Neighbourhood Whatsapp group folks: DAP=PAP. We don’t want to be like Singapore. Me(choosing violence): My relatives in Singapore are middle-class professional Malays with access to NUS, halal food certified by MUIS. Mufti exists, the President is a Malay-Muslim female.
Of course there are challenges faced by Malay-Muslim population in Singapore. But to stroke racial fears during election based on experience of another country is unjustifiable. Muslim population in Singapore is around 15% while over 60+% Malaysian population follow Islam.
Philosophically the people on the Whatsapp group is arguing on the basis of having an Islamic state in Malaysia by persuading others not to vote for coalition with secular parties. But I’m a pragmatist.
Islam, Muslims, and the Secular State in Singapore
The city-state offers a good example of how Islam can flourish in the context of a secular state.
By Mohamed Bin Ali
March 24, 2022
As a philosophy, secularism seeks to interpret life based solely on principles derived from the material world. As a political system, secularism is commonly defined as the separation of religion from the state. Arguably, this is diametrically opposed to Islam, which maintains that religion regulates and instructs all aspects of a person’s life.
However, on a practical level, secularism does not necessarily mean the complete exclusion of religion from the public life of a society. Instead, it will be more productive to discuss secularism as it is actually understood and experienced by different societies, each in its own unique context.
Certainly, due to Islam’s outlook as a way of life, minority Muslims are bound to experience a number of challenges with regards to their relations with the secular state. In this respect, where and how should they get their religious guidance from? In return, what is the nature of the existing secular system? Some states limit the role of religion in its affairs, due to historical reasons. In other states, religion is recognized and valued within a more accommodative secular state.
In this respect, how does Singapore measure up?
Singapore is a young secular state where religion is not accorded any effective role or position in the political administration of the state. Yet, it provides people with the right to follow any religion or not to follow any. Hence, the state acknowledges the importance of religion to Singaporean society, while asserting its responsibility to maintain neutrality in the matters of religion.
As discussed above, minority Muslims may perceive secularism as a challenge with respect to values that obstruct them from practicing Islam as a way of life. Muslims may struggle to be good citizens of the state while being good Muslims as well.
Some have chosen to disengage themselves from the secular society while some have chosen to abandon their identities and become more liberal. Yet others have entertained the extreme idea that for Islam to flourish and manifest fully, a political system is necessary to support and strengthen that aspiration.
Singaporean Muslims in a Secular State
How has the Muslim minority community in Singapore responded to the various challenges it faces? One of the initiatives it has embarked is the Singapore Muslim identity (SMI) initiative, which guide Muslims to be forward-looking, adaptive, and inclusive in their religious outlook. The SMI initiative reinforces the fundamental precept that as active citizens living in a secular state, they should embrace the modern world by being progressive, confident practicing Muslims with good social and religious values.
The most important asset for bringing along Singapore’s Muslim minority is its religious leadership. The religious clerics known as asatizah provide the moral compass to guide the community as they navigate the modern world whilst holding strongly to their faith. The community looks up for them in making moral decisions: how to lead their lives as good Muslims, and how to manage the multiple and often competing demands between life, on the one hand, and religion, on the other.