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PUBLISHED BY: ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS • VOLUME 12 ISSUE 2 • APRIL 2017 • MCI (P) NO: 152/07/2016 • ISSN NO: 0218-7434

The Impact of

Automation on the Malay/Muslim Community


CONTENTS APRIL 2017

EDITORIAL BOARD 09

01

COVER STORY The Impact of Automation on the Malay/Muslim Community by Dr Walter Edgar Theseira & Nabilah Isa

SUPERVISING EDITOR Abdul Hamid Abdullah

ECONOMY

EDITORIAL TEAM Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim Nabilah Mohammad Nuraliah Norasid Winda Guntor

EDITOR Mohd Anuar Yusop

The Future Economy and the Community by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim

05

Budget 2017: A Plan for the Future Economy by Dr Ameen Talib

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A More Compassionate Budget? by Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim

SOCIAL 29

OPINION 32

POLITICS 19

The Search for Singapore’s Next President by Dr Johannis Abdul Aziz

RELIGION

26

Sectarianism and Muslim Diversity: Lessons for the Malay/Muslim Community by Dr Nuraliah Norasid Is There Room for Religious Ethics in Our Common Space? by Hanna Taufiq Siraj

Letter from Pulau NTU by Dr Barrie Sherwood

PERSONALITY 35

22

Inclusiveness in Singapore: A Work in Progress by Aishah Mohd Said

Boulevard of Lifestyle: The Black Hole Group by Nabilah Mohammad

BOOK REVIEW 38

Perempuan: Muslim Women Speak Out by Diana Rahim

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

The Karyawan is a publication of the Association of Muslim Professionals. The views expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of the Association and its subsidiaries nor its directors and the Karyawan editorial board. © Association of Muslim Professionals. 2017. All rights reserved. Permission is required for reproduction. ERRATUM In our last issue (Volume 11 Issue 1), we had erroneously included the line “It is hard to predict the shape of the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore in the next half a century.” at the start of the article by Dr Mohamed Aidil Subhan Mohamed Sulor. That line was not part of the original article. We are sorry for our mistake.


FROM THE EDITOR’S DESK

Any discussion on the future economy these days will inevitably centre on how we can prepare ourselves for the challenges that will come. To tackle these challenges, the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) says we need to focus on deepening our skills and build skill mastery, while businesses should explore expansion into international markets, among others. But what do we really understand what is meant by the future economy? What are the changes that we can expect? The article by Dr Walter Theseira and Nabilah Isa on Page 9 on how jobs in the future will be affected by automation is a useful guide on an aspect of the future economy that we can be prepared for. They say that although automation will likely take over routine and systematic tasks, jobs that involve social intelligence and human interaction will continue to remain relevant. In their article, they also discuss whether the Malay/Muslim community is at risk given our workers’ profile and what we can do as a community to mitigate these risks. The Budget 2017 Statement delivered by our Finance Minister Mr Heng Swee Keat in March also mapped out how the Government will be preparing Singapore for the future economy. This issue of The Karyawan features several articles on the highlights of the budget and discusses the areas that it may not have addressed. I hope that this issue of The Karyawan will give us cause to pause and reflect on how best we as a community can prepare ourselves for the future economy and take advantage of the opportunities that will come.

ABDUL HAMID ABDULLAH SUPERVISING EDITOR


ECONOMY

The Future Economy

and the Community

BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM 01 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


In its report to the Prime Minister on 7 February 2017, the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) noted that Singapore is making “good progress” by nurturing highly-skilled people and an innovative economy for a “distinctive global city”. However, it also warned of a radically different future scenario marred by slower global growth, rapid technological change and political uncertainty. A small, open, export-oriented economy that is highly dependent on external demand, Singapore is facing subdued global growth as major economies grapple with the effects of the last global economic crisis and a host of fiscal and macroeconomic challenges. A phenomenon that became more apparent recently is how the anxieties of significant segments of their populace, who are reeling under the side-effects of globalisation, led to conservative trade stances such as protectionism. Great Britain’s Brexit and the election of President Donald Trump – who rallied against international trade deals during election campaigns and subsequently withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership as President – come readily to mind. Technologically, disruptive innovations could wipe out longstanding and viable business models like a tsunami, forcing industries to adapt, government to make policy responses and people to reskill. A case in point is the entry of Uber and Grab into the public transport sector which hit the taxi industry in an unprecedented way. The livelihoods of cabbies were threatened and taxi operators saw a rising number of unhired cabs piling up in their backyard. It was not an easy situation for the government to deal with. On one hand, imposing regulations in response to the protest by parties, such as the National Taxi Association arguing that the playing field is tilted in favour of the new entrants, may send the wrong signal about its commitment to creating an environment conducive for innovation to flourish. On the other hand, ignoring the concerns of

Technologically, disruptive innovations could wipe out longstanding and viable business models like a tsunami, forcing industries to adapt, government to make policy responses and people to reskill. A case in point is the entry of Uber and Grab into the public transport sector which hit the taxi industry in an unprecedented way. Generally, any discussion on growing opportunities in Asia tends to be associated with China. However, there are prospects in Malaysia and Indonesia, a locality with which the Malays share a common linguistic and cultural The future may however not be all that background, which constitute an gloomy. A developing region that is urbanising and a growing middle class will advantage in forging partnerships. Internationalising could address the create opportunities for some industries. The CFE identified six growth clusters that constraints that Malay/Muslim companies are facing in catering to the domestic “marry high projected growth rates with market. Relevant Malay/Muslim institutions, Singapore’s comparative advantages, in collaboration with the government, namely, digital technology, advanced could complement the goal of deepening manufacturing, hub services, logistics, international connections by supporting urban solutions and infrastructure, and healthcare.” The CFE report further states Malay/Muslim companies to deepen their knowledge of and links with key markets that scalable healthcare technology in neighbouring economies. solutions can help meet both domestic healthcare needs as well as growing It is worth noting that in 2014, a survey demand abroad. carried out by the Singapore Malay Chamber of Commerce and Industry INTERNATIONALISATION: (SMCCI) and DP Information revealed that OPPORTUNITIES FOR MALAY/MUSLIM there were significantly more start-ups and BUSINESSES The CFE outlined seven strategies, among rapidly growing businesses among the Malay business community compared to them are two that, for the Malay/Muslim community at least, are arguably the ones a similar study undertaken in 2007. The SMCCI-DP survey also found that a third they should devote special attention to – deepening and diversifying international of the 500 business owners who participated in the survey derived the bulk of their connections, and acquiring and utilising revenue overseas. It behooves the deep skills. The CFE highlighted the numerous opportunities for both companies community to make greater effort to help Malay/Muslim businesses develop its and individuals in Asia as consumption regional networks and harness new ideas and demand for infrastructure increases. for growth. incumbent players may be interpreted to mean the government is disregarding the interests of local businesses in its pursuit of economic gains.

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ECONOMY

STARTING YOUNG Among the CFE’s recommendations pertaining to deepening international connections is facilitating more overseas internships of a substantive duration for students in post-secondary education institutions (PSEIs). With an ever-increasing number of Malay/Muslim students progressing to PSEIs, this constitutes a starting point for the community’s larger endeavour of internationalising and capitalising on regional growth. Other initiatives to be tapped on is the Global Innovation Alliance (GIA) and SkillsFuture Leadership Development Initiative (LDI). GIA links students to enterprising overseas companies and start-ups, which could help groom entrepreneurial talents and promising start-ups in the community. LDI aims to provide international experiences, such as cross-functional rotations to different markets to help potential leaders develop their competence in regional and global markets. It will be sending, for a start, 800 promising individuals over three years on specialised courses and overseas postings. The community should aim for Malay/Muslims to be among the 800.

underscoring the need to go beyond the pursuit of the highest possible academic qualifications early in life, but to seek knowledge, experience and skills throughout one’s life instead. In addition to acquiring deeper skills, it is also imperative that skills are utilised in one’s job. To achieve this, the CFE argued that it does not make sense for workers to take “extended periods of time off from their careers to pursue a degree or post-graduate qualification” but instead pursue short, modularised training programmes so as to build on their existing knowledge and skills acquired through work experience. It advised that the Government work with institutions of higher learning to offer such courses endorsed by industries and approved by the Ministry of Education.

An initiative such as this requires extensive collaboration between the government and employers to ensure that, firstly, the courses provided have a high degree of relevance and applicability in the workplace; and, secondly, that employers are willing to restructure their workplace to create pathways for career progression, ALIGNING EDUCATION GOALS WITH THE culminating in higher responsibilities and FUTURE ECONOMY commensurate salaries. To this end, the During the Third National Convention of Government has actually already gotten Singapore Muslim Professionals in 2012, the ball rolling. the goal of Graduates in Every Family was proposed as a target for the Malay/Muslim In his National Day Rally Speech in 2014, community. “Graduate” was defined as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong shared including post-secondary qualifications the interviews he conducted with two across the board – not only university but Keppel Offshore and Marine Shipyard also ITE and polytechnic. Given the employees, Ms Dorothy Han and Mr Abu Malays’ jarring underrepresentation at the Bakar, ITE and polytechnic graduates degree level, there is a tacit inclination to respectively, who rose through the ranks assign greater weightage to university by pursuing the training programmes qualifications. provided by Keppel to attain management positions. Mr Abu Bakar, for instance, is However, at the national level, leaders the Chief Executive Officer of Nakilathave expressed concerns about skill sets Keppel Offshore and Marine. Mr Lee not fitting industries’ changing needs. announced then that he had asked Deputy The problem will intensify in a future Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam economy fraught with disruptions to lead a tripartite committee which will brought about by technological innovations. involve the Government, employers and The CFE once again raised this concern, unions, to develop an integrated system of 03 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

Malay/Muslim institutions can play a role in monitoring the implementation of the strategies and providing constructive feedback especially on the ones that are pertinent to the community’s continued socioeconomic progress.


COMMUNITY’S ROLE Following the release of the CFE report, PM Lee announced that the Government accepts the strategies proposed and will pursue all of them. Malay/Muslim institutions can play a role in monitoring the implementation of the strategies and providing constructive feedback especially on the ones that are pertinent to the CREDENTIALS VS SKILLS community’s continued socioeconomic Some thorny issues remain however. progress. In this regard, opportunities Taking the responses to the SkillsFuture initiative as an indication, human resource for Malay/Muslim SMEs and long-term employability should be at the top of practices and the beliefs of workers are their radar. apparently not keeping pace with the changes. Dr Walter Theseira, an economist and senior lecturer at the Singapore University of Social Sciences, stressed that there was still too much emphasis on rcher / credentials at the workplace and not Abdul Shariff Aboo Kassim is a Resea inator with the Centre for Coord cts Proje enough on skills and abilities. He also said s (RIMA), Research on Islamic and Malay Affair iation of that there is a strong belief among many the research subsidiary of the Assoc Muslim Professionals (AMP). that the solution to a stagnating career is to pursue another degree or get a particular certification. Echoing the concern, then Workforce Development Agency (WDA) called on companies to refresh their human resource practices to focus on skills and strength of character in their hiring and promotion activities, and “not on a person's age or academic paper qualifications”. education, training and progression for all Singaporeans and promote industry support and social recognition for individuals to advance based on their skills. He added that the Government, as a public service and an employer, will also do its part.

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ECONOMY

Budget 2017: A Plan for the Future Economy BY DR AMEEN TALIB

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In the midst of rapid technological change and global uncertainty, in particular, the rising anti-globalisation sentiments as demonstrated in the votes for Brexit and Donald Trump, Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat delivered the Singapore Budget Statement on 20 February 2017.

2017). The Singapore Business Federation was disappointed with the inadequate short-term support to relieve rising business and compliance costs. This issue has been conveyed by the business community repeatedly through various platforms.

