The Malay gap in Singapore. What factors play a part? How is the issue being tackled? [Investigative Journalism]

#Survey 1: Insights from the IPS Survey on Race, Religion and Language:

Household survey conducted between December 2012 to April 2013 of 4131 Singaporeans who are mostly Singaporeans.

*Words bolded in green are statistics taken directly from this perception survey.

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*A higher number of Malay university-educated students feel that nationality-based prejudice has decreased in comparison with the other races.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 11.20.30.png

*Compared with the other races, there is no significant perception trend by Malays towards racial prejudice levels.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 11.08.48.png

*Compared with the other races, Malays felt more that religious prejudice levels has decreased.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 11.22.14.png

*Compared with the other races, Malays felt slightly more that language prejudice levels has decreased.

# Survey 2 PERCEPTION SURVEY ON THE MALAY/MUSLIM COMMUNITY IN SINGAPORE (2011): Approximately 350 members of the Malay/Muslim community were interviewed over a period of two months. The sample was representative of the age, gender and socio-economic composition of the Malay/Muslim community as reflected in the most recent Department of Statistics’ Census data.

59 key influencers identified by AMP as prominent figures in the Malay/Muslim community completed online interviews. In-depth interviews were also conducted with a handful of opinion leaders in the community including policymakers and leaders of prominent ethnic- based community organisations.

*Blockquoted in brown will be statistics taken directly from this perception survey.

Screenshot 2016-09-09 20.31.24.png
Pg 167


31% believed the community has made progress in the last five years. 9% believed the situation has gotten worse, while 59% think that things have remained stable. According to more than half of those who indicated that things have gotten better in the last five years, the main area of improvement identified was education.

..65% believed their community enjoys the same opportunities as other Singaporeans. 48% of the key influencers who were surveyed thought otherwise.

..Cost of living and youth behaviour were identified as the two biggest issues facing their community today. 

#Survey 3 Survey on plight of S’pore Malays (AsiaOne, 19 Aug 2013):

Initiated in 2012 when Minister in charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim announced the formation of a committee to hear from the republic’s Malays, the 70-page survey by the Suara Musyawarah independent committee which was based on anecdotes and feelings within the community without accompanying statistics.

*Blockquoted in blue will be anecdotes taken directly from this survey.

While Malays have made strides in education – more are passing and getting better grades in the PSLE (Primary School Leaving Examination), O and A levels, for instance — there are many areas where the community has lagged behind. (2012)


Pg 148: Malay/Muslims generally felt that their community organisations should be involved and engaged in a wide variety of areas..Malay/Muslims generally felt that their community organisations are effective, although their influence on government policies is rated lower.

A rise in social consciousness among the community has led more of those “wanting to help others (to) improve their lives”. Many participants urged for a more consultative style of leadership to manage Malay matters. (2012)


Pg 147-148: More than 62% highlighted the general cost of living as an important issue for the community. From the demographic analysis, cost of living is a far bigger issue among those with lower education (secondary and below)..Cost of living is cited as an area where they felt that they are worse off compared to other Singaporeans..88% believing that (support for family) needs higher priority by community organizations.

..Pg 149: In terms of social support, about one in three did not believe they receive enough external support to assist them in coping with life in Singapore. This segment indicated that housing and financial support are two highly important assistance that are most needed.

..Most  felt that they are in control of their finances, with 67% indicating they are coping well. 12% who felt that their finances are not in order cited the rising cost of living and low or stagnant salaries as key reasons. Many felt that lower food prices would assist them significantly , while others are of the view that financial support and affordable childcare are most important.

Pg 155 – Other areas of progress for the community include better job opportunities and having more financially-able Malay/Muslims. Those who believed the community has progressed pointed towards greater support and assistance that have been provided to the community in recent years.

The survey also pointed out that issue of “special rights” for Malays — as guaranteed by Article 152 of Singapore’s Constitution — was hardly raised.

On the economic state of the Malays, the survey found that the community faced widening income gaps and a lack of social mobility, situations made worse by the fact that Singaporean Malays tend to have larger families.


Screenshot 2016-09-12 11.26.20.png

*A high number of Malays felt that special treatment should be given to minority groups.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 11.26.48.png

*An even higher number of  Malays youths felt that special treatment should be given to minority groups.Screenshot 2016-09-12 11.26.39.png 

*In contrast though for university-educated Malays, more felt that special treatment should not be given to minority groups.



Pg 194: The family size is still slightly higher for Malays compared to other races. However, reduced family size or preference for a smaller family could further decline to numbers reflected at the national levels in future. Changes in marriage patterns reduce fecund period available (fecundity refers to reproductive span of females). Singaporean Malays have undergone a very dramatic demographic transition when compared to Malays in the region, as there was prolonged high fertility among Malays in the past.


