When Mr Ahmad Abdurrahman Hanifah Marican attended an interview for the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, he felt like an "underdog".
"I was among the elite students, the Raffles students, and the way they carry themselves so confidently, I felt so small," he said.
But the 19-year-old made history this year by becoming one of the first two students from madrasahs, or Islamic religious schools, to be offered a place in a Singapore medical school.
Yesterday, he and Ms Amalina Ridzuan were presented with the Berita Harian (BH) Inspiring Young Achiever Award at a gala dinner at the Raffles City Convention Centre.
Former Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) president Mohammad Alami Musa was conferred the BH Achiever of the Year award for his lifelong work as a Malay/Muslim community activist at the ceremony.
The annual award, now in its 17th year, is organised by Singapore Press Holdings' Malay daily, Berita Harian. It honours Malay/Muslim individuals and organisations for their achievements in their chosen field.
Winners must be role models for the Malay/Muslim community.
BH editor Mohd Saat Abdul Rahman said: "This year's award is indeed special as the success that has been achieved by Mr Mohammad Alami is also a reflection of how the Muslim community in Singapore has integrated and contributed in a modern, secular economy."
This year, in conjunction with SG50, BH also presented three Pioneer Generation Achiever Awards to Malay pioneers.
They went to veteran writer and retired lecturer Dr Muhammad Ariff Ahmad, 90, former Mufti of Singapore Shaikh Syed Isa Semait, 76, and batik master Sarkasi Said, 75.
The awards were presented by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Mr Alami, who is Head of Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies at Nanyang Technological University's S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, was thankful for the award, but added: "Building and developing a community is not the work of one individual; it is the effort of many individuals over a long period of time."
The 59-year-old was president of Muis from 2003 to 2013, and instrumental in formulating the Singapore Muslim Identity project.
"I took over Muis in the aftermath of the 9/11 episode and the exposure of the home-grown JI (Jemaah Islamiah) cell," he said.
"There were many articulations outside of Singapore which used Islam in the narratives, for Muslims to use force.
"So I thought about it, and I said, 'Look, we need to strengthen our local religious leadership. We need to set the agenda for the local community, and to shape their understanding and practice of Islam by contextualising it to our society.'"
Mr Alami said he sees the fruits of his labour in Mr Ahmad and Ms Amalina: " Young people like them are good examples of an identity as Muslims within the multi-religious, multiracial context."
Ms Amalina, 22, said that entering Serangoon Junior College after 10 years of studying in a madrasah was "a huge culture shock", but that she adapted quickly.
After doing poorly in her GCE A-level exams, she enrolled in a biomedical science course at Temasek Polytechnic and graduated with a grade point average of 3.98 out of 4.
She is now a medical student at NUS, and said the BH award serves as motivation to keep working hard.
"I hope to be an inspiration to others, so they can chase after their dreams no matter how impossible or improbable it may be," she said.
This article was first published on Aug 20, 2015.
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