“And (remember) when your Lord said to the angels: “Verily, I will create a vicegerent on earth.” They said: “Will You place therein those who will make mischief therein and shed blood, while we glorify You with praises and thanks and sanctify You.” He (Allah) said: “I know that which you do not know.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah: 2: 30)
Our role and responsibilities as vicegerents, or stewards, on earth have often been discussed and reiterated again and again in many lectures, debates and papers by our Islamic scholars and leaders. It signifies not just the favour Allah (swt) has shown upon us but also the wisdom behind His decision -Even as humans, we may have the propensity to wreck havoc and harm on earth as mentioned by the angels, the benefit that we might bring outweighs these possible dangers. Wallahu’alam (Allah knows best).
Understanding that we have been given this role as vicegerents on earth is only one step however. How then do we begin to realise such a responsibility? With many youth activities and programmes organised by our Malay/Muslim organisations nowadays, all seeking to serve and make an impact on the community, we have narrowed down to 5 change-makers for their dedication, passion and creativity. These are individuals who have taken it upon themselves to create a positive change for the community that they serve, seeing this as one of their key responsibilities as Khalifah Fil Ard (vicegerents on earth).
1. TMSN: Bringing the Tertiary Muslim Societies Together
“Verily, Allah loves those who fight in His Cause in rows (ranks) as if they were a solid structure” (Surah As-Saf:61:4)
Beginning as a series of leadership training camps in 2006 jointly organised by the muslim societies in NUS and NTU, with the help of the Fellowship of Muslim Students Association (FMSA) and Saff Perdaus and supported by MUIS, the camps continued and extended its network, including student leaders in other tertiary muslim societies in the consequent years. Finally in 2008, a mutual agreement was reached amongst the student leaders of the various tertiary muslim societies and the Tertiary Muslim Students’ Association (TMSN) began to take shape.
Nadiah Syafawati, a TMSN representative and former student leader in SIM Malay Cultural and Muslim Society, explained, “There is a strategy to creating strong buildings or structures – We need the right proportion of concrete, bricks and pilings. Thus, in order to build a strong community of leaders who knows our true place and vision in this life, we will also require a strategy to find the right mix of people, resources, experiences and mentors.”
Formulating a strategy that seeks to optimise the resources of all the tertiary Muslim societies while strengthening the ties between all the members, TMSN brings together student leaders from the Malay/Muslim societies of NUS, NTU, SIM, Temasek Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Nanyang Polytechnic and Singapore Polytechnic. Nevertheless, TMSN emphasises that it is not an organisation but a network coordinated by the various representatives of these tertiary Muslim societies. Three years since its inception, they have successfully organised events like the Combined Leadership Training Camps, Presidents InConversations and InConversation with local Muslim tertiary students and young asatizahs (teachers).
“We want to ensure that each campus grooms leaders who are able to contribute back to our society beyond campus level after graduation and to ensure that resources are available at campus level for the development of Muslim students as well as for internal outreach efforts. All these cannot be realised if the leaders in each campus do not find reasons to work together to see the bigger picture of their efforts in the long run. After all, we are all fighting for the same cause – to spread Islam in campus and it doesn’t end there.”
Nadiah further elaborated, “The reality is that we are Khalifahs not just in our campuses. We are also Khalifah Fil Ard (vicegerents on earth). We must prepare ourselves for the bigger roles that are in store for us in the future.” Thus, while challenges are abound with every executive committee of the tertiary societies changing annually, the TMSN drivers are optimistic that the real impact of TMSN will be seen in the long run when these Muslim student leaders gradually grow to assume leadership positions at the community or national level, bonded together by the common experiences of their tertiary days.
2. Programme for Muslims with Disabilities: Creating Opportunities for Muslims with Disabilities
The Religious and Educational League of Radin Mas, or BAPA, started off in 1957 as a society aiming at providing affordable academic and religious education for the residents in the Radin Mas area. Today, the scope of BAPA’s outreach has grown – apart from the Sekolah Ugama Radin Mas, an MOE-recognised full-time tahfiz centre and madrasah, and Tradisi Halaqah, a programme based on the traditional Islamic learning method, they are also aiming at creating a niche in providing service for both Muslims with Disabilities.
Driven by their experiences seeing the eagerness of and the necessity for brothers and sisters with disabilities to attend classes and deepen their knowledge about Islam, the team at BAPA has begun to re-establish their Programmes for Muslims with Disabilities (PMD). Ustaz Zahid Mohd Zin, executive officer for PMD at BAPA, believes that the provision of these services helps to encourage their students to be good Muslims with good akhlak. “We hope that their attendance here will help them to understand and internalise concepts of tauhid and aqidah. Learning about these alone is not enough for them – their understanding of these concepts need to be guided,” he explained.
Traditionally catering to those with hearing, visual and intellectual disabilities, PMD is increasingly branching out their research and programmes to understand and draw up a syllabus catered to those with autism, dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and these programmes are further categorised into 3 levels of study – namely for children, teens and adults. This vastness in the scope of their coverage is the reason why they are sourcing out for volunteers to help with the planning and execution of these programmes. These volunteers also need to be equipped with skills in special education as well as a good grounding in Islamic knowledge in order for them to be all-rounded teachers and, more importantly, to be mentors to their students with disabilities.
