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Forced "Integration" in Singapore

By Mansor Hj Sukaimi, Republic of Singapore

Aerial view of Singapore
Aerial view of Singapore

Introduction: Singapore is a small island country in Southeast Asia. The majority of Singapore's people are Chinese. Malays make up a significant minority group. Most Malays are Muslim. Almost all the people live in the capital, which also has the name of Singapore. The capital is a crowded, bustling center of trade, finance, and manufacturing. However, the Chinese-dominated regime has banned various Islamic practices, including the wearing of hijab by schoolgirls, citing the need for "racial unity" or "integration."

Tudung Issue

The tudung (hijab, or Islamic headscarf) issue has given a special significance to the meaning of "integration" in our multi-racial and religious society.

Then … reports of new but related issues crop up: that students are not allowed to solat in school premises, … male students cannot leave early for Friday Solat, … Muslim staff are not allowed to wear tudung in work places ~ raising the imperatives of integration to higher heights of national security and common concern of all Singaporeans.

Mythical "If's"

If these issues were customs ingrained in all cultures and therefore become instantly relevant to all, not just Muslims, the rationale would be clear cut.

If these issues pertained to practices that had never existed, or never allowed, the merit of unaggrieved and quiet compliance would be obvious.

If September 11 had never occurred and the consequential anti-Islamic-terrorist fervour was not Bush'ed, the issues would become mundane matters just like Keeping Singapore Clean, having good manners in the public, proper queuing at MRT, submitting income tax-returns on time, coming to work on time.

If these issues did not concern profound matters of piety, all Muslims would harbour no deep umbrage.

If measures to resolve them were done with substantive knowledge, magnanimity and the usual cross-culture respect and charity, the facility of execution and compliance would have been more assured.

Now, we have a thorny scenario as all these "IF's" are mere fantasies.

INTEGRATION: The Misused Word

"Integration" takes a new meaning and gets distorted because (if we remove all the chaffs and the pleasantries) the onus of integrating essentially rests with the Muslims. Kindness from others will help, but the Muslims will be the ones who are expected to adjust. They are to come out and mix around. They have to give up something dear to them.

Facade of Sultan Mosque, Republic of Singapore
Facade of Sultan Mosque, Republic of Singapore

More severely, many leaders, writers to press, heads of departments, principals of schools, community leaders, and even men and women on the street are prone to using "need for integration" in a manner that puts Muslims at fault. Even the endearing MP Irene Ng gets confused between the "right to be different" and the "habituation to be pious"!

There has never been real integration in Singapore in its extant form and all of us have lived well, despite our differences. At policy levels and in security domains, Muslims and Malays have understood (but not consented) the many different rules applying to different people ~ and Singaporeans had had no national calamity. I mean severe differences that affect the lives, self-respect and well-being of one community, while other communities earn untold benefits from that one-community exclusion policy and practices.

Notwithstanding all these, the Malays in particular, and the Muslims in general, have been tolerant, compliant and not adamant, give or take a minute percentage of those who feel strong enough to do different things.

This concept of "integration" must change. It risks becoming a chimera, a wild or impossible fancy. It must be changed with magnanimity, the benevolence in respecting differences, especially on matters of deep-seated feelings and fundamentals of piety. It must be driven by continuing commitment to standing of citizenry, attributes of merit, abundance of cultural wealth, and conscious desire to be fair.

The Muslims have a spectrum of virtuous fabric that makes them different:

  • They submit to One God and endear to the Final Prophet. They have five fixed hours of daily submission which they are enjoined to fulfill with grace and dedication. They fast the whole month of Ramadhan. They pay their tithes. They save (or use their CPF) and go to Mecca.
  • They understand that others consume liquor, gamble or reveal their private selves, (either whole or part thereof), and they are to resist from being party to such cultural habituations.
  • They are enjoined to do and earn a living like all others, and to do well, but must forsake them if compelled to be impious.
  • They must be obedient and honour all working rules, but must seek for dispensation (not favour, for this "seeking for dispensation" is a religious responsibility) after which, if the rules have to remain, they must desist or leave if human rules have to become sacrosanct.
  • They must respect leaders, supervisors, seniors and other humans as an act of religious piety, but must opt away from persons of position who are unjust or dispense no mutual respect.

All these virtuous differences have now become incongruities, bringing disdain to the faithfuls who choose to honour them.

Decorations For Malay Muslim New Year Celebration, Republic of Singapore
Decorations For Malay Muslim New Year Celebration, Republic of Singapore

All Singaporeans must partake in things that do us honour and bring prosperity to our country. Don't exclude or chide the growing number of highly educated Muslims (especially female Muslim professionals and workers, and innocent students) if they chose to be pious. Don't say that they do not cherish integration.

I dread the day when all female Singaporeans are called to do National Service, for in that setting we will see the cataclysmic oddity of "integration" for in that setting we will need a more profound concept to manage two different sets of compulsory demands: the national and the religious.

Or even, in our ordinary lives, we have so many good Malay, Muslim, Chinese, Indian, and Eurasian neighbours, colleagues, subordinates, trustees. It pains me if my friends from other cultures and religions maim their previously untainted trust and benevolence to me with this dreadfully wrong meaning of "integration".

Mansor Hj Sukaimi
Neptune Court
Republic of Singapore
27 February 2002
nurysingapore@pacific.net.sg


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