Written response by Manager of Pergas Ustaz Zhulkeflee to questions posted by Senior Writer, Asad Latif of The Straits Times - followed with interview on 23rd June 2002 @ Pergas, Wisma Indah Singapore.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------
- Question 1: A call was made during the Budget debate in Parliament to register religious teachers. What is your view on registration, and is Pergas a part of the process?
As in every profession, there is a need for a proper point / source of reference regarding acknowledgement as to who are in that profession; their background; and a way of assessing or ascertaining their competence and credibility, (at least by their peers) which in Islam are the community of Islamic scholars itself.
Pergas do have our own registry of religious teachers who comprises our ordinary and associate members, and from time to time we do receive and assess applicant to be accepted as new members. By convention all our ordinary members are recognized as Islamic religious teachers. And we do also co-ordinate with MUIS and share our database with them, although the list which they have may not tally with ours.
In Singapore, except for Pergas and MUIS which keep records of those they deemed as qualified religious teachers, yet there still others who may be involved in teaching subjects on Islam who are not registered with us. Some may be qualified (if we use Pergas’ standard and criteria) but our concern is the term ‘religious teachers’ or the title (Ustaz or Ustazah) are generally used too loosely by the public. Who should be regarded as Islamic religious teacher? There are those involved with merely teaching basic Qur’anic recitation, who carry the title “Ustaz/Ustazah” – titles which is also used by our Islamic scholars who specializes in the core subjects of the faith. There is a significant difference in terms of their being qualified to speak or teach Islam. The public may not know the difference.
For the past 4 to 5 years, we are aware of this problem and together with MUIS are working towards a form system of accreditation amongst religious Islamic teachers. Yet, we do not want to stifle the contributions of those who can assist in teaching certain Islamic subjects. What is therefore important is a system to monitor, to further develop and train these potential resource to meet the standards we set and thus qualify them to be a member of this profession.
- Question 2: Do you think that religious teachers who study in countries where Muslims are majority can translate their experiences to Singapore‘s multi-religious and multi-racial society, where Muslims are a minority? Is it a good idea for scholars to study in other countries where Muslims are a minority?
Some may be able to and perhaps some others may not. The issue is not so much as where they study but certain attitude, which can be and should be inculcated to all our Islamic religious teachers are embarking to teach Islam in Singapore. To become teachers it is not merely based on their academic attainment alone. They need to be further exposed and trained in subjects that can equip them with teachings skills, to understand and appreciate the local context; to know and respect the tradition and historical make of our country apart from equipping them with pedagogy/endagogy skills, class room management etc. What Islamic religious teachers in Singapore need is a post-graduate training centre (equivalent to that of NIE). And this has all along been the vision PERGAS sets for itself. Where these future Islamic teachers are sent to study (and get their first degree or diploma) will not be a problem if Singapore have its own Islamic Religious Teachers Training centre.
- Question 3: What do you think about the view that Muslim scholars should be sent to newer centres of Islamic learning set in more plural and open societies such as Jordan, Morocco or even the United States and Europe. Traditionally, they have gone to Al-Azhar University in Egypt, or universities in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
When we consider the kind of institution of higher learning an Islamic scholar should go to, the primary factor is the quality of education offered in that institute and subjects of specialization which that student wishes to pursue. Plurality or homogeneity, ‘open’ or ‘close’ of the environment in which they may be studying in is only incidental (secondary) factors which can be easily overcome, because it is still up to the person/ student himself whether he wish to be influenced or not.
I can’t help sensing that some people may not realize that by “Islamic studies” it is a generic term used. Within this “Islamic studies” there are wide range of subjects and specialized fields of study. And no one country or university can offer everything. And the curriculum may span from a very general scope to one that deals profoundly in a particular field or subject.
Yes, by all means, sent them to whichever centres available and for us to have scholars with diverse and varied exposure, it should be seen as plus factor. Yet, as you noted there is a possible disparity, not just their exposure but also in their scholarship. Thus we in Singapore may have to deal with such disparity and prepare all of them towards a mean standard suitable and relevant to our context. That is why we feel it is conditional that at the very least, a post-graduate centre exists in Singapore to re-orientate them all towards our condition here, to adequately prepare them with the relevant training.
- Question 4: What exactly is a modern Islamic education? How important should the study of English, mathematics and science be in it?
I’m unclear as to what you mean by ‘a modern Islamic education’? Islamic education always demands that in terms of approaches and methodology in education, the community must strive for excellence and utilize every approach which is available.