Programmes for the hearing-impaired have been fully-running, and are conducted by 2 teachers skilled in sign language as well as trained in Islamic education. In addition to that, their ground-breaking approach to studying the Qur’an for the visually-handicapped have been given a boost with the introduction of the braille Qur’an and an experienced teacher. Brother Mohd Johan Janif, chairman of BAPA, also talked about the importance of grooming them with social skills and good akhlak. “Classes for them cannot be focused solely on religious education, but on other things such as safety at home and social etiquette at public gatherings, where Islamic values can be instilled and incorporated within these lessons.”
While most of their initiatives are MUIS-recognised, BAPA is hoping to also re-establish their connection with MCYS as they are the only Muslim organisation that specialises in educational programmes for Muslims with disabilities. Moreover, they aim to raise awareness in the general public about the conditions and development of these Muslims with disabilities in order to create an inclusive society for them – to make them feel welcomed and to boost their self-esteem as equal members of society. PMD’s long term vision is for increased accessibility and inclusion for Muslims with disabilities in mosques and other religious and educational institutions.
“This is a challenge for us. We feel that the onus to provide for our brothers and sisters with disabilities is on us, the larger community, because while these Muslims with disabilities are a minority, they are still nevertheless a part of us,” Ustaz Zahid added.
3. Project ME: Nurturing Environmentally-Aware and Responsible Muslims
“When we talk about environment, there are many different entry points. Businesses may talk about corporate social responsibility. There are people who just want to talk about animals or the biodiversity. When we talk about faith, that is also another entry point,” said Sofiah Jamil, one of the founders of Project ME: Muslims and the Environment.
A continuation from two previous initiatives by the Young Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP), Project ME is an online platform that seeks to build on the momentum of these efforts, encouraging Muslims to do their part in protecting the environment for the betterment of humanity. Indeed, it did not go unnoticed to Sofiah that the Malay/Muslim community in Singapore has been largely silent in the discussions and efforts of the environmental movement here. This observation, together with disasters happening in the Muslim world such as the floods in Bangladesh and the droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as the belief that Muslims could provide solutions to the environmental woes of the world, became the driving force for Sofiah in initiating Project ME.
“Firstly as a Muslim community, if we talk about something contemporary like the environmental issues where everybody, regardless of religious beliefs, is working on, we are working on something that everyone else shares. This not only protects the environment but also gives us a better image – Not that you want to talk about image but that makes it more meaningful and boosts the Muslim community from being criticised all the time.”
Still, Sofiah believes that the first step is to raise awareness within the community. Aptly capitalising on the efficacy of social networking sites, Project ME presently uses Facebook to engage over 300 members both locally and globally in understanding the environmental issues plaguing the world and the measures that can be taken by them. Here, members can share articles and engage in discussion with one another to understand the efforts that have been made in other countries while also allowing Project ME to get in touch with external groups such as Naqaa Entreprise, a Jeddah-based environmental group. However, Sofiah pointed out that most environmental discussions have been limited to like-minded activists who are already aware of the issues. As such, it is important to go beyond this and there are plans for Project ME, together with Young AMP, to reach out to the local mosques in a programme playfully titled as M&Ms, Makciks & Masjids, Insha Allah.
Stressing that environmentalism is not just for tree-huggers and neither should it be relegated amidst other issues beleaguering the community, Sofiah reminded us, “There’s so much that a Muslim individual can do. We are supposed to be stewards on earth. Just by reducing wastage, there’s so much that we can do. If we just think about how the practices that we are used to and think about how we can apply our principles to all these things such as reducing wastage, the list is endless – it’s just about knowing how to do it.”
4. APEX & AAM: Engaging Mentors, Developing Future Asatizahs
“My intention is to learn and to teach
and to remember and to remind
and to give benefit and to gain benefit
and to give profit and to gain profit
and to encourage to hold fast to
The Book of Allah and the Sunnah of His Messenger
and to call to guidance and to direct towards the good
and to seek for the Countenance of Allah, His Pleasure, His Closeness and His Rewards
Glorified and Exalted is He”
– Imam Abdallah al-Haddad
Ace PSLE Exam (APEX) and Aspire and Achieve through Mentorship (AAM) are two weekly mentoring programmes assisting students from full-time madrasahs in preparation for their PSLE and GCE “O” Levels examinations respectively in English, Math and Science subjects. These two projects focus on gathering university graduates and undergraduates as mentors, for the madrasah students’ academic well-being and beyond. “We want to fill the gap between the students and the teachers, and ‘mentor’ is an appropriate term for it. We also wish to inspire them and if possible, be role models that they can look up to, and also confide in,” said Brother Walid Jumblatt, coordinator for AAM.
The low mentor-mentee ratio is what Brother Muhammad Shahiddin Ithnin, coordinator for APEX, believes to be the strong points of such a mentorship initiative. Propelled by their principle in giving back to the society, both initiatives recognise the madrasah as an important institution in the community and hence the decision to focus and direct their volunteers and resources towards this cause. “Having been blessed with various opportunities in our lives, we feel that it is incumbent upon us to give back to the Muslim community,” added Brother Walid.
