Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS) representatives and their Catholic visitors pose for a photo after their gathering on June 8.

Some 20 priests, Religious and laypeople visited the Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS), or the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, where they learnt more about the organisation and management of Muslims’ religious life here.

The June 8 visit was organised by the archdiocese’s Council for Inter-Religious and Ecumenical Dialogue (IRED) and Priestly Life Commission.

Commission chairman Fr Aloysius Ong said the visit aimed at increasing cooperation among faiths, and awareness among priests of issues beyond parish work.

Mr Zainul Abidin Ibrahim of MUIS Strategic Engagement Unit introduced MUIS’ 40-year history and the services it provides. A presentation on the process of fatwa (religious ruling) formulation, by Ustaz Irwan Hadi, head of the Office of the Mufti, followed.

Then it was question-and-answer time as participants tucked into a hot and savoury mee soto lunch complete with belinjau dan sambal cilipadi (fruit crackers with chilli).

The Catholic visitors asked further questions about fatwa, the training of Muslim religious leaders in Singapore and the appointment of the imam and mufti.

While a fatwa can be issued by an individual scholar in other countries, MUIS said the issuance of a fatwa in Singapore is a collective process that involves the deliberation of a committee comprising the mufti and scholars. It is only when the committee comes to a unanimous decision that a fatwa can be issued.

The issuing of a fatwa needs to take into consideration “Singapore’s context and situation”, so a religious ruling issued overseas needs to “be re-studied, evaluated, and adjusted to suit local needs and requirements”, said Ust Irwan.

He added that a fatwa can change over time as “Islam accepts the reality of changes that must happen to human life, therefore Islam has provided a set of religious doctrine that can be adapted to changes”.

He pointed to the recent fatwa on the religious status of nomination for CPF monies as well as on the Human Organ Transplant Act, as examples of how fatwas have changed over time.

While Singapore has no religious institution to train Islamic scholars, and students have to go overseas for tertiary religious education, MUIS said it keeps in touch with these students through the MUIS Academy.

Upon their return to Singapore, post-studies programmes ensure that these students can integrate back into Singapore society and contribute to it, explained MUIS Academy dean Dr Albakri Ahmad.

The academy has also established an Asatizah (religious teachers) Recognition Scheme that accredits qualified religious teachers and scholars to teach or preach Islamic religious knowledge in Singapore.

MUIS officers also stressed that jihad means “to strive to better oneself or the community” and does not equal warfare, and that striving for peace must be the priority. There is also no objection to Catholic parishes providing assistance to poor and needy Muslims if they approach churches for aid.

Dr Albakri also extended an invitation to Catholics who are interested to attend seminars or workshops that Hartford Seminary conducts for and with MUIS in Singapore. Hartford Seminary promotes interfaith engagement in a pluralistic and multi-faith environment and trains religious leaders in interfaith dialogue and understanding, according to the institution’s website.

The Catholic visitors said they found the visit very informative.

Grace and Philip Tong, a married couple from Church of St Ignatius involved in the parish’s outreach work to Muslims, said the visit was “educational” and that they enjoyed MUIS’ hospitality.

They added the parish “will continue to build upon the already positive relations we have with the Muslim community in Spore”.

The parish provides social support for Pertapis homes for children and the elderly.

“A lot of misconceptions have been cleared”, which have arisen from international media reports, said Fr Francis Lee, parish priest of Church of Lady Queen of Peace.

“There is so much hope for further cooperation and friendly relations,” added Scheut Missions priest Fr Kamelus Kamus, assistant priest of Church of the Risen Christ.

MUIS was formed as a statutory board in 1968. It advises the Singapore president on all matters pertaining to Islam in the country.

MUIS aims “to broaden and deepen the Singapore Muslim community’s understanding and practice of Islam while enhancing the well-being of the nation”, says its website.

By Darren Boon
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