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.
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.