There have been comments that the budget does not deal with short-term measures nor stop-gap solutions (Institute of Singapore Chartered Accountants (ISCA) Journal March 2017: Focus budget

Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCCI) President Thomas Chua felt it was a long-term budget and commented that “businesses, especially SMEs who are facing challenges are

disappointed that there are not enough near-term measures to help them. Businesses are concerned with the immediate impact on their business costs, especially with the immediate increase in diesel tax and, soon, water prices”1. The 2017 Budget indeed was not a budget dealing with short-term measures but rather a long-term restructuring budget. The last major economic restructuring of Singapore started in 2010, following the recommendations of the Economic Strategies Committee (ESC). However, the world today is very different from the start of the decade. Innovation cycles have shortened. Data analytics and digitalisation are the new buzzwords. The Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) chaired by Mr Heng Swee Keat was convened in January 2016 to develop economic strategies for the next decade. Budget 2017 adopted many of the CFE recommendations. ARE OUR SMES READY FOR THE FUTURE ECONOMY? Many small entrepreneurs have been facing challenges with rising costs. The Budget, instead of providing short-term measures to ride them through, has offered them an opportunity to adapt for the future economy. Fully aware that most of the entrepreneurs might not be tech-savvy to deal with these rapid technological changes, the government is implementing the SMEs Go Digital Programme. This will be a collaboration between Info-communications Media Development Authority of Singapore (IMDA), SPRING and sector lead agencies and will provide step-by-step advice on technologies to use through sectoral industry Digital Plans. Minister for Communications and Information, Associate Professor Yaacob Ibrahim, said during a Budget debate that “it will help raise SMEs’ overall level of digital-readiness by giving them step-bystep advice on the technologies to use at each stage of their digital journey”. IMDA will be the government agency leading this and providing customised help to SMEs from funding and consultancy to

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ECONOMY

The future economy provides an opportunity for the Malay/Muslim community to leap frog. The preparation for the future economy should start at an early stage. We need to get our children to be tech-savvy. Malay/Muslim organisations can offer training in technology for primary and secondary children to raise their interest to pursue technology-related training. Even at the preschool level, efforts could be made to introduce the use of technology to students to raise interest. We need to mould the next generation to be tech-savvy, with an entrepreneurial mindset and a passion for lifelong learning.

future economy as it has the ingredients to ‘leap frog’. SMCCI has strong connections in, and knowledge of the Indonesian market; this can be leveraged upon for Malay/Muslim entrepreneurs to partner other Singaporean enterprises to venture into the Indonesian market. Malay/Muslim entrepreneurs have the competitive edge in bringing Singapore businesses to the Nusantara. PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE ECONOMY THROUGH SCHOOLS The longer term strategy in the Budget for building capabilities to operate overseas is implemented through the educational institutes. The Innovators Academy will enable tertiary students to build connections and capabilities by connecting students to start-up overseas. It is expected that higher educational institutions would introduce more modules on entrepreneurship, FinTech and other future economy required skills, and that there would be more short modular courses under Skills Future funding.

The future economy provides an opportunity for the Malay/Muslim community to leap frog. The preparation for the future economy should start at an early stage. We need to get our children to be tech-savvy. Malay/Muslim organisations can offer training in participating in joint pilots. There will be OVERSEAS OPPORTUNITIES FOR OUR SMES technology for primary and secondary help at SME Centres and a new SME The first strategy recommended by children to raise their interest to pursue technology Hub. the CFE is to “deepen and diversify our technology-related training. Even at the international connections”. The immediate preschool level, efforts could be made to The SMEs Go Digital Programme is an initiatives by Budget 2017 are the introduce the use of technology to example of the government partnering international partnership funds and the students to raise interest. We need to with the business community to help internationalisation finance scheme to mould the next generation to be prepare them for the future economy. help enterprises scale up globally. tech-savvy, with an entrepreneurial It is laudable but the real test is in the mindset and a passion for lifelong learning. implementation. It is hoped that all SMEs Innovation launch pads in selected A tall order indeed. would be able to tap onto this and not just overseas markets would provide the bigger enterprises. Organisations such opportunities for Singapore enterprises to connect with overseas counterparts. HELP FOR SINGAPOREANS IN THE as the Singapore Malay Chamber of FUTURE ECONOMY Commerce and Industry (SMCCI) needs to The Malay/Muslim business community should capitalise on this to venture It is also worth mentioning that housing take the lead to help the Malay/Muslim overseas. In the region, countries like grants and water prices are increasing. The business community to do so. India, Indonesia, Myanmar, and Thailand increase in Housing Grant coupled with provide ample opportunities. Indonesia in the Proximity Grant for buying resale flats particular is an interesting market for the near parents, and the Additional Housing 07 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


Grant (AHG) can amount to $100,0002. Eligible Singaporeans should consider buying resale HDB flats and applying for the grants especially as the HDB resale market is expected to benefit from these grants. Overall the property market will most likely see an upward trend towards the end of the year.

Projects at of Applied ore lib is Head ap Ta ng n Si ee Dr Am s at the of Busines e views the School Social Sciences. Th of own. University le are his in this artic expressed

Increases in diesel tax and water prices unfortunately are expected to have an inflationary effect. Business costs will increase and more importantly, these two items tend to have a physiological effect of expected inflation. We could see an increase in prices of basic commodities, including our teh tarik! The 30-percent increase in the price of water is a large jump even though it is spread over two phases. However, from a political cost perspective, it is understandable to do a one-time increase coupled with the current campaign to convince Singaporeans of the need for the increase. The message of saving water is not new; it has been going on for over the last 50 years. The water price increase and the rising costs of living are serious concerns for the lower-income group. The government’s social spending has been modest compared to other developed countries. There is a need to address these concerns and provide a social welfare system to take care of those left behind. Health costs, education, utilities, and of course water, are basic human needs that need to be provided. Budget 2017 was a strategic plan for the future economy but, worryingly, it has no strategy spelled out for those who are at risk of being left behind.

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DOLLARSANDSENSES.SG. SINGAPORE BUDGET 2017: EARLY ANALYSIS ON THE 7 THINGS THAT MATTER TO YOU. 21 FEB 2017

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COVER STORY

The Impact of

Automation on the Malay/Muslim Community BY DR WALTER EDGAR THESEIRA & NABILAH ISA

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Motorists in Singapore today rarely see parking attendants in carparks. Most carparks are now electronic, and parking charges are automatically deducted from our cashcards. We only require human assistance when parking if a problem occurs. But parking a car in 1970s Singapore was a labour intensive process. As Mr Mohd Mohaimin Abu Bakar, a URA parking attendant then, recalled: “We did all the work. We were given a set of lots to take care of. When a car parked, we collected payment from the driver and issued receipts. When the parking time paid for expired, we issued an advice note and placed it on the car.” Singapore’s parking system required one parking attendant for every dozen or so car park lots and hundreds of officers in back-office operations (Azhar Ghani, 2011).1

impossible to automate, ranging from driving to financial modelling, are now potentially automatable given sufficient resources and computing power. The best international research suggests three learning points relevant for the Malay/Muslim community: First, jobs which rely on routine and systematic tasks, whether based in the office or the workshop, are the most vulnerable to automation, because computers are particularly good at accurately performing routine tasks. In many cases, the technology already exists to automate these jobs, and it is only a matter of relative costs. As wages rise in Singapore and the costs of automation fall, more routine jobs will be outsourced.

Second, new advances in robotics and computing power have enabled complex, Singapore’s vast improvement in parking non-routine tasks, ranging from driving to accounting, to become automatable in the productivity illustrates how computernear future. Workers who hold these driven automation has increased medium-skilled jobs need to understand efficiency and economic growth that as technology improves, the more worldwide over the last few decades. The costly and common medium-skilled jobs – ERP parking system requires far fewer workers than the labour-intensive parking such as driving – will become automated attendant system of the 1970s. While it is first. However, even skilled jobs that require thinking and analysis, such as easier to sit in an air-conditioned office accounting, research, and financial and talk to drivers through the intercom investing, are also potentially automatable. than to handle payments in the hot sun, there are also far fewer jobs. Third, jobs which involve social How will computerisation and automation intelligence and human interaction are complemented by automation and hence change the nature of work in Singapore, will remain relevant, regardless of whether particularly for the Malay/Muslim those jobs are high-skilled or low-skilled. community? For decades, workers have Therefore, professionals of all types, as expressed concerns about being replaced by new technology. Crucially, “technology” well as service workers, will continue to be in demand. However, workers in peopledoes not have to be computer-based to facing jobs will have to increasingly replace jobs. The parking workforce shrank dramatically as early as 1980, when depend on technology to increase their parking coupons were introduced. But the productivity and to stay relevant. capabilities of modern computers and robotics far exceed the labour-saving technologies of the past. Tasks formerly

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MR. MOHD. MOHAIMIN ABU BAKAR’S QUOTE IS TAKEN DIRECTLY FROM AZHAR GHANI (2011). SEE AZHAR, G. (2011). THE PARKING COUPON SYSTEM: A REAR VIEW PERSPECTIVE. IPS UPDATE.

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COVER STORY

We estimate that about 66%2 of Malay/Muslim workers in Singapore hold jobs today that are susceptible to automation and computerisation (Figure 1). Malay/Muslims are significantly more vulnerable than the national population (45% at risk) because they are over-represented in medium-skilled jobs that rely on routine tasks. 17% are in clerical support, 18% in sales and services, and 11% hold skilled manual jobs in plant and machinery operation. While these occupations have provided a gateway to the middle class for many Malay/Muslim families, they are also the most susceptible to computerisation.

A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSING THE RISKS OF AUTOMATION AND COMPUTERISATION Predicting the effects of automation and computerisation on jobs requires an understanding of the relative capabilities and limitations of technology and how that affects the susceptibility of a job to automation. Figure 2 breaks down jobs along two dimensions: whether the job relies on manual labour versus cognitive skills, and whether the key tasks involved are routine versus non-routine. The first wave of automation and computerisation started in the advanced economies in the 1960s and continued through the early

2000s, affecting jobs which specialised in performing routine and systematic tasks – such as filing records accurately, tabulating numbers, or assembling products (Autor et al., 2003)3. As anyone who has struggled with their smartphone knows, computers are not ‘smart’ in the conventional sense, and simply execute orders given by programmers. Routine and systematic tasks were historically the easiest to programme and automate, and hence were automated first. Although workers who specialised in routine tasks were rapidly displaced by early automation, higher skilled workers

22%

100%

20%

90%

18%

80%

16%

70%

14%

60%

12%

50%

10%

40%

8%

30%

6% 4%

20%

2%

10%

0%

Legislators, Senior Officials & Managers

Professionals

Associate Professionals & Technicians

Clerical Support Workers

Service & Sales Workers

Craftsmen & Related Trades Workers

Plant & Machine Operators & Assemblers

Cleaners, Labourers & Related Workers

Others

PROBABILITY OF AUTOMATION

PROPORTION OF WORKFORCE

FIGURE 1: THE PROBABILITY OF AUTOMATION FOR MALAY/MUSLIM WORKERS IN SINGAPORE

0%

O C C U P A T I O N –T Y P E S Total

Malays

Probability of Computerisation

SOURCE: SINGAPORE DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS AND AUTHORS’ ESTIMATES BASED ON FREY AND OSBORNE (2013)

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2 OUR ESTIMATES ARE BASED ON RESEARCH BY FREY AND OSBORNE (2013), WHO ESTIMATE THE PROBABILITY OF AUTOMATION FOR 702 U.S. OCCUPATIONAL CLASSIFICATIONS. WE MAP THESE U.S. OCCUPATIONAL CLASSIFICATIONS ONTO THE CLOSEST CORRESPONDING SINGAPORE OCCUPATIONAL CATEGORY AS TABULATED BY THE SINGAPORE DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS, AND WE COMPUTE THE RISK OF AUTOMATION FOR EACH SINGAPORE OCCUPATIONAL CATEGORY BY TAKING THE SIMPLE AVERAGE OF FREY AND OSBORNE’S (2013) ESTIMATES FOR THE MAPPED U.S. OCCUPATIONAL CLASSIFICATIONS. OUR PROCEDURE PROVIDES ONLY A ROUGH ESTIMATE OF THE RISK OF AUTOMATION AS WE DO NOT HAVE THE DATA TO DIRECTLY LINK SINGAPORE OCCUPATIONS ONE-TO-ONE TO EACH SPECIFIC U.S. OCCUPATIONAL CLASSIFICATION. SEE FREY, C.B., OSBORNE, M.A. (2013). THE FUTURE OF EMPLOYMENT: HOW SUSCEPTIBLE ARE JOBS TO COMPUTERISATION? OXFORD MARTIN PROGRAMME ON TECHNOLOGY AND EMPLOYMENT. 3 AUTOR, D.H., LEVY, F., MURNANE, R.J. (2003). THE SKILL CONTENT OF RECENT TECHNOLOGICAL CHANGE: AN EMPIRICAL EXPLORATION. THE QUARTERLY JOURNAL OF ECONOMICS. 1279-1333.


