Friday, November 17, 2006

A Difference In Perspective

Many woes 'which may get worse'
Straits Times, 16 Nov 2006

The Chairman of a group of Muslim professions see a gloomy future for his community, saying that all signs point to a worsening situation over time. And what is needed, said Mr Imram Mohamed from the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), is a mindset change or the community will continue to be beset by its many problems.

A disproportionately high number of Malay-Muslims are in drug inhabilitation centres and prisons, as well as in the low-income group. Youth delinquency, promiscuity and teen pregnancy are prevalent. The community's educational achievements lag behind those of others, especially at higher levels.
"All indications are, the situation will get worse over time," Mr Imran told about 500 people at a dinner to celebrate the 15th anniversary of his self-help group. "It is crucial that this trend be reversed if we are not to end up as a largely under-classed community, having to depend on handouts from others."

AMP was formed in 1991 by a group of Malay-Muslim professionals who wanted to contribute to the community independently of government-led efforts. It runs, among others, a range of social assistance and worker training programmes, and has been working closely with Mendaki to solve the community's problems.
However, Mr Imran, a retired airline executive and former Nominated Member of Parliament, seems disappointed with the progress made.

"Our community has not responded well to the new economy and is not poised to meet the challenges of globalisation and stiff comepetition," he said, describing the Malay-Muslims' socio-economic situation as "far from satisfactory".
Mr Imram, however, acknowledged that AMP staff and volunteers, Malay-Muslim MPs and other community organisations have contributed to help the needy. Many in his community enjoy the tangible benefits from Singapore's prosperity, he said. Also, the community cooperates closely with political leaders. "The positive outlook, however, stops there," he added.

He suggested two ways to lift the community from the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.
One, the Government could work with employers and unions to lift the wages or low-income workers.
Two,the community itself has to undergo a mindset change. AMP believes the prevalent mindset, which promotes mediocrity, is the main obstacle to success, said Mr Imram.

Malay-Muslims must believe "that it is as important to do well in this life as in the next," he said, calling on Malay-Muslim organisations and religious teachers to help push this view.

The impact on their guest of honour was not lost.

The presence of a Malay-Muslim professional class is "living proof" of the community's capabilities, the Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Dr Balakrishnan made the off-the-cuff response to the AMP chairman Imram Mohamed.

The minister had prepared a speech for the AMP anniversary celebration. But after listening to Mr Imram, he put it aside and said: "Let me respond not as a minister, let me respond... as a brother or as a cousin who I hope understands some of your anxieties but also has your interests at heart."
Describing Mr Imram's speech as "sincere,heartfelt", he said it referred to "real problems and real challenges facing the Malay-Muslim community."

The minister did not agree with Mr Imram's point that lower-income workers should be cushioned from the impact of globalisaion and foreign workers, by being given higher wages. Protecting them from competition would not solve the problems they faced, he said. "The long term solution remains more education and creating more professionals."

Balakrishnan also said that another way to get ahead is for Malay-Muslim Singaporeans to participate fully in all opportunities available to them. "In order for a minority community to do well in a multiracial, globalised environment, we need to engage with the other communities and we need to integrate with the mainstream of social life."