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Issue Date: 1996
Citation: SHAHRIL BIN MOHD SHAH (1996). JAMIYAH : RELIGION AND THE STATE, 1930-1980. ScholarBank@NUS Repository.
Abstract: The relationship between religion and state has always been a fascinating area of study. More so when the religion under scrutiny is Islam which stresses on non-separation of secular and religious interests as evident in the following comment: Religion is not a diner [sic] jacket one puts on for certain occasions and afterwards hang it again in the wardrobe. It is a way of life and it has to control every single aspect of our life.1 In a multi-racial, multi-religious secular state like Singapore, the above comment might be construed as a fanatical or fundamental (as popularly coined today) approach to Islam. This connotes possible confrontation with the secular government. Indeed, there were many instances of near and full collisions between the interests of the state and that of the religion, although some of these instances had political or racial undertones. During my research on the Muslim Advisory Board, the forerunner of the present-day Majilis Ugama Islam Singapura or MUIS (the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore), official and non-official documents mention an Islamic missionary society in Singapore, the All-Malaya Muslim Missionary Society or Jamiyah. Prior to this discovery, I understand, albeit with limitation, that there was no single organisation that played a great role and contributed significantly to Islam in Singapore. The Muslim Advisory Board was cm advisory body without any official powers. Hence, this study on Jamiyah, the premier Muslim body antedating MUIS, will provide an insight and an understanding into the administration of Islam in Singapore and Jamiyah's role and contribution to Islam from the 1930s to the 1980s. In addition, Jamiyah's relationship with the colonial and later, the local government provides an insight into the dynamism of the religion as a motivative and unitive force for the Muslim community. The advent of MUIS in the late 1960s added a new dimension and tension to Islam in Singapore. MUIS was perceived by the community to adapt Islam to fit the industrialised and urbanised setting of Singapore, and the opposition towards this move had always created tension within the community of adherents. The question on Muslims minds was, "Whose interest was MUIS serving, the religion or the state?" If the following statement is regarded as a truism, that "the Muslims and Islamic faith are not to be regulated by the State in any form",2 then the interests of the religion supersede those of the state. This study is divided into four chapters. The period of study, 1931 to 1980, highlights the three distinct phases in Jamiyah's history and development. Chapter 1 discusses the historical background and multi-ethnic composition of the Singapore Muslim community beginning in 1819. This multi-ethnicity was soon blurred when locally-born Arabs and Jawi Peranakans assin-1ilated themselves into the Malay society in the early twentieth century. However, the relative piety, wealth and education of the Arabs and the Jawi Peranakans soon distinguished them from the Malays. Rising Malay consciousness and struggles, especially after the First World War, threatened Arabs' and Jawi Peranakans' control of the Muslim community. Chapter 2 examines the reasons and circumstances leading to the founding of Jamiyah, focusing on Christian missionary activities and the threat of Qadianism. Jamiyah was then a bastion of orthodox Islam. 3 The role of Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui in Jamiyah's inception is examined, too. Jamiyah's exclusivity and elitism distinguished it from other Muslim organisations, yet cocooned it from the Muslim masses. Jamiyah's first phase, which began in 1931, ended with the outbreak of the Second World War. Chapter 3 traces the second phase of Jamiyah's history from 1945 to 1969. The postwar period and its challenges led m some changes in Jamiyah. It became more involved, albeit slowly, with the Muslim community through its activities. Syed lbrahim Omar Alsagoff, the President of Jamiyah, played an important role in raising Jamiyah's image and status locally and internationally. Jamiyah was thrusted to the forefront of the Muslim community through its involvement in the Nadra Riots and pan-Islamic movements. The Society was drawn into the political battles of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) against the People’s Action Party (PAP) government in the 1960s. The advent of MUIS during this period threatened Jamiyah's status as the premier Islamic organisation. A significant feature of this phase was the coup by the Young Blood against the established leadership. Chapter 4 examines Jamiyah's third phase from 1970 to 1980 under the Young Blood leadership. It faced internal and external threats in the beginning of this phase. The new leadership had to consolidate its power in Jamiyah, while implementing its socio-economic, educational and religious programmes in its vision of transforming Jamiyah into a Jamiyah Baru (the New Jamiyah). Abu Bakar Maidin became the next strong personality after Alsagoff. There were many instances of Jamiyah-MUIS rift during this phase as each organisation tried to win the hearts and minds of Muslims. Jamiyah's relationship with MUIS underwent a perceptible shift in the beginning of the eighties. The focus was more on accommodation than direct confrontation. This indicated a changing operating milieu and a reassessment of the situation. 1 Progressive Islam, 1,3, October 1931, p. 1. 2 M.A. Majid, President of the Muslim Welfare Association, to the Select Committee of the Legislative Assembly on The Administration of Muslim Law Ordinance, 25 April 1966. Report of the Select Committee on the Administration of Muslim Law Bill, First Legislative Assembly, 31 May 1966 (Singapore: Government Printing Office, 1966), p. A 12. 3 Its telegraphic address Ahlusunnah (proponents of mainstream Islam), signalled Jamiyah’s belief and defence of orthodox Islam.
Appears in Collections:Master's Theses (Restricted)

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