The Muslim community in Singapore has come a long way since Singapore’s independence. Muslims (and the Malays) become a minority overnight after the separation with Malaysia but our pioneer generations chose to stay and take their odds of eking out a living with the other migrants in Singapore.
Despite being a minority, our Muslim forefathers kept Islam alive by religiously practicing their faith, celebrating festivals in Islam and inculcating it further into their children by sending them for religious teachings and Quran lessons. Mosques were a common feature in kampongs and the call to prayer (azan) could be heard five times a day on the building’s loudspeakers.
However, over time, as Singapore develops, it was inevitable that some of the mosque had to make way for commercial buildings. Singapore Muslims have viewed with concern the demolition of their mosques as land upon which they stand is regarded as inalienable (source)
Nonetheless, to put it into perspective, as compared to other religious edifices, mosques were apparently less adversely affected by urban renewal.
In fact, mosques are least affected as during the past 10 years, only 11 mosques had to make way for public development schemes while 172 temples were affected.
Mosques like Muhammad Sultan Mosque and Masjid Omar Kampong Melaka were declared National Monuments and spared the bulldozers. Remaining mosques were give upgrades and extensive resources were pumped in to ensure that the community could enjoy quality lessons and infrastructure.
As the influence of Islam grew in the region, it is therefore timely that Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim has finally asked the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) to study the feasibility of setting up an Islamic college in Singapore that will serve as an institution for religious leaders to receive their tertiary education. (Source)
Despite the progress over the years, I think it is time for the leaders of the Singapore Muslim community to take one step further and develop Singapore into center for Islamic studies – a hub in the region for Islamic discussions and a continuation of Islamic heritage in South East Asia.
Singapore may be surrounded by Islamic countries (i.e Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Brunei and Bangladesh) but there is a need for home grown religious leaders to be anchored in our multi-racial, multi-religious context and attuned to the concerns of our community in the ever changing global environment.
The ‘Al-Azhars’ of the Middle East has served us well, but the fact is that Islam is culturally very diverse.
We should be embracing our own unique culture – There is no need to be an Arab to be a good Muslim. We should appreciate what we have and foster it for future generations to come. (Source). With our diverse society, support from the community and strong infrastructures in place, there is no doubt that Singapore would be an ideal place for a leading Islamic College in the region.