Sunday, 20 March 2011

Social integration, Singapore’s sharia law and Minister Mentor Lee – II

Some weeks ago, I posted an article titled, 'Social integration, Singapore's sharia law and Minister Mentor Lee.' The post elicited an insightful comment from a reader named Sean.
The questions posed by Sean deserve a thorough answer. Hence, this post is devoted exclusively to responding to Sean's queries.
Isn't AMLA part of the special privileges that were given to the Malay community early in our time of independence because of makeup of the region and the claim that Malays have on Singapore?
Broadly speaking, yes that is a fair statement.
Obviously, the issue must be examined in terms of the 'realpolitik' of the region. Nevertheless, it is important to point out that the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) affects communities other than only the Malays. It is applicable to all Muslims, regardless of race and sect and Singapore has a large number of Indian Muslims. (Technically, under Singapore law I am classified as an Indian Muslim; one who has money deducted for SINDA but am governed by 'Malay Islamic law.')
However, Singapore is a sovereign nation with its national identity. In other issues, including close relations with Israel, organ donation, etc. the government has shown that it is able to act independently based on the principle of reasonableness irrespective of 'race based' politics.
And after some posts I've seen from other people, how would the Malay-Muslim community in general react to the removal of AMLA?
It is a misconception among the Malay community that the removal of AMLA will significantly alter rights or privileges granted to Malays. Perhaps some Malays will be upset about not being able to indulge in polygamy but in the larger scheme of things, Malays will not need to alter their behaviour in any way. They may still freely heed the advice of MUIS or other religious bodies, including in  dress code, inheritance and dietary habits (halal versus haram).  
For example, AMLA is not necessary for Muslims to bequeath their assets based on a particular interpretation of Islamic law. In other words, in a 'non-AMLA' environment, a Muslim may draft a Will enforceable by Singapore courts which distributes his estate as per MUIS recommendations on Islamic laws of inheritance.
Take the case of availability of alcoholic beverages to Singaporean Muslims. There is no compulsion upon Singaporean Muslims to drink alcohol just because it is legally available. Individual Muslims may make up their own mind about the desirability of drinking alcohol.
In other words, by removing AMLA Singaporean Muslims may 'opt-in' to MUIS recommendations about conforming to behaviour patterns in line with Islamic law. However, as should be the case in any free society there is no compulsion based on religious edicts. Thus, non-Malay Sunnis (or Shias, Ahmedis and other Islamic sects) are not forced under threat of legal action to adhere to certain Islamic rules of behaviour.
Below I highlight the two main areas are of concern raised by AMLA in a secular state. In all three areas AMLA infringes upon the civil rights of Muslim Singaporeans by diluting certain fundamental rights.
1.   The laws of inheritance. Muslims are not permitted to write a Will. A Will written by a Muslim for his entire estate is not recognized by Singapore law and will not be enforced by Singapore's courts. In practice, this means that an individual may work their entire life to accumulate savings only to have them divided based upon a formula prescribed by MUIS. If an individual wished to bequeath their entire estate to their mother or other members of their immediate family they are unable to do so due to AMLA.  

I have written several posts on this subject where I highlight the issue in greater detail:

2.   Marriage: Contrary to the Women's Charter, which is enshrined in Singapore law, AMLA permits Muslim males to practice polygamy. The United Nations, supported by international women's rights groups criticize this aspect of Singapore law frequently in order that the contradiction is addressed.

There are other aspects of AMLA's family law sections which are contentious and clash with the Women's Charter, specifically in the following areas:

·         Marriage between a Muslim male and a non-Muslim female;
·         The rights and procedures for divorce available to Muslim women;
·         Inheritance rights guaranteed to Muslim women.

Other than the inheritance rights, there is some recourse available to Muslim women through civil courts. However, a removal of such 'gray areas' between Singapore's civil law and sharia religious law will be beneficial for all concerned.
One thing, the bit where you says "Hence, Muslims who do not conform to Singapore's interpretation of Islamic law, for reasons of personal conscience, must face the Republic's legal enforcement mechanisms." What exactly you mean by the legal enforcement mechanisms?
The law courts and Singapore police must enforce AMLA like any other law. Just because Imran Ahmed does not agree with AMLA does not mean he need not abide by AMLA. I cannot write a will. I cannot bequeath my entire estate to my immediate family. Period.  
In fact, there are a few instances where sons have gone to Singapore's courts to enforce AMLA's inheritance provisions to deny a wife or daughter (female family members) of their inheritance from the estate of a deceased father. In at least one instance, MUIS has supported the claims of a male heir by issuing a religious declaration supporting the male's rights to inherit assets, over the right of female progeny.

Post Script
Since independence four decades ago, Singapore's national identity has diverged considerably from Malaysia. Singapore is its own nation. Surely, Singapore has to manage its relations with larger neighbours but not at the risk of adulterating its own identity. Singapore's close links with Israel is a good example of where Singapore's identity diverges from its neighbours.
If Malaysia were to make it illegal for Muslims to work in establishments selling alcohol, or gambling outlets, etc, will Singapore follow suit to please its own Malay community? Already, freedoms of Muslims in Malaysia, and to some extent, Singapore are being affected by peer pressure amid a rising tide of 'wahabi' oriented Islamic ideology.
Singapore cannot remain a 'pseudo-secular' state indefinitely, where the rights of one particular religious group, Muslims, are defined by specific laws. A simple way to expand Singapore's Common Space is to make the same set of laws applicable to all Singaporeans, irrespective of religious preferences.


Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors, Imran improves the profitability of small and medium sized businesses. He can be reached at


  1. Part 1 of 2.

    Imran Ahmed:

    To your statement:

    "Singapore cannot remain a 'pseudo-secular' state indefinitely, where the rights of one particular religious group, Muslims, are defined by specific laws. A simple way to expand Singapore's Common Space is to make the same set of laws applicable to all Singaporeans, irrespective of religious preferences. "

    You can not have common-laws for groups of people who have conflicting and totally opposing views of how to live. If one group of people are totally against alcohol, and another have absolutely no problem with the consumption of alcohol, how do you have a 'Singapore Common Space' with 'the set of laws applicable to all Singaporeans'. Or how about, Islam allows polygamy, where as Catholicism (note some Christian offshoots allow polygamy also) allow only monogamy, both religions are diametrically opposed to each other's view on marriage here. I can go on and on and on, there are literally dozens of examples where Islam and other religions are in direct opposition to each other.

    This is why we have secular governments, because religion as government, causes problems, we have thousands of years of history to illustrate this.

    The problem we have now, is as so, for many thousands of years, it was possible to isolate groups of people with their common traditions, religions, and unique ways from each other, but now as the world is not only getting smaller, in such that not only country and cultural boarders are pushing hard against each other, but also the intermingling, call it multicultural blending if you will, of societies is now so endemic that their incompatible differences are now become serious problems; socio-politico segregation and stigmatization breeding hatred, riots and even terrorism.

    We have societies and cultures on this Earth that are not compatible. Having common laws among all people will not work. Common laws, work only for people who have common beliefs. Differing beliefs among a common group of people, have differing laws. For this situation to change, one of these scenarios have to eventuate:

    - Common Social Mutual Acceptance; where people learn to acceptance their differences and allow each other to live with each and not let their differing beliefs be an agency for conflict.

    - Forced Social Integration; where one group of people force upon another (either through, war or just 'common-law') to accept the inevitable social order of the other dominating agency.

    History is filled with Forced Social Integration examples, especially those by the Catholic Church and the Islamic Caliphates. Both used the sword to force their views of order onto non-accepting groups.

    Common laws DO NOT WORK. That is the reason for many wars on this planet. The reason for this is that there is NOTHING COMMON about COMMON LAW. Common law usually, more often than not, is law by edict. In fact, there is not a single country in the world, where people decide what laws they wish to live under. Every country has a group of people (who maybe elected), or elitists that formulate laws, that are never voted upon (where true democracy should be actually practiced) and then are subjugated onto this unsuspecting populace.

    This world is heading for many problems. With a growing population and greater competition for resources which are not enough for everyone to have a "western life style", there is going to be conflict. Each group of people have their view of what common means, and non of them are compatible with on another.

    ...cont...part 2...

  2. Part 2 of 2.


    Singapore may not have it absolutely right, but they certainly have got it in the right direction. Each group of people are going to demand to have their own laws, the trick is, getting these differing and non compatible laws to coexist side by side. At the very least Singapore, is trying, more than I can say for many other countries. It will be up to the individual, namely YOU Imran Ahmed, to choose how and which set of laws you wish to live under, and not expect the rest of the world to change to your narrow view of reality.

    Singapore may not be perfect, but try living in countries, where your religion and class takes away your right to living or finding a job. For example, you think a Muslim could ever be Prime Minister of the UK, or President of the USA (arguments of Obama's background notwithstanding), or Prime Minister of Australia? As you can see, although many countries, like western countries, say they don't have slavery, or segregation, and their common laws forbid it, however, prejudice still reigns supreme, common law or not.

    Things have to change on this planet. But it isn't the laws, it is the process who and how we make these laws that is the problem, not what these laws are.

  3. Hello Dorian,

    Thank you for visiting my blog and taking the time to address the subject of one of my article's. I am sure readers will be better informed after having read your comments.

    I must confess that I am not absolutely certain I understand your point. It seems that you are advocating the idea of different laws for different confessional groups, an idea widely used by the Ottoman Empire and its 'Millet' system. If that is the case, then it follows that abortion and birth control should be made illegal for Catholics in Singapore.

    Certainly, no system is perfect. However, I do not agree on the desirability of segregated systems. Rather than placing different religions and peoples in separate 'legal boxes,' a very problematic task, it is best to promulgate a 'minimalist' legal framework allowing place for different behaviour and beliefs. (Easier said than done, I know.) In the Singapore context, repealing AMLA will be a step in that direction.

    On a separate note, the Swiss referendum system is one model which Singapore should study more closely. (I have mentioned this in an earlier post.) Singapore's population is small and compact enough for the wider use of referendums on major national issues. For example, a referendum on the establishment of casinos in the country could have been held prior to a final decision. Legalizing gambling was a contentious issue for the Singapore population.

    I hope you will continue to visit my blog and take the time to share your opinions.

    Best regards,


  4. Part 2 of 2.

    I am not demanding my own set of laws, I am merely demanding the same freedoms granted to all non-Muslim Singaporeans. That is, one set of laws for all Singaporeans irrespective of religion or race. It is not a radical idea.

    "Things have to change on this planet. But it isn't the laws, it is the process who and how we make these laws that is the problem, not what these laws are."

    Surely, the process must have an objective? In this instance, refining and improving the legislation process must be to improve the legal code. Refining the legislative process cannot be an end in itself.

    Best regards,


    PS - I will let my American, Australian and British Muslim friends know that they should not have any ambitions to be leader's of their respective countries, due to the inherent flaws in their respective societies. (I wonder if African Americans thought something similar in the last few decades?)