FIGURE 2: THE RISK OF AUTOMATION BY TYPE OF JOB TASK

COGNITIVE

ROUTINE

NON-ROUTINE

Tasks that involve specific rule-based activities and require some knowledge work

Tasks that do not follow any systematic rules or patterns, and require some knowledge work

Examples: Record-keeping, customer service

Examples: medical diagnosis, legal writing

Automation Risk: Already highly automated

Automation Risk: Low but growing, limited by Machine Learning

Tasks that involve specific rule-based activities and physical labour Examples: Assembly, manufacturing MANUAL Automation Risk: Already moderate to highly automated

Tasks that do not follow any systematic rules or patterns, and require physical labour Examples: driving, cleaning services

Automation Risk: Moderate and growing, limited by Machine Learning and Robotics

SOURCE: AUTOR ET AL. (2003) AND, FREY AND OSBORNE (2013)

saw their productivity grow because computers made them more effective at their jobs. Workers in management and professional roles, which require deep skills such as analysis, problem-solving, and creativity, benefited because computerisation eliminated the most tedious parts of their jobs. As a result, while middle skill jobs rapidly disappeared from many developed economies, demand for highly skilled professionals continued to grow from the late 1990s through the 2010s (Autor, 2015)4.

4 5

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AUTOMATION TODAY AND Osborne, 2013). For example, the IN THE FUTURE investment bank JPMorgan Chase & Co However, deep, complex skills alone are recently developed a programme named no longer a barrier to automation today. “Contract Intelligence” or COIN, which The sophistication and power of computer automatically reviews loan contract programmes has grown dramatically over agreements, replacing 360,000 hours of time, driven by a rapid fall in the cost of legal services each year (Son, February computing hardware; the average 2017)6. Such technological breakthroughs smartphone today has more computing may improve the productivity of top power than a supercomputer of the 1980s.5 managers and lawyers, who can now The widespread availability of low-cost concentrate on strategic decision making, computing power, combined with recent but obviously replaces an army of skilled advances in machine learning and robotics, junior legal officers in the process. has led to automation of even tasks that The latest advances in automation are require deep, complex skills (Frey and already being piloted and tested in

AUTOR, D. H. (2015). WHY ARE THERE STILL SO MANY JOBS? THE HISTORY AND FUTURE OF WORKPLACE AUTOMATION. JOURNAL OF ECONOMIC PERSPECTIVES. 3-30. IN 1985, THE CRAY-2 SUPERCOMPUTER WAS THE FASTEST COMPUTER IN THE WORLD, WAS THE SIZE OF A LARGE WASHING MACHINE, AND REQUIRED A SPECIAL LIQUID COOLING SYSTEM TO OPERATE. BY 2010, EACH IPHONE 4 PROVIDED SIMILAR COMPUTING POWER AT A FRACTION OF THE PRICE AND SPACE – GIVING MILLIONS OF CONSUMERS THE SAME POWER THAT ONLY GOVERNMENTS COULD BUY IN THE 1980S. SON, H. (2017, FEBRUARY 28). JPMORGAN SOFTWARE DOES IN SECONDS WHAT TOOK LAWYERS 360,000 HOURS. BLOOMBERG.

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COVER STORY

With 66% of the Malay/Muslim workforce employed in occupations at risk from disruptive technology and automation, employees and employers alike must invest in adopting and complementing technology to raise efficiency and productivity.

Singapore. Autonomous vehicles are already accepting passengers on a trial basis at One-North (Siong, October 2016)7. Other traditional service sector jobs – such as that of security guards – are being reshaped by automation. Concorde Security has developed a mobile command and control unit that monitors up to 30 buildings at once, reducing the manpower requirement from one security guard per building, to only 3 trained employees in the control centre (Law, October 2015)8. Further developments in artificial intelligence are likely to enable automatic recognition of trusted occupants, reducing the need for security personnel further. Even the process of making popiah skin has been automated with local manufacturer Mr. Popiah reporting a tenfold improvement in productivity from replacing workers with machinery (Lee, February 2017)9. THE WAY FORWARD FOR THE MALAY/MUSLIM COMMUNITY Industries which are poised for fundamental change from automation will not disappear from Singapore. Taxis and ride-sharing will still be here when automated cars are commonplace, but the traditional taxi driver will disappear from Singapore, just as the parking attendant has. With 66% of the Malay/Muslim workforce employed in occupations at risk from disruptive technology and automation, employees and employers alike must invest in adopting and complementing technology to raise efficiency and productivity. To remain competitive, employers need to play their role in identifying potential areas of skills development for workers, especially in areas where their skill-level and job requirements can complement newly-adopted forms of technology. A particularly promising area lies in using technology to help build human-to-

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human relationships. For example, customer service ambassadors and autonomous vehicle controllers will still be required even when a human taxi driver is no longer needed. Sales representatives can still add value through building customer relationships even when the physical task of logistics fulfilment has been automated from the robotic warehouse to drone delivery. Workers cannot adapt to the coming changes in the nature of work unless they also take active responsibility for their own lifelong learning. As a starting point, more Malay/Muslims could take advantage of existing Government schemes to help upgrade themselves. Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob recently highlighted that out of 126,000 claimants of SkillsFuture Credits in 2016, only 8.4%, or only slightly over 10,000 are Malays – far below their proportion of the population (Hasleen Bachik, January 2017)10. The reasons for this striking figure must be examined. If the lack of knowledge of skills required for future jobs or re-training programmes is the cause, then employers, the Malay/Muslim organisations, as well as media platforms can aid in bridging the information gap. However, if employees are resisting change, more must be done to identify workers in occupations at high risk of automation, to proactively convince such workers to set their careers on a new path before it is too late. Seemingly secure jobs are no longer secure. We must help to shape the future of work in Singapore, rather than let the future shape us.

SIONG, O. (2016, OCTOBER 18). TEST BED FOR DRIVERLESS VEHICLES RAMPED UP AT ONE-NORTH. CHANNEL NEWSASIA. 8 LAW, F. (2015, OCTOBER 1). S’PORE-MADE SURVEILLANCE VAN CAN COVER 30 BUILDINGS. CHANNEL NEWSASIA. 9 LEE, P. (2017, FEBRUARY 19). POPIAH FIRM SEEKS HELP PUTTING AUTOMATION ON THE MENU. THE STRAITS TIMES. 10 HASLEEN, B. (2017, JANUARY 22). HALIMAH: MASIH RAMAI BELUM GUNA KREDIT SKILLSFUTURE. BERITA HARIAN.


cturer nior Le is a Se ersity of a ir e s e iv Un r Th er Edga the Singapore in Dr Walt t s a PhD conomics mics a o ld n o o h c e E of ed E es. H Scienc nce and Appli University of Social e ie c th S f l o a l o re in eri Manag Wharton Scho h interests a l e ra arc from th nia. His rese and behaviou va s Pennsyl icroeconomic y working on tl m n sumer e applied s. He is curr ics, con ic conom econom in transport e , and s h researc our economic lab credit, n policy. o innovati

Nabilah Isa is a Research As sociate at the Singapore Un iversity of Socia l Sciences. Sh holds a degree e in Economics with a second major in Publi c Policy and Gl obal Affairs fro Nanyang Tech m nological Unive rsity. Her interests lie in areas of the so cial sector, especially in iss ues pertaining to the less-privileged .

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ECONOMY

A More Compassionate Budget? BY ABDUL SHARIFF ABOO KASSIM

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The Budget 2017 statement delivered by Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat, on 20 February 2017, came shortly after the Committee on the Future Economy (CFE) made its recommendations on the policies that the government could pursue to sustain a modest annual growth of between two and three percent, going forward. For most, their perception of the future is a mix of hope and concern. The recommendations of the CFE and the announcements of Budget 2017 painted a picture of a volatile economic landscape punctuated by disruptive technological innovations which pose uncertainty to both businesses and individuals. In an environment such as this, they are expected to be future-ready – businesses

building digital capabilities, supported by the government’s SMEs Go Digital Programme; and individuals deepening their skills to remain relevant in their jobs, tapping on approved courses through SkillsFuture. It is inevitable that the future scenario, as portrayed by the CFE and Budget 2017, requires commitment on the part of businesses and individuals to be abreast of developments or risk descending into a vicious cycle of debilitating outcomes amid a highly competitive and uncertain economic terrain. A pertinent point to note is that as Singapore embarks into a future which rewards sophistication – going digital, scaling up, deepening skills, lifelong learning, and other buzzwords associated with the immediate and long-term future – the starting points for the various groups in the emerging social and economic milieus are not the same. For example, how many businesses are well-positioned to take advantage of the incentives to go digital? Skills upgrading is a prerequisite in the new economy but while some have the advantage of being in adjacent industries, thus merely needing to update their skills, others facing structural unemployment have to acquire a new set of skills altogether, meaning starting from scratch. For those further down the skills hierarchy, working in jobs that face the prospects of automation or displacement by low-wage foreign labour, adapting to the new climate of higher value jobs can be a steep climb, bordering on the insurmountable.

A pertinent point to note is that as Singapore embarks into a future which rewards sophistication – going digital, scaling up, deepening skills, lifelong learning, and other buzzwords associated with the immediate and long-term future – the starting points for the various groups in the emerging social and economic milieus are not the same.

