Speech by President Halimah Yacob at the Berita Harian Charity Iftar

Mr Masagos Zulkifli,

Minister for Environment and Water Resources,

Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs

 

Dr Maliki Osman,

Senior Minister of State, Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mayor of South East CDC

 

Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef,

Member of Parliament, Marine Parade GRC

 

Mr Ng Yat Chung,

CEO of Singapore Press Holdings (SPH)

 

Mr Anthony Tan,

Deputy CEO of SPH

 

Mr Warren Fernandez,

Editor-in-Chief, English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, SPH

 

Mr Saat Abdul Rahman,

Editor of Berita Harian

 

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

 

I am very delighted to join this iftar organised by Berita Harian.

 

This event brings together beneficiaries from many voluntary welfare organisations, residents of Geylang Serai as well as staff and corporate partners of Berita Harian. It is also held at this spanking, new Wisma Geylang Serai which I hope, over time, will acquire a place in the hearts of the Malay community and all Singaporeans. Geylang Serai has always been the heartbeat of the Malay community. I am certain Wisma Geylang Serai will be synonymous with Geylang Serai and the Malay community.

 

I am also grateful to the many donors and sponsors for your support. This is in line with the true spirit of Islam which encourages its adherents to always care for the community and there is no greater way of demonstrating this other than by sharing a meal together with those who are less fortunate than us.

 

As we all know, Iftar in Singapore has a special significance. It is common to find people of different faiths breaking fast together as part of community organised activities. This not only develops stronger bonds between the different communities but also promotes a greater understanding of Islam as a religion that is benevolent and compassionate. While Muslims should not be defensive over the acts of some radical adherents who kill and maim in the name of Islam, it is also incumbent upon us to take every opportunity to explain its true teachings as otherwise the deviant narrative will dominate.  It is unfortunate that the acts of these deviant few have fed into the rising tide of Islamophobia globally causing tremendous concern and generating a lot of ill will against Muslims. This in turn have affected the practise of Islam by peaceful Muslims.

 

Recently, I met the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Dr Ahmed Al Tayyeb, when he was in Singapore. We had a very good conversation and he expressed strongly his regret over the use of Islam by deviants to commit bloodshed leading people to perceive Islam as a violent and destructive religion when actually it is a religion of peace. According to the Grand Imam, Al Azhar wants to do its part to change this narrative by cooperating with Muslims and non-Muslims alike to promote the correct perceptions of Islam. There is much that individual Muslims too can do in our daily lives to counter this negative narrative and to develop trust and confidence in us. When people have pleasant experiences with us and find Muslims to be responsible, hardworking, trustworthy and caring, they will view Islam positively. The best example is our Prophet Muhammed. People trusted him because he was kind and compassionate. It is through our character and the way we conduct ourselves that others will assess Islam.

 

In fact, living harmoniously with others is not something new.  In many instances since the Prophet’s time, people of different faiths - Christians, Jews and Muslims - lived side by side, traded and shared common spaces peacefully in mutual respect and tolerance.

 

In this month of Ramadan, as we trace our journey in Singapore, I am glad that Muslims have made great strides, along with the other communities, in all fields. This success has resulted in a stronger sense of confidence as they know that what they have achieved are through their own efforts and that they can compete on equal footing not just in Singapore but also anywhere else.

 

I am also glad that the more successful among us have not forgotten those who are needy and depend on us for help. In the many events that I had attended, I have met many Muslim professionals who are not only doing well but are also contributing actively to the community. This is important, particularly among the young, so that success is not confined to just a small group but is more broad based.

 

But Muslims, like all Singaporeans, need to be prepared for the rapid changes that are taking place and which will have an impact on our lives. Our students must continue to strive hard to excel in their studies, our workers must be prepared to constantly undergo training to acquire new skills and capabilities, and our families must continue to strengthen ourselves so that we can weather these changes well. In this age of rapid technological transformation, how fast we can change and adapt, will make the difference and will determine our success. In the midst of all these, we need to remain steadfast to our values and stay rooted to Singapore. Singapore Muslims can pride ourselves that we are valuable contributing members of our society and are recognised by many countries as a model Muslim community worthy of respect and emulation.

 

Let me conclude by thanking BH, once again, for organising this meaningful iftar and also for kindly raising $30,000 for the President’s Challenge with the support of its partners. One of the funds that we have set up under the President’s Challenge is the Empowering for Life Fund where we will partner e2i to support low income families to upgrade their skills and earn better incomes. We hope that with the Fund, we are able to narrow the social stratification gap. The Government has pledged $10 million to the Fund and President’s Challenge will raise another $10 million to give disadvantaged individuals and low income families a leg-up. Let me also say that if we all do our part, I am confident that we can build a better society.

 

Thank you and have a wonderful breaking of fast.