Political Reform For Singapore


The National Day Rally is going to be held this coming 23rd August. I have no doubt for sure that perhaps in the week after or so, parliament will be dissolved and we will begin to see political parties campaigning to win the hearts of the voters to put them into parliament for the next 5 years.

All parties have been working hard at looking for new candidates whom they feel can best represent the party and the people they seek to serve at the respective wards that they are contesting for.

And as how the last elections has shown, Singaporeans are less interested in the affairs of the Town Council but are more concerned at what happens at the national level. Elections, is no longer just about municipal issues but national issues.

More than just that, we need the right candidates who can represent the people at the national level.

If anything, I believe that we need to have a political reform in terms of how elections are held. It should no longer be about representing wards alone. It should be about representing the people. What we need is a parliament that works like council members, elected not by wards but by the entire nation or by the community that they seek to represent.

For example, to have a good representation in parliament, we should perhaps try to work on this:

ALL Singapore Malays vote for a selected number of Malay Candidates who have been nominated by their organisations or have chosen to step forward to represent the community.

For instance, AMP, MUIS, MENDAKI, PERGAS, PERTAPIS, etc.. each nominates one member from their organisation whom they feel can best represent the Malay community. If these guys accept the nomination, then they go on to campaign to win votes of the Malay community for the available number of seats and these guys will represent the Malay-Muslim Community.

Let’s say there are 14 seats available for the Malay-Muslim Community and there are 30 guys contending for the seat. Voters can mark the ‘X’ on 14 of these names/faces who they want to represent them.

This way, no candidate shall be subjected to party politics and will truly represent the people and they can represent the people best because there will be diversity in terms of opinions and alliances. These guys, are then the Malay Members of Parliament.

For those individuals who are not nominated, they can campaign as well to win votes. Campaigning can be managed by the Election Department who will organise the ‘Campaign Tours’ to the different neighbourhoods to allow candidates opportunities to speak. Each candidate given a specific amount of time for their speeches. This puts additional pressure on candidates to be concise with what they want to campaign for and not beat around the bush.

Now, after they win and what about the choice for a Minister of Malay Muslim Affairs. The candidates representing the Malay Muslim community can discuss amongst themselves as council members and elect a person whom they feel best fits the job.

What about Town Councils?

Leave the Town Council management to private firms who have no political affiliation or interest. Town Council managers will have to submit their bids and proposals on how they wish to improve the town to the Ministry for National Development who can issue tenders.

In assessing the suitability of the Town Council to be issued or recontracted, MND can have a KPI or checklist or even conduct household surveys to assess performance of each Town Council. Town Councils that fail to meet a certain percentage gives a good red flag that they are perhaps undeserving of a contract extension.

And what then of the People’s Association and it’s CC Advisers?

Leave that to the staff and passionate volunteers of People’s Association. In doing so, we can eradicate party lobbying where volunteers feel obliged/indebted to help/vote their Advisers/MPs or are interested to volunteer because they’d like to be able to receive benefits (whatever that may be). 

I know I’ve only mentioned an example for the Malay-Muslim community but this can be replicated for the rest of the communities and causes as well because at the end of the day, we really want to vote for someone who knows the community really well, is committed to serving the community WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOUR, FOR JUSTICE AND EQUALITY (Borrowed this from the Singapore Police Force pledge).

I certainly do not want to vote for someone whom I know eventually is bounded by party politics and has their hands and mouth tied from speaking up, when that is exactly what they should be doing.

PERMITS AND ELECTIONS


With the General Elections picking up speed, the People’s Action Party (PAP) has been unveiling their candidates at very unique spaces, in the heartlands, where the action is.

Nothing really wrong with that just that I’m curious to know if they had actually obtained permits, and if so, how long did they take to apply and receive the permit?

One thing for sure, according to this website, http://singaporelegaladvice.com/public-assemblies-and-processions-in-singapore-police-permits-and-the-public-order-act/, no permit is required from the Singapore Police Force. Fair enough. It’s not in the park, so NParks permit is not required.

