Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Feedback from MM Lee's comments

I'm proud to see a young Singaporean Malay speak up and give feedback on what MM Lee's commented on the Muslim. He's a Fit To Post (FTP) yahoo writer and used his colum for the feedback. Bravo bro..

COMMENT

By Faris Mokhtar

Uncalled for, unfair and out of touch.

That’s how I would describe Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s controversial comments on the racial integration of the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore.

The 87-year-old founding father of modern Singapore had written in his latest book, Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, “I would say today, we can integrate all religions and races except Islam. I think the Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate.”

He added, “Now, you go to schools with Malay and Chinese, there’s a halal and non-halal segment and so, too, the universities. And they tend to sit separately so as not to be contaminated. All that becomes a social divide.”

When asked what Muslims could do to integrate, he said, “Be less strict on Islamic observances and say, ‘Okay, I’ll eat with you’.”

What followed, understandably so was outrage among Malay-Muslim organisations such as PERDAUS and Jamiyah. Soon after, the government was in frantic “damage control” mode.

First, Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Dr Yaacob Ibrahim and then, Prime Minister Lee were quick to distance themselves, and the government, from MM Lee’s frank “hard truth”.

Well I, for one, respectfully beg to differ from MM Lee. As a young Malay-Muslim born in the late 80s, I think his points are inaccurate and out of touch.

Public or government schools have and will continue to have halal and non-halal stalls. This is to ensure that the food meet the religious dietary requirements of Muslims students such as how vegetarian stalls mainly cater to students who are practicing Buddhists or Hindus.

But there is no such thing as segregated seating areas for both Muslim and non-Muslim students. Students buy their own food and sit wherever they choose.

Even in army camps, where the cookhouse is still separated into the “halal” and “non-halal” sections, nowhere is it said that Muslims are not able to have meals with the Chinese, or vice versa.

There is nothing in the Koran that forbids Muslims from sharing spaces with non-Muslims. In fact, they are encouraged to integrate with the society and such actions do not make one “unMuslim-like” in nature.

And it goes beyond just food. We, the young, are simply different in our ways and thinking.

I still enjoy the company of my friends — Chinese, Indian, Eurasians and Malays — in secondary schools and college. We still catch up regularly for movies, shopping and visit each other houses for casual get-togethers and parties.

When it comes to food, I order my ”halal” food and sit down and have my meal with them side-by-side. If we attend birthdays or house parties organised by non-Malay friends, I and my fellow Muslims will opt for soft drinks while the rest chooses alcoholic beverages.

The point is that, we do socialise and go for gatherings – who says we can’t? And those of my generation agree with me.

“I think his views are myopic and do not paint an accurate picture,” said 22-year old Faizal Shaharuddin, an undergraduate from NUS.

“When we serve national service in the army, you can see that everyone integrate well together. We sit and eat meals together and take good care of one another, regardless of race and religion.”

In fact, even some of my Muslim friends are even dating girls from other races. For instance, a close friend who is studying to be a teacher in NTU-NIE, has been dating a girl of Chinese-Philippine heritage for over a year.

I recognise that MM Lee’s views, and those of his generation, are shaped by their struggle for independence in post-war Malaya and the bitter separation from Malaysia. After all, in those days, where survival was paramount, Singaporeans were segregated.

And before houses were upgraded to high-rise flats and before HDB imposed the Ethnic Integration Policy, one can’t deny that where Singaporeans lived was once segregated along racial lines.

But it is not who we young Muslims are now.

Muslim youths have been seen socialising with friends from other races without compromising their faith. (Reuters).
Will the threat of the 1964 race riots or of inter-racial tensions tearing the fabric of Singapore society ever go away? No, and it never will.

But yet, at the same time, I don’t think it is an imminent danger.

The one good thing that has emerged from the hullabaloo over MM Lee’s remarks is that, while controversial, they have stirred fierce debate and discussion, which builds upon the framework of our current understanding and inter-connectedness.

They have also served to dispel skewed mindsets and ageing perceptions.

Most importantly though, MM Lee’s comments have forced me to put up a mirror to myself and those of my — and my elders’ — generation and reminded us again of the need to engage in discourse among Malay Muslims and those from other races and religions.

*The writer has been volunteering at weekly Meet-the-People-Sessions in PAP Marine Parade Branch for the past two years. He also volunteers at the National Kidney Foundation, where he visits dialysis patients and delivers groceries to them.

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