SINGAPORE – In responding to the Covid-19 pandemic, Muslims worldwide have, by and large, remained steadfast to adapt their religious practices, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli on Tuesday (June 15).
He highlighted adjustments like performing daily and congregational prayers at home as well as limiting the haj pilgrimage, and also held up how Muslim scholars have seized digital opportunities to enhance religious learning and spiritual well-being.
Speaking at the first of a series of seminars organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to forge stronger ties with Muslim minority communities around the world, Mr Masagos noted that these changes to how Muslims practise their faith reflect the religion’s dynamism.
“Such is the dynamism of Islam and the Muslim traditions. They laid out for us the principles to respond to even for the most difficult and pressing issues. Timeliness, which is so crucial in responding to a pandemic like Covid-19, was amply demonstrated,” he said.
“Indeed, our body of Islamic jurisprudence and knowledge is replete with precedence of how Muslim communities adapted the practices of Islam according to the nature of society shaped by place and time.”
The virtual seminar saw about 260 participants, including both local and international religious scholars and leaders, discuss how Muslim communities have responded to the Covid-19 pandemic. It also touched on how these communities adopted new contextual religious norms to overcome health, social and economic challenges.
Mr Masagos pointed out that Muslim scholars have long acknowledged the need to adapt and be agile, so that their communities can thrive in various changing environments. This has partly resulted in various schools of thought in Islamic tradition.
But these differences coexist today due to the respect and solidarity between religious leaders that have gone beyond their differences, he added.
“It is this deep sense of mutual respect that must guide the interactions between Muslim communities around the world today. We recognise that each Muslim community is distinct from one another, shaped by different histories, cultures and circumstances,” said Mr Masagos.
He stressed that Muslims share Islamic principles, values and tenets, and differences in opinions and practices should not divide them.
These differences also form because around the world, Muslim communities exist in places where they can be either a majority or a minority, and Mr Masagos noted that about one-fifth of the world’s Muslims live in countries where Islam is not the majority religion.
Such Muslim minorities face unique challenges and needs that can be “non-existent” to their counterparts in countries where they are the majority, said the minister.
He pointed out how the body of knowledge to help minority Muslim communities face their unique challenges is inadequate and unorganised in both theory as well as in practice. Emerging challenges of the contemporary world will also have a distinct impact on these Muslim minority communities, who will have to grapple with emerging issues.
These include questions on the issue of law and governance, like the participation of Muslims in the governments of open societies without violating their faith, as well as of social compact, including the challenge of countering deviant doctrines that have tarnished Islam.
Science and technology is another area minority Muslim communities will have to think about. Mr Masagos said the world is witnessing rapid technological and scientific progress, like social egg freezing, which has raised important issues and forced Muslims to rethink their religious and ethical positions. This is especially so when laws are enacted by the majority in Parliament to legalise them, he added.
These challenges might be new and modern, but the responses and solutions to them will still come from Islamic tradition, said Mr Masagos. He underscored how crucial it is to examine these issues to come up with such solutions that will guide Muslim communities worldwide.
“It is therefore an opportunity to be original. If we get it right, minority Muslim communities can have reference to relevant and sound principles to engender their participation with their fellow countrymen, with confidence and meaning… We need this body of knowledge to forge Muslim communities of success among our minority communities,” he said.
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