So, that leaves it to HDB and Town Council, but here’s the issue or the challenge that the opposition will face is getting the same kind of permit if they require one from the Town Council.

The Town Council is managed by the PAP MPs.

So, do the PAP MPs apply and approve their own permits?

If they did, wouldn’t it tantamount to an abuse of authority?

If they didn’t approve their own permits but had subordinates approving them, wouldn’t the subordinates feel compelled to approve because these guys are their bosses?

That’s is if the permits required is from the Town Councils but same goes for the opposition as well of course. On a different note, what if they required permits from the Community Centres?

That would really put the opposition at a disadvantage because the Grassroots Advisers to Community Centres are PAP Party Members, either the PAP MPs or the losing candidate.

Thus, going into this elections, I think I need to see clarity and fairness. Separation between politics and community. Authority and control.

MAJULAH SINGAPURA – GOLDEN JUBILEE


5 years ago, around the same time, I blogged about my hopes and dreams for Singapore as part of the National Day Celebrations (‘Live Our Dreams, Fly Our Flag’).

In case you missed it, here’s what I wanted:

“As a Singaporean, one of my dreams is for us to be able to experience a state which encourages the following:

  1. FREE DOM OF SPEECH & EXPRESSION BEFORE AND AFTER SPEECH & EXPRESSION HAS TAKEN PLACE
  2. A MORE ACCURATE AND MENTALLY PROVOCATIVE REPORTING OF NEWS BY MEDIA THAT IS IMPARTIAL and
  3. FOR THE REPUBLIC OF SINGAPORE GOVERNMENT AND IT’S AGENCIES TO BE MORE ACCEPTING AND OPEN TO CRITICISM FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD AND TO ACKNOWLEDGE AND UNDERSTAND THAT CRITICISM, WHEN CONSTRUCTIVE SHOULD BE SEEN AS A MEANS TOWARDS IMPROVEMENT

I also have a dream for all Singaporeans:

  • TO STAKE A CLAIM IN THE AFFAIRS OF THE STATE AND NOT JUST LEAVE IT TO THE POLITICIANS WHOM WE HAVE VOTED FOR”

How different have my views been over the past 5 years?

Not much really. I still believe in each and every single one of those hopes and dreams that I spoke of. More than just that, I actually have one more to add.

I would really like to see Singaporeans learn more about one another, our cultures, our ethnicities, our faiths, so that we can better engage foreigners who come to live, work and play in Singapore and make this country a better place for not just Singaporeans, but also for them as well.

Government policies aside, we can exercise our vote this coming General Elections, but as a community, a nation, we need to show the rest of the world that we are loving, caring and have the ability to accept people of all backgrounds.

Why am I so focused on this?

Because over the past few years, Singapore has had to deal with many issues related to conflicts arising out of Interfaith-Intercultural misunderstanding or miscommunication (Amy Cheong, Anton Casey, Cook A Pot of Curry). But these issues are not just exclusive to Singapore.

This issue affects each and every single country, globally, all around the world.

In the US, you have had a non-white Miss America winner which caused a huge ruckus. To quite a significant number of ignorant Americans, the typical American had to be blonde and white, which in my personal experience, is far from it. And even for those who have been living in America for a long time or are even Americans, they still face issues that recur time and again (Blackface).

These are issues related to ethnicity, culture and to some extend, faith.

Since 2014, I have been actively trying to engage the community through my own personal endeavour to spread the importance of interfaith-intercultural understanding, a personal commitment arising out of my fellowship in the US. Nonetheless, an issue I strongly believe in and champion for.

Achieving Interfaith-Intercultural Understanding Through Games

“Achieving Interfaith-Intercultural Understanding Through Games”, National Day Celebrations 2015, Hwa Chong Institution

I am thankful for the opportunity that I have been given to give lectures and talks on this issue. More than that, I hope that the audience I have engaged in, have a better understanding of the dangers of what social media can do to them. Going forward, we all need to learn how to “RESPOND, NO REACT” to situations that invoke our emotions. We need to rationalise the situation and provide the best response that will create positive outcomes not just for us, but for everyone.

