SM Teo Chee Hean at the Pergas Gema Kesyukuran

SM Teo Chee Hean | 3 March 2024

Speech by Senior Minister and Coordinating Minister for National Security Teo Chee Hean at the Pergas Gema Kesyukuran on 3 March 2024.

Ustaz Muhammad Tarmizi Abdul Wahid, President of Pergas,
Asatizah of the Pergas High Council and Pergas Council of Elders,
Community Leaders,
Fellow Parliamentary Colleagues,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

A very good afternoon to all of you. Please let me begin with a few words in Bahasa Melayu.

Saya berbesar hati diberi peluang untuk bersama para hadirin-hadirin sekalian untuk menyampaikan Anugerah Warisan Pergas yang julung-julung kali diadakan kepada sahabat saya yang dihormati, Ustaz Hasbi. Ustaz Hasbi telah banyak menyumbang kepada pendidikan Islam di Singapura, pembangunan asatizah, dan juga masyarakat Islam kita. Saya berkerjasama secara rapat dengan Ustaz Hasbi, sudah bertahun-tahun lamanya. Beliau seorang yang bijak, berani dan adalah contoh teladan yang cemerlang bagi semua asatizah muda kita. Beliau telah banyak menyumbang kepada pembinaan persefahaman bersama, keharmonian dan kestabilan Singapura. Saya pasti bahawa setiap asatizah yang hadir hari ini telah meraih manfaat dari satu segi atau yang lain, daripada usaha-usaha murni Ustaz Hasbi selama ini.

Hari ini, kami juga mengiktiraf sumbangan golongan asatizah kepada pembentukan masyarakat. Asatizah kita memainkan peranan penting dalam membentuk nilai dan pandangan masyarakat Islam kita. Asatizah kita membantu mengukuhkan persefahaman dan keharmonian antara agama, dalam konteks masyarakat kita yang berbilang agama. Saya gembira melihat Ustaz Hasbi terus membimbing dan menjadi mentor kepada generasi asatizah dan pemimpin masa depan masyarakat Islam kita. Izinkan saya mengambil kesempatan ini untuk mengucapkan terima kasih kepada Ustaz Hasbi kerana perkhidmatannya kepada masyarakat dan Singapura sepanjang empat dekad lama. Terima kasih juga diucapkan kepada semua asatizah kita atas kerja-kerja penting yang anda lakukan. Izinkan saya meneruskan ucapan saya dalam Bahasa Inggeris.

In Singapore, we live in a multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-cultural society. There is no religion which is the dominant or majority religion; so every religion is in the minority. This is a rather unique situation and makes us one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world.

Our pioneer leaders have worked hard, with the support of our religious and community leaders, to promote unity among all communities and faiths. Singaporeans of all races and faiths now live together in HDB precincts, study together in national schools, perform National Service together, and work together. The harmony and stability we enjoy is one of our greatest blessings. In particular, we see all the conflicts around the world, many of which are ignited by people who seek to find divisions and differences arising out of race, language and religion. We are really blessed in Singapore where all our communities have pledged to work together.

And unfortunately, we are now witnessing tragic and deeply saddening events in other parts of the world that are tearing many societies apart. In particular, the tragic events in the Middle East have understandably stirred strong emotions from Singaporeans, especially Muslim Singaporeans. Thankfully, instead of allowing ourselves to be divided, Singaporeans of all faiths have opened up our hearts and united around the common cause of providing help, succor and suppport to those most badly affected. This is possible only with a strong community of religious leaders who are able to guide their respective communities to respond in ways that reinforce our commitment to each other as fellow Singaporeans. We must not let disagreements and conflicts elsewhere in the world become sources of tension and division in our society. We act on principle, supporting what is right under international law and international humanitarian law, urging a ceasefire and for issues to be resolved in a fair and just way through negotiations. This not a new position that we take, this is a position which Singapore has taken for many decades, over many different conflicts.

So, when we see all the conflicts in the world, we must truly be thankful for the peace and harmony that we enjoy in Singapore. Every community and every faith is respected and has its place. And all of us work collectively together to expand our common space based on our common humanity.

Ustaz Hasbi has played a major role in helping to foster this social stability and harmony that we enjoy in Singapore. His leadership of Pergas as its President for the past 20 years and his many contributions to raising the standard of Islamic education in Singapore are an enduring legacy. In 1987, Ustaz Hasbi sowed the seeds for what would eventually become the Institut Pengajian Islam Pergas (Pergas Institute for Islamic Education). Beyond his service through Pergas, he continues to provide guidance to the Muslim community as a member of the MUIS Council and in its Fatwa Committee.

I would particularly like to commend Ustaz Hasbi for taking the courageous step in 2003 to co-found and co-chair the Religious Rehabilitation Group at a critical time in Singapore, together with the late Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed. Many of you here today have served on the RRG, helping our community to stay strong, united and to be on the correct path of Islam. Our region was faced with the real and immediate threat of violent extremism, which had resulted in many lives lost in neighbouring countries like Indonesia and the Philippines. Ustaz Hasbi made a crucial contribution to our security, peace and stability against extremist influences from other parts of the world. Ustaz Hasbi’s service to the nation was recognised in 2018 when he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, one of our nation’s highest awards, by the President of the Republic of Singapore. Two days ago, I mentioned to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong that I will be meeting with Ustaz Hasbi today, and that he will be receiving the Anugerah Warisan award from Pergas. Prime Minister said, “I will write him a letter, can you please present it to Ustaz Hasbi afterwards”. So I will now read you the letter from the Prime Minister and I will present it to you, Ustaz Hasbi, the suratnya (letter) in a moment.

