Muslims urged to ponder on society, role

Dr Yaacob (fifth from left) and (from left) MP Fatimah Lateef; Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for National Development and Defence; Mr Masagos Zulkifli, the Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs; MP Zaqy Mohamad; MP Intan Azura Mokhtar; Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Transport; Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob; Mr Zainal Sapari, the director for NTUC’s unit for contract and casual workers; Mr Hawazi Daipi, the Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Education and Manpower; and MP Zainudin Nordin.

SINGAPORE - Calling for a rethink, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim on Friday urged his people to ponder on the kind of society they want Singapore to be in the next 50 years and their role in shaping its future.

While meritocracy and multiracialism must continue to underpin Singapore society, they need to take into account an increasingly diverse society and the dangers of elitism, he said at a Hari Raya Aidilfitri dinner gathering.

His comments come amid warnings from government leaders against elitism creeping into Singapore's system of meritocracy.

In a speech peppered with questions that reflected his concern about emerging attitudes, he said calls to strengthen the distinction between Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans worry him.

"If pushed too far, such calls can potentially impoverish the idea of citizenship by commoditising the concept," said Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister for Communications and Information.

He asked: "Do incentives and benefits define who we are...? Do we want a future Singapore where relationships are merely transactional? Or should we have a society based on mutual respect and help regardless of one's background?"

His view was that benefits of citizenship, important as they are, do not define Singaporeans and are "not the core of who we are".

He also wondered how society could ensure excellence and compassion, a reference to a recent call by Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong for a compassionate meritocracy, with those who do well giving back to society.

As for multiracialism, he said as more people from diverse backgrounds become citizens or work here, more questions would arise. "Should we not also embrace them as part of building a better Singapore?" he asked.

"Should we not also welcome those who have chosen to stand with us and call this country their home?"

Noting how the community is multiracial, with Muslims from different parts of the world, he said: "We must continue to take the lead in embracing all who come to our shores to support in the building of our community and our nation."

Dr Yaacob also urged community leaders to support the drive of young people to do good work as they will shape the contributions of the Malay-Muslim community to Singapore's success.

"It is my wish and hope for our community... to be among the authors writing the next chapter of our Singapore story," he said.

chinlian@sph.com.sg


Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.