In the words of Zubir Said,

“Mari Kita Rakyat Singapura, Sama-sama Menuju Bahagia”

(Let us all, the citizens of Singapore, move towards happiness)

“Cita-cita Kita Yang Mulia, Berjaya Singapura”

(Together with our noble dreams, hopes, ambitions, success Singapore)

“Marilah Kita Bersatu, Dengan Semangat Yang Baru”

(Let us all unite, with renewed hope/energy)

“Semua Kita Berseru, Majulah Singapura”

(Let us all proclaim, Onward Singapore)

We all need to internalize the lyrics of our National Anthem and work towards it. The lyrics resonate with us even today as we struggle with issues and as we seek to find renewed hope/energy. But we can only achieve success and happiness, if our ambitions, dreams and hopes are noble.

So, my dear Singaporeans, this National Day, let us focus on these lyrics. Let’s remember this lyric as we enter the General Elections and vote for the candidate/party that will be able to bring everyone together to achieve our noble dreams, ambitions and hopes for our success and happiness, and most importantly, to bring Singapore forward.

Cannon Bald Fellowship 2015


CANNON BALD FELLOWSHIP 2015The Cannon Bald Fellowship 2015 is the first fun and affordable Life Coaching, Networking and series of Developmental training programme designed to prepare and launch fellows towards a smoother journey in life.

This fellowship will begin on 5th March 2015.

Fellows will receive 20 hours of training in the following areas:

Training will be conducted weekly in the evening, 2000hrs – 2200hrs at A’Posh BizHub, #04-23, 1 Yishun Industrial St 1, S(768160).

Fellows will be required to clock 20 hours of assessed apprenticeship in one or more of the following areas that they have been trained in and will be renumerated for 10 hours of the apprenticeship.

All fellows will receive professional mentorship and FREE life coaching over a 12-month period upon successful sign up.

Participating in this fellowship requires a high time commitment and fellows are expected to be able to commit to complete the training sessions and apprenticeship.

CANNON BALD FELLOWSHIP 2015 TRAINER

To Apply

  • Minimum age of 21 years (Interested fellows below 21 will be assessed on a case-by-case basis)
  • Passionate about learning
  • Passionate about life
  • Open to sharing experiences

Interested fellows can email their CV and indicate their interest to whatsabd@gmail.com. Please put the email subject head as “Cannon Bald Fellowship 2015”. All applications must be received by 18 February 2015 at midnight.

Only successful applicants will be notified. A maximum of 15 fellows will start this fellowship. Applicants who are not successful will have an opportunity at the next fellowship.

A participation fee of SGD$1,000 is applicable upon successful application.

HOW I FAILED BEING AN EMCEE


I’ve been emceeing for 10 years now covering many different types of events from Kindergarten Shows to Product Launches to Dinner & Dance to Campaigns to Community Events. That pretty much covers the whole entire spectrum of what one could get when they embark on their emceeing journey. I even coached other emcees.

Emceeing plays an important role for the organisers as you are the face of the organisers and you basically represent them which is why picking a good emcee is always important simply because YOU DO NOT WANT TO BE MISREPRESENTED.

But that’s what happened to me just last week when I had perhaps misrepresented a client.

Truth be told, this was the first emceeing gig I did without having a good understanding of the client. Usually, I’d have a sit-down meeting with the client to learn more about them, their values as well as who their audience will be and to get a good sense of what to expect from the audience. This is my research phase (YES! Being a good emcee requires some form of research first).

This research phase also includes me tailoring my style of delivery as well as games/activities that need to be conducted to ensure that it is suitable for the audience.

