PIONEERS in the Muslim community who helped shape a compassionate society and carve out common ground in multicultural Singapore deserve to be honoured for their contributions, Minister-in- charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said last night.
In paying tribute to a generation of movers and shakers - such as Singapore's first president Yusof Ishak and religious leader Ahmad Zuhri Mutammin - he said they helped develop a religious orientation that is progressive, inclusive and relevant in the modern world, and dealt with challenges the community faced in a "calm, rational and dignified manner".
Speaking at the annual Hari Raya gathering that he and Malay/Muslim MPs host, he also shared good news about mosques.
To applause from about 400 people present, he said longer term leases will be given to three of six mosques that are now on Temporary Occupation Licences: Ahmad Ibrahim Mosque in Yishun, Tentera Di Raja Mosque in Clementi and Petempatan Melayu Sembawang Mosque.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore is also ramping up efforts to meet the need for more prayer space especially in areas of high demand, such as in the east.
He also said Madrasah Al-Irsyad Al-Islamiah in Braddell Road will be renamed Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri in tribute to the late Ahmad Zuhri Mutammim, the first president and a founder of the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association.
As for the late Mr Yusof, who saw the country through its formative years, he said ideas on how to pay tribute to him are in the works. "It was his firm belief in respect and multiracialism that held the nation together in our early years of nationhood and it was his drive in championing a progressive Malay/Muslim community that rallied our people together."
With the nation turning 50 next year, there are plans for a book on 50 Malay/Muslim pioneers. The Pioneer Generation Joint Committee, which explores ways to honour Malay/Muslim pioneers, is expanding outreach efforts. Apart from the Pioneer Generation Package, it will also explain Medishield Life to seniors.
Still, Dr Yaacob said the best tribute for pioneers is to keep up their good work. An SG50 coordination committee is being set up and one idea is a "Service to the Nation" week led by the community. Events could include donation drives and volunteer activities.
He said pioneers dealt rationally on difficult issues in the community such as organ donation and phasing out of old mosques: "Because of their reasonable and inclusive approach, over time, we forged our own space within the larger multicultural Singapore."
He also stressed the importance of tolerance when confronted with different views, saying it could otherwise lead to extreme behaviour and affect Singapore's cohesion: "We must preserve an atmosphere of mutual respect and understanding. If we resort to labelling and criticising others just because we disagree with them, we risk creating an atmosphere of mistrust and will end up drawing divisions among ourselves."
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