20 examples to show the blurred line between – Islam and Secular governance in Singapore

*Disclaimer*: This content of this article is based on online research done as seen from the sources and links provided to the 20 examples I have brought up, alongside my personal thoughts provided. This purpose of the article is to raise up points and reflections from what I have found from my limited research and general knowledge on this topic, since the latter is one which is rarely openly brought up for reflection / discussion in our plural state. 

[The Malay community is a racial group. The Muslim community is a religious community.  98.7% of Malays (aged 15 and above in) Singapore hold a Muslim identity according to Census of Population 2010 Statistical Release – Statistical Tables: Religion (T59) . As such, these 2 racial and religious communities are often closely associated to each other in Singapore’s context. However, it is important to note that not all Malays are Muslims (and vice versa). Statistics found in the above link shows that there are Malays in Singapore holding religious identities of other faiths.]

Back to the post:

# Example 1 

PART XIII – GENERAL PROVISIONS, Singapore Statues Online:

Minorities and special position of Malays

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.

Muslim religion

*153. The Legislature shall by law make provision for regulating Muslim religious affairs and for constituting a Council to advise the President in matters relating to the Muslim religion.

# Example 2

The Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966 (AMLA) provides for a centralised system of administration covering all aspects of Muslim life in Singapore e.g. zakat, inheritance, marriage, divorce – since 1 July 1968. (NLB, 2013)

# Example 3

**The Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) was established as a statutory body in 1968. Under AMLA, MUIS is to advise the President of Singapore on all matters relating to Islam in Singapore. The Council of MUIS (comprising the President of MUIS, the Mufti of Singapore, persons recommended by the Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs and other persons nominated by Muslim organisations).  They are the overall decision-making body and are responsible for the formulation of policies and operational plans, and are appointed by the President of Singapore. (MUIS, 2016)

# Example 4 

The AMLA provides for marriages solemnized in accordance with the Muslim law and the revocation of divorces where both parties are Muslim. In 1978, the administration of Muslim marriages came under the newly set up Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM).

# Example 5

***The Syariah Court have the jurisdiction to hear and determine all actions and proceedings in which all the parties are Muslims or where the parties were married under the provisions of the Muslim law and which involve disputes.

# Example 6

****Under Syariah law, a Muslim man may marry up to four wives at one time. However for civil marriages in Singapore, Only monogamous marriages are provided for in The Women’s Charter. (ST, 27 Nov 2014).

{My personal thoughts: I’m not against Polygamy as I believe with mutual consent of all informed adult parties, the relationship dynamic we want to have is up to ours to dictate even if it goes against the norms of society e.g. monogamy. Having said that, I feel the marriage laws should be made the same for all citizens, regardless of our religious background e.g. non-Muslim and Muslim. Its either everyone is only entitled to a monogamous marriage under the eyes of the civil law, either that or,  Polygyny. Polyandry. Polyamory types of marriages to be allowed for all.

# Example 7

The Women’s Charter (Cap.353) provides that a man is required to maintain his wife throughout the marriage, during any matrimonial proceedings and for a period after the grant of a judgment of divorce, judicial separation or nullity of marriage. Muslim women are not entitled to the maintenance after the conclusion of a Syariah divorce proceedings. (I.R.B Law) 

{My personal thoughts: In a gender-equal society, maintenance of a spouse can be made applicable to spouses of either gender, if either were to hold a much higher financial / academic standing than the other, as well as  other necessary factors to consider under the eyes of the law.}

# Example 8

(Singapore Statues Online, 2016):

Cohabitation outside marriage 


—(1)  Any man who cohabits and lives with a woman, whether a Muslim or not, to whom he is not lawfully married, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.
(2)  Any woman who cohabits and lives with a man, whether a Muslim or not, to whom she is not lawfully married, shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $500 or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 6 months or to both.
(3)  The court may, instead of sentencing a woman under subsection (2), order that she be detained in a place of safety established under any written law for such period not exceeding 12 months as it may determine.
{My personal thoughts: Cohabitation is legal in civil law. However under ALMA, it is illegal for a Muslim individual to engage in co-habitation. And no, this statue has not been repealed. But I believe this is not pro-actively enacted in the legal framework as
1) I’m assuming like many other non-Muslim individuals, there would also be Muslim couples who engage in cohabitation. And I have never never read online, in print, or from hearsay – of Muslim couples facing legal repercussions (in Singapore’s context) for having cohabited.
2) I’m assuming not many Muslim individuals are aware of this statue.
3) And even if they are not aware, I highly doubt they will complain and raise it up to the syariah court about the Muslim’s couple cohabiting act as our secular and plural state (*we do not have religious police, nor do we practice religious policing in regards to the extent Muslims carry out their religious obligations) has resulted in such Islam related social-moral-religous matters e.g. abortion, gambling, not fasting when supposed to, eating pork, pre-marital sex, consumption of alcohol (khamr), being in close proximity (khalwat), engaging in pre-marital sex – to be perceived as something that can be tackled on a family/community level, without the need to bring it up for the law to handle.}
# Example 9

Madrasahs are currently categorised as private religious schools. Government has been extending resources to the madrasahs in recent years e.g.  Edusave contributions included madrasah students in 2013, and national examination fee waiver for secular subjects for madrasah students in 2015. (MUIS: MBMF, 2016) Singapore’s six full-time madrasahs will receive an annual grant of up to $1.5 million to improve the quality of education in secular subjects. (ST, 10 Mar 2017)

# Example 10

(All) individuals who provide Islamic education must be registered with..MUIS, under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) and religious teachers who have not registered will have up till the end of March (2017)..Religious teachers and education centres which fail to comply with these rules may be penalised by MUIS. (ST, 29 Dec 2016)

# Example 11

When a Muslim in Singapore wants to “officially” renounce his faith, he/she has to go through legal procedures through MUIS. I understand this as MUIS have to remove the name of the Muslim individual form their legal database, so that he/she will not be continued to be included under ALMA. However, why do they have to pay a $20 fee for renouncing their faith? (CEMSG, 2016)

[Other FAQS on Renouncement of Islam in Singapore (CMESG)]

# Example 12

It is a well-known fact that there are self-help groups for the 4 races in Singapore – Children Development Assistance Council (CDAC), Eurasian Association, Singapore Indian Development Association (SINDA), and Yayasan Mendaki.

It was quoted that ” The (Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund – MBMF) contributions..allow MENDAKI to provide various developmental programmes which benefit Muslims of all races.

{However, one question I would like to raise is – what about Malays who legally renounce their Muslim identity from MUIS? Can they still seek assistance from Yayasan Mendaki? If yes, it would be *****unfair to Muslims who contribute to the MBMF. If no, this would mean unlike the other 3 races, there is actually no self-help group catered to the Malay community at large, as Yayasan Mendaki is catered to the Muslim community in Singapore as large.}

# Example 13

To be able to get married under ROMM, both parties have to be Muslim. My assumption is that this makes it easier for MUIS ROMM, and Syariah Court to regulate the legal aspects of ALMA e.g. inheritance, Zakat, marriage, divorce.

However, if Singapore Muslims followed civil law 100%, and not have a separate set of legal system for inheritance, marriage, divorces etc. – there would not be all these grey issues arising in regards to regulation in the first place.

# Example 14

At some food eateries, there is a separate section for the return of halal and non-halal food trays, and at some supermarkets, there is a a separate section for Halal meat and Pork, to ensure there will not be cross-contamination of both meat types. 

# Example 15

At events where as long as there are Muslim attendees, the provision of Halal-certified food is usually ensured for Muslims to meet their religious obligation. However, the same importance might not granted as frequently for a Jewish attendee (who requires Kosher food), or an individual of another faith who is vegetarian.

# Example 16

During the weekly obligatory Friday Muslim prayers for Muslim men, the latter are usually allowed by their working companies to take an hour or two off work to visit the mosque in the afternoon. This is not legally blinding by law, and the allowance enactment of it may differ from organizations to organisations.

# Example 17

Other than English, the Muslim Convert Association of Singapore conducts classes in also Chinese and Phillipino as stated openly in their website. However, if another religious community e.g. Catholics / Christians were to “openly publicise” that they are to conduct their religious classes in Malay, I wonder how would the government or Malay-Muslim community in Singapore respond to it?

# Example 18

The media have recently openly covered on Chinese Muslim converts in print and video, but not on Malay Catholic / Christian converts.

(It’s Like… Too Much Love” | Ramadan In Asia | CNA Insider, 6 July 2016)

(From Jinghan To Jihan: Finding Love And Faith | Ramadan In Asia | CNA Insider, 8 July 2016)

(Malay Muslim + Chinese Catholic | On The Red Dot | CNA Insider, 22 Sept 2016)

(Converting to Islam|Millennials of Singapore, 27 May 2017)

Does this mean that apostasy in Islam, or conversion of any faith from Islam is still a pink elephant in the room? This should not be a case in Singapore who prides itself as a plural nation practicing secular governance (most of the time). Freedom of religion is a granted legal right in Article 15 of the Constitution. Though not stated in the statue, being able to freely renounce one’s religion, and conversion from one religion to another is what encompasses the essence of what freedom of religion entails.

# Example 19

McDonalds Singapore removed pig from Chinese Zodiac toy collection (2010) incident:

McDonalds Singapore remove pig from the Chinese zodiac

McDonalds Singapore is listening, Doraemon in pig costume coming in April

What we can learn from this incident is the importance of balancing and building tolerance towards a religious plural society. A physical resemblance of a toy (*not made by pig materials) to a pig, v.s. being made to eat / touch pork which goes against the religious obligations of Muslims – are two separate matters. I believe majority of our Muslim community if not all, would not view a toy pig as an issue.

# Example 20

MUIS stance on touching dogs and guide dogs (MUIS, 2015)

MUIS stance on non-halal birthday cakes at McDonald (CNA, 31 Mar 2017)



*It is good to know there is the existence of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights and the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony (whose members come from various racial and faith backgrounds).

**The role of MUIS is to see that the many and varied interests of Singapore’s Muslim community are looked after e.g. promotion of religious, social, educational, economic and cultural activities in accordance with the principles and traditions of Islam.

***The disputes encompasses the following –

(a) marriage;
(b) divorces known in the Muslim law as fasakh, cerai taklik, khuluk and talak;
(c) betrothal, nullity of marriage or judicial separation;
(d) the disposition or division of property on divorce or nullification of marriage; or
(e) the payment of emas kahwin, marriage expenses (hantaran belanja), maintenance and consolatory gifts or mutaah.

****Bigamy under ROMM must be met by certain conditions: 1) he can provide for the financial, physical and emotional well-being of his wives 2) has a good marriage, and is not taking another wife because his first marriage is unhappy 3)  has specific reasons such as benefits the first marriage cannot provide but the second marriage can. “In this context, love is not one of the benefits”, says the Registry of Muslim Marriages on its website.

*****It is good to note that actually, even Muslims themselves are legally allowed to opt out from contributing to MBMF. However, the certificate is valid for a 12-month period only. Upon expiry, their monthly contribution will be re-activated by their employer. They would have to re-submit the ‘Change Application’ form if you wish to continue to opt-out of MBMF.

Photo credit: Charterforcompassion


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