The letter from Prime Minister says: Ustaz Hasbi, Chairman of Pergas: Dear Ustaz Hasbi, thank you for your selfless and distinguished service to the Singaporean Muslim community. Over three decades, you have contributed greatly not just to the Muslim community, but also at the national level.

Under your visionary leadership as President of PERGAS, the association has done much to serve and develop the asatizah community. It upgraded the skills of the asatizah through many initiatives. Notably, it strongly supported the implementation of the Asatizah Recognition Scheme. During the COVID-19 pandemic, PERGAS watched over the welfare of the asatizah and guided them through a very difficult period.

As a founding co-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), you played a pivotal role in rehabilitating those who had been led astray by radical ideologies. Together with several other senior clerics, including the late Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed, you courageously volunteered for the unfamiliar and demanding task of counselling the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members detained in the initial arrests in the early 2000s. Under your leadership, the RRG established itself as a credible and effective organisation. Its rehabilitation work and its efforts to inoculate the public against extremist ideologies were highly successful, and won it both domestic and international recognition.

I am glad that after stepping down as President of PERGAS, you have continued to guide it as the chairman of Masyaikh Pergas. As a highly respected mentor, you are grooming and inspiring younger generations of asatizah, equipping them for the challenges of the contemporary world.

On national issues that concern the Muslim community, you have been forthright and thoughtful in expressing your views, always appreciating Singapore’s unique multi-racial and multi-religious context. You championed delicate issues like religious education and the wearing of the tudung sincerely and sensitively, working with the government and guiding the community to reach pragmatic and satisfactory outcomes.

My colleagues and I have benefitted greatly from your wise perspectives and counsel. Thank you, Ustaz Hasbi, for your decades of service to the community and to Singapore. I wish you good health as you continue to guide and inspire generations of Muslims through words and deeds in the years ahead! Yours Sincerely, Lee Hsien Loong, Prime Minister of Singapore.

Allow me to continue my speech. I have had the honour of working with Ustaz Hasbi over almost four decades of his service to the community, and have been inspired by his courage and wisdom. It is fitting that we will honour him as the inaugural recipient of the Anugerah Warisan Pergas. I am especially glad to see that he is continuing to guide and mentor a new generation of religious leaders for our Muslim community.

Our asatizah play a crucial role in shaping the ethos of our Muslim community, and ensure that the Muslim community is well-equipped to navigate the challenges of the future. Our asatizah understand and appreciate the unique context of Singapore as a multi-racial, multi-religious, and multi-cultural society, and are able to provide religious guidance to the Muslim community that is suited to our societal context. This is why the development of asatizah in Singapore, with a deep appreciation of the Singapore context, is a crucial endeavour. Indeed, many who have visited us, including scholars who attended the recent Fatwa Conference, have praised our asatizah for their contributions to advancing Islamic thought, especially in contemporary issues and for minority communities. As you continue to contribute to the peace and progress of our nation, the asatizah community is a model that Singapore can be proud of. About half a year ago, MUIS invited me to have a fireside chat with about 50 to 60 new asatizah, who were on the PCICS (Postgraduate Certificate in Islam in Contemporary Societies). We had a very pleasant evening, they had a very hard day already doing all their work, I had also quite a hard day that day. But we spent a couple of hours talking about various issues and had a very good exchange. This is a very important aspect of our asatizah and the role they play in Singapore. The guidance that our asatizah provide on how to live a good life as a Muslim, how to live a good life as Muslims in the Singapore context, facing all the challenges and the new technologies in the world that Ustaz Tarmizi had mentioned just now. These are important things which our asatizah have to guide our community and bring them to the right path and bring them to a bright future. That is a crucial role for our asatizah.

I am heartened to see that Pergas remains committed to this mission and will enhance its ability to do so by launching a new centre to support the professional and continuous learning of our asatizah. The expansion of Pergas’ financial assistance to include an undergraduate scholarship will also help to elevate the quality of our asatizah community. I listened very carefully to your new president Ustaz Tarmizi just now. He is a wonderful, inspiring speaker. I am also impressed by your humility, Ustaz Tarmizi, when you said that you have worked under, and with our recent past Muftis and our present Mufti. And this is an important aspect of Singapore, and our Singapore Muslim community. Not only must we be united as a nation, each of our communities must be united and make sure that the different parts work together - Muis, Pergas, all the different Malay Muslim communities in Singapore. By doing so, we can have a strong, progressive, modern Muslim community in Singapore, that thrive for a better, brighter future with all our strengths combined. That is the target that we should achieve.

I would like to thank all asatizah for your hard work and dedication in guiding our Muslim community. By helping to shape the community into a high-achieving and well-integrated part of Singaporean society, you have helped to strengthen the stability and harmony of Singapore. This is the most important gift that any group of religious leaders and teachers can give to your community and your country.

I wish all of you a meaningful afternoon of interaction and friendship. And may we all collectively hope and pray for peace in our troubled world. Ramadan is coming soon also, and I take this opportunity to wish everyone a peaceful and holy month of Ramadan. Thank you very much.