AS GOOD AS IT SOUNDS? For a start, Budget 2017 is couched in a language that tends to drive a wedge between people who have the requisite grasp of fiscal policies and the laity. For instance, under the Household Support Measures section of Budget 2017, a statement such as a “one-off (GST Voucher – Cash) Special Payment will cost about APRIL 2017

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$280 million and benefit more than 1.3 million Singaporeans” looks like a massive expense on the part of the government to help households cope. In fact, in ensuing parliamentary debates, some Members of Parliament expressed concerns about total expenditure – which in addition to social spending includes investments in businesses, workers and infrastructure developments – outstripping growth in operating revenue consecutively over the last five years. It is deemed that such a rate of government expenditure is unsustainable, thus posing a threat to future generations. In per capita terms, however, as announced in Budget 2017, this translates into a payment of up to $200 for each eligible GST Voucher – Cash recipient, in addition to the regular GST Voucher – Cash. Thus, in total, eligible Singaporeans can receive up to $500 in cash for 2017. For the common man, all that $500 for an entire year comes up to is the equivalent of a monthly handout of about $41.70. Moreover, this amount depends on the annual value of one’s home as at 31 December 2016 and whose income during the Year of Assessment (YA) is $28,000 and below, meaning some may receive less than that. It also seems that the additional costs incurred by most households from the hike in water prices are unlikely to be fully offset by the GST Voucher-U-Save Rebate, which was initiated with the aim of helping lower- to middle-income Singaporeans with immediate cash needs, medical needs and utilities bills. Although the annual rebate has been increased by between $40 and $120, depending on one’s HDB flat type, 75 percent of households are staring at the prospect of paying up to $12 more for their monthly water bill. Dwellers of one- and two-room flats would not need to spend more on water as the increase in the annual rebate completely offsets the hike but those seeking further help with coping with the rising costs of living looks set to have their hopes dashed. 17 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

Nominated Member of Parliament, Ms Kuik Shiao Yin, in a passionate speech in Parliament on 1 March 2017, highlighted that the level of trust that the mass population has in Singapore’s system was almost as high as the informed public but, in 2017, for the first time, a small proportion of the former slid from being “trusters” to being “neutrals”. Alluding to the case of the United States and Great Britain where distrust of the mass population in their systems led to outcomes like Brexit, Ms Kuik opined that this small group of respondents is worth paying attention to. SOCIAL NEED, FISCAL BID While acknowledging that schemes such as the GST Voucher – U-Save Rebate, Service & Conservancy Charges (S&CC) Rebate and enhancement of education bursaries will help those in need, in her view, they are like “drops in a constantly leaking bucket” for the working poor. The annual Budget Statements, which calls on Singaporeans to “upscale”, “internationalise” and “innovate” are valid but she attempted to dispel the notion that the poor do not care or are “lazy”. On the contrary, they are trying “not to drown under wave after wave of new demands, new causes and new changes to their world” as they try to break free of the poverty cycle. To those in dire circumstances, announcements such as increase in the price of water, while justifiable, merely adds to their predicament. During a roundtable discussion to discuss Budget 2017 organised by the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA), Madam Nooraini Razak, Centre Manager at PPIS As-Salaam Family Support Centre felt that, while help in terms of “dollars and cents” is essential in addressing the unmet needs of lowerincome households, the way they are viewed and how schemes targeting them are framed could perpetuate certain unhelpful perceptions about them. She proposed that they are instead seen as “masters of their future”, a population segment with the potential to be key

On the contrary, they are trying “not to drown under wave after wave of new demands, new causes and new changes to their world” as they try to break free of the poverty cycle. To those in dire circumstances, announcements such as increase in the price of water, while justifiable, merely adds to their predicament.


contributors to the economy and not just the helpless beneficiaries of the nation’s economic development. Driven by such an empowering faith in the poor, the Budget should allocate funds as investments in developing their latent abilities. She cited The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund’s initiative of sending two of their beneficiaries to participate in the Building the Future programme by Technische Universität München campus in Germany – a project for children from underprivileged families. Such initiatives, Madam Nooraini argued, help build confidence and ignite the aspiration and ambition of these young underprivileged Singaporeans. In any discourse on a compassionate society, social policies come under scrutiny. As pointed out in Budget 2017, the government has increased social spending and strengthened social safety nets, particularly over the last decade, as social needs became increasingly complex and aggravated by factors such as a rapidly ageing population. This has however not allayed concerns about whether enough is being done to alleviate the plight of low-income families or whether social spending can be increased further. Former GIC Chief Economist Yeoh Lam Keong argued that the government has ample resources to achieve better welfare, but the question was whether it was willing to use the resources rationally to achieve the targets he had outlined during the Singapore Perspectives 2016 conference for healthcare, education and public transport.

social expenditure. Nevertheless, the concerns of those worried about the impact of social spending on the sustainability of fiscal balances and those attempting to highlight or address the daily challenges of the poor are both valid. Considering the apparent divide between technocratic explanations of the policies of Budget 2017 and perspectives from the ground, there is a need for annual Budget Statements to be communicated in a manner such that the different segments of the population, including those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, could relate to so as to obtain diverse feedback from the larger society – from the more policy-savvy ones to the ‘laypersons’ who constitute the bulk of those impacted by budget decisions. Thus, inclusiveness will not just appear to be a word bandied about in policy statements but is reflected in the way they reach out to a wider audience.

Abdul S h Projects ariff Aboo Kas sim is a C Researc oordinator w Researc ith the h her / C (RIMA), on Islamic a nd Mala entre for the res y Affair earch s Associa s u tion of Muslim bsidiary of the Profes sionals (AMP).

However, the following year, according to research from data provider CEIC, Budget 2017 and Maybank Kim Eng, social development spending is rising sharply, especially since the financial year 2012, thus the mounting pressure to increase revenue as part of the fiscal plan to cope with climbing social expenditure. But revenues from taxes, such as GST and corporate ones, have not kept pace with APRIL 2017

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POLITICS

The Search for Singapore’s

Next President BY DR JOHANNIS ABDUL AZIZ 19 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


Scheduled for September, the coming presidential election must be the most anticipated public event of 2017. While the populations of larger democratic countries have to contend with numerous regional and local elections that may cause electoral fatigue, Singaporeans get to express their democratic voice only once every two to three years in alternating general and presidential elections, as well as the occasional by-election. This year’s election, though, is especially anticipated by the Malay community because for the first time, the presidential election will be reserved for Malays.

were again amended. This time the key changes were twofold. First, the 1991 requirement for private sector candidates to have helmed companies worth at least $100 million in shareholder equity was raised to $500 million. Second, the amendment provides for elections that are reserved for minority communities. A reserved election is triggered by five consecutive terms without a president coming from a particular minority community. And so, with these new rules and the requirements and responsibilities of the president set out above, the search for the ideal Malay candidate for president looks to be a In an inherited Westminster parliamentary daunting task. system such as ours, the Head of State usually plays a largely ceremonial role. A COMMUNITY DIVIDED The first four presidents after independence This year’s presidential were appointed by Parliament and their election is set aside for duty was largely to play a unifying figure the Malay community by presiding over ceremonies and events because we have not had designed to bind Singaporeans together as a Malay president in the one people and to act as Singapore’s five terms since the foremost representative to foreign states elected presidency started. and their dignitaries. Individuals with (Wee Kim Wee’s term is dignity, solemnity and a bit of the taken into account because common touch were the order of the day. the 1991 constitutional changes applied to his CHANGES IN THE ELECTED last two years in PRESIDENCY office.) But of This system was changed in January 1991, after new constitutional amendments passed by Parliament provided for the popular election of the president. This change in the source of legitimacy for the office also came with new executive and legislative powers. Under these constitutional changes, the elected president was given the power to veto legislative attempts to use our national reserves, the power to appoint individuals to certain key civil service positions, and powers to oversee the enforcement of the Internal Security Act, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act as well as the Prevention of Corruption Act by their respective executive bodies.

course, the dearth in Malay presidents extends further back. Since the republic’s first president Yusof Ishak died in office in 1970, no Malay person has ascended to the presidency. Thus, the first questions that we should ask are whether this is a problem and for whom. Perusing letters to the newspapers and comments on social media, it seems that the issue of reserved elections has divided the Malay community. Some segment of the community welcomes the news that the next president will definitely be Malay, however there does not seem to be significant discursive support for the general idea of race-based reserved elections as a solution to the perceived problem. On the other hand, the segment of the community who opposes this development is more vocal online and makes more sustained arguments, perhaps the most central of which is that

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these reserved elections go against the meritocratic values which the community has accepted as its own. After seeing more and more Malays climb the private and public sector ladders in the last couple of decades, they argue that these reserved elections are a form of affirmative action which is neither needed nor wanted. One Malay professional who wrote in to The Straits Times called it a ‘major step backwards’ for the community.

however, that this author agrees with the particular solution the PAP government has offered for this problem, only that a superficial colourblind approach can potentially gloss over salient imbalances in the status quo.

A candidate from the private sector however, seems better suited to this moment, when the custodial role is prominently at issue and a desire to break away from PAP influence remains relatively high since Dr Tan Cheng Bock’s losing campaign in 2011. Such a candidate PRIVATE VS PUBLIC SECTOR will represent a different direction in our CANDIDATE governance – an injection of dynamic The other salient and related issue in this private sector culture and professionalism coming presidential election is whether into a government whose olde-worlde there is a large enough talent pool of Malay ways are increasingly being questioned. Indeed, it would be more satisfying if a persons who meet the stated requirements Such a candidate will represent a break Malay president were to attain the office on for the office of president. While there from the past and it would be beneficial to his or her own steam. However, to argue might be a handful of Malays in the public the Malay community if the face of a that reserved elections skew the playing sector who meet those specific requirements, forward-looking Singapore were to be a field and go against our meritocratic values many online discussions have lamented Malay one. Such a candidate will help the is to assume that the playing field is level the lack of suitable Malays in the private community be associated with progress in the first place. Despite our high regard sector. It is probably true that a Malay and dynamism rather than backwardness for meritocracy, a 2016 Institute of Policy candidate from the public sector who has and parochialism. (IPS) survey commissioned by Channel gone through the tough selection process of NewsAsia found evidence to the contrary. the PAP may reassure more establishment- CONCLUSION Among other findings, it found that only minded voters who prefer a candidate with Looking at the complexity of the issue, 59% of Chinese respondents found a higher paper qualifications and more perhaps it would not be entirely surprising Malay president acceptable. Thus, at best, experience serving the people at large. if we conclude that there is no ideal given two candidates of equal standing, Nevertheless, given the PAP government’s candidate, practically speaking. An ideal 41% of Chinese respondents would prefer emphasis on how important it is that a candidate would have to spend two the one who was not Malay. At worst, president is qualified for and is able to play lifetimes cultivating careers in both the perhaps this segment will take any the custodial role over our national public and private sectors. But here, non-Malay over any Malay candidate reserves, the time might be ripe for a perhaps we should remind ourselves that regardless of relative ability. If indeed this suitable Malay candidate from the private the perfect is the enemy of the good and is a reliable reflection of the whole sector. Such a candidate may better while it is not often that we praise a jack of Chinese community, it is a significant impress other ethnic communities on how all trades perhaps the President’s Office of and quite possibly decisive segment of far the Malay community has come in the Republic of Singapore is in need of one. the electorate. socio-economic terms. The next president will have a lot of different expectations with which to For the People’s Action Party (PAP) Like most things political, the issue of the contend. Maybe perfection should not be government, the long absence of a Malay best presidential candidate has to take into one of them. president in the Istana is not simply a account the trade-offs. A more traditional problem with our meritocratic value candidate from the public sector, after system, it is also a problem for the years of serving the public, is more likely Dr Johannis Abdul Aziz credibility of our multicultural national to better fulfil the symbolic unifying role is a Research Fellow at the National Institute of character. Thus, the issue of whether or of the president. This is advantageous Education, Singapore. He has a BA(Hons) in Politics, Philosophy not we should have reserved elections goes because while the slate of candidates for and Economics from Oxford University and was awarded a PhD beyond the interests and self-regard of the this election is exclusive to Malays, let us in Political Science by the University of Malay or any other minority community. remind ourselves that the whole country California Berkeley in 2014. His research interests include the poli It extends to how the entire nation views is still voting. A former public servant will tics, public policy and civil society organis ations of Singapore. itself and its credibility among other probably have better national name The views expressed in this article are his own. nations that it is what it says it is. If we are recognition and wider, legitimacya multicultural exemplar to the world, not enhancing, cross-communities appeal to having an ethnic rotation in the Istana the entire electorate, which as we covered hurts our credibility. This is not to say earlier still harbours significant ethnic bias. 21 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


RELIGION

Sectarianism and Muslim Diversity: Lessons for the Malay/Muslim Community

BY DR NURALIAH NORASID

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The early decades of the 21st century will be distinctly marked by inter- and intra-religious conflicts that almost invariably see at their centres Muslims and the Islamic faith they profess. The world is becoming increasingly diverse as the relative ease of travel, growing human populations and uneven economic developments see major cities take on more multicultural and transnational populations. This is made more complex by peoples and communities adopting multiple layers of identities, all of which are calling for greater socio-political recognition. As different groups seek to carve out spaces and niches for themselves in the larger fabric of society, government authorities are faced with the ever-growing challenge of maintaining harmony between them and at the same time work to prevent the propagation of discord—an increasingly difficult task in this age of wide internet penetration, mushrooming forum and website contents, and social media, all of which help see views publicised, garner attention and spread at speeds faster than the relevant authorities can take them down. Given the global state of affairs, it is imperative that Singapore work at not only maintaining relations between the different inter- and intra-groups, but also at understanding the dynamics and areas of contention.

