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Roadmap of change for Malay-Muslims

Publication Date : 12-07-2012


The success of Malay-Muslims is a national achievement and attests to the reality of multiracialism in Singapore. The reiteration of this point at the recent convention of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) is warranted as social cohesion can never be taken for granted.

Unlike systems in which economic and social issues are racialised and politicised, in Singapore, the achievements - and problems - of each ethnic community are viewed as components of the national whole to be addressed by a government elected by all the races and by society at large.

A benefit of this model is that it prevents a majority community from closing ethnic ranks and wielding the vote to corner the nation's material and cultural resources. Where this has occurred, what has followed has been a rising spiral of competing demands made by all communities, to the point where the state can hardly remain a just arbiter among them.

The dismal record of nation-building in many post-colonial Asian and African countries shows how stark this danger is. Singapore has come a long way because it avoided that fatal wrong turn in the management of ethnicity. The ability of Malay-Muslims to stay the course, without the gilded but ultimately hollow crutch of affirmative action policies, has been a crucial part of the Singapore journey.

This, though, is only half the story. The other half is that the Government has encouraged each ethnic community, both financially and politically, to do as much as it can to help itself. Hence the emergence and resilience of self-help groups. In improving their lot, it is natural for Malay-Muslims not only to take stock of their absolute performance - which is noteworthy, compared to their situation a decade or two ago - but also to worry about the gaps in their relative performance vis-a-vis other communities. This is a point to which the AMP draws attention in its convention journal.

However, comparisons can be overdone as each community has specific achievements, needs and expectations. Community leaders are best-placed to articulate and handle these issues with an eye on cultural and other sensitivities. Instead of chasing moving targets created by the performance of other communities, such leaders contribute best when they focus on possibilities of improvement using yardsticks and measures that are within the community's control. Education will remain the key plank in this effort and there are many Malay-Muslim role models to inspire the young.

As globalisation and economic change recasts Singapore from without and within, Malay-Muslims can draw from their ability to overcome challenges, as in earlier eras of dramatic change. In spearheading change, the AMP, Mendaki and other self-help groups will continue to be a crucial part of this unfolding story.


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