To all those who has ever called him Jaacob Abraham . . . .
Throughout history, Muslims in every society have been developing their own way of applying the principles of Islam within the lived realities of their time.
Hence, one can see the differences between the practice of Islam in the Indian sub-continent and South East Asia as compared to the Middle East shaped -in part- by their socio-historical circumstances and indigenous cultures.
A contextual approach towards the practice of the faith ensures that Muslims can hold steadfast to their religious traditions while contributing towards the growth and development of their country.
Here in Singapore, we endeavour to take into account the lived realities of Muslims who build their futures in a multicultural society and a secularly-governed nation.
*As a result of the changes and transformations in the world today, what should faith communities preserve, and what should change?
This conciliatory approach towards finding common ground has helped to contribute to the harmonious relationship among the various communities in Singapore.
Muslim community and religious leaders, together with those from other races and religions, have worked hard to strengthen the social fabric of a multicultural Singapore and continue doing so.
[For instance, fatwas, or rulings, issued by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) considers the views of not just the religious leaders, but also experts from different fields.Such experts include Dr Rufaihah Abdul Jalil, a scientist and Assistant Professor at the Department of Surgery of the National University of Singapore, who provides input on issues involving bio-medical ethics.]
This partnership between the State and the communities is necessary so that when problems arise, the best possible solution can be found.
Strengthening social cohesion is a continuous process that requires both candour and civility. This demands imagination, constant education, and the concerted effort of all members of society, not just the Muslims.
The government’s role (and therefore my duty towards the Malay Muslim community) is to create an environment where government policies encourage awareness and respect for cultural diversity and ensure equality of opportunities in such a way that children from poor families are not systematically disadvantaged.
The government is also responsible for upholding the rule of law to ensure procedural fairness, and for enforcing effective legislation that criminalises hate speech. These policies support the building of a cohesive society.
For this reason, we stand united against exclusivists of all shades who denigrate deeply held beliefs held by faith communities, and who assert that only one culture has absolute superiority to the exclusion of others. What is worse is when impressionable and untutored young minds are taught to accept violence and reject peace-making, and are socialised to making decisions without discernment of right and wrong.
It will be increasingly difficult to try and balance competing interests. This makes the need to instil a sense of curiosity and appreciation of diversity all the more urgent.
Partnership also means recognising that in order to arrive at an optimal solution, there must be a degree of openness, some measure of give-and-take, as well as an appreciation of the concerns and constraints.
How the contestations within Muslim communities will pan out is uncertain.
Charismatic speakers and ideas come and go. (We are the ones dealing with the consequences of their actions)
But every society must hold true to what is precious to them.
For Singapore, since independence, our community and religious leaders have always approached issues with a view to find meaningful solutions to concrete problems.
Our community has a tradition of being guided by the principles of moderation, inclusiveness, and respect for diversity, and participating actively in our nation building efforts.
This is the Singapore way and it is what we as a community and as a society must cherish and protect.
(Taken from excerpts of his speech during the RSIS conference discussing challenges Muslims face in the contemporary world)