the sayings of the Prophet (peace be in Berlin. upon him) that “if a husband calls his wife to his bed and she refuses and causes him “I’ve had it worse” – Sofia’s Mum.1 to sleep in anger, the angels will curse her till morning”5, Sofia was taken aback, but remembered that she was raised with For Sofia, she felt her experience was feminist leanings by her mother and dismissed, and it took her another long grandmother, and felt that it is ironic for while to recover from the trauma. Even though Sofia assured her mother that she her husband to reiterate the Prophet’s saying when he was not spiritually was not raped, there was once when her religious. legs were being spread apart on the perpetrator’s bed, but he stopped after As I was reading this chapter, I was Sofia’s countless begging. Not only did reflecting on the education I received for Sofia have a hard time deleting such the past 23 years. Talking about sex or episodes from her memories, but the trauma also caused her to have nightmares. even giving sexual education was considered a topic that is memalukan or She once dreamt that she saw “a man in shameful to discuss with our parents. black with wings and horns, looking like the devil himself”2 in the corridor of their Like Sofia, many of our youths may have experienced child abuse and sexual apartment. harassment but prefer to keep it to themselves instead. Why? “It was him, Mama.” – Sofia.3

I do not have any experience of being abused when I was a child. But I have my own fair share of experience being assaulted while being in public. Growing up in a madrasah for a good twelve years, not much support was given to the victims of sexual assault. The victims who experienced first-hand trauma were being ‘consoled’ by attending Islamic counselling and spiritual healing. “Allah kan ada.” Allah is here. “Zikir, ingat Tuhan.” Make zikr, remember God. But what’s next? Are we supposed to keep quiet and move on? Talking about sex was only within the parameter of the classroom during Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) lessons. But nothing more than that. I do not have any significant memory of attending moral education classes, except for the one time when my teachers engaged an outsider to conduct a sex education talk. That was all; that was my first and only experience with sex education. Recently, a group of asatizah were ranked in a poll, “Ustazah mana patut kena gangbang?” (“Which Ustazah deserves to be gangbanged?”), allegedly by a group of students from Islamic institutions. Last year, three local podcast hosts came under fire for their repeated sexual objectification of women, including a trans woman. Victims of abuse and assault are still being dismissed. The belief that the wife belongs to her husband and every inch of her belongs to him too is still very much ingrained in the minds of our society. The topic of sex or sex education is still taboo in our community. There is still so much for us to do as a community, in order to ensure that every woman is safe. On top of the mental and emotional stress Sofia experienced while healing from child abuse, she also felt pressure when her extended family found out that she had become a divorcee. Like sex, divorce still carries a lot of stigma in the Malay



Abdullah, S. The Years of Forgetting. Singapore: Epigram Books. 2021. p. 10 2 Ibid. p. 14 3 Ibid. p. 11 4 Ibid. p. 14 5 Sahih Muslim, Book 8 (English reference), Hadith 3368

community. The women would often get blamed for the divorce. They are often perceived as wives who have not treated their husbands well, causing affairs to happen and subsequently, divorce.

her, the last chapter focuses on how Sofia attempts to heal and move forward. Sofia does not deny that she is a survivor of child abuse, but that is not the only Sofia. Her pain does not become her but is a part of her. Like others, Sofia too is a woman, a With that being said, the chapter also daughter, a friend, and her life story has uncovers how society defines happiness by undeniably made her who she is today – a the institution of marriage. Those who are child rights activist. Sofia believes that her unmarried or divorced are viewed as story will be able to help those who are in unhappy. And those who are married are the same situation as her. not. While Sofia was still trying to heal from the abuse in her childhood years and As a reader, I know that Sofia did not ask to her failed marriage, her mother persistent- be applauded for her bravery in writing ly put in efforts in arranging a match for The Years of Forgetting. But as someone who Sofia with different kinds of people from has thankfully not experienced abuse in different walks of life, from a dentist to a her childhood, I am able to understand religious preacher. For Sofia, it is not the some of what the survivors of child sexual concept of marriage that she opposes, but abuse had gone through. The mental and the concept of matchmaking. emotional struggles are indescribable, especially when it comes to opening up to Moving forward, the third chapter talks those you think could be your safety net, about the healing stage. It was many years then having to be chased in nightmares before Sofia finally managed to open up and subsequently, developing trust issues about her experiences of being abused as a in people – be it your family or strangers. child to a friend of hers, Eliot. Not only that, Sofia also met survivors of child This book also raises awareness on the abuse and sexual assault. During the harms of child and sexual abuse. Firstly, meeting, Sofia emphasised on the harm of the perpetrators of child abuse are not self-blaming. And for survivors of child necessarily outsiders or strangers, but the abuse, there is a need to understand that “a perpetrators could be in our family. ten-year-old could not have been capable Secondly, victims of sexual abuse are not of seducing an adult. But it was the necessarily women, but it could happen to responsibility of the adult to protect the children too. child, all the time.”6 This review is only a small part of what the Forgiving a person’s mistakes is also part whole book entails. Thus, I urge those who of the healing journey. We all have heard have the chance to get the book and read it. of the phrase, ‘forgive but never forget’. Yet, Many of the survivors of sexual abuse are Sofia reminds us in this chapter that being silenced in our community due to forgiving is not a must, and it is a choice the stigma and lack of awareness in the for victims to forgive. If one decides to society. The least we could do is to forgive, there is no definite time frame and recognise that these survivors are part of victims can take however long they need our community, and that support should before forgiving a person. What is be given. Let the silence stop, and let’s hear important is to forgive themselves above them out. Let’s amplify their voices. Now, all. For Sofia, it was a turning point for her not later. when she realised that self-love, self-care and self-forgiveness are important parts of healing.

Forgiving a person’s mistakes is also part of the healing journey. We all have heard of the phrase, ‘forgive but never forget’. Yet, Sofia reminds us in this chapter that forgiving is not a must, and it is a choice for victims to forgive. If one decides to forgive, there is no definite time frame and victims can take however long they need before forgiving a person.

A graduate from a local madrasah and the National University of Singapore, Nuru l Atiqah Jamari has a deep knowledge of and background in the Malay-Muslim community. She has a keen interest in discourse on topics relating to Islam and current socia l issues including gender.

After detailing Sofia’s struggles in trying to forget the traumatic episodes of her life, opening up to her mother and a friend, as well as to forgive those who have wronged


Abdullah, S. The Years of Forgetting. Singapore: Epigram Books. 2021. p. 76

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