Islam? Are halal hotdogs still halal if there is the word ‘dog’ in them? Is Peppa Pig teaching Muslim children to be snobbish and precocious?2 These rather irrational concerns have led some to view the community as wanting to set themselves apart from ‘mainstream’ society.

Local conflict, while not expressed outright, is more often than not expressed through the platform of social media, which has become one of the leading platforms for exposing and later aiding in apprehending those harbouring or disseminating views that threaten the integrity of our social fabric. The recent incident involving the imam whose sermons allegedly justified the persecution of Jews and Christians3 and the snowball of reactionary comments condemning the imam’s views and at the same time problematising the user’s decision in posting the incriminating video show that Singapore still has a ways to go in managing the differences between its citizens and communities. Spaces for dialogue are present but limited in their outreach and scope, and where tolerance and neighbourliness are the adages preached, there are voices saying the contrary. It goes from managers shaking their heads and saying to another in private, “Malays always have poor work ethics”, to the everyday solidarity of CONFLICT AND EXPRESSION disliking foreigners among the average In Singapore, the diversity of views and native Singaporean, to the verbally violent opinions have, thankfully, not manifested reprimand of ‘uncovered’ women seeking in outright conflict and dissonance. to pray in the mosques, to the presence of However, they are no less contentious Facebook pages that are openly antagonistic particularly when it directly concerns the towards the Shi’ite community in integrity of intercultural relationships in Singapore. Singapore and, in microcosmic Singapore. There has been concern mimesis, the Muslim community here has expressed early last year over the growing to continue developing its intellectual and “distance” of the local Muslim population social logistics to manage the present and the worrying trend among the diversity. As we see more alliances being community, both here and abroad, of made within groups holding opposing being overly concerned about the ideological views and opinions on moral particularities that constitute an Islamic and social values rather than between way of life1: Is serving National Service to a them, issues of differences within the secular state or sending over greetings on community need to be addressed. other religious festivals at odds with

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Spaces for dialogue are present but limited in their outreach and scope, and where tolerance and neighbourliness are the adages preached, there are voices saying the contrary.

1 SIAU MING EN. “MUSLIMS HERE GROWING ‘SOMEWHAT MORE DISTANT’: SHANMUGAM”. TODAY. 20 JAN 2016. “PEPPA PIG A CORRUPTING INFLUENCE FOR MUSLIM CHILDREN, SAYS LEADER”. AUSTRALIAN BUSINESS REVIEW. 8 DEC 2016. 3 YUEN SIN. “IMAM BEING PROBED OVER COMMENTS ON CHRISTIANS AND JEWS”. THE STRAITS TIMES. 2 MAR 2017.


SECTARIAN CONFLICT ABROAD In Islamic history, the schism between the religion’s two largest sects is founded on differing theological and historical views, which in turn fuels more modern day concerns of power and authority, freedom and equality, the distribution of resources and matters of territory.4,5 As such, this divide has far-reaching bearings that are intertwined with the issues of religious extremism, social integrity and global security. Across the Arab world, sectarian conflict has the effect of bolstering the numbers of extremist groups on both sides of the Sunni-Shi’a divide as the hopes of secular reformation are lost to social regression and people began to identify themselves along more “tribal or confessional” lines. In a classic case of ‘othering’, Sunni preachers adopt exclusivist positions in labelling Shi’as as “idol-worshippers” and jihadis draw on the doctrine of takfir, or accusation of apostasy, to justify their persecution. Public outcry towards the execution of Sheikh Nimr Baqir al-Nimr, a Shi’ite religious leader, for charges of sedition in 2015 in Saudi Arabia6 and this year’s execution of three Shi’ite men following alleged torture and an unfair trial7 further cements negative sentiments between the two groups. Sectarian conflict that has divided the Arab world sees further reach with the support from some quarters of Saudi Arabia for sectarian and ultra-conservative groups in Pakistan. Group-affiliated political leaders make efforts to institutionalise anti-Shi’ite sentiments, effectively “repackaging” sectarian policies into shifting the country away from becoming a more tolerant and inclusive society8. Sanctioned violence against one group has the dangerous ripple effect of sanctioning violence against others.

4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Reports noted the extension of violence towards moderate Sunnis who are not viewed to be “sufficiently orthodox”9 and those of the arts, literature and media fraternities that, apart from being an enriching entity to social consciousness, is often associated with anti-establishment movements. Pakistan has also seen an increase in honour killings as the dominant religious education promotes misogyny as a social norm, further affecting the country’s civil society10.

which branded Shi’ism as deviant while effectively upholding Sunnism as the only authorised sectarian identity13. Effectively, sectarianism becomes part of a larger political play that works to ensure the legitimacy of a dominant political party of which religious identity is closely tied to the Sunni faith, a faith which is also practised by the voting majority.

INTRA-FAITH AFFAIRS IN SINGAPORE As the above examples illustrate, sectarian conflict goes beyond a matter of holding differing theological and historical views. While aspects and evidence of Shi’ite practice has existed in Southeast Asia from Rather, these very differences are roped in to gather allies for political causes that as early as the 7th century11, it is not until the time of contemporary identity politics prove socially, even economically, damaging in the long run. and its confluence with statehood that Shi’as began to face similar institutionalised discrimination. In Malaysia, for example, While Singapore has not seen violent and outright sectarian conflict, Shi’as they are subjected to social and legal reportedly face discrimination in different restrictions which prevents them from sectors of local Islamic society. Common spreading their views and distributing issues cited are those involving marriage resources that espouse their beliefs12. Reports also indicate that they are greatly where solemnisation by Shi’ite clerics lacks legitimacy unless also carried out limited from, even persecuted, for by a Sunni cleric, and the difficulty in observing their festivals and holding acquiring spaces for religious events congregations. These restrictions stem from government legislation and religious and congregations. At the mosque level, complaints have been made about decree, which is given legitimacy by a fatwa, or religious opinion, released by the the presence of Shi’a practitioners in predominantly Sunni prayer spaces and Fatwa Committee for Religious Affairs,

NASR, VALI. THE SHIA REVIVAL: HOW CONFLICTS WITHIN ISLAM WILL SHAPE THE FUTURE. REPRINTED 2016. BLACK, IAN. “SUNNI V SHIA: WHY THE CONFLICT IS MORE POLITICAL THAN RELIGIOUS”. THE GUARDIAN. 5 APR 2015. BLACK, IAN. “SAUDI ARABIA FACES OUTCRY OVER DEATH SENTENCE FOR SHIA RELIGIOUS LEADER”. THE GUARDIAN. C. 2015. WINTOUR, PATRICK. “BAHRAIN EXECUTES THREE SHIA MEN IN FIRST DEATH SENTENCES SINCE 2010”. THE GUARDIAN. 15 JAN 2017. DORSEY, JAMES. “POLITICAL VIOLENCE AND SECTARIANISM IN PAKISTAN”. THE HUFFINGTON POST. ND. ACCESSED: 20 MAR 2017. MAHADEVAN, PREM. “SECTARIANISM IN PAKISTAN”. CSS ANALYSES IN SECURITY POLICY. NO. 205, MARCH 2017. C.F. DORSEY. MARCINKOWSKI, CHRISTOPH. “SELECTED HISTORICAL FACETS OF THE PRESENCE OF SHI’ISM IN SOUTHEAST ASIA”. THE MUSLIM WORLD. VOLUME 99. APRIL 2009. SHANAHAN, ROGER. “MALAYSIA AND ITS SHI’A ‘PROBLEM’”. MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE. 25 JUL 2014. IBID.

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In Islamic history, the schism between the religion’s two largest sects is founded on differing theological and historical views, which in turn fuels more modern day concerns of power and authority, freedom and equality, the distribution of resources and matters of territory.

the division is, of course, far worse online where a certain degree of anonymity allows users to freely voice their opinions with the intention of sowing discord. However, there has been a public call to respect and embrace intra-faith religious diversity within the community14,15, bolstered by dialogue and sharing sessions that are taking place in smaller circles to foster better relations between the different groups. In light of a conflictridden 21st century, Dr Syed Farid Alatas referred to the ‘Amman Message’, which was first issued on 9 November 2004 that calls for tolerance and unity among Muslims through three fundamental points, which are issued by 24 senior scholars from around the world and branches and schools of Islam. The points specifically recognised eight legal schools and precisely defined who is a Muslim, forbade takfir among Muslims and placed preconditions for the issuing of fatwas. The message attempts to be broad in its coverage while being specific enough to discourage illegitimate, divisive interpretations16. Nevertheless, Dr Alatas feels that the message cannot translate into practice “without a certain degree of political will”17, and, to add to that point, a larger degree of structural changes affecting education, social mobility and people’s economic conditions.

arch Associate rasid is a Rese and Dr Nuraliah No ch in Islamic ar se Re for re r of with the Cent e holds a Docto e Sh . A) IM (R Malay Affairs tion in Creativ th a specialisa from Philosophy, wi ry Mythopoesis ra po em nt Co Writing and l University. ica log no ch Nanyang Te

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“POLICIES IN PLACE TO MANAGE DIVERSITY, INTRA-FAITH DIFFERENCES: YAACOB IBRAHIM”. CHANNEL NEWS ASIA. 26 JAN 2016. 15 TOH YONG CHUAN. “CALL TO EMBRACE DIVERSITY IN ISLAM”. THE STRAITS TIMES. 8 MAR 2017. 16 STABLE URL: AMMANMESSAGE.COM 17 ALATAS, SYED FARID. “THE WAY FORWARD FOR INTRA-MUSLIM PEACE”. THE STRAITS TIMES. 29 JAN 2016.


Is There Room for Religious Ethics in our Common Space? BY HANNA TAUFIQ SIRAJ We find ourselves living in a time of intense ambiguities, unexpected disruption to universal norms and values, as well as the rise of intolerance, Islamophobia and exclusivism on a global scale. Amidst these troubling times, however, people of faith continue to sow seeds of love, hope and solidarity. When the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) initiated a fund raising exercise for the Aceh earthquake victims and the Rakhine recently, local interfaith leaders promptly and happily contributed $21,000 all within a week. When a Jewish cemetery was vandalised in St Louis, US, a campaign led by Muslims raised over $100,000 for its repair in less than two days. Persistent discourse continues on the role and place of religion and religious communities, specifically Islam, in public life. Can or should religion play a public role in our diverse society? Can religion or religious leadership provide new and creative solutions to modern challenges? And if so, what can be the guidelines and concepts that can facilitate this negotiation in the public sphere? While we can’t deny the deep meaning that our respective faiths brings to us personally, more reflection on religion’s enduring message of hope and deep solidarity with humanity is needed.

THIS ARTICLE IS INSPIRED BY THE DISCUSSIONS HELD BETWEEN RELIGIOUS LEADERS, ACTIVISTS AND ACADEMICS ON THE ROLE OF RELIGION IN SINGAPORE AT MUIS ACADEMY’S PUBLIC SEMINAR TITLED “IS THERE A PUBLIC ROLE OF RELIGION TODAY?” WITH PROF GAVIN FLOOD (YAP KIM HAO PROFESSOR OF COMPARATIVE RELIGIOUS STUDIES, YALE-NUS COLLEGE) AND DR MOHAMMAD HANNAN HASSAN (VICE-DEAN, MUIS ACADEMY) AND CHAIRED BY THE WRITER HELD ON 9 DECEMBER 2016.

