Monday, September 04, 2006

How much it will cost to resolve problems in Singapore Muslim community without using spirituality as a tool?

I came to hear that MUIS, which is the state appointed authority to regulate Muslim affairs in Singapore, had recently at the very eleventh hour, pulled out crucial funding that it had all along promised the organizers of the recent 2006 Internationl Islamic Spirituality Conference in Singapore. I also came to hear from a Malay speaking friend that there were two Malay newspaper reports which mentioned that MUIS will not support activities on spirituality. I am not sure how accurate these are but they are prevalently spreading as news amongst the community.

The lack of communication between MUIS and the community have left many to wonder if MUIS had delibrately attempted to thwart the efforts to promote spirituality amongst Singapore Muslims.

As a professional I cannot bring myself to dwell on speculation but I can find that should this be true, MUIS actions are consistent with the agenda the Singapore state has outlined for the Muslim community, which is to transform the Muslim community to be a secular one, following the Turkish secular model. It then totally makes logical sense for MUIS not to support activities promoting spirituality if it is applying the Turkish secular model for the Singapore Muslim community.

The Singapore state in recent times have subscribed to the opinion that the Turkish secular model will best serve the Muslim community to exist and co-exist successfully both socially and economically. The use of secular model for the Muslim community is not new but instead has been in effect since post-independence. But indeed the attempt to use the Turkish secular model is a recent phenomenon.

The outcomes that we see today within the Singapore Muslim community as a result of the post-indendence secular model are rather dismal. Illiteracy rates, morbidity rates, sexually transmitted diseases prevalence rates, income inequalities, divorce rates, crime rates etc are rather high relative to other communities.

I believe the Singapore state has attempted to remedify this social-economic dysfunctionalities within the Singapore Muslim community by abandoning the traditional secular model and instead employing the Turkish secular model. For the secular Turkish community in Turkey who constitute approximately 30% of Turkish population, the outcomes for the above mentioned socio-economic indicators are impressive. However what the Singapore state have prematurely concluded is that the underlying contributing factor for the success of the secular Turks has been their secular model. Instead it is primarily their system in which the secular Turks have a stranglehold and which explicitly provides more opportunities, endowments, focus and resources favorably for the secular Turks while denying them for the non-secular Turks. Therefore most of the employment opportunities, scholarship opportunities, university opportunities etc in Turkey favor the secular Turks and non-secular Turks are denied of equal opportunities. Naturally the socio-economic indicators are favorably better for secular Turks than the non-secular Turks.

Therefore the mere application of the Turkish secular model alone will yield any level of socio-economic outcomes for the Singapore Muslim community parallel to that of secular Turkish community, unless the Singapore state provides extensive amounts of opportunities, endowments, focus and resources for the Singapore Muslim community. This will go to closing the income inequality gaps, provide for better learning environment within the house, better housing facilities, better educational opportunities through scholarships and welfare grants for each Muslim student, lowering crime rates, lowering divorce rates, lowering morbidity rates, lowering STD rates etc etc. However this will cost the Singapore state coffers to the tune of nothing less than a few hundred billion dollars over a 20 year period with the current numbers of Singapore Muslims even at the most conservative estimates. Indeed the Singapore state will never be able to afford it. Nor will it favour it as this will amount to a kind of affirmative action. When MP Shunmugam suggested in Parliament once for affirmative action for Singapore Malays, he received absolutely no support.

If the Singapore state is in the opinion and hope that it can achieve the social-economic outcomes of the Turkish secular community through propelling Singapore Muslim community using self-help groups, community organizations etc, then again it will be very naive. Such organizations are not equipped to bring about such pheonomenonal transformations to the current socio-economic realities. If the Singapore state instead is the opinion that it can propel the Singapore Muslim community to work hard, earn higher incomes and achieve such socio-economic outcomes within the Turkish secular model, it again is impractical to achieve.

What else then remains? Nothing else can bring about the same level of socio-economic outcomes of the secular Turkish community for the Singapore Muslim community other than a rejuvenation of Islamic spirituality. This brave approach will require the abandonment of the post-independence secular model and the currently employed Turkish secular model. Only such a transformation can reform the Singapore Muslim community in terms of employability, literacy, divorce rates, morbidity, etc.

Let me illustrate this with an example. In the last few years there has been an alarming surge in the spread of sexually transmitted diseases amongst Singapore Muslim community. The initial response had been mixed and last year some organizations namely RIMA (as i recall vividly in one of their articles by one of their research fellows in one of their magazines) had recommended to discount spirituality claiming it had not worked well and instead employ methods such as safe sex and contraception. This remedies suggested by them intrigued me then because economists all across the world namely in WHO, World Bank and UN, had already by then started to question these two solutions which they themselves had advocated since the 1990s.

At a recent UN Aid conference (2006) , in the UN declaration issued, there has been an emphasis on sexual abstinence, fidelity and condom use as the best ways to tackle Aids. This marked an unprescedented departure from the conventional message, development economists had been advocating since the 1990s which are safe sex and contraception. After noticing the stark differences in STD and AIDS rates in Africa and South Asia between Muslim and Non-Muslim communities and the fact that safe sex and contraception campaigns have proven to be not as equally successful in the last decade, many economists today are increasingly convinced about fidelity and abstenance being more formidable forms of solutions relative to safe sex and contraception and are increasingly convinced they need to advocate more of the first two than the last two.

I am unsure if the Singapore organizations such as RIMA will stick to its flawed stand for safe sex and contraception or recognize the empirical evidence that Islamic spirituality indeed has greater capacity to produce better outcomes than secular methods.

Indeed Islamic spirituality holds solutions and cures not only for STDs and AIDS but for the family, income generation activities, knowledge gathering activities, re-training, etc and these solutions if evaluated adequately and appropriately can prove to be largely significant. In every Muslim society over 1400 years, the peaks were always during periods of heightened Islamic spirituality and the troughs were always during periods of decreased/absent Islamic spirituality. The cycles of good socio-economic outcomes for Muslim societies have indeed been consistent with the cycles of Islamic spirituality.

Even when this seems so apparent and obvious after my analysis, I am sure the Singapore authorities will hesitate to replace the current Turkish secular model with the Islamic spiritual model. This is due to the misconception that a surge or rejuvenation or mere existence of Islamic spirituality will conflict with the peaceful coexistance of the Singapore Muslim community with the other communities. Again if we look at the evidence over the period of 1400 years, we can find cycles of violence, fanaticism, extremism, terrorism and intolerance within Muslim societies only to be consistent with the cycles of decreased/absent Islamic spirituality. Political leaders, orientalists, journalists often will deny this claiming the reverse is true citing the trends over the last decade. Unfortunately what they naively are doing is to misidentify the growth of puritanism with the growth of Islamic spirituality. Indeed over the last decade puritanism has grown globally though Islamic spirituality has declined tremendously. Never in any era over the 1400 had heightened Islamic spirituality been synonymous with trends of violence, fanaticism, extremism, terrorism and intolerance even in the case of Singapore which historically and traditionally have had a recognizeable Islamic scholarship and Islamic spirituality.

The continued promotion and application of the secular Turkish model will only isolate the Singapore Muslim community further, worsen the already poor socio-economic indicators and continue the looming threat of terrorism. Singapore state does not have the financial means or political support to allocate disproportionately large amounts of financial resources to obtain good socio-economic outcomes without replacing the secular Turkish model. It is undeniably in the best interests and best safety of Singapore to make the necessary U-turn and promote the growth of Islamic spirituality in order achieve the objectives that Singapore government aspires to achieve.

1 Comments:

At 3:16 AM, Blogger seeker94/seeker_94 said...

Assalamu'alaikum Brother!
I've quoted a sentence from your article (with links) on my blog. Hope you don't mind. If you do, please let me know, I'll withdraw with apologies immediately. Thank-you.

 

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