Indeed, this motivation is not baseless. Since the establishment of the Compulsory Education Act, madrasahs have been put in the spotlight for their ability to produce PSLE results that meets the Ministry of Education’s benchmark which will further determines their ability to accept new students into their system. For this reason, Brother Shahiddin believes, APEX is not only helping the madrasah students to achieve greater heights in their studies but they also feel that they are playing a part in the preservation of these institutions.
Both APEX and AAM hope that the academic performances of madrasah students continue to improve and that it may also match the national average. Beyond the classroom results, they also hope to equip these future asatizahs and leaders of the community with communication and leadership skills through monthly enrichment programmes and annual camps. These informal and casual avenues for interactions between mentors and mentees allow for an exchange of skills, ideas and perspectives that might be lacking in a classroom environment. Brother Walid said of their enrichment programmes, “Since the madrasah students are our future asatizahs and ulama’, we hope we can contribute to the holistic development of our scholars – increasing their self-confidence levels, giving them opportunities that they might never have had before – hopefully, all these will make them better individuals and hence better asatizahs.”
This collaboration proves to be a win-win situation for both the madrasahs and their students, as well as for the mentors at APEX and AAM themselves. Madrasah students gain an exposure to the realities of the community they might not get to see in school and receive ample guidance for their studies. At the same time, the volunteers themselves are able to develop themselves through mentorship and gain an insight into the structure of the madrasah education. This is hoped to be a platform for the holistic development of students regardless of their educational backgrounds and the grooming of future leaders of our community – one who excel in their studies and who are grounded in their Islamic knowledge as well.
5. The Mountaineers: Transforming the Role of the Muslim Teachers
“As teachers, the challenges we will face in the future is a climb” – Sister Nasuha Ghaffar
“Mountaineers” is a group of trainee teachers from the National Institute of Education (NIE) with a mission to be empowering individuals to their future students once they step out into the working world. Recognising the increasingly important and significant role of teachers in secular schools, these group of students aim to equip fellow Muslim trainee teachers with sufficient knowledge, skills and confidence to face and address the challenges and concerns facing the Malay and Muslim students.
Handed the responsibility to initiate the programme, Sister Nasuha Ghaffar, a final year NIE trainee teacher and project coordinator for Mountaineers, cited her own experiences as her main motivation for this project, “Teachers are a student’s first point of contact in school. I hope for a new group of teachers to enter the working world with a sense of awareness and a developed da’wah mentality to help the Muslim or even non-Muslim students in school. They should be able to guide the Muslims students out there so they know that they have someone they could consult within their own school.”
Mountaineers aim to outreach to and provide a platform for all Muslim trainee teachers in NIE from different Islamic development background to come together to share ideas and concerns so that they can learn from different viewpoints. They hope to spark interest in and awareness of the kind of issues, concerns and challenges facing a Muslim teacher amongst the uninitiated while at the same time, providing an avenue to share and exchange ideas for those who are already involved in initiatives for the Malay/Muslim community outside NIE.
The two workshops that have been conducted enabled trainee teachers to interact with professionals experienced in the field of education and hailing from very diverse backgrounds. Speakers such as Dr Abbas Shariff, Dr Albakri Ahmad and Mr Ibrahim Ali were able to offer multiple viewpoints and perspectives based on their training and professional backgrounds. But all these planning did not come without their own obstacles.
“The one challenge we faced in NIE is the publicising of the workshop within the school compound. The school administration wasn’t very open to anything that is too-outwardly Islamic; we had to package it as something more neutral – we did so through Facebook among our own friends and by word of mouth. Moreover, as we had engaged the help of some of the staff in NIE, we were careful not to affect their position in the school,” explained Sister Nasuha.
The team however believes that there is still hope for the project in the future. Sister Nasuha hopes for the subsequent driver committees to be able to provide a fresh and sustainable structure and syllabus in the future; one which allows for new trainee teachers to be introduced to this programme while those who have undergone the earlier workshops to be able to have a sufficiently engaging follow-up sessions to further build up on the skills and knowledge that they have already attained.
Upon graduation and entering the teaching world, Sister Nasuha recognises the challenges these future educators might face. “It’s easy to say you want to make a difference but it’s hard when you are bound by your desk duties as a teacher. At the same time you have this desire to want to do more; you don’t just want to simply go through the motion of going into class, teach and leave the classroom. You want to be able to value-add to the holistic development of your students.”
Hafifah Afif is an undergraduate, currently enjoying writing for and designing websites for a small start-up travel media company. She aspires to hopefully be a writer-activist, citing Jody McIntyre and Jillian York as inspiration.
Nurfaiezah Mohd Osman recently graduated from NTU with a BA (honours) in English. While she holds a normal job by day, she also moonlights as an editor with ELEVEN and is an ardent blogger. Her creative works have been published in an issue of Ceriph and also showcased in an Arts exhibition called ‘Synaesthesia’ earlier this year.