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RELIGION

RELIGION AND THE COMMON SPACE – THE SINGAPOREAN WAY Singapore is a secular state but its style has also been described as secularism with “a soul” - it respects all religions and the rights of religious peoples are guaranteed in Article 15 of the Constitution. In the 2015 General Household Survey, 81.5% of Singaporeans profess to be “religiously affiliated”. We also take religious harmony seriously through the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and the establishment of the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, consisting of both religious and lay leaders, which advises the President on matters affecting religious relations. These measures are all in place to ensure that peace and stability are maintained, and it is because of this that Singapore is increasingly one of the few places in the world where diversity can thrive and flourish peacefully. Recently, however, we are seeing religious groups in Singapore becoming more vocal and demanding in the public, common space. This can be seen in attempts to define public morality on LGBTQ issues, or various petitions to allow nurses to wear the hijab, to allow halal food on navy ships, or to ban Madonna from performing here due to her use of Christian symbols on stage. Eugene Tan, an Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University (SMU), describes the common space in Singapore as “secular spaces for people from all segments of our society to interact and mingle – they are neutral spaces in which Singaporeans can engage in public life and with one another free from religious considerations and sensitivities.” Academics who work on the field of the public sphere appreciates it for its transformative potential for society. Professor of Hinduism and the Comparative Study of Religion at the University of Cambridge Julius Lipner describes it as “…a space of constant becoming, of endless, sometimes exciting possibilities, but a space we cannot easily control.” As Singaporeans we are used to order and

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control. Whether we like it or not, however, the local space is being widened as we speak and religious ethics are playing a larger role in defining and shaping public discourse and morality.

José Casanova believes that religion has strong potential to address the common good in secular states and can motivate citizens to participate in civic life in the name of universal values that secular doctrines may neglect1. All major religious THE CASE FOR RELIGION’S PUBLIC ROLE traditions in general have the potential to Do we really need religion in the public contribute decisively to public discussions sphere in the first place? Honestly on issues involving basic human and speaking, recent incidents have shown societal values, such as justice, peace, and that it is actually not a good time for solidarity with the disadvantaged. This can religion. ISIS’s form of gruesome violence be seen in the earlier local and global waged in the name of Islam has hijacked examples of imminent fund-raising for the place of Islam and Muslims in those in need. The challenge is to get this societies, giving rise to Islamophobia and recognised as an important function for fear-mongering. The damaging rhetoric religion in society. during the US presidential election and the ensuing “Muslim Ban” of the Trump FINDING THE MULTIPLE COMMON(S) IN presidency has expanded the discourse of THE COMMON GOOD hate and intolerance made along racial, Due to the need to ensure harmonious ethnic and religious lines. While religions relations, our public discourse can at times seek to expand the public space for their meet roadblocks when certain parameters own moral truths, this expansion also are breached. Religion’s role in the local means the inclusion of other voices such common space have been more reactionary, as those of hate groups. We have to admit persuasive and normative rather than that religions cannot have the monopoly transformative. A lot of our contemporary over discourse in the democratised space. discussions centre on how religion can Additionally, minority groups around the contribute to the common good. But really, world such as the Rohingya in Myanmar how “common” is the common in are being persecuted because of their common good? What is good for me as a religion. Religion is constantly being Muslim and my community may not be politicised by leaders who seek power and good for others in my society which do authority. Aren’t these all very good not subscribe to my religious beliefs. In reasons for religion to remain within the fact there is a real fear that the role of private sphere, leaving the public, religion in the public space allows for common space secular and neutral? moral policing and the imposition of particularistic religious mores over others The public sphere, first developed by which we can clearly see happening in Jurgen Habermas as neutral space for other countries. like-minded groups to have rationalcritical debate on the common good, must The role of religious ethics in secular accommodate the voices of religion, environments no doubt makes some according to contemporary scholars like people uncomfortable. Any reference to Talal Asad, José Casanova, Saba Mahmood this endeavour risks sounding absolutistic, and Rowan Williams. This is evidenced by dogmatic and closed-minded. Religion’s the current salience of religious voice in the public sphere risks sounding movements around the globe, and the as if there is only one true morality, and inundation of commentary on them by only one correct approach to any moral scholars and journalists, have made it plain issue. The National Council of Churches that religion is by no means disappearing recently came up with a statement in the modern world. asserting that the gay characters’ scene in

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beyond thinking and deciding what is the 2017 remake of Beauty and the Beast was good for society, to thinking of ways to an “attempt to influence young children ensure that everyone flourishes and and socialise them at an early age into reaches their individual potential and thinking that the homosexual lifestyle is aspirations. normal.” Agree or disagree, the widening of the common space means that the 2. Reaching out not just across the liberal and conservative views must table, but to those not at the table interact and discuss what is best suited for It is very important that the our generation. The late Jane Addams, discussions on what makes a good activist, philosopher, sociologist and society for all Singaporeans includes Nobel Peace Prize winner, believes that people whom we not only agree with, our understanding of moral truth is never but those who hold different views fully knowable, (but) our understanding from our own as well. Even more of it can improve through a process of critically imperative is bringing in the open-mindedly listening to many points people from within our own groups of views. This is also especially true for who hold more hard line and less the views we disagree with. inclusive views towards others. Those who engage in these discussions must How best then can religion contribute to engage civilly and with the conscious the common good in secular polities? How effort to absorb and synthesise with do religious people and the Nones other viewpoints and to be more aware (non-affiliated to any religion) interact of them over time. purposefully in consensus-building over value systems? How can religious communities contribute meaningfully to 3. Counter negative fear-based discourse about the ‘Other’ with public discussions and the decisions our a commitment to compassion and society makes? respect for human dignity At the recent 2017 Muis Distinguished WORKING TOWARDS OUR BEST Visitor Lecture organised by Muis DAYS AHEAD Academy, renowned Islamic scholar Without doubt there are multiple Shaykh Abdallah Bin Bayyah urged for challenges faced by religious groups as we compassion and justice in dismantling live in an age of de-globalisation and rising barriers. He asserted that all religious populism. I will attempt to highlight three and spiritual traditions are brief ideas in order for religious communities underpinned by virtues such as to thrive in the common space. compassion and justice and called for different faiths to work more closely 1. Speak from democratic spaces, together in an “alliance of virtues” rather than authoritarian centres through dialogue and inter-faith Religion’s true societal potential lies projects such as feeding the poor within the peripheral spaces of civic and ill. society that speak for the marginalised and its emphasis on individual agency All great faith traditions teach us to bring who have control over their choices goodness beyond the realm of the private rather than through positions of authoritarian centres. This is especially and the sacred and into the space inhabited by all humanity. More thought is needed true when engaging with the youth and navigating the democratic space of to think through how meaningful religious ethics could allow for a more social media. The same case can be made for more sound governance and positive role of faith in our shared community and in future, to move beyond policy-making; we should move

communal projects and towards more ethical institutions and societies. If we take on the moral imperative to dialogue and work together now, there is no doubt that humankind’s best days lie ahead even as we face such turbulent times.

Hanna Taufiq Siraj is the He ad of Muis Academy wher e she oversees the research and developme nt of thought leadership th focuses on th at e positive role of Islam in th modern world e . She is actively involved in community an d youth work and has sat on the Inter-Mini sterial Comm ittee on CEDA (Convention for W the Eliminatio n of Discriminatio n against Wome n), the Media Development Auth Consultative Pa ority of Singapore’s Films nel and was an Associate Member of th e Fatwa Comm ittee.

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SOCIAL

Inclusiveness in Singapore: A Work in Progress

BY AISHAH MOHD SAID

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In order to raise awareness of people with special needs and work towards inclusiveness, we need to do more than merely making places more accessible by building ramps.

notion of inclusiveness. Thankfully, it seems we are slowly breaking away from this cycle as we see more people with special needs along the streets of Singapore compared to 15 years ago, be they on motorised wheelchairs or walking hand-in-hand with their caregivers. This may be due to the fact that accessibility is far greater these days, with wheelchairfriendly buses, lifts at all MRT stations and more universally designed buildings. One other factor could also be that with greater awareness of the special needs community, parents are now more willing to take their children with special needs out to public spaces rather than just staying at home. While this provides opportunities for people around them to have more contact On my first day as a special education with individuals with special needs, it also teacher in a school for students with allows these individuals to learn social multiple disabilities, I was tasked to assist a student named Carrie (not her real different categories of special needs and for behaviours and have new experiences. name) during recess time. During those some categories, the impairments may not 20 minutes, I saw her struggle through be very visible. For example, for conditions The government has also been a driving force in promoting inclusiveness. One of simple everyday tasks such as eating, like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), its initiatives is the opening of the very swallowing and brushing her teeth, yet attention deficient hyperactive disorder she never gave up. She was all smiles and (ADHD) or specific language impairment first inclusive playground in Singapore in 2015, with the aim of having 11 such never once showed any frustration or (SLI), the impairments may not be easily unhappiness throughout. I am certain that seen and may only be recognised when we playgrounds island wide by the end of this same positive attitude was what interact with those with these conditions. 2017. While this initiative is certainly a much needed one for the special needs spurred her to become a proud member As such, these individuals are often community, we need to understand, of Team Singapore, representing our misunderstood. however, that the special equipment and country as a Boccia player at the 2015 innovative features of the playground, ASEAN Para Games (APG). In order to raise awareness of people such as the wheelchair swing, roller slides with special needs and work towards and panels with bells, do not make these Carrie suffers from cerebral palsy. In her inclusiveness, we need to do more than playgrounds inclusive. Only when case, her condition can be seen clearly merely making places more accessible by children without special needs are playing through her physical impairments. building ramps. Instead, we should have together with their peers with special Similarly, for those with physical more contact and interaction with them, needs will these playgrounds be truly disabilities such as visual or equip ourselves with more information inclusive. hearing impairment, they and knowledge of the different special can be identified through needs conditions as well as look beyond their physical outlook. their inabilities in order to recognise their LET’S EDUCATE OURSELVES My first contact with an individual with However, there special talents and abilities. special needs was when I was an are many undergraduate tutoring secondary school INTERACTION IS KEY According to Lim, Thaver and Slee (2008), students. One of my students was a lower “we exclude because we don’t understand… secondary student, whom I tutored in English and Mathematics. It was a we don’t understand because of limited frustrating experience for both of us as she contact…we lack contact because we exclude.” For me, this aphorism summarises had trouble understanding mathematical the underlying truth about the awareness concepts. And even when she did understand them, she would forget them of people with special needs and the 2016 marks a milestone for the special needs community in Singapore as our national swimmer, Yip Pin Xiu, made the headlines for clinching two gold medals in the 2016 Summer Paralympics. However, some of us may not be aware that those medals were not her first and that she had already become a Paralympics gold medallist when she won a gold medal for the 50m backstroke (S3 category) in the 2008 Summer Paralympics. While it is heartening to see the greater awareness of people with special needs in Singapore now, we may still have a long and arduous path ahead of us before becoming a truly inclusive society.

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SOCIAL

the following week. She continued to struggle over the concepts, at times, to the point of tears. I could not understand why it was so difficult for her and eventually informed her mother that I was no longer able to tutor her. I cited a growing workload in school, but the truth was, I had no idea how to help her. It was only when I started my training as a teacher for students with special needs did I reflect on what had happened and realised that she probably had a learning disability. But my experience with her highlights how misunderstood individuals like her must feel when faced with someone who lack the knowledge or awareness of those with special needs, especially if those around her, such as her teachers, do not understand the difficulties she is facing.

LOOKING BEYOND, RECOGNISING TALENTS Recently I helped a student, Nessa (not her real name), who is deaf and mute, to look for internship opportunities in order to fulfil the requirements of her tertiary course. On the day of the interview, her mother and elder sister accompanied her and that was when I realised that her family members were deaf and mute too. At that moment, among the four of us, I stood out as I had trouble communicating with them while they had seamless conversations with one another. So, was I the one with special needs then?