But last week, I met the client just about an hour before the event. This was out of my comfort zone because I was engaged by an events management company and wasn’t provided with the information I required but since I was quite familiar with the audience profile (or so I thought), I knew I could get a homerun with this but boy was I wrong.

The audience profile had changed so much!

When years ago, the audience would have been the rowdy type, this time, it was nowhere near rowdy. Crowd was reserved and wasn’t the type that would poke fun at one another, not at anyone, AT ALL.

Definitely out of my comfort zone and I knew that the games/activities I had prepared could either make it or break it. There was no safe zone in my games/activities and I didn’t have enough time to prepare a different set of games/activities because I needed to be in focus (This is why having someone you trust as an assistant is important, they will help you think of something else while you focus for the stage).

I’d say the whole night started out pretty well although we started 15 minutes late because guests were being reseated elsewhere. Energy was the audience was not too bad, a little low but it could be built up and we kicked off the night with a birthday celebration of someone from the audience.

Dinner came and I had hoped that by feeding the audience first, they’d have some energy to play. Well, they always do! Food always helps to make people happy. So, the first game played and this is when everything seems to go wrong for me. Participants were a bit too perfectionists and too shy to play. It’s really an easy game to play, don’t need to think too much because you’re supposed to in no other better word, “Just Do It!” but we got through the first game well enough.

Long silences on stage because participants didn’t want to start – we know that’s not too good but the emcee can’t be speaking too much either because the focus is on the game right now. No worries on this one.

Break for food and then second segment.

This is when everything just went horribly wrong with the second game. This game has been played many times, over and over again, the participants usually more enthusiastic and the crowd goes wild on this game. NO – total opposite.

Giving credit when due – first line of participants were responsive but the moment the next group of participants, all hell broke loose for me. They were too worried and too shy.

Now, this is when it gets a bit difficult for any emcee because you can’t just stop the games and you just can’t change the game (well, you could but that’s why knowing how the audience is like initially will prepare you sufficiently for it). So, this whole segment goes on for a good 30 minutes or so, which is considered to be A LONG TIME but that’s what I was asked to do anyway – to stretch the segment.

Games are always good to be kept at 15-20 minutes max. Any longer and the audience bores out.

At this point, I was ready to throw in the towel and just stop everything but I knew that it would just suck too much from there so I held on and continued telling myself, “Let’s just try to get them to cooperate for this and then we’re done”, the same way I’d talk to my students who are super naughty and under the watchful eyes of their teachers who hate them for their guts.

Apparently, this strategy worked and the game moved on and completed but the audience wasn’t as thrilled and the energy died out a bit. Thankfully, there was one last segment which couldn’t go wrong because it was the highlight of the entire night.

That ran smoothly at least.

By the end of the night, I was demoralised and the weather was a good expression of how I was feeling – WET, COLD and RAINING.

But this episode taught me a few things now that I’ve had a few days to think it through and talk it out to myself and a few other people that have worked with me, have seen me emcee and have engaged me (clients):

  1. I’ve NEVER FAILED in emceeing before. So, having this failure is a huge dent to what I’ve always enjoyed doing.
  2. Whatever I’ve always done, before the day itself is crucial. The research and preparation work. The need to sit down with the client to understand them or at least have as much information as possible on the programme and activities. THIS CANNOT BE LEFT OUT.
  3. On bigger occassions such as this, have your trusted assistant with you to help you mitigate and think through of other strategies that you could work on while you’re on stage delivering.
  4. Most importantly, if you don’t think it’s a good idea to do it. Then don’t. I’m not saying don’t try though.

Regardless, this was a good humbling experience for me and though it had me questioning my ability to emcee, I think I’m convinced that this was just one of those times where you just gotta fall and learn to pick yourself back up again.

Well, I’ve fallen down and now, I’m sitting down thinking about it. It just sucks because just like that, I lost two other emceeing jobs though I guess I shouldn’t be complaining because it might have just been worst for me.

I hope the one who took over me can do a better job though!

At the end of the day, 10 years of emceeing is clearly not good enough. Time to get back out there and learn more.

TRIFF

TRIFF

At least I’ve got this costume to hide behind for a while now when I’m on stage.

I Have Touched Dogs


Note: The original posting of this was first published on my Facebook. This post here comes with a few additions.

The recent ‘I want to touch a dog’ event in Malaysia has stirred quite an interest with the Malaysian Islamic authorities. Islamic authorities are claiming that such an event was an insult to clerics and were seeking to misguide Malaysian Muslims.

What has long been seen as a taboo topic, suddenly opened and thrown out in the open and has gotten the Islamic community in both Malaysia and neighbouring Singapore split and divided on this discussion. While most of the robust discussions have remained on online platforms, it is clear that we are seeing once again, a rise in the number of Facebook clerics, who make their appearance to share their knowledge of Islam to others.

And there are clerics on both sides, debating the merits of why it was a good and bad event. (I’m curious to hear MUIS position on this) (I came across this link on MUIS website with regards to Guide Dogs but is applicable to all kinds of dogs nonetheless)

But at the end of the day, as a Muslim, I think it is more important to ask of the intention. Even when you commit a crime, in passing judgement, your intention plays a very important role towards how the sentence is passed.

So anyway, Malay-Muslims (have to emphasize on this because I only hear from Malay-Muslims) LOVE to say this, “yang penting nawaitu” (what is most important is the intention) and the organizer’s intention I believe was clear when he mentioned education – to help overcome their fear of dogs and bring Malaysians together to promote tolerance and understanding that goes beyond culture, race or religion’.

Even for myself here in Singapore, it’s been close to 2 years that I’ve had plans to organise a similar event but hasn’t quite had the capacity or time to stretch myself to organise one.

The event would have the following objectives:

  1. To educate Muslims and non-Muslims alike on what sertu is and how one performs the sertu (I’m sure many of us wouldn’t know how to because we believe it’s better to avoid than to go through the hassle)
  2. Muslims to get over their unfounded fear of dogs (Muslim parents here have a habit of saying that it’s Haram to touch a dog)
  3. To clear misconceptions and to educate Muslims and non-Muslims on Islam’s relationship with dogs

I, for one, grew up never being scared of dogs and wouldn’t keep my distance from them. I was raised in a family that loved animals and I also knew that our family leftover food were being fed to the dogs at my dad’s workplace because he would often collect the bones of the chicken we ate and leftover rice to be packed and given to the dogs every single morning when he went to work. (May God bless my dad for his loving soul)

While we won’t be keeping dogs at home because we may need to sertu the whole house, this doesn’t mean that we cannot learn to love these animals the same as how we love cats or hamsters or birds or rabbits. And while I’ve been told that there is no need for such an event because Muslims could always go to an animal shelter to show love and care as well as to touch the dogs, how many Muslims would actually bother to go to an animal shelter to visit much less volunteer and volunteer specifically to care for the dogs?

We just happen to live amongst people who keep dogs as pets and the likelihood of us meeting a dog daily is much higher than the chances of us going to the animal shelter to care for the dogs there.

If sertu is our concern, then all we need is just soil. If soil is a concern, then buy the sertu soap (can support a fellow brother’s business also).

While we continue to debate this issue in Singapore, I believe that my other Muslim friends in the Arabian peninsular and in Indonesia are probably puzzled because they have dogs living in their household and have been living with them for a very long time.

Yes, we can argue and debate based on mazhab but none of the mazhabs ever said that touching a dog is haram. I just have the opinion that I will do what I feel is just and right in how I deal with people and animals because at the end of the day, what really matter is, as how everyone puts it, “nawaitu” (intention).

Just like how when my students like to ask me if I’m Malay or Chinese, Muslim or Christian and all I’ll tell them is that I am of the human race and it doesn’t matter what religion I belong to because what matters more is whether or not I am a good person and whether or not I am a good teacher.

As for me, ‘I have touched dogs’.

Sermons – Keeping it Lighthearted


As a Muslim living in Singapore, I grew up attending secular school on the weekdays and madrasahs on my weekends or in the afternoons after secular school ends. And every Friday, like every other Muslim globally, I go to the masjid for my Friday prayers.

Friday prayers for me, have always been some sort of a holiday. When I was younger, Friday prayers meant leaving school earlier and coming back to school slightly later. When I began working, Friday prayers meant shorter working hours on Fridays, which transitioned perfectly into the weekend.

Friday prayers, is also significant for the poor because it is considered as their day of celebration. A day where the congregation will donate to those who beg outside the masjid. In this day and age, even in Singapore, we still have people who beg and while I question the legitimacy of some of those who beg because I have seen them use a mobile phone, speak impeccable English and travel in a car to beg, I’ll save that for another day.

Friday prayers is also not considered to be complete if one does not arrive early or in time to listen to the sermon. The sermon, is considered to be part of Friday prayers and no one is allowed to talk during this period of time. You are expected to listen to the stories and advise given by the Imam.

In Singapore, our sermons are written and prepared by Office of Mufti. All sermons across all masjids in Singapore will speak to you of the same story and same message, except for one masjid which is owned by the Johor Sultanate.

In the years that I’ve travelled and attended Friday prayers in the different masjids across different countries, I discovered that between the different countries, sermons or Friday prayers were conducted differently. In Brunei, before the commencement of Friday prayers or even the call for prayers, a tahfiz would be reciting verses of the Quran welcoming the congregation. In Malaysia, when the names of Prophet Muhammad’s sahabahs are called, the congregation do not echo praises for them. In Indonesia, it’s a bit different as well.

And across these Southeast Asian nations, the sermons were always delivered the same way, one where the tone was always serious and I thought that this was the standard way of how sermons were delivered globally until I went to the US. I was living in Irvine and there were only two places I go for my prayers, one was at the Islamic Center of Irvine and another was at the University of California, Irvine itself, where prayers were held in a space shared by all the other religious groups.

In both locations, the sermons were delivered differently.

The Islamic Center of Irvine delivered its sermon much like how it is in Singapore but with personal stories. Given the fact they are not subjected to the same standards of Singapore masjids, minus the personal stories, the atmosphere was pretty much the same although the people in attendance were attired differently and had a different take on sermons.

People were more comfortably dressed in whatever and however they want to worship God – in bermudas which covered below their knees and even in basketball jerseys (sleeveless).

But the sermons at the University of California, Irvine, were the ones that I enjoyed the most because they were lighthearted and were filled with personal stories of the Imams, who were mostly students. The student-led or alumni-led congregation resonated deeply with me on Islamic issues without forgetting the lessons of Prophet Muhammad’s (Peace Be Upon Him) life. Congregation were tickled at times by the stories that were shared and it made Islam as a religion seem friendlier compared to how it was always perceived as.

Most recently, I attended a Thanksgiving Mass at a Catholic Church here in Singapore. I thought that it was similar to my experience at the University of California, Irvine. The Bishop was sharing the stories from the Gospel and also included his own personal stories at the same time. This made the sermon extremely lighthearted and connected deeply with the congregation, myself included.

The messages delivered were by all coincidence, my personal reflections through my “Before I go to bed tonight”, but most importantly, the messages and the way the sermon was delivered was in-touch with personal and recent events that everyone could relate to.

I couldn’t help but feel that this was the missing piece in the way our sermons were being delivered in our masjids. The way our sermons are delivered gives the impression that much should be focused on death and life after death when instead, we should perhaps try to give better focus on how a Muslim should live our lives, without losing focus on what comes in death and life after death.

Or maybe our sermons already do so but as how I was once told, “It’s the messenger, not the message”.

Surely, it would be awesome if we could experience how Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) delivered his sermons and how he gave advise to people. Though we read and we know how he did it, never having experienced it, we wouldn’t know how it feels.