Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Is Singapore’s Ministry of Law listening? But I have so much more to say!

Just as no sensible politician would normally like to tie her fate to one particular issue, I also do not wish to be classified as a 'one trick pony.' Yet, it would almost be negligent of me if I did not comment on recent changes to Singapore's Central Provident Fund (CPF) nomination rules for Muslims.
The Grand Moofti's regular readers are aware that Shariah law governs inheritance procedures for Singaporean Muslims. Consequently, under the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), a deceased Muslim's estate is divided on the basis of a formula prescribed by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) interpretation of Islamic law.

CPF accounts are now exempt from a Muslim's estate for the purpose of compulsory distribution under Islamic inheritance law as required by AMLA. Recently MUIS issued a fatwa (in Malay – my comments below*) permitting Singaporean Muslims to nominate beneficiaries who will inherit their CPF monies following death.
Certainly, the move is an encouraging step in granting Singaporean Muslims full rights over the use of their assets. One can only applaud the decision.
However, the real test comes over time as the intent of Singapore's lawmakers becomes apparent. Is the move to exempt CPF accounts merely a one off measure designed to appease a certain segment of Muslims or does it represent the first in a series of steps towards dismantling a restrictive, religiously inspired parallel legal system which exists in an otherwise nominally secular state?
Let's be optimistic and assume that Singapore's Ministry of Law has recognized the potential disruptions posed by maintaining a parallel legal system. If that is the case, then the next logical step in rolling back AMLA will be to exempt Housing Development Board (HDB) apartments from a Singaporean Muslims estate. That is allow, Muslims to nominate beneficiaries of their HDB apartments following death.
Like me, I am sure many Muslims see a glimmer of hope in the increased flexibility now available to us in bequeathing CPF money. Undoubtedly, gradual evolutionary change is a more orderly approach to implementing reform. Let us hope that more such reform steps are in the works.


Below is the text of a letter sent to the Straits Times Forum on September 25, 2010. The letter has not been published (at least not yet). Perhaps the paper is uncomfortable pushing the subject at this time.
To the Editor:
Many Muslims will be encouraged by the authorities' recent decision to exclude CPF accounts from the list of assets included under the purview of the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA). Consequently, like all other Singaporeans, Muslims now have the flexibility to nominate beneficiaries to inherit their CPF account balances following death.
The move goes some way in addressing the inequities faced by Muslims in managing their personal financial assets. However, there still remains a need for greater reform to bring Muslim financial freedoms in line with the flexibilities enjoyed by non-Muslim Singaporeans. 
As a next step, the authorities may consider exempting HDB units from a Muslim's financial asset base which, under AMLA's provisions, is forcibly distributed based on specific principles of the Shariah. Muslim Singaporeans should be granted the right to nominate individual family members as inheritors of apartments following their death.
Currently, HDB has no such 'nomination' system and legacy arrangements for HDB units must be a part of a comprehensive Will – an option restricted for Muslims by the Administration of Muslim Law Act.
Sincerely,
Imran Ahmed
* It is important to emphasize that the MUIS fatwa was issued in Malay. One understands that the majority of Singapore's Muslims speak Malay. However, Singapore's lingua franca is English. Surely, MUIS can consider issuing the original document in bilingual form – English and Malay – for non-Malay speaking Muslims.

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