In June 2016, the ‘See The True Me’ campaign was launched in Singapore to reposition the public’s view towards people with special needs. This is a crucial step in working towards an inclusive In my early days as a teacher for students society. Even as our infrastructure with learning disabilities more than a decade ago, I met Primary 5 and 6 students becomes more universally designed and many initiatives are underway to provide who were not able to read. They were opportunities for inclusion, if the merely passing through the education perception of the general population system. The good news is that effort has remains unfavourable towards people now been made to ensure teachers in with special needs, all these changes will schools are better trained to identify students who may have learning disabilities be in vain as far as inclusiveness goes. earlier and activate the support system in terms of intervention, accommodation or The essence of being truly inclusive is to consider the person first, special needs parent education in order to best support second. We need to look beyond what the these students. With this, we are able to special needs community are unable to do identify the conditions at an early stage because of their impairments and recognise and provide early intervention to help these students overcome their challenges. that they have their own unique talents However, knowledge not applied correctly and abilities. Furthermore, with such can be a double-edged sword as there may sophisticated technology we have around us, much can be done to create more be those who label and wrongly diagnose opportunities for inclusivity and them to be others with special needs just by looking at them. It is important to note that special active contributors to society. As Nessa needs conditions can only be diagnosed by once told me, “Deaf people can do anything a medical doctor or a trained psychologist. hearing people can do, except hear.” And at the end of the day, the diagnosis only remains a diagnosis. What is more crucial is for us to understand their impairments and subsequently identify strategies to overcome these impairments.

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Aishah M oh students d Said works wit h specia in a loca l needs l educati learning onal an holds a M d behavioural inte institution doing aster in E rvention. She ducation from Nat (Special ion Education Singapore al Institute of Edu ) cation (N and has over 12 ye IE), working wit ar disabilitie h students with a s of experience s. wide ran ge of


OPINION

Letter from

Pulau NTU *

*Island

BY DR BARRIE SHERWOOD

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OPINION

Seems like every time I open a newspaper these days, one journalist or other is offering me an antidote to the virulent malaise that’s been provoked by the election of Donald Trump. Among the comforting remedies are obscure silver linings and some historical precedents who didn’t quite manage to cause World War 3. That I’m reading the newspapers at all is a signal of something: I’m going through one of my dreaded informationaccumulation phases. So I’ve been stuck on page 76 of A Sentimental Education for the past week, yet am perfectly capable of reading four or more newspapers in a day. I read The Straits Times, The New York Times International (when I can snag a complimentary copy on campus), TODAY (on the MRT), The New Paper, The Globe and Mail online, and The Guardian online. It’s almost embarrassing how much I look forward to my free copy of My Paper in the morning, and how upset I am when I find it lying beyond the eave, a soaking wet pulp. And I don’t pick and choose my sections; I just hoover it all up from front page to last. I even read the Leisure sections – which concern nothing I consider doing with my leisure time – and the Lifestyle sections too, though they are low on Life and heavy on the expensive accoutrements of Style. Business, Sports, Obituaries, Education, the weather, updates on the latest COE prices for seven-figure cars – bring it on! I crave it. I want to live and breathe the zeitgeist. What’s brought about this informationhungry phase? I don’t know whether the spectacle of Donald Trump is responsible, or whether it’s just an unfortunate coincidence that I’ve taken an interest in the news while he’s at large.

Either way – to switch metaphors without apology – I need my fix. Of Donald. Of Syria. Of the Spratleys. Of Kim Jong Nam. Of the Champions’ League. Of Brexit. Of Beyonce’s list of baby names. And the consequence is, the books on my shelves are being neglected. The following is a risky admission for a writer to make: though I haven’t stopped reading – newspapers, magazines, all and sundry online – I have read three books since the start of the year. I am dishearteningly close to a one book per month average for 2017. (We’re not quite in an age, I hope, when it is bragging to say there have been years when I averaged one a week.) I should be worried. I want to go back to being a hermit. Pulau NTU is not pulau enough. I want to start my own personal Edo Period, kick out the foreigners in my head, shut down the ports, mull over and reconfigure everything I’ve learned. I want to be like Michel de Montaigne, who gave up on business and politics, took 1,500 of his favorite books out to a folly in the back yard (la tour du chateau) and started his ten-year exploration of the self – that undiscovered country – that would result in his essais, his “attempts” at achieving a fuller self-knowledge. But surely it isn’t responsible to just switch off. Surely it isn’t responsible to break the connection, switch off the screen, turn off the WiFi. Surely it isn’t okay to be blur…

As a Canadian, I’m tempted to just take the Canadian view. A lot of Canadians look down on the United States from their northern vantage point, cherry-picking what’s best and ignoring or deriding the rest. Canadians – and perhaps Singaporeans too – could just sit back if they wanted to and, as someone on a recent BBC Radio interview put it, “watch the season finale To put it figuratively, I’m not sure if of America”. But I refuse to take the History is flowing in an especially heavy Canadian view. I haven’t been to the States torrent at the moment, overflowing its banks and submerging my feet, or whether in fourteen years and I have no plans to go, I’m the one subconsciously wading into it. but I still feel as if Trump is my problem.

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I should be worried. I want to go back to being a hermit. Pulau NTU is not pulau enough. I want to start my own personal Edo Period, kick out the foreigners in my head, shut down the ports, mull over and reconfigure everything I’ve learned.


Like Ebola. Or avian flu. Distant and even exotic… until it comes snaking across the globe. And I know from family experience that the view from afar is an easily shattered picture window: my father spent the first thirty years of his life serenely unaware that in his thirty-first he’d fly forty missions in a Lancaster through the booming night skies above Europe. That sign at the bus stops that reads “Not if but when” and depicts a hero dragging a victim of some terrorist act to safety – it’s a good reminder, though the medium undercuts it. I believe precisely nothing that I see advertised at bus stops, and my guess is that most people don’t either. Books do a much better – which is to say subtler – job of this sort of thing. If your fear of war isn’t reignited by Dispatches, The Red Badge of Courage, The Things They Carried, Generals Die in Bed, or War and Peace, you’ve been playing way too much Call of Duty. One lesson of the 20th century was surely that complacency and indolence are great complements of evil. I know this. But somehow, I also know that if I pick up the newspaper tomorrow as if it’s a lifeline to what matters in the world, Donald will have won. Because the Donald Trumps of the world achieve their aims by pulling everyone into their dichotomies of choice – they force you to acknowledge their simplistic view of the world and take a side.

out from the library came to mind: A Gourmet’s Guide to London, by Nathaniel Newnham-Davis, published in 1914. It’s a book of reviews of restaurants in London that no longer exist. There can hardly be a book of less utility in the whole library. What’s more, I’ve never liked London and I don’t like eating in restaurants. A Gourmet’s Guide to London is the most useless book on my shelf – a book with no real-world, practical, commonsense utility at all. I can’t wait to begin. I’ll take it to the bench outside and when I’ve had enough of restaurant reviews I’ll just listen to the koels in the palms and Kopi the cat purring beside me, and keep watch for the sea eagle coming back to nest from his reconnaissance above the Kranji countryside. I’ll check the pomegranate tree to see if that branch, laden with fruit, has drooped any further. And sooner or later my thoughts will turn inward, to the landscape of the self, that undiscovered country where no dictator will ever come to power.

Dr Barrie Sh erwood is As sistant Prof the Division essor in of English, School of Hu and Social manities Sciences of Nanyang Te University. ch His first no nological vel, The Pillo Lady Kasa wa w Book of s published in 2000 and second, Esca hi pe s His research from Amsterdam in 20 07. and teaching broad rang interests co e of contem m prise a porary fictio narratives of n, including photograph and text.

This phase will end. The roiling waters of History will recede, or I’ll wake up from my sleepwalk before I’m completely submerged. To be honest, I can see the end already. Today, I didn’t finish My Paper. I was right in the middle of an article about Daesh and, without thinking, skipped ahead to the next article. This one was about Erdogan. Couldn’t hold my attention either. I turned to Kim Jong Un and thought, meh. And before I knew it, I’d folded the paper up and was wondering what to read next. A book that I’d taken

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PERSONALITY

Boulevard of Lifestyle:

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THE BLACK HOLE GROUP

BY NABILAH MOHAMMAD Consumer lifestyles are gradually changing, and competitive advantage for businesses today is shifting from a traditional, straight-forward business approach towards creative ideas and innovation. Entrepreneurship has emerged as a proactive response to these shifts. For the aspiring entrepreneur, the presence of supportive business and financial infrastructures make Singapore a great location for launching businesses and subsequently making a global impact. There is a wealth of opportunities in Singapore for any entrepreneur with the ambition to strike out on his/her own.


Starting a business may be challenging in the midst of the noise, hype, and glamour depicted of entrepreneurship these days. A good entrepreneur needs to identify, attract and work with players who share the same vision, values, and chemistry. A good entrepreneur needs to differentiate themselves from the competition and keep innovating. If you think being an entrepreneur is hard, being a young entrepreneur is probably even harder, especially with significantly less experience than their seasoned older counterparts.

establishments, and the emergence of new young entrepreneurs, it seems that there can never be enough cafés here especially when Singapore is bolstering its reputation as the gastronomical capital of Asia. New café establishments today definitely need more than just a pretty façade to convert first-time patrons into regulars, and The Black Hole Group is here to take up the gauntlet. The Karyawan team recently interviewed Mustaffa, one of the founders of The Black Hole Group; Abdul Rahman, the Manager for the Working Title café; Amiera Raushan, their Marketing Director; and their intern, Noor Syafiqah.

Despite all the clichés surrounding the pampered Gen Y, many young people are actually working hard to create their own destinies. The younger generations have Q: What initiated the establishment of been making their own income in The Black Hole Group (TBHG)? innovative ways and for many, this often equates to entrepreneurship. Dubbed the “millennipreneurs”, most of these business Mustaffa: TBHG didn’t come about until last year (2016), but it had been existing starters of Gen Y are already establishing ‘invisibly’. Before we officially established more companies, managing larger staff strength, and targeting higher profits than TBHG, we already had five entities running independently; three cafés, one their predecessors. hostel, and a training and consultancy company. An inspiring example of such entrepreneurial spirit would be The Black Our first setup was The Shophouse; a Hole Group. Made up of determined boutique backpacker hostel catered to young business players, The Black Hole tourists on a budget. We then set up a café Group is a collective of lifestyle brands selling light food and beverages right encompassing accommodation, event management and food and beverage (F&B) below The Shophouse to cater to our entities. The company was founded by two patrons. Eventually, we refurbished it into young entrepreneurs; Mustaffa Kamal and a proper full-fledged café now known as (Working Title) Burger Bar. The café was Calvin Seah, who leveraged on their our first foray into F&B and our speciality innovative ideas to build successful businesses. The company is also headed by are artisanal coffee and gourmet food. Our five other young managers, each overseeing second café is Afterwit, a Mexican café and one of the few halal taquerias in Singapore. the five entities that are all bounded Last but not least, we have The Mad Sailors, within the Arab Street compound. which serves halal British cuisine such as With the addition of their establishments gourmet fish and chips. to the district, the area is now a gem Besides these cafés, we also have ‘Of Mice especially to café hoppers and tourists. and Men’, a training and consultancy Gone are the days where customers are satisfied with just the typical coffee chains. concept which also offers event spaces for rent, operates a mobile pop up coffee and Singaporeans’ evolving palates have beverage cart, and manages events. It also stirred the coffee movement and the provides consultancy and training to F&B appreciation of specialty brews here. establishments. Even with the mushrooming of F&B

With the five entities running under the same founder, it only made sense for us to create TBHG as an umbrella company managing all these establishments. TBHG is the central function or the ‘nerve centre’, encompassing the aspects of marketing, human resource and logistics for all the entities. It is where new ideas are generated. Q: How did The Black Hole Group name come about, and what is the manpower strength? Amiera: Anyone who comes to Working Title to work will always get “sucked in” to the community. They will always end up coming back to work with TBHG despite leaving the company for months, or even years. Metaphorically, it is just like the black hole, where everything gets sucked in and never comes out. Mustaffa: We are still expanding in terms of entities and manpower. I am in charge of human resource, administration and finance, while Calvin handles the logistics. Under the TBHG directly, we have the Marketing Director, human resource personnel, and an intern to help the team. We have five managers managing the five entities, and staff working at each of the entity. In total, TBHG has a strong team of about a hundred people. Q: With so many people managing TBHG, how do you ensure that the company runs smoothly? Mustaffa: The one common thing in TBHG is that everybody wants it to excel but everyone has a different mindset and ideas of how it is going to excel. By excelling in their own route, they might sometimes trample over each other’s. I will then have to sit down and speak to them. Two years ago, I was managing everything and was on the verge of depression because it was very tiring to handle the different aspects of running a business. Eventually, Calvin and I managed to bring APRIL 2017

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PERSONALITY

like-minded people on board, to work with us. Everyone comes from very diverse backgrounds: architecture, marketing, engineering, and even art. We look beyond their backgrounds or academic qualifications, and give everyone an equal chance to work with us even if they come in with zero experience. We just need them to be disciplined, sincere and motivated to learn.

