MINISTER Mentor Lee Kuan Yew said yesterday he stands corrected on how well-integrated Malay-Muslims are in Singapore.
He issued a statement late last night, referring to comments he made in the new book, Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going, and the reactions that followed.
'Hard Truths was a book based on 32 hours of interviews over a period of two years,' he said.
'I made this one comment on the Muslims integrating with other communities probably two or three years ago. Ministers and MPs, both Malay and non-Malay, have since told me that Singapore Malays have indeed made special efforts to integrate with the other communities, especially since 9/11, and that my call is out of date.
'I stand corrected. I hope that this trend will continue in the future.'
The book, based on interviews Mr Lee gave to a team of seven journalists from The Straits Times, was published by Straits Times Press and launched on Jan 21.
In it, he said among other things, that 'Muslims socially do not cause any trouble, but they are distinct and separate'.
Asked what Muslims could do to integrate, he replied: 'Be less strict on Islamic observances and say, 'Okay, I'll eat with you.''
When assessing the state of multiracialism in Singapore, he said: 'I have to speak candidly to be of value, but I do not want to offend the Muslim community.
'I think we were progressing very nicely until the surge of Islam came, and if you asked me for my observations, the other communities have easier integration - friends, inter-marriages and so on - than Muslims.'
His remarks drew protests and expressions of regret from a number of Muslim groups, with some saying his remarks were unfounded and others calling for him to apologise.
Some also asked the Government to clarify whether it shared his views.
On Jan 30, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spelt out the Government's view of progress made by Singapore's Muslims in integrating with other communities, saying his perspective on the matter differed from MM Lee's.
'Muslims are a valued and respected community, who have done a good deal to strengthen our harmony and social cohesion,' the Prime Minister said.
MM Lee's statement last night came just hours after six MPs and two ministers spoke in Parliament, offering upbeat views on the state of racial cohesion in Singapore.
Madam Halimah Yacob, one of the MPs who spoke, was surprised by the news of Mr Lee's statement.
'This will go a long way towards assuaging the feelings of the community,' she said. 'MM's earlier comments caused a lot of unhappiness because many felt it was not a description of the reality.
'We should take MM's latest statement in good faith. It shows his humility. We should continue to work with the other communities to strengthen inter-community relations in Singapore.'
Mr Nizam Ismail, chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals which had earlier expressed unhappiness over Mr Lee's views, welcomed the news.
He said: 'This retraction was necessary since the community had, prior to this, not heard from MM even after the clarification made by PM...
'The issue of integration is an important one especially for a young, heterogeneous and cosmopolitan nation-state. Integration still remains a work in progress.
'The Malay-Muslim community remains committed to integration and hopes that all stakeholders, including other communities and especially the State, will take part in this process of rebuilding mutual trust and bonds which may have been frayed.'
Mr Tan Thiam Lye, president of the Inter-Religious Organisation and chairman of the Taoist Federation, noted that Taoists have maintained close links with Muslims and both have respected each other's way of life and religious beliefs.
'Whatever festivals they have, to break fast during Ramadan, they have always invited us. And whatever activities we have, we invited many Muslim groups and their leaders all came. The Muslims are an important part of Singapore's inter-religious integration,' he said.
- end of ST article. Reprinted with permission.