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SINGAPORE. The geographical position of Singapore defines the history and contemporary position of its Muslim community. Singapore is the northernmost island in the Riau archipelago, which links the east coast of Sumatra with peninsular Malaysia. This territory is the traditional home of the Malay people. Malay history is intimately linked with Islam, and the first MalayMuslim trading city, Melaka (Malacca), flourished in the fifteenth century. The sacking of Melaka by the Portuguese in 1511 marked the beginning of an era of intrusions by various colonial powers interested in the strategic sea lanes through the Straits of Melaka.

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In 1819 Sir Stamford Raffles founded the British colony of Singapore, which quickly flourished as an entrepot trading center for the region. Singapore remained a British colony until it was granted selfgovernment in 1959 In 1963 it became a state within the Federation of Malaysia, and in 1965 it separated from the Federation to become the independant Republic of Singapore.

In terms of ethnic percentages, Singapore’s population has remained relatively stable since the midnineteenth century. The major demographic change occurred early in the nineteenth century, when the Chinese gradually overtook the originally predominant Malays. By 1891 Chinese numbered 67.1 percent of the population, Malays 19.7 percent, Indians 8.8 percent, and others (including Europeans) 4.3 percent. A century later in 1990, the resident Singapore population was 2.7 million, with Chinese forming the majority (77.7 percent), followed by Malays (14-1 percent), Indians (7.1 percent), and others (1.1 percent).

Colonial Period. The nineteenth-century Singapore Muslim community was divided into two broad categories: Muslims indigenous to the region (mostly Malays) who formed the majority, and a minority of wealthy and better-educated Indian Muslims, Arabs, and Jawi Peranakans (indigenized Indian Muslims), who formed the social and economic elite. This elite spearheaded the flowering of Singapore as a Muslim publishing and educational center for the region. Arab families such as the Alsagoffs, the Alkaffs and the Aljunieds were prominent contributors to Muslim mosque-building funds, educational institutions, and other charitable Muslim organizations.

From the middle of the nineteenth century, the Dutch took repressive measures to prevent Muslims in the Dutch East Indies from performing the pilgrimage, and so Singapore increasingly became a focal point for such departures. The British reluctantly realized the need to intervene in the affairs of the Muslim community, beginning with quarantine controls on departing and arriving pilgrims.

In 1880 the British government passed the Mahomedan Marriage Ordinance; in 1905 the Mahomedan and Hindu Endowment Board was set up to regulate trusts (awqaf, sg., waqf); and in 1915 the Muhammedan Advisory Board was constituted to advise the government on matters pertaining to the Muslim community.

Post-independence Period. In August 1966, a year after Singapore’s independence, the Singapore parliament passed the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA), ushering in a new phase in the legal and administrative history of Islam in the country. The Singapore Muslim Religious Council (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura or MUIS) was constituted under the Act and inaugurated in 1968. MUIS is the supreme Islamic religious authority in Singapore and advises the government on matters relating to Islam. MUIS administers the mosque-building program, manages mosques and endowment properties, and coordinates the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

The Shariah Court and Registry of Muslim Marriages were set up in 1958. In addition to hearing divorce petitions, the Shariah Court also considers applications for inheritance certificates relating to Muslim estates. All appeals to either the Registry or the Shariah Court are channeled to an appeals board formed by MUIS. MUIS, the Shariah Court, and the Registry of Muslim Marriages are administered within the Ministry of Community Development. There is also a Minister in Charge of Muslim Affairs who acts as a liaison between the Muslim community and the political leadership.

The government has attached a great deal of importance to improving the standard of living of the MalayMuslim minority. Traditionally this community has tended to lag behind the Chinese majority in terms of educational achievement, occupational advancement, and income levels. Government policy has been to emphasize and support self-help groups within the community, such as MENDAKI (Council on Education for Muslim Children) and the AMP (Association of Muslim Professionals).

In sum, Singapore is a Chinese-majority, secular state located in the Malay-Muslim world of Southeast Asia. The Singapore Malay-Muslim community is cognizant of its position as a national minority that is also part of a larger regional Muslim majority.


Ahmad bin Mohamed Ibrahim. The Legal Status of the Muslims in Singapore. Singapore, 1965. The most complete book on the history of Muslim law in pre-independent Singapore.

Djamour, Judith. The Muslim Matrimonial Court in Singapore. New York, 1966. Interesting collection of court cases from the 1950s. Hussin Zoohri, Wan. The Singapore Malays: The Dilemma of Development. Singapore, 1990. Serves as a summary of key community developments in the post-independence period.

Roff, William R. The Origins of Malay Nationalism. New Haven, 1967. Classic on the development of the nationalist movement in Singapore and British Malaya.

Siddique, Sharon. “The Administration of Islam in Singapore.” In Islam and Society in Southeast Asia, edited by Taufik Abdullah and Sharon Siddique, pp. 215-331. Singapore, 1987. Discusses the bureaucratization of Islam in independent Singapore.

Yegar, Moshe. Islam and Islamic Institutions in British Malaya. Jerusalem, 1979. Well-researched directory of the development of Islamic institutions under colonial rule.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/singapore/

  • writerPosted On: August 11, 2017
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