Q: What risks do you face?

One of the models that we take as a benchmark is the Lo and Behold group, which manages a chain of independent restaurants. They don’t cater to the halal market. We want to be the halal solution to that.

Mustaffa: The most outstanding accomplishment in TBHG is the culture that we’ve built.

Mustaffa: I won’t see it as risks, but more as challenges. Working with a young, raw team may be challenging, and growth will take time. We can’t expect somebody to come on board and execute tasks seamlessly as most of them have no background in what they are tasked to do. Everyone takes time to learn and grow together.

are halal-certified, getting an official certificate is important, especially among the Malay / Muslim community in Singapore. Q: Where do you see TBHG in five years?

Mustaffa: I see the team going regional. I have a glimpse of what is going to happen because we have people knocking Q: What kind of culture exists in TBHG? on our doors, offering us opportunities to Q: What are some of the toughest expand overseas. We have places in feedback or setback encountered? Syafiqah: TBHG is like a family. Even Indonesia, Seoul, and other countries though there are different entities, where there are huge and upcoming everyone who works under TBHG knows Amiera: We get them every day. There demands for halal food and establishments. will always be people who would say each other. I didn’t have any problem It is very tempting to execute it now, but things like ‘this is the worst hostel’ or ‘this we have been turning these offers down as fitting in when I first came here as everyone was very friendly and welcoming. is the worst food’. At the same time, we we have too many things going on at the also get a lot of ‘this is the best hostel’ and moment. We need to refine and Mustaffa: While each of the entity has a ‘this is the best food’ feedback. There are strengthen our operations before we go extreme feedback from both ends but we language of its own, there is a close regional. The pursuit of excellence is an try not to be affected by the negative ones endless journey powered by learning. relationship and interaction between the because we cannot please everyone. People While nobody can predict the future, staff from the different chains. We are a can be very critical at times and some may we can vouch for the tremendous close-knit ‘family’, where even though not realise that there are humans behind hierarchy exists, there is still a direct improvements in Singapore’s café scene. connection between a part-timer and me, those plates of food. While we try to be It is a continuous journey for both for example. Anyone can approach anyone polite and accepting, it is quite important cafés and patrons, where both parties to have a balance between the customer’s are constantly learning about coffee if there is a problem. constructive feedback and our staff’s and food. well-being. Q: What is TBHG’s competitive advantage and why can’t it be copied? Mustaffa: Setbacks and failures may occur at any time and any day. For example, bad Mustaffa: The style we have grown in Analyst at Nabilah Mohammad is a Research ic and Malay weather may affect our turnouts and sales TBHG is very organic. We are small and the Centre for Research on Islam of Science Affairs (RIMA). She holds a Bachelor malleable. What is unique about us also is may dip slightly. Our location may be less ma in in Psychology and a Specialist Diplo accessible and not very convenient when it Statistics and Data Mining. we do not recruit or assess new staff rains. However, there’s only so much that through their experiences or academic we can do. background. We prefer to see if we can build a personal relationship with them Q: What is the team’s most outstanding and assess their sincerity during our accomplishment? recruitment process.

37 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

Abdul Rahman: I would say, getting the halal certificate for Working Title. The process of acquiring the certificate actually took quite a long time. Although we have always ensured that our ingredients


BOOK REVIEW

Perempuan:

Instead of praise for her achievement, her questioning aunts asked her mother, “Shouldn’t the boys be the one to go? She’s The anthology, Perempuan: Muslim Women still too young and there is not much point In Singapore Speak Out, published late last in her going abroad”. year, is the first of its kind in Singapore. It showcases the diverse voices of This dismissal of a girl’s achievement on Malay/Muslim women, who speak out gendered terms is again seen in “Why?” about their experiences and struggles in by Nazihah Ramli, who was told that navigating cultural and religious expecta- engineering is not for girls. Disappointed tions within the community. The book is by her parents’ refusal, she asks, “How an effort by the Gender Equality IS Our does an education path have a gender?” Culture (GEC) programme that seeks to advocate for more gender-equitable Along the same vein, some stories reveal interpretations of culture and Islam for difficulties women face in pursuing their women in Singapore. artistic passions. In “Call Me Ham”, we read about how the writer’s mother Historically for women, the act of abandoned dancing out of “respect” for her speaking up and out has not been a husband. With her mother’s history benign one, especially not when you’re lingering in the background, Ham a Malay/Muslim woman. Associate recounts her own struggles in repressing Professor Maznah Mohamad explains this her love for theatre as she held herself best in the book’s foreword when she says: back from taking on roles and acting on stage due to the negative perceptions held “Being Muslim and female in Singapore has its in her family for the art. Ham’s struggle is unique existential quality. The writers imply mirrored in “The Stage” where the writer that they are trapped within two, or even three S.A.Y, a dancer, faces judgement about her worlds. The modern Singapore promises passion and her boyfriend even asks her individual liberty, yet as daughters, sisters and not to mention it to his mother. Her fear of mothers within the Muslim home, women are being seen by her boyfriend and mother not expected to express their true desires and during a performance made her unable to will. But the disquiet is not just about the home go on stage. forcing a Muslim-female identity upon one’s subjecthood but also about a radicalised society In these stories, we see how the writers’ profiling the self through the blinkers of the accomplishments and passions, whether Malay-Muslim stereotype.” in the academic or artistic field, are disregarded for upturning traditional The stories in the anthology are for the notions of ideal femininity. One wonders most part personal, revolving around the how many brilliant potential engineers themes of body image, sexuality, and the the community loses when it discourages experiences of resisting stereotypes. There girls from entering the field, or how is a pervading sense of ache and loss at the accomplished artistic practitioners like lives, opportunities, and dreams the Ham and S.A.Y could be if they could women have felt they had to sacrifice, or practise their art without feeling shame the extent to which they had to minimise and guilt. and shrink their own wants due to gendered expectations. MANAGING IMAGE Body image also figures strongly in the PASSION AND EDUCATION anthology. In “You Have to Lose Weight”, In “Crossing the Ocean, Crossing the Huda K. writes, “When you grow up heavy, Boundaries”, Azura writes of how she you get very familiar with one phrase. received a scholarship to study in Canada. ‘You have to lose weight’.” You will hear it

Muslim Women Speak Out BY DIANA RAHIM

APRIL 2017

38

© ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.


BOOK REVIEW

from others before saying so yourself. In “Eaten Up”, Atifa Othman charts the various ways her struggle with body image leaks into moments in her life: during a scuba diving session, or brief moments when family members drop casual, hurtful remarks about her weight.

the faith. These personal stories reveal the consequences of this prevalent belief when it is sharpened into normalised prejudice and even hate speech.

In “Allah Take The Wheel”, Joyene Nazatul, who introduces herself as a lesbian who dresses in a masculine way and often The body is also policed on bases of passes as a man, recounts a harrowing modesty, whether it is the tussle between experience in a cab where the driver mother and daughter over whether her questions her in a hostile manner about clothes are modest enough (Zarifah the way she dresses. She also recounts a Anuar’s “Armpits, Breasts, and Vulva”) driving teacher who said that he would with the recognisable image of a mother have put her through “corrective” rape if tugging at her daughter’s clothes appearing he was younger to ensure she would like in multiple stories, or realising that hair men. These experiences made her fear for and how its worn can be infused with her life. She asks, “How many other people political and religious meaning (Fadiah suffer aggressions like this, every day, and Johari’s “A Hairy Situation”). Three never say anything about it?” writers even take on the topic of female circumcision, questioning both its Violence is a common occurrence in the necessity and scientifically disproven stories submitted by gay contributors, justifications of reducing libido and with Orchid Blue writing that she fears improving cleanliness. being open about her orientation due to expected violent backlash. Zuleiha in There is a kind of quiet violence in the “Cover Up” tells of a classmate threatening extent that the female body is managed her with blackmail if she does not change and controlled, not just by institutions and her orientation. Earlier, in a religious patriarchs, but even by other women. classroom setting, Zuleiha had sat silent Muslim women are at times taken to as a teacher asked the students if they represent the whole community when all knew anyone who was homosexual — they should be representing is themselves. “No one raised their hand that day. Little This of course happens outside the did they realise that there was such a community too. In “A Muslim Woman’s person sitting in the class”. This same Guide to the Workplace”, Raudah recounts shame and silence is also detailed in the hilarious snippets of conversations with story “Human” by Oman. her non-Muslim colleagues who seem to enjoy dishing out stereotypes. Of course, What is common for these LGBT writers is the desire not even to be accepted, but to these are moments of microagressions, simply be regarded as equally human, and and Raudah calls on Muslim women to carve their own space in an environment to not be recipients of hate. There is also in where others often speak for you, or have them a marked comfort that is derived from the faith. Oman thinks of God as a decided what your identity seems to automatically mean. compassionate, supreme being that is more accepting than the followers. DOUBLY MARGINALISED VOICES Zuleiha finds comfort in the act of wudhu LGBT issues remain a contentious topic in (ablution), although it saddens her that the community, with the dominant each time it makes her feel like the waters consensus being that it is unacceptable in are washing away the guilt and sin she feels for simply being herself. In these stories, we see how LGBT women try their

39 T H E K A R Y A W A N © ASSOCIATION OF MUSLIM PROFESSIONALS. PERMISSION IF REQUIRED FOR REPRODUCTION.

hardest, while quietly taking in verbal violence and hatred, to foster the love in religion for themselves that has not been extended to them from others. EXPOSURE AND NOT ERASURE The importance of the book cannot be stated enough. For the women whose voices are so marginal that some of them have to use a pseudonym in their submissions, it is a brief relief from isolation and from having to silence one’s self within normative society. The demand of conformity, the punishment of any kind of divergence from the norm is a kind of violence that is inherently unjust, but some find to be sanctioned and therefore, just. Perempuan seeks not to theologise or propose a new way of understanding Islam. It is merely a collection of personal stories and experiences, revealing insight into what women go through when faced against the tide of expectation and demands to conformity. Many of these voices have known silencing and dismissal. Denying the existence of these voices will only perpetuate the kind of persecution we do not want for our daughters. So rather than punish their speaking, the community should come together, listen, and try to understand their experiences.

anyang nglish at N d is im read E Diana Rah l University (NTU) an r’s te ca Technologi ing to pursue a mas is look y he tl S en t. rr cu subjec Islam the same rtaining to degree in issues pe ender in G h ed it st w intere volunteers he S . d er an and gend re (GEC) Our Cultu Equality IS og bl e th to s contribute ijab?’. eH ‘Beyond th


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The Karyawan — Volume 12 Issue 2  

© Association of Muslim Professionals. Permission is required for reproduction.

The Karyawan — Volume 12 Issue 2  

© Association of Muslim Professionals. Permission is required for reproduction.

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