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1 - Introduction: The State, Islam, and Muslim Activism in Singapore

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  13 April 2021

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Summary

Abstract

This chapter introduces the research questions the book tries to answer, its main arguments, and the scope of discussion. These questions include the following. How do Muslim activists navigate their way through politics in a secular, authoritarian state to maximize their influence? What are the different methods by which the varied categories of activists work to further their causes? What accounts for the differences in these approaches? Briefly, I postulate that many activists attempt to strategically align themselves with the state, and call upon the state to be an arbiter in their disagreements with other factions. Though there are activists who challenge the state, these are by far in the minority, and are typically unable to assert their influence in a sustained manner. The dominating nature of the state has largely resulted in activists refusing to defy the state on fundamental issues, regardless of their orientations. The chapter discusses Singapore's political context, and how Islam is managed. I further outline the case selection and methodology.

Keywords: Introduction, Islam, Muslims in Singapore, activists, People's Action Party, secular state

Background of Project and Wider Relevance

Every community, when it presses for its own concerns, must bear in mind how that affects other communities and how others might see it. That is the reality of living in a multi-racial, multi-religious society that we all have to internalise.

Such was Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean's response to Muslim activists who requested that the People's Action Party (PAP) government in Singapore reconsider its stance on disallowing the hijab or tudung (headscarves for female Muslims) in certain frontline positions. Teo's refrain was neither unexpected nor unfamiliar; it has been a recurrent trope for the government to invoke the importance of maintaining racial and religious harmony (Sinha, 2005) – and the possibility of upsetting the delicate amity which had painstakingly been achieved – when dealing with activism from religious groups. The subtle message which was communicated was that if Muslims were to press for their rights, not only would other communities do the same, and thus, national interests might be jeopardized at the expense of particular groups, but they would also be perceived less favourably by other communities for being too demanding.

Type
Chapter
Information
Islam in a Secular State
Muslim Activism in Singapore
, pp. 7 - 36
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2021

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