FROM THE DESK OF USTAZ ZHULKEFLEE
Why this book?
As the issue of the “Tudung” here in Singapore has still not been resolved, where dialogue and exchanges regarding differences can be rationally engaged, we in PERGAS, therefore is hopeful that an amicable solution can one day be reached from it. We are still a young and evolving nation, and we believe that harmonious living amongst our multi-racial and multi-religious can be positively managed or even harnessed in reinforcing a common sense of belonging to this beloved nation. The true meaning of unity in diversity, we opine, must be one that accord the respect for each others’ basic rights though they may be different in form or substance, and the willingness amongst us to accommodate them in the larger context of nation building.
Every citizen, to whichever faith or creed he may belong to, must be made to feel as a part of this great nation. No one community should be made to feel marginalized or discriminated. As long as the avenue for dialogue and rational discourses are open and available, our optimism is not misplaced. We should not allow pent up frustrations to be neglected and allowed to be transformed into despair. With the current danger of groups with radical ideologies and extreme deviant tendencies threatening the world, we cannot afford to loose our citizens to be courted and recruited by them to subvert our nation. Thus we too need to preserve a healthy process of dialogue and intellectual discourse. We must ensure utmost fairness are employed in arguments and constantly insist upon objectivity in the interpreting and dissemination of facts. We must not allow intellectual discussions to degenerate into baseless accusations. After all the purpose of dialogue amongst citizens should be towards forging greater understanding and respect. It is not about winning debates through guiles and witty deceptions, where confusion is purposely left to be exploited rather than be resolved with sincere enquiry and opportunity for explanations to be considered towards its enlightenment. It is mainly because of these concerns that we in PERGAS undertook the compilation of this book.
As an association representing the Islamic scholars and religious teachers in Singapore (PERGAS), we are obligated to comment and provide guidance in issues pertaining to Islam and the practices of its teachings amongst Muslims. We are neither a political organization nor affiliated to any. As educators and custodians to Islamic teachings, we are duty bound to sincerely strive to safeguard and promote the teachings of Islam. Although in some of the stand which PERGAS have had to make may be perceived or misperceived by others, positively or even negatively, our intentions for doing so should not be doubted. It is neither to gain favour nor disfavour from anyone - but only to be true to Allah s.w.t., His Messenger s.a.w. and continue to carry the task and responsibility of all the past Islamic scholars and teachers.
The “Tudung” saga came about after the hotly debated “CE-Madrasah” (Compulsory Education and the Islamic religious schools) issue in Singapore was somewhat subsided, in which PERGAS involvement was quite central and conspicuous. We had inadvertently been put in the limelight with our involvement in this CE-Madrasah episode, and were then trying our best to avoid giving the impression as though we seek after publicity through controversies. Thus in this “Tudung” issue, PERGAS had initially refrained from being involved, lest some people may mistaken us as other than for what we stand for, i.e. as an association which sincerely tries to fulfill our designated duty. We do not wish to be conveniently labeled as a group that thrives on or seeks after controversies. We believe that whatever concerns of the Muslims even in matters of the practice of Islam in society, it can be referred to the appropriate authority concerned, be they national and community leaders, grassroots organization and welfare bodies etc. Regarding Islamic juristic authority, PERGAS does recognize and respects the position of the Mufti and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS). Many of our own members are in MUIS. Yet, whenever our input as an organization which represents the Islamic scholars and religious teachers is needed, to carry the trust as custodian of the teachings of Islam, we have to do so. For example in the works of social advocacy of Islamic teachings, to speak up and give our input for the sake of Truth, we do it not out of enmity or spite towards any one, but rather for the common good and enlightenment of every one especially in matters pertaining to Islamic teachings and practices. We hope, our intentions and our actions are not misunderstood.
In this book, we have presented our concern for fairness and objectivity in dialogue and intellectual discourse. We, as Muslim Singaporean, are already an integral component of Singapore’s social landscape and thus would like to participate in any dialogue and discussion in the re-making of our beloved nation. We are heartened and encouraged that the present political leadership has been of late; more open and have shown willingness to consider diverse views on issues.
We have chosen the issue on the “Tudung” because, from the general Muslims perspective, this issue is still regarded by many as not yet resolved. Although non-Muslims may not quite understand why for Muslims, this issue can be so important, we can assure readers that the increase in religious awareness amongst Muslims, will unlikely make this issue to disappear. To Muslims, the “Tudung” is not an issue about fashion in dressing, but rather it is intractably linked to the very teaching and practice of Islam itself. To other Singaporeans, we hope for their understanding and tolerance.
We in PERGAS have tried to present (not so much our involvement but to present our) views from the Islamic scholars’ perspective regarding this issue. We have tried to trace the events and development emanating from this issue. We have presented our analysis as well as responses as can be seen through several official statements and correspondence made to the press or to other relevant parties; our criticism on certain trends used in intellectual discourse, especially as presented in the local media which we feel would erode the Muslims’ trust and confidence in them. Our sincere hope is for Muslims to continue to engage in national dialogue, to be in the mainstream and not to retreat into their cocoon; comfortably insulated but feeling marginalized. It is this category of Muslims which may become potential to recruitment by deviationist or extremist groups.
PERGAS feels that as long as Muslims in Singapore are confident and engaged in this dialogue intellectually, it will prevent many from seeking other avenues to vent out their frustrations. Many amongst the general Muslims need to be guided in the manner of communicating their aspirations to others. They should be encouraged to change from relying on mere emotions in seeking accommodation, and be facilitated towards being able to express their stand rationally and in a civil manner. To bring about this, everyone must have confidence in the medium for communication. It must be seen to be always fair and objective, free from deceptive manipulation or unfair selective reporting.
As Singapore evolves and matures the process of rational intellectual dialogue and social engagement should continue. Every view may not be absolute and perfect, but may be subjected to criticism and counter arguments. Yet it must be done fairly. However much we may like to show unity amongst Singaporean of diverse background, there will always remain differences in terms of our make up. The sooner we learn to accept this with respect and understanding for each others right, the better will be for the future of Singapore. We hope that there can be accommodation based on respect for each others’ basic needs. As the whole purpose in this dialogue is to seek an amicable solution through rational and civil engagement, allow us to offer some suggestions:
· That the dialogue be continued, not from the “them-versus-us” mode or vice versa “us-versus-them”, but with civil respect for each others faith and culture as fellow citizens. Conceding to our fellow citizen’s need for existence is not a sign of one’s weakness as it does not negate one’s own existence; rather it must be seen as victory for all Singaporean and in our ability to forge a harmonious multi-racial relationship in this nation. What holds our community of diverse races together has been the respect we have for each other. This must be maintained.
· More efforts towards correctly understanding of the issues of the “tudung” must be done. Basis and reasons for the Islamic requirement in this “Tudung issue” must be explained as it is supposed to in accordance with the teachings of Islam, and should not be left to misinterpretation lest it leads to further misunderstanding. “Tudung” should never be simplistically categorized as a religious symbol, as it has its underpinnings to the process of developing virtue of modesty in a person, from the Islamic perspective.
· We Muslims acknowledge the realities of the Singapore context of being multi-racial and multi-religious. We understand and respect the prerogative of whichever authority concern in formulating rules. Civility dictates that we seek through appropriate means for redressing what we deem as unfair, rationally and peacefully. We hope with our input, the relevant authority can review their reasoning and justification in the school uniform policy. Every reasoning offered must be placed in accordance with certain priority or importance in accordance with the declared rights of its citizens.
· That the discussion should remain fair, honest and objective. Our arguments have been clarified, yet we do not know what our policy maker in the Ministry thinks of it. We ardently hope that one day the choice be given to Muslim girls who have attained to the age be allowed to put on the required dressing as required by the faith in national schools, perhaps with appropriate modifications to conform to the uniform code of the school. The sooner this is amicably resolve, the better for Singapore. And the manner of how we resolve can be a milestone reflecting the form of just and compassionate governance.
Moreover, the issue of “tudung” or “Hijab” is currently also being debated elsewhere. How we in Singapore handles this issue may have repercussions elsewhere, either by contributing towards its enlightenment and resolution or adding further to the confusion. Especially in Europe and America becoming more multi-cultural, they are grappling with this issue, when they now encounter culture of the Muslims which is different to what they were used to. It does not help to have too much emotive clamouring on rights alone, relying more on emotional arguments rather than offering rational reasons. Bridges of understanding should be built and not by raising walls of confusion. What we saw as lacking is perhaps the academic or intellectual input from the Islamic perspectives, so as to allow researchers to better understand the issue at hand, especially how the Islamic arguments really is and not for them to be trapped into making wrong assumptions based on emotional reactions alone. As our cultural experience in managing cross-cultural difference all this while can be said to be good, Muslims here would expect themselves to be understood better by their fellow citizens than Muslims minority in countries of Europe expect of their fellow citizens. Our solution towards forging harmonious co-existence by accommodating differences amongst ourselves can be beneficial as a model to all others struggling to forge harmony in this global world. Even if this cannot be gained, at least we should not be party to adding further confusion.
What we have presented in this book is a modest effort to also assist, especially for researchers and policy makers to consider, in their addressing the issue of integration amongst their people, as this issue is ever now unfolding.