In terms of the curriculum which an Islamic scholar has to study, broadly speaking has always include linguistics (not just Arabic but include the relevant lingua franca) which puts English as a very important language to be mastered. Mathematics and Science are already regarded as important subjects to be studied by every Muslims but perhaps the more relevant question would be to what extent – i.e. the quantum and depth of mastery in these. This could depend on the area of specialization, which the scholar intends to pursue. Even in secular system, these subjects are firstly taught generally to all at the lower level and when they enters into streaming, the quantum and depth for these may differ.
- Question 5: Islam is a single faith, but there are social and intellectual traditions within it that can be identified with various nations and cultures. In your view, is there a Singaporean Islamic tradition? What is the role of religious teachers and intellectuals in forming such a tradition?
Yes! I think we in Singapore, because of our history and evolution, we do possess our own unique tradition, as do also other Muslims in some other countries elsewhere. E.g. being predominantly Sunni (Ash-arite in Theology, Shafi’ite in jurisprudence) and has tolerated well-established Sufi-istic ways (Tariqah). But this is not rigidly adhered as other school of thoughts and traditions do find its place – as long as it does not create schism and enmity. This is where the religious scholars and teachers role is important i.e. to instill a healthy respect for differing view – “ikhtilaf”. Al-Hamdulillah! We already evolved and have some form of hierarchical authority amongst the Islamic scholars and teachers, accepted by the general community, and this can be useful to diffuse problems regarding such issues.
- Question 6: What should be the role of ijtihad in deciding the future of Islamic thought in Singapore?
Islam as religion with a code that has been perfected contains principles that serve to guide mankind and provide solutions to whatever problems they may encounter in the future. To guide the community whenever an ijtihad is called for is in fact one of the role of the existing Islamic scholars (Ulama’). And the ulama’ do have its own hierarchy according to seniority and specialisation. In Singapore, whenever new things (with no clear precedence) occur requiring a ruling from the Islamic scholars, the office for “Iftah” headed by the Mufti has the authority to formulate and give such advice, termed as ‘Fatwa’. The Fatwa Committee comprising of religious scholars and specialists is assisting him in this. The holder of the Office of “Iftah” would by convention be from amongst the most qualified Islamic scholars in the field of Shar'iyah, who may be assisted by fellow Islamic scholars. Most (not necessarily all) of these scholars in the Fatwa Committee should be in the ranks of “al-Mujtahid fi-al-Masa-il” (see below) adhering to the dominant Mazhab of Imam As-Shafi’e.
- Question 7: Who is qualified to engage in ijtihad?
Allow me to quote Prof. A. Rahman I Doi:
Arabic term - “Ijtihad” – literally means “an effort or an exercise to arrive at one’s own judgement” – technically it is used in regards to “the exertion by a (mujtahid) qualified Islamic scholar in (istinbat) extracting legal rulings from the primary sources.”
Qualifications for a mujtahid:
Knowledgeable about the religion of Islam, the Sunnah (Ways or traditions of the Prophet s.a.w.), Fiqh (Jurisprudence) and Usul-al-Fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence) especially:
- (a) He must be so very well versed in the study of Qur’an. That he must know the reason why the verses and chapters of the Qur’an were revealed and when each one of them was revealed (Asbab-al-Nuzul);
- (b) He must be well versed in the study of the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. That is, he must know the distinction between authentic Hadith from the spurious and the various other technical categories of Ahadith – viz. Mutawwatir, Shahih, Hasan, Dho’if, Maudhu’ etc.;
- (c) He must know the principles of Ijma’ (scholarly consensus) very well;
- (d) He must know the injunctions of Qiyas (jurisdistic analogy).
Apart from his qualification, he must posses good Islamic character apart from academic excellence. Among the moral qualities are:
(a) He must be a good Muslim. That he must not be a nominal Muslim; rather, must be a practising one.
(b) He must be very pious and law-abiding to all the injunctions of the Holy Qur’an.
(c) He must not be influenced by any heretical influences.
(d) He must be just, reliable, trustworthy and pure from iniquitous practices.
Classifications into three broad categories of Mujtahid:
 al-Mujtahid fi-al-Shari-’ah: These were those who did ijtihad in the matter of Shari’ah amongst the companions of the Prophet till the third century of Islam.
 al-Mujtahid fi-al-Madzhab: these are those who did ijtihad and later found schools of jurisprudence. There are today 5 surviving schools of Jurisprudence, viz. Ja’afari, Maliki, Hanafi, Shafi’ie and Hanbali.
 al-Mujtahid fi-al-Masa-il: these are those who follow them (mujtahid fi-al-Madzhab) i.e. the present day mujtahids who give Fatwa (or Juristic opinions) on religious matters.
(reference from “Shariah: The Islamic Law” by Abdur Rahman I. Doi)