[Offbeat Perspectives analysis]

There is a possibility that some Malays from the lower-income community may have many children even if do not have the financial ability to care for them, which perpetuates the inter-generational poverty cycle.


What the government is doing to improve on the issue?

Why support for Malays must stay (AsiaOne, 2013): 

Minister K. Shanmugam expressed his “strong view” that the long-standing approach of giving special treatment to Malays must carry on: “It is the Singaporean community’s duty to work towards the ideal of Malay/Muslims having good achievements..And for that, the Malay community needs to be helped more.”

The minister also pointed to Article 152 of the Constitution, which states that the Government must recognise the special position of the Malays, who are the indigenous people of Singapore, and safeguard their political, economic and educational interests...

152. —(1)  It shall be the responsibility of the Government constantly to care for the interests of the racial and religious minorities in Singapore.

(2)  The Government shall exercise its functions in such manner as to recognise the special position of the Malays, who are the indigenous people of Singapore, and accordingly it shall be the responsibility of the Government to protect, safeguard, support, foster and promote their political, educational, religious, economic, social and cultural interests and the Malay language.

The community gets assistance both financially and also through structural ways – through policies and programmes in accordance with the law:

 – Since the 1970s, land for mosques has been allotted without tender and the land price set at affordable rates, to ensure Muslims have modern mosques as Singapore develops.

 – The Government also helps Malay tertiary students financially.

– The community has its own special courts – Syariah courts, whose infrastructure and judges are Government-funded.

“We are doing this because it is the right thing to do. We are one society. This is the true meaning of a multiracial, multi-religious society..We have educated Singaporeans to uphold multiracialism as a fundamental principle, and to enable the minorities to have equal, and even more than equal, chances in Singapore.”

*Sidenote*In Singapore’s context, even though majority of Malays are Muslims, do note not all Malays are Muslims, as some may be humanists or practitioners of other faiths etc. 

– Minister for Muslim affairs (*the other religions in Singapore do not have a minister for their affairs)

– The Muslim community have their own Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) which provides a centralised system of administration covering all aspects of Muslim life in Singapore. The Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), or Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) was constituted under AMLA, and serves as a statutory body that oversees Muslim affairs in Singapore. AMLA also governs the Syariah Court (Islamic Court) e.g. deals with disputes on marriages, divorces, betrothal, nullity of marriage or judicial separation, disposition or division of property on divorce or nullification of marriage, payment of emas kahwin, marriage expenses (hantaran belanja), maintenance and consolatory gifts or mutaah etc., as well as the Registry of Muslim Marriages.

6 Mendaki satellite centres reaching out to the surrounding community and link families in need to Mendaki programmes such as tuition, job placement and financial support for education, such as bursaries. West Coast and Boon Lay areas are being considered as locations for the new centre, as these areas have higher proportion of low-income Malays, who can benefit most from the programmes available.

Community leaders forum – Work together to address community issues, garner community engagement and support through dialogue and knowledge exchange, build its capacity to help the community in effective and relevant ways.

Community support through zakat collection (In 2015, the sum was $35.3 million (unaudited), up from $22.7 in 2010. MUIS disburses zakat to an average of 5,300 benficiaries annually. But with tweaks to the eligibility criteria and the increase in disbursement quantum, it was able to offer $17.2 million in assistance to the poor last year – almost half of the total zakat collected. (14 Apr 2016)


Pg 147-149: Housing affordability as an issue was held at 31%.

..Housing support was perceived by many to be the most inaccessible form of assistance. Key influencers also singled out housing support as a social safety net that has been least successful in assisting those in their community.

Less than three per cent of Singapore Malay households lived in private properties, compared with nearly 20 per cent of the overall resident households. (2012)

Malay-headed households living in one and two-room rented flats have doubled after a decade (ST, 11 May 2016):

2005: 5,779 (4.9%)  => 2015: 14,600 (10.9%)

*About 57 per cent of the Association of Muslim Professionals’  (AMP’s) (*A self-help and non-profit organization set up by the Malay-Muslim community in Singapore) family services clients live in rental flats, up from about 30 per cent five years ago.

Possible factors raised in regards to this trend:

  •  Higher supply of public rental flats (AMP senior manager Hameet Khanee)
  • Changing economic circumstances e.g. Low-income Malay workers could have been “displaced by cheap immigrant labour” in jobs such as cleaning (Lai Ah Eng, NUS researcher)
  • Among AMP’s family services clients, insufficient CPF savings – due to unemployment or ad-hoc jobs – was the most common reason for living in a rental flat, accounting for 86 per cent.
  • Of the AMP clients living in rental flats, about one in 10 is waiting for a new flat, bought from the Housing Board, to be ready.

Long-term impact:

  • The stigma and social issues associated with rental flats could a be detrimental to families.
  • Considering that an HDB flat is an asset for most people, not owning a flat would prevent these families from leveraging on their flats as an asset to facilitate social mobility.

(AMP’s Madam Hameet)

  • Possibility of “a permanent underclass of two to three generations with multiple family problems”.  

(Lai Ah Eng, NUS researcher)

*Home ownership rates have increased and the proportion of Malays living in condominiums or private flats has increased six-fold from 37.50 in 1980 to 237.50 in 2010. The percentage of those living in landed properties has decreased from 328.57 in 1980 to 128.57 in 2010. 



[Offbeat Perspectives analysis]

With lesser Malay families living in landed properties (*possibly higher income) [less than 3% according to the 2012 survey]; and more situated in condominiums / private flats (*possibly middle-income) as well as one/two-room rental flats (*possibly lower-income); this suggest a mixed vertical mobility trend, and that the socio-economic level of many Malay families may be between lower to middle income. 


What the government is doing to improve on this issue?

The Fresh Start Housing Scheme to be rolled out later this year will help rental families with young children, who used to own an HDB flat, buy a home again.


Pg 150: The community is generally satisfied with Singapore’s education system, with most indicating that Malay/Muslim students enjoy the same opportunities as other Singaporean students. Although a majority believed that students from the community are attaining the best results possible, nearly three in four key influencers believed that Malay/ Muslims are underperforming in relation to other Singaporean students.

In terms of attitudes toward education, most believed a good education is very important, with a clear majority postulating the view that the community placed equal importance to education as other Singaporeans. Again, key influencers were more likely to disagree with this sentiment.

Among parents, most believed that they are sufficiently involved in their children’s education. However, more than half of all parents have never attended a school function and nearly half of them do not enroll their children in any other courses or enrichment programmes outside of school.

While more than half of parents hoped their children attain a tertiary degree, 62% anticipated challenges in doing so due to affordability and academic eligibility concerns. 52% felt that the prospect of them sending their child abroad for further studies is bleak.


Pg 195: The general literacy among Malays has always been high; in fact, higher than national levels..In 2000 to 2010, Singapore saw better attainment levels for the entire population, including Malays. Malay females have improved most significantly but attainments of Malays are still below national rates. 

Pg 196: Singapore Malay students have made tremendous absolute progress over the decades. For instance, using year 2000 as a base with an index of 100.00, the education index rose from 36.72 in 1980 to 146.39 in 2010. The indices for post-secondary enrolment and tertiary enrolment have also increased very significantly. 

Pg 196: In 2000, there was an equal proportion of working Malay males and females who attained university qualifications. There are existing schemes aimed at pushing for higher attainments, although an impediment to attaining this is the lack of sufficient resources. By 2005, there was a higher proportion of university-educated Malay females than males. Malays face challenges from local non-Malays and incoming non-Malays. This serves as a catalyst for development in skill content of future working Malays.

           Pg 197: Highest Qualification Attained


                                                  Malays (%) / All races (%)

No Formal Education      6.4                7.0

Incomplete Primary       10.9              8.5

Completed Primary        13.1             10.3

Incomplete Secondary  35.4             23.2

Secondary                         18               11.9

Upper Secondary            7.6               10.7

Polytechnic                       3.5               6.0

University                         5.1               22.4

Completion of Upper Secondary Education by the Malay community is 71.03% in comparison with all 3 races.

Completion of Polytechnic Education by the Malay community is 58.33% in comparison with all 3 races.

Completion of University Education by the Malay community is 22.77% in comparison to with all 3 races.


                                              Malays (%) / All races (%)

No Formal Education    6.5                6.9

Incomplete Primary       na                 na

Completed Primary        6.7               5.3

Incomplete Secondary 10.9              9.0

Secondary                       29.0             19.5

Upper Secondary          24.5              12.7

Polytechnic                    15.6              18.4

University                        6.8               28.3

Completion of Upper Secondary Education by the Malay community is 192.91% in comparison with all 3 races.

Completion of Polytechnic Education by the Malay community is 84.78% in comparison with all 3 races.

Completion of University Education by the Malay community is 24.03% in comparison with all 3 races.

Analysis of progress of Malay community in completion of educational routes (from 2005 to 2010):

2005 => 2010

7.6% => 24.5% (complete upper secondary school) *3.2 times increase

3.5% => 15.6% (complete polytechnic education) *4.5 times increase 

5.1 => 6.8 % (complete university education) *1.3 times increase

In 5 short years, there was a strikingly high increase in our Malay community completing their secondary and polytechnic education successfully, which helped strengthened their standing with the all-races average  🙂

Comparison of Malay students in regards to all races (2005 versus 2010):

1) The proportion of Malays without Formal Education has been lower in comparison with all 3 races in both 2005 and 2010.

2) The proportion of Malays completing Primary Education, Incomplete Secondary Education, and Secondary Education has been higher in comparison with all 3 races in both 2005 and 2010.

Completion of upper secondary education  (71.03%) was below all-races average in 2005, but twice better than the all-races average in 2010.

2) Completion of polytechnic education (58.33%) was very much below all-races average in 2005, but increased to 84.78% of all-races average in 2010.

3) Completion of university education (22.77%) was drastically below all-races average in 2005, but improved slightly to 24.03% of all-races average in 2010.


The education level of our younger generation of Malays have positively and significantly improved within the gap of 5 years (2005 to 2010).

Only 5.1 per cent of the non-student Malay population, aged 15 and above, had university degrees, a figure lower than the 23 per cent at national level.



Low-income Malay-Muslim families have high hopes for their children’s education: Study (CNA, 25 Apr 2015):

A survey involving 22 low-income households found that:

– Over 70 per cent expect their children to be more financially stable.

– More than half hoped their children would attain at least a university degree.

– Most said that they have to work overtime to make ends meet.

– Over 80 per cent felt they were insufficiently involved in their children’s development and education

– Most mentioned that they felt ill equipped due to a lack of familiarity with the curriculum and difficulties in subjects such as mathematics.

More youth pursuing post-sec education: MOE study (ST, 21 Nov 2015):

MOE: Malay students showed the most improvement (*in comparison with the other races), with 92.5 per cent of the Primary 1 cohort in 2004 entering post-secondary institutions. This is an increase of 10.8 percentage points compared with the 81.7 per cent in 2005.

Enrolment at some elite JCs show education can spawn inequality: Study (ST, 27 May 2016):

Analyzing data of more than 5543 classrooms of students in 6 Junior Colleges (JCS) for over 40 years from 1971 to 2010: 2 JCs were picked in each region – one with higher entry requirements and A-level results than the other. These JCs were located in neighbourhoods of high, medium and low wealth, measured by their share of landed property.

Findings showed:

  • Over time, the representation of Malays in elites JCs decreased, but at a slower pace compared to the increase for females (of all races).
  • Malays were less well-represented in elite JCs (4% proportion) compared than in non-elite (6.1% proportion) ones, with the gap being largest in the wealthiest neighbourhood.
  • We also find that minority Malays are less likely to enrol in elite schools located in wealthy neighbourhoods because these neighbourhoods lack the ethnic solidarity among minorities that less wealthy neighbourhoods have.
  • Race seems to be more durable as a form of inequality than gender.

Recommendations from the study findings:

  • Policymakers could adopt a “cross-cutting” strategy by locating elite schools in less wealthy neighbourhoods and vice versa
  • All neighbourhoods here are well-resourced but inequalities exist, and the Government’s initiatives to help disadvantaged families could also help narrow ethnic inequalities.


[Offbeat Perspectives analysis]

Overall, there has been tremendous progress in the completion secondary and polytechnic education of Malay community (2005 to 2010). However, JC and university completion rate is still has much room for improvements to catch up with the all-races average. Malay parents surveyed also see the importance of their children having a good education  🙂 


What the relevant organizations / government are doing to improve on the issue?

Madrasahs to get boost for secular subjects (ST, 24 Aug 2015): It will give financial aid to improve the skills of these teachers, and fund awards for students who do well in them.

Education wise, there are tuition programmes, bursaries and scholarships in regards to the respective self-help groups e.g. CDAC (Chinese), SINDA (Indian), Yayasan MENDAKI (Malay/Muslim).

Tertiary Tuition Fee Subsidy (TTFS) scheme (an education subsidy for Malay students and double-barelled Malay race) which covers their tuition fees at tertiary institutions.

Mendaki Club – community of Malay/Muslim young professionals and students who engage in strategic youth development initiatives and participate actively in discussions on current developments in the local and global arena. Also striving to build bridges within the Malay/Muslim community, and between our and other communities.

Mendaki Tution Scheme – provide quality tuition at affordable rates to help students attain better results in their school and national examinations.

New award for top Malay studies student at NUS (ST, 13 July 2015)

Scholarships for Malays at SMU (ST, 13 Nov 2015)

(ST, 14 Apr 2016):

Mendaki will launch CM-Tech@Heartlands, a coding and robotics programme targeted at younger students. The programme aims to reach out to 450 students by 2017. 

Mendaki is training its pool of tutors and looking at ways to make its programmes, like its flagship Mendaki Tuition Scheme (MTS), more accessible.

Six new community partners – including Chongzheng Primary School and the Braddell Heights Community Club – will host Mendaki Homework Cafes to help students with their schoolwork.

New scholarship funds Stem studies for Malay undergrads (ST, 23 Jul 2016)


Pg 147-148: Employment as an issue for the Malay/Muslims was held at 35%…Among the key influencers, the community is seen as being greatly disadvantaged when it comes to competing against foreigners for employment, as compared to other Singaporeans.

..Employment-related support is found to be an emerging issue among Malay/Muslim women. Job training and job search support were issues more likely to be identified by women as requiring higher priority from community organisations.

Pg 149: Generally, Malay/Muslims felt that they enjoyed the same economic opportunities as other Singaporeans. However, one in three believed they experience more impediments when trying to find a job of choice, obtaining a promotion or starting a business. About half rated their prospects of getting promoted and starting a business as unfavourable.

Pg 155 – Other areas of progress for the community include better job opportunities and having more financially-able Malay/Muslims. Those who believed the community has progressed pointed towards greater support and assistance that have been provided to the community in recent years.

– The notion of a limited Malay participation in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) e.g. some felt that the Malays were being left out of “elite or sensitive” parts of the SAF, such as commandos, armour and air defence, and excluded from naval ships. Participants said they were not satisfied with one or two ‘poster boys’ to show that Malays can thrive in SAF.

– Discrimination at the workplace e.g. some jobs barring Malay women from wearing headscarves.

– The median income of Malay households in 2010 was S$3,844, excluding their employer’s Central Provident Fund contributions, lower than the national median of S$5,000.

– On the economic state of the Malays, the survey found that the community faced widening income gaps and a lack of social mobility, situations made worse by the fact that Singaporean Malays tend to have larger families.

Anecdotes brought up:

A cleaner who has to compete for jobs with foreigners, some of whom are willing to accept S$450 per month for working 18 hours a day – something Singaporeans raising families simply could not afford to do;

Two lawyers who applied for jobs – one at a government-linked company and the other at a well-known bank in Singapore– claimed their applications were rejected because of their race; and,

A delivery man, who spent six months job hunting, told a prospective employer about the need for him to master Mandarin even though the job (delivery services) did not require much verbal communication.



*Malays feel slightly higher than the Indians, followed by the Others about being racially discriminated during employment or job promotion, whereas the Chinese felt very little racial discrimination.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 11.24.47.png

*Malays felt higher than the other races about being “sometimes” linguistically discriminated during employment-seeking, while the Indians felt higher than the rest about being “often” linguistically discriminated during employment seeking. The Chinese felt the highest about “rarely” being linguistically discriminated during employment-seeking.

Screenshot 2016-09-12 11.24.56.png

*A higher proportion of Dialect, Tamil and Malay speaking population felt that they have to work much harder than the rest as compared to the English and Mandarin-speaking.

Screenshot 2016-09-16 16.34.21.png

A higher proportion of Dialect, Tamil, and Malay speaking population felt that people with “different language preferences” had to work harder to have a prosperous life in Singapore as compared to the English and Mandarin speaking population.



Pg 198: Labour Force Participation Rate (LFPR) is the measure of economic activity among the population. Malay LFPR has always been lower than other races. Many Malay women were not working, but this has improved over the years. There is an increasing trend of labour participation among Malays but unemployment rates have been fluctuating.

Malay unemployment rates are higher, especially for women, and are above normal unemployment rates.. As a result of shifts in the economy, non-requisite skills become redundant and Malays with no/low skills or qualifications have to be retrained.


Pg 198 – 199: Incomes of Malays have increased but at a slower pace. While..still lagging behind their (other racial) counterparts, they have made progress in other areas such as improvements in educational attainments, skill endowment, and attainment of higher incomes. 

Pg 201: Household and personal incomes have generally increased after 2000. However, median personal income has decreased while median household income increased.

This shows that those in the median income class are in lower-paying jobs which are no longer attractive or available and tend to push wages down; thereby discouraging workers from seeking work altogether. On the other hand, household median income increase as result of the young or more educated earning more in a family.



[Offbeat Perspectives analysis]

The Tamil-speaking population feels more strongly than the Malay-speaking population when it comes to linguistic hurdles in finding / carrying out their livelihood. As such, the Tamil-speaking population most likely face higher difficulties in terms of employment opportunities as compared to the Malay-speaking population.

However, the same survey also showed that Malays felt slightly more racially-discriminated as compared to the Indians themselves regarding job, or job promotion.


What the relevant organizations are doing to improve on the issue?

Mendaki Sense has launched a camp aimed at getting secondary school students to be more aware of the educational and career options ahead of them. It focuses on building students leadership and entrepreneurial skills, annually during the June and December school holidays. (15 Jun 2016)

Last year, self-help group Mendaki formed a Future Ready unit to promote the national SkillsFuture initiative to the community. This year, the NextStop Sessions aim to help students from secondary schools, ITEs and polytechnics better understand the diverse academic and career pathways open to them. It is also introducing a mentorship scheme for secondary level and ITE students. (14 Apr 2016)

Mendaki Sense – Design learning and social programmes to sharpen the community’s skills and knowledge, Connecting individuals and community to care and growth network island-wide, Offering programmes and services – either directly or indirectly through our partners. In 2016, Mendaki Sense will hold fairs to help those seeking advice make better sense of SkillsFuture, and will offer free courses that support lifelong learning.

  • YOUTH DELINQUENCY AND RELIGIOUS GUIDANCE (As seen from the survey, deepening religious guidance is seen as something important for the Malay-Muslim community.)

*Even though majority of Malays in Singapore are Muslims, do note not all Malays are Muslims, as some may be humanists or practitioners of other faiths etc. 

Pg 155: social issues like youth delinquency and the weakening of traditional values are also highlighted as particular problem areas facing the community today.

Pg 166: The two most critical social issues identified by the Malay/Muslims are cost of living and youth behaviour.

Pg 185: Malay/Muslims evidently do not see the Malay culture and Islam as being mutually exclusive elements of their society. While a stricter interpretation of Islamic teaching is supported by more than 90% of Malay/Muslims, cultivating traditional Malay activities is also equally supported.

Pg 187: More than a third felt that asatizahs are not in touch with young Malay/Muslims. 42% of key influencers also indicated so.

Pg 190: ..many still felt that religious leaders (asatizahs) need to do more to stay in touch with today’s younger generation.

Central Narcotics Bureau Press Release (CNB, 2014):

[Total Drug Abusers by Ethnic Group]


 Chinese   Malay   Indian  Others

   1259      1710     541         71


 Chinese   Malay   Indian  Others

     971       1624       505        58

6% rise in number of drug abusers arrested in 2015: CNB (TODAY, 15 Feb 2016):

[Comparing between 2014 and 2015]

Increase of drug abusers arrested

Malays: 7% rise (to 1738)

Indians: 3% rise (505 to 519)

Chinese: 2.27% rise (971 to 993)

New drug abusers arrested

Malays: 13% rise (600 to 679)

Indians: 35% rise (150 to 202)

Chinese: 24% rise (314 to 388)


[Offbeat Perspectives analysis]

Even though our Malay population is 13.3% according to Singapore Demographic Profile 2014, which is 5.58 times smaller in size as compared to our 74.2% Chinese community, the number of Malay drug abusers in 2013 was slightly higher than their Chinese counterparts, and 3 times their indian counterparts. In 2014, Malay drug abusers made up 51.4% of the total drug abusers population. Thus, a prevalent and alarming rate of drug abuse can be seen from our Malay community. 


What the government is doing to improve on the issue?


  • Conducted 49 major operations, of which 18 were islandwide operations
  • 2,047 operations at the checkpoints to intercept drugs entering Singapore. 

These efforts crippled the operations of 21 drug syndicates.


 – CNB conducted 575 anti-drug and inhalant abuse programmes and activities last year e.g. for Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) and extended these to the SAF Officer Cadet School and the Civil Defence Academy.

– It produced two new versions of the Anti-Drug Ambassador Activity booklet for Primary 4 and Primary 5 students.

– Reached out to shopkeepers to seek their assistance to refrain from selling inhalant products to persons who might abuse them.

The MTS@Mosques programme will be expanded to include Al-Mutaqin Mosque in Ang Mo Kio and Al-Mawaddah Mosque in Sengkang, given the high demand in these areas.


Under the Women’s Charter, it is also illegal for 2 Muslims to marry under civil law.

Q: Can two Muslims get married under Civil law?                                                                       A: No. The Women’s Charter (Chapter 353) does not allow for it.

Women’s Charter Chapter 353: No marriage between persons who are Muslims shall be solemnized or registered under this Act.

                             Civil                               Muslim

           Marriages    Divorces      Marriages   Divorces 

2013       21 180             5471                5074             1662

2014      22 863             5172                5544              1689

2015      22 544             5450                5778              1667

*(Offbeat Perspectives) OP analysis: The proportion of divorces is higher for Muslim marriages compared to civil marriages.

More Muslim marriages ending before five years (ST, 20 Apr 2015):

  • Those who work with divorcing Muslim couples say the trend could reflect how a greater proportion of Muslims marry young or remarry than non-Muslims.
  • Family lawyer Abdul Rahman said most of the Muslim couples in divorce cases he handled got married by 23 years old: “(Early) marriages face greater risk of breaking down earlier because they are ill-prepared financially and emotionally.”
  • An earlier government report also showed that break-ups are more common in remarriages. Said Madam Azita Abdul Aziz, director of social services at welfare group PPIS: “Such couplings tend to be more vulnerable because couples bring baggage from previous marriages and there may be comparisons with their former spouse and disagreements over parenting of stepchildren.

More getting divorced, fewer getting married in Singapore (CNA, 13 Jul 2016):

Civil Divorces (2015)

5-9 years marriage: 31.5%

20 years and longer marriage: 21.3%

Muslim Divorces (2015)

Less than 5 years of marriage: 26.8%

5-9 years: 26.8%

20 years and longer marriage: 18.3%

*OP’s analysis: Divorces made during less than 5 years of marriage made up more then 1/4 of Muslim divorces.

Marriages involving minors (those below 21)

Civil marriages: 0.2 % of grooms and 1.1 % of brides

Muslim marriages:   3.5 % and 12.9 % (2005)

1.5 % grooms and 4.2 % brides (2015)

*OP analysis: Muslim marriages involving minors is at least 3.8 times more than civil marriages.

*I could only use the ALMA (Muslim marriages) as reference for the divorce statistics of the Malay community as Women’s Charter had no “Malay-titled” chart. Having said that, it is important to note that even though majority of Malays are Muslims followers, not all Malays might be Muslims, as some may be humanist, or practitioners of other faiths. 

Statistics on Marriages and Divorces (Reference Year 2015) (Department of Statistics Singapore)

Pg 84

Screenshot 2016-09-11 21.33.27.png

Women’s Charter: *61.6% of divorce was initiated by woman

Pg 99

Screenshot 2016-09-11 21.32.29.png


Pg 99Screenshot 2016-09-11 21.35.28.pngScreenshot 2016-09-11 21.35.40.png

ALMA: *69.1% of divorce was initiated by woman

Number of Malay-Muslims – reasons for divorce (female plaintiff / male plaintiff):

476 – Other reasons (434 / 262)

264 – Infidelity (242/107)

156 – Desertion (148/ 83)

155 Financial Problems (167/39)

81 – Domestic Violence & Abuses (114/20)


*Creating a blessed environment between couples (Friday Sermon, Office of the Mufti Singapore)

45 – Imprisonment (47/4)

*OP analysis: For the Malay-Muslim community (*not considering possible inter-ethnic divorces), there are a wider range of significant reasons for divorces as compared to civil marriages.

Pg 100: Table A2.42 – Divorces under the Administration of Muslim Law Act by Age Group and Sex of Divorcees, and Main Reason for Divorce, 2015

Screenshot 2016-09-11 21.40.31.png

*OP’s analysis: Muslim Females between the 30-34 years old age group seem to make up the highest divorcee numbers.


What the relevant religious organizations / government are doing to improve on the issue?

Creating a blessed environment between couples (Friday Sermon, Office of the Mufti Singapore) talked about the importance of treating Muslim wives well back in 2014.

MUIS also denounced Obedient Wives Club when it had talks to bring it to Singapore back in 2011.

Recent Muslim marriages buck divorce trend (ST, 7 Apr 2015):

Marriage preparation programmes for Muslim couples have also been enhanced to address the needs of different types of marriages, including that of young couples and remarriages.

There are also support programmes for Muslim newly-wed couples and new parents to help them manage transitions and challenges in marriage, as well as public education efforts via print media, TV and radio dramas.

Muslim couples looking to split up have to attend a mandatory counselling programme under the Syariah Court. Since the programme started in 2004, more than 27,000 couples have taken part. About 44 per cent of them changed their minds about breaking up after the counselling.

Parliament: Big push to get Malay/Muslim community ready for the future economy (ST, 14 Apr 2016):

  • Muslim couples with younger grooms aged 20 to 24 were more likely to split up: the divorce rate was 1.5 times higher than couples with older grooms.
  • Community will work on strengthening the marriages of young / minor couples. From the second half of this year, Inspirasi Hubs – dedicated centres for marriage preparation and enrichment for young Muslim couples – will extend their services to couples with grooms aged 21 to 24.
  • The Syariah Court will work with Muis Academy to develop a new certification programme on the practice of Muslim law in Singapore, aimed at helping practitioners understand marriages, divorces and inheritance as practised in Singapore.
  • The next set of Singapore Syariah Appeals Reports – a source of reference when it comes to Muslim family law – will also be produced in the second half of the year. The first edition was published in 2012.

Parliament: Younger Muslim couples will have to go for marriage preparation programme (ST, 1 Aug 2017):

Muslim couples with at least one person aged below 21 at the time of marrying, will soon be required to go for a marriage preparation programme before tying the knot. The parents or guardians of the minor will also have to consent to the marriage. 

Currently, only the consent of the wali – the lawful guardian for the marriage of a Muslim woman who may not be her parents – is needed

..Another change proposed will also allow the Syariah Court to ensure that couples seeking a divorce first attend its marriage counselling programme, to see if the marriage can be saved

..Also, men will be allowed to apply for a divorce without first uttering the talak, a declaration of divorce.


Malays at higher risk, but fewer go for checks (National Health Survey 2011):

  • About 24 per cent of Malay adults are obese, compared with 16.9 per cent of Indians and 7.9 per cent of Chinese, according to the latest National Health Survey.
  • Daily smoking rates among Malays were highest at 26.5 per cent, compared with 12.8 among Chinese and 10.1 among Indians.
  • Among those aged 40 to 69, 53.6 per cent of Malays checked cholesterol levels at least once in the past three years. Among Indians, 68.5 per cent did, and for the Chinese, 61.6.

Malay population the most unhealthy group in Singapore (ST, 21 Dec 2014):

Latest statistics from the national disease registry reveal that a disproportionate number of diabetics and patients with kidney failure, heart attacks and strokes come from (the Malay) group.

Although Malays account for 13.5 per cent of the population, they make up 24.4 per cent of people on dialysis. Once diagnosed with end-stage renal disease, patients need either a transplant or dialysis for the rest of their lives.

The proportion of Malays who have had kidney transplants rose from 8.5 per cent in 2003 to 10.1 per cent last year.

Malays – both men and woman – are also at significantly higher risk of suffering a stroke than people of other races. Malay men are 1.5 times more likely to suffer one compared to Chinese men for instance.

Age-standardised stroke rates for every 100,000 men last year was 296 for Malays, 199 for Indians and 184 for Chinese. For women, it was 195 for Malays, 131 for Indians and 105 for Chinese. Age-standardisation removes the influence of age distribution in each group and allows for a fair comparison.

Malays are also more likely to suffer heart attacks. Since 2010, they have surged past Indians as the ethnic group with the highest rate of heart attacks.

The report said: “The higher incidence of acute myocardial infarction among Malays is likely to be due to their higher proportions of hypertension and high cholesterol compared to the other ethnic groups.”

It added that most Malays are unaware of their conditions compared to people of other races.


What the relevant organisations / government are doing to improve on the issue?

Health Promotion Board expands its programmes for specific groups (ST, 9 July 2015):

At least 1,800 students in three madrasahs have benefitted from healthy-living programmes rolled out by the Health Promotion Board and 107 student ambassadors in these madrasahs have been trained since 2014.

Over the years, the board’s smoking cessation programme for the Malay community has also gained traction..there were 1,500 sign ups for the Ramadan I Quit 28-Day Countdown.

War on diabetes: Changing eating habits of Malay, Indian communities an uphill task (TODAY, 26 Aug 2017):

Since 2016, the HPB has scaled up efforts tailored for the Malay and Indian communities in its awareness programmes by working closely with mosques, temples and community partners..The board has also expanded its partners to include both the Malay and Indian activity executive committees, which organise activities at community centres.


Optimistic About the Future

Pg 148: 76% of Malay/Muslims indicated their confidence in the prospects for the community over the next decade. Key influencers were more polarised in their opinions with many expressing skepticism about the community’s prospects.


Research links for statistics and factors:

More Malay families living in rental flats (ST, 11 May 2016)

Demographic Study on Singapore Malays. Singapore, Association of Muslim Professionals (2010)

Divorce, ill health are some reasons (ST, 11 May 2016)

Central Narcotics Bureau Press Release (CNB, 2014)

6% rise in number of drug abusers arrested in 2015: CNB (TODAY, 15 Feb 2016)

Low-income Malay-Muslim families have high hopes for their children’s education: Study (CNA, 25 Apr 2015)

More youth pursuing post-sec education: MOE study (ST, 21 Nov 2015)

Enrolment at some elite JCs show education can spawn inequality: Study (ST, 27 May 2016)

Why support for Malays must stay (AsiaOne, 2013)

More Muslim marriages ending before five years (ST, 20 Apr 2015)

More getting divorced, fewer getting married in Singapore (CNA, 13 Jul 2016)

Statistics on Marriages and Divorces (Reference Year 2015) (Department of Statistics Singapore)

Recent Muslim marriages buck divorce trend (ST, 7 Apr 2015)

Survey on plight of S’pore Malays (AsiaOne, 19 Aug 2013)

Health Promotion Board expands its programmes for specific groups (ST, 9 July 2015)

War on diabetes: Changing eating habits of Malay, Indian communities an uphill task (TODAY, 26 Aug 2017)

Recent Muslim marriages buck divorce trend (ST, 7 Apr 2015)

One thought on “The Malay gap in Singapore. What factors play a part? How is the issue being tackled? [Investigative Journalism]

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