The Imam Issue: A Look at the Singapore Muslim Community

The Online Citizen
The Singapore Muslim Community and the Imam Issue
Kamaludeen Mohamed Nasir
6 March 2017

It is well-known that Singapore is a multi-religious society. The 2014 report by Pew named our city-state as the most religiously diverse among the 232 countries studied. What is assumed in this discourse is that all religions are the same and subjected to similar state-society relations.

The fact is, Islam is the most regulated religion in our tiny island and this has been the case for decades. From the appointment of a Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, to the creation of a statutory board called the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) where the Mufti is located, and to the Administration of Muslim Law Act that has regulatory powers over local mosques and madrasahs (Islamic schools), there is no doubt that Islam is given a unique attention by the state.

A stark under-appreciation of this social reality, especially among the non-Muslims, is apparent to me in the decade or so that I have been teaching in our local universities. I have always asked my students, that if all the Churches were made to say the exact same thing for their Sunday service with a text provided by an office of a statutory board, how would the Christian community react? The students could not even begin to imagine this! Will this then breed mistrust among the Christian community? This is but just one issue besieging the Muslim populace in Singapore.

When I had coffee with a top local social scientist of NUS a couple of weeks back, we agreed that Islam is the most hierarchical and bureaucratized religion in Singapore. Failure to understand how Islam is managed leads to a failure in understanding the reaction of its local adherents.

This distrust of the Muslim religious elites amidst the disciplining of Islam, from prescribed texts for the weekly Friday prayer sermons, to appointed instructors to “upgrade Islam” through the Asatizah Recognition Scheme that makes it mandatory for every religious teacher to be registered (even those teaching Qur’anic reading in the local neighbourhoods), impact heavily on the religious elites. Many scholars have called this age as one characterised by a crisis of religious authority. The situation can be especially dire in our local Muslim community, given the unique structures bearing upon them.

Distrust breeds distrust. It is not that Singaporean Muslims are predisposed towards being rude or as the Minister of Law put it, “kurang ajar”, towards the state-endorsed religious authority. It is the structures that have been put in place that create such an environment.

The recent issue regarding the police report made against an Imam for making alleged “incendiary” supplications against Christians and Jews that are outside the MUIS-endorsed text cannot be disentangled from the issue of the autonomy of the Muslim clerics. I have engaged the local religious elites numerous times over the last few years and have rarely met a group that is more in fear. The culture of fear among the religious class is often talked about and in one of the engagements that I had with a group of religious elites, one of them candidly lamented, “We are directed and scripted.”

It has often been mentioned that attitude reflects leadership. The angry reaction of the Muslim community in light of the Imam issue should be seen against this backdrop. The absence of the voices of the religious elites in the initial stages of the debacle created a void in the community who then went online to make sense of the matter.

Last week, Assoc Prof Khairudin Aljunied was singled out in parliament for encouraging the “vilification” of the whistle-blower, Terence Nunis. The fact is that hundreds of Muslims had begun pitching in their views on various platforms after Nunis’ pronouncements on Facebook. This was substantiated in a belated statement by the Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Assoc Prof Yaacob Ibrahim, who mentioned that the video uploaded by Nunis had indeed “sparked a storm” and “generated many emotions both online and offline. Many in our community felt angry, because they believe that the postings could be used to cast aspersions on Islam and the asatizah in our Mosques”.

It is interesting to note that both Assoc Prof Khairudin and the Mufti appropriated a satirical and poetic style respectively, as means of social critique. However, it has been well-documented that the Singaporean brand of criticism is often manifested through humour, satire and poetics as seen in Talkingcock, Mr Brown, Yawning Bread, Jack Neo’s films and the like. Indirect criticism is characteristic of societies living under soft-authoritarian rule.

There are no differences in opinion that if the allegations against the Imam are proven to be true, his incitement has no place in our multi-religious society. But if it is not – and many among the Muslim community have come to this conclusion upon the explanations provided by numerous local religious scholars who have later gone public in discussing the meaning and context of the supplication – then sadly, the Muslim community will see this as yet another example of disciplining and an attempt to emasculate the local religious fraternity despite the state’s paradoxical pleas for Singaporean Muslims to give the local religious scholars their ears.

It remains to be seen in the aftermath of the Imam episode if the state would choose to go down the path of imposing further restrictions to ensure that the MUIS-endorsed texts be read to the letter, curtailing any creative license of preachers and punishing any dissent towards state-appointed authority. The more enlightened way must be to empower the religious scholars in the field and to give them ownership over their areas of expertise to prevent religious discourse from being co-opted, hijacked and subjected to ad hominem attacks.

The coming forward of a good number of religious elites, including its umbrella body, Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association (PERGAS), with regard to this Imam issue is a good development that needs to be applauded. The social media provides a ready platform for this. These attempts to speak truth to power should also be captured in the mainstream media. PERGAS’ need to again clarify their position after feeling that they were misrepresented in the Malay mainstream media regarding their statement towards Assoc Prof Khairudin is not a good sign. The perception that the Malay mainstream media is not balanced and selective in their reporting has also led many to turn to the cyber-sphere to air their perspectives.

In fostering this development of active citizenship, we need to keep an eye on encouraging diversity and not just promoting those with a certain kind of thinking that the state can easily manage. This is in line with what the PM had recently mentioned in his interview on February 24th in Today newspaper under the title, “Leaders must be able to take criticism, acknowledge mistakes”. Only then can we move forward as a nation.

#Sg #singapore #singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot

The Imam Issue: A Look at the Singapore Muslim Community

PAP’s History of Backstabbing

Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Vivian Balakrishnan, returning candidate for Holland-Bukit Timah GRC at GE2015, boldly said in the PAP rally at Commonwealth on 7 September 2015: “I have just one message to send to the SDP: in the PAP, we do not have the tradition of backstabbing our mentors.” This prompted The Online Citizen to produce the following video.

Vivian Balakrishnan kept talking about how Lee Kuan Yew is the PAP. Well, if so, backstabbing mentors and comrades is the PAP way. Here we see how the late Mr. Lee Kuan Yew made his entire career out of backstabbing his mentors and comrades.

John Laycock

In 1950, LKY returned to Singapore from the UK and Laycock gave LKY a job at his law firm where he was a senior partner. Laycock not only take LKY as his personal pupil but paid him $500 a month, which at that time was five times the median salary. He then also gave LKY’s wife a job there. In 1951, Laycock asked LKY to be his election agent for the General Elections and LKY agreed. Laycock later allowed LKY to take on cases for the trade union ― the cases which would make LKY’s name. He let LKY use his admin staff for political activities. Laycock also made LKY a partner in his firm.

In return, LKY did not support Laycock in the 1955 elections, but started his own political party (PAP) and in his campaign speeches he openly attacked the European establishment and criticized them heavily. A few months later, Laycock asked LKY to leave his company.

Devan Nair

Devan Nair was one of the founding members of the PAP but LKY saw him as a threat. In the 1955 elections, LKY sabotaged Nair’s campaign. Nair was supposed to get his help for ferrying his supporters to the polls but LKY’s wife denied the use of those cars to Nair, causing Nair to lose Farrer Park by a tiny margin. In his autobiography, LKY wrote: “Devan Nair lost and I was greatly relieved.” All this when Nair was a fellow party member and comrade to him.

Despite everything, Nair stood by LKY through thick and thin, turning back on his old comrades to stand by LKY. He was a true friend to LKY. In 1985, Nair was forced to resign from the Presidency under unclear circumstances. LKY could have left it at that. He could’ve let Nair go off quietly into the sunset. But LKY alleged that Nair was an alcoholic, a womanizer, a wife-beater, that he was mentally-impaired, using information that could only have come from Nair’s personal private medical records. LKY put all this on a white paper in Parliament in 1988.

Nair later wrote an open letter to LKY, angrily attacking this: “Disgusting concoction of misinterpreted truths, half truths, and untruths. Not to speak of gaping omissions.” He said: “I have been a victim of a total smear. A furious attempt at utter demolition.”

Lim Chin Siong

Lim Chin Siong was Assemblyman for Bukit Timah and one of the three PAP members of the Legislative Assembly. LKY also saw Lim Chin Siong as his rival in PAP. In 1956, the Lim Yew Hock government accused Lim Chin Siong of saying “beat the police” in a speech that preceded a riot. LKY was sitting on that stage behind Lim Chin Siong at that speech. He knew that Lim Chin Siong had specifically told the crowd NOT to beat the police. But in the Assembly, when Minister Chew Swee Kee announced that Lim Chin Siong had been detained without trial for saying “beat the police”, LKY neither corrected Chew nor condemned the arrest.

Other fellow PAP members

Before the 1959 Elections, LKY had promised to release all political detainees from prison if PAP won the elections. But a month before the elections, LKY met the British colonial governor William Good. To Good’s atonishment, LKY told him that his intention was to release only six of the detainees. He had no obligation to the rest of his party members who were in prison because they were his rivals within the party. He had no intention of releasing any others.

Tunku Abdul Rahman

From 1961 to 1963, LKY was working with Tunku Abdul Rahman to create Malaysia. But Tunku kept complaining to the British that LKY kept trying to stab him in the back. As it became clear that LKY was manipulating the merger to save his own political career by destroying his political opponents in Singapore, Tunku got angrier and angrier. At one point, Tunku was “highly offended by LKY’s deceit”. He derided LKY as spineless. He declared, “I can never trust that man again.” He also described LKY as a thoroughly untrustworthy man.

Goh Keng Swee

Goh Keng Swee was LKY’s Economics tutor in Raffles College and after 1959 was his Finance Minister. In November 1962, LKY was about to arrest all his important political opponents and detain them without trial. But LKY was worried that this would make him really unpopular. So LKY actually suggested to the British that before the arrests, he would resign as Prime Minister, leaving Goh Keng Swee who would succeed him as Prime Minister to take the blame for the arrest, thus allowing himself to escape blame and return later as PAP’s and Singapore’s saviour.


Shortly after Balakrishnan’s speech about PAP not having a history of backstabbing, an image of him with the quote was posted on his Facebook page. But a few hours later, it was gone. Also, the video of that particular Balakrishnan’s speech rally had been deleted from the PAP’s Youtube channel. Clearly he recognizes that he has made a mistake. He once said in Parliament: “Always be honest and upfront with your people. All of us will make mistakes. When a mistake is made, just come clean and say so. But don’t cover up.”

The video can be downloaded from

#Sg #Singapore #Singapura #thelioncity #littlereddot #sgpolitics #GE2015 #LeeKuanYew #VivianBalakrishnan

PAP’s History of Backstabbing