Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS)
The Majlis Ugama Islam Singapore (MUIS) or Singapore Islamic Religious Council was established as a statutory board in 1968 in response to a growing need to centralise the administration of religious practices such as the paying of tithe (zakat) and the yearly pilgrimage (hajj). Through its activities, MUIS also aims to facilitate a broader and deeper understanding of Islam.
During the colonial period, the British administration formed three advisory boards headed by European colonial officers: the Mohamedan and Hindu Advisory Board (1906), the Mohammedan Advisory Board (1915) and another committee in 1948. From the 1920s, kadis (Malay for religious officials; also kathi) were officially appointed by colonial authorities to conduct Muslim marriages and emerged as a source of leadership and influence. Nonetheless, the kadis could not provide a unifying central leadership. As a result, different Muslim organisations grew, with a few formed along ethnic lines, for example, the Bengal Muslim Association and Overseas Pakistani League.
State Advocate General Ahmad Ibrahim, a Queen’s scholar with a law degree from Cambridge, first proposed to set up a centralised Muslim law court in 1951. The Syariah Court was formed in 1958 and the Muslim Ordinance Act was passed. However, there was still a need for a central administrative body. In 1966, the Administration of Muslim Law Act (AMLA) was passed. With this Act, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) was born in 1968. It was run as statutory board that advised key government official on religious matters.
MUIS initially operated out of office premises at Empress Place. It then moved to an office building known as the Islamic Centre of Singapore, which was built next to the Muhajirin Mosque along Braddell Road. This was one of the first mosques to be funded by Muslim donations to the Mosque Building Fund (MBF). The mosque and Islamic Centre were rebuilt at a cost of $7 million to form the Singapore Islamic Hub (SIH), and officially opened in July 2009.
When MUIS was first formed, finding qualified staff was difficult as there were very few Muslim professionals who were well-versed in law. A year after the AMLA was passed, the top three posts were still vacant. The first Mufti, Sanusi Mahmood, who held a concurrent appointment as President of the Syariah Court, was appointed in 1968. Up till 1980, the post of MUIS president was still a part-time one. In the first decade of its existence, MUIS faced the problem of gaining the trust of the Muslim community, particularly when the government reacquired some mosques that had stood on state land.
The longest-serving Mufti was Syed Isa Semait, who headed the organisation from 1972 to 2010. He was instrumental in making several crucial changes to local interpretations of Islamic laws, some of which were controversial. For example, his office issued a fatwa to give Muslims the option of donating their organs without the consent of their family members.
MUIS officers also had to manage the expectations and needs of the Muslim community, which could generate unhappiness if unmet. In 1987, for instance, a man assaulted Syed Isa in his office due to unhappiness over burial arrangements. In another instance, there was public unhappiness in 2005 when MUIS and its mosque affiliates failed to get sheep for slaughter for the yearly ritual sacrifice in time for Hari Raya Haji. This prompted a review of the process of obtaining the animals for the annual Feast of Sacrifice.
MUIS is structured into six areas of responsibility, namely, mosque and social development, management of assets, religious development, religious education, religious development, capacity-building and organisational development. The apex of the organisation is the MUIS council and directorate, with the top posts being the President and the Mufti.
The mosque and social development unit is responsible for the management of all mosques in Singapore. Although mosques are run autonomously, MