Mr Esa Masood, Chief Executive of MUIS,
Dr Mohd Fatris Bakaram, Mufti of Singapore,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
Assalamu’alaikum wr wb.
It is a privilege for me to able join you at this Symposium on Muslim Family Law organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, Muis, with the support of the Syariah Court.
I am pleased to see international scholars here. I would like to welcome you to Singapore. I hope that you will get to know more about us and our Muslim community through this symposium. Thank you for your presence and we look forward to learning from you and hearing your experiences.
Changing Realities – The Family in Context
The family is the foundation of society. Families impart moral values and raise resilient individuals who contribute to the larger society. Thus, it is important that families continue to be supported and strengthened in an ever-changing and increasingly complex world.
As our population ages and societal expectations evolve, our families need to re-balance how they manage their time and resources, as they continue to show care and concern for one another. For example, demands and expectations at work have affected the quantity and quality of time that people spend with their families. Expectations of the roles of husbands, wives, and parents have also changed as social norms evolve and people have more access to information.
In our Malay/Muslim community, statistics show that women outnumber men in higher education and are becoming more economically active. They take on more leadership roles at the national level as well as key community and religious institutions. Conversely, men are taking on more caregiving responsibilities, as they get more aware on best parenting practices and the benefits of active fatherhood on children. It is also for practical reasons as more families become dual-income households.
Cross-sectoral Partnerships in Strengthening the Family
It is hence crucial that we continue to give our best to support families to be resilient and adaptable when faced with challenges that require them to reconsider their traditional roles and expectations.
a) Enhancement of Traditional Roles of Naib Kadis and Tapping on Asatizah to Support Families
It is heartening to know that our asatizah have been taking the lead to support programs and public education efforts in strengthening families. One excellent example is the Bersamamu program (which means “Together with you”) launched by the Registry of Muslim Marriages (ROMM) and M³. M³ is a network of three key Malay/ Muslim organisations in Singapore, namely the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), MENDAKI, and the People's Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council (Mesra).
The Bersamamu program is a ground-up initiative by the Naib Kadis (marriage solemnisers) in Singapore that requires all Muslim couples to meet their Naib Kadi before the marriage ceremony. It is part of a bigger M³ initiative to strengthen support for marriage, parenthood and early childhood education. The Naib Kadi would get to know the couple, provide advice, and encourage them to attend marriage preparation programmes. After the wedding, the Naib Kadi will continue to stay in contact with the couple for a period of time to provide them with his support and guidance if required.
This is an example of how traditional roles and duties can be broadened to meet the needs on the ground. In this scenario, a Naib Kadi is no longer just a marriage solemniser, but also a befriender who helps the couple start their marriage in the right direction, and someone they can turn to for advice thereafter.
Going forward, we will do more to support our Naib Kadis in their professional development so that they can provide effective support to couples. For example, all Naib Kadis will receive training to be equipped with the knowledge and skills to provide basic marital support to the couples they solemnize, and for information and referral capability.
Beyond our Naib Kadis, we believe that our other Asatizah too can play an important role in helping the community build strong families. This is important because when violence happen, it affect relationships with friends, in-laws, family, and close all doors on the development of the children. I am very happy that our Asatizah are coming forward with your own specialty and niche to help the society. I really want to thank all of you for playing this part.
b) Asatizah and Mosque Sector Addressing Domestic Violence
Our asatizah have been strongly supporting efforts to counter unhelpful and misguided mindsets that perpetuate gender discrimination and violence against women. These mindsets often lead to abuse, such as domestic violence and marital rape. Such public education has been done through Friday sermons at our mosques, and Continuous Professional Education (CPE) courses offered through the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS).
We have started training our asatizah to be able to identify symptoms of family violence, so that they can take pre-emptive and proactive steps to stop domestic violence and abuse.
c) The need for cross-sectoral partnerships
To help develop the asatizah workforce to better serve vulnerable families, Muis will also help those who are interested in social work and counselling to equip themselves with complementary skillsets. Apart from the asatizah, we need professionals from different sectors to work together, namely those in the area of social work, education, and legal practitioners. We hope to be able to provide a continuum of guidance and support for couples at every stage – before marriage, during marriage, when they become new parents, the early childhood years of their child, and beyond. I believe that this will be possible if we work together and leverage on each other’s expertise and strengths.
Reforms in Law
d) Fatwa on Joint Tenancy – Dynamic Religious Thought Leadership
For Muslims, religious thought and guidance lay the foundations for successful and thriving families. Our religious thinking has developed over time through the guidance of progressive religious leaders. The fatwas issued by the Fatwa Committee have been critical in addressing the new challenges faced by the community as circumstances change with time.
A good example is the recent fatwa review on Joint Tenancy agreements for property. Previously, joint tenancy was perceived as an equal-shared ownership contract. Surviving spouses had to sell their matrimonial properties upon the demise of their spouse and distribute assets according to faraid. The revised fatwa recognises joint tenancy contracts as religiously valid. The surviving spouse and children can retain ownership of their homes without drawing up additional documents to effect the right of survivorship. I understand from Muis that the Committee reached this decision after carefully considering the feedback from the Muslim public, and consulting legal practitioners. This is something very much welcomed by the community.
e) AMLA Amendments – Working with Legal and Social Work practitioners
In addition to programmes and religious guidance, the government is prepared to review legislation when the need arises. For example, the recent amendments to the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) made it mandatory for minor couples (where either one party is below 21 years old) to attend a compulsory marriage preparation programme together before getting married. This aims to help raise couples’ awareness of the potential challenges and adjustments needed, and make informed decision on marriage. It also helps them learn the knowledge and skills to build a strong marriage foundation. It is also a requirement for parents or guardians to give consent for the marriage to reinforce the importance of their support in a minor marriage.
There is still room for further progress, especially since our society will continue to evolve. However, reforms, reviews and changes must always be managed carefully. We need to study reforms that have been undertaken by other Muslim countries in responding to their own challenges, to see if they can also be adapted and implemented here. I am pleased to note that MUIS is already looking into best practices across countries to see how we can strengthen our own implementation of Muslim family law. I understand that you will be looking into some of these in the symposium.
When I started to engage Muis, I find that Muis is very progressive, open and relatable to the community. I would like to urge MUIS to continue having this attitude because it is important. As our society evolves, we must be able to do what we can and contextualise where we stay and how we move forward in our region. We also need support from our society and community to understand where we are moving forward and why we are doing so. I really want to thank many people (Naib Kadis and friends) behind the scenes who helped to share why we are doing this and why we are strengthening our families.
I hope the discussions from this symposium will offer new insights and spur thoughtful reflections and on how Muslim family law can be further strengthened, in view of the contemporary challenges facing our families. It is indeed very reassuring to see many of our asatizah here, and I trust that the exchanges with experts and practitioners will give you a deeper appreciation of the challenges, and ideas for more effective solutions. I look forward to the conclusions of this symposium, and I wish you a fruitful and robust discussion ahead.