Friday, 21 August 2015

Deepen national identity: DPM Tharman at Berita Harian Achiever of the Year Award 2015

DPM says Singapore can do it by weaving tighter bonds across communities
By Walter Sim, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2015

Singapore's progress in the last 50 years would have been unthinkable without the country's major communities actively accepting each other, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said yesterday.

Neither would it have been possible without each taking pride not only in its own culture and religion, but also in Singapore's multi-ethnic and multi-religious identity. "We must build on this foundation in our next 50 years, and develop an even deeper national identity," he said.

Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, was speaking at a dinner organised by Malay daily Berita Harian to present its 17th annual Achiever of the Year award.

Speaking in Malay at the tail end of his 15-minute address, he cited a saying that means "as the padi ripens, it bends lower".

He said: "We must always remember that our work is never done. But we have one big advantage, in the unity, and the special Singapore spirit that we have developed in our first 50 years.

"It gives us confidence in our future. But we must do more."

Mr Tharman also cited the globalisation of sectarian and religious conflicts - including that of militant group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - as one of today's defining challenges that underscore the need to deepen religious harmony.

Singapore and its neighbours have been susceptible. ISIS has attracted 30,000 foreign fighters to territories it controls in Syria and Iraq, including about 1,000 from South-east Asia.

"But ethnic and religious harmony is for Singapore not just a defensive issue," he stressed. "It is at its heart an ideal and cherished vision for our nation."

Hence, Singaporeans need to deepen their understanding of various cultures, heritages and religions in the country, he said, and "weave tighter relationships with each other" from a young age.

The award, which recognises Malay/Muslim individuals in various fields for their achievements, went to Mr Mohammad Alami Musa, who helmed the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) from 2003 to 2013.

Mr Alami had led Muis through an "extremely challenging decade" in the wake of the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States and the Jemaah Islamiah arrests in Singapore, said Mr Tharman.

He introduced several programmes to strengthen the nation's resilience, including formulating the Singapore Muslim Identity project that see no conflict in Muslim Singaporeans being true to their faith and loyal to the country.

He also continues to contribute to Singapore as an educator and researcher, the minister added. Mr Alami is now head of studies in inter-religious relations in plural societies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

In his acceptance speech, Mr Alami said he was moved when Mr Tharman, asked in a recent interview what was Singapore's biggest success, said: social harmony.

Mr Alami believes the Muslim community is a decisive factor in making Singapore what it is today because - like the other communities - it has contributed significantly to social harmony.

Three community icons received the Pioneer Generation Achiever Award - former mufti Syed Isa Semait, language and culture expert Muhammad Ariff Ahmad and renowned batik artist Sarkasi Said.

Two former madrasah students who will study medicine at National University of Singapore received Young Achiever of the Year awards.

Mr Alami said that at a time when many Muslim communities worldwide face challenges of integration and embracing modernity and religious diversity, Singapore Muslims can share their best practices with other Muslim communities. "We have done so in little ways. More can be done," he said, adding: "Sharing will make the community stronger."

Inspiring achievers, pioneers honoured
Berita Harian awards recognise Malay/Muslim community leaders and student role models
By Tiffany Fumiko Tay, The Straits Times, 20 Aug 2015

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.



• Mr Ahmad Abdurrahman Hanifah Marican

• Ms Amalina Ridzuan


• Former Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) president Mohammad Alami Musa


• Veteran writer and ex-lecturer Muhammad Ariff Ahmad, 90.

• Former Mufti of Singapore Shaikh Syed Isa Semait, 76.

• Batik master Sarkasi Said, 75.

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