What has really gone wrong, Doctor?

Jufrie Mahmood

I was sad and somewhat amused – but certainly not surprised – over a recent report that Dr.Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister in Charge of Muslim Affairs does not know what to do to solve some of the more serious problems that ail the community under his charge.

And I am not at all surprised if he is not even aware of some other problems that have already beset the community and their root causes.

But how can he not know when he seems to be in close touch with every single institution within the Malay/Muslim community? Can it be that he has also surrounded himself with the proverbial inner circle of the emperor that dares not tell him that he has no clothes on?

Every single Malay/Muslim organization, every mosque committee and the whose who in the community falls within his ambit. Leadership forums are supposed to be held regularly to highlight, keep track of and explore solutions to problems faced by the community.

Have these “leaders” not told him that a large section, especially those in the lower rungs, of the community is of late facing the greatest ever challenge in their lives trying to make ends meet? Have they not told him that the perennial drug problem is still haunting the community? He surely cannot be unaware that the high rate of teen marriages and divorces do not only beset young couples but are also increasingly afflicting elderly couples partly because money is never enough?

Is he not aware that there are more people begging for alms outside the gates of mosques and the Geylang food outlets? Is he not told that more and more people are losing their homes due to their inability to service their mortgages to commercial banks?

The Malay/Muslim community has the resources to tackle these problems. What with the assets under the charge of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS)? Warees, the property arm of the council, once bragged that it was managing assets worth half-a-billion dollars. With modest annual returns of just 5%, for example, the community will have a war chest of $25 million every year to battle the community’s many ills.

This year it gave the community less than $2 million, which represents less than half per cent of the half billion dollars worth of assets. How are the rest of the returns spent? We should not splurge only on constructing beautiful mosques and other buildings. Some of the money should be put aside to build on the ‘software’, the spiritual foundation and tenacity of the community.

And it is no exaggeration to say that some of the problems that beset the community has to do with the climate of fear which haunts the so-called community leaders. When people fear you they don’t normally tell you the truth. They don’t lie but they just don’t tell the truth.

Perhaps they dare not tell you that the influx of foreign ‘talent’ is adversely affecting the livelihood of not only the lower income Malays but also those in the middle rung. When people lose their jobs they add to the problems of the community and to the nation. When wages are depressed people lose heart and productivity falls.

When they work long hours or even take up an additional job to supplement their low income their family life suffers. When the wives go out to work to help their husbands cope with the ever-increasing cost of living, the children get neglected. The children’s performance in school gets a knock and inevitably their grades fall. The cycle goes on.

When they work under a constant threat of being retrenched and substituted with foreign ‘talent’ they become so stressed up that their health suffers. When they fall sick they worry that they would not be able to afford the medical bill.

In the meantime leaders hold forums after forums without ever identifying the real problems, let alone find solutions that can work. They are afraid of being chastised for going against government policy even though the policy is slowly but surely bringing more misery to members of their own community.

Like their so-called leaders in the governing party, these community leaders too are reluctant to tell their political masters that certain policies which discriminate against the community are not good for the country’s long-term interest.

They dare not say that the policy on casinos is against their religious principles. They dare not debunk their political leader’s argument that the wearing of the tudung (headscarf) in schools will cause disunity among the different races even though such ruling goes against the Constitution which guarantees religious freedom. They dare not continue saying that SAP schools are not fair to the community, will breed potential leaders who may not know how to interact with other communities and press for their abolition.

They dare not … they dare not … they dare not … that is what is ailing society!

Jufrie Mahmood

is SDP’s CEC member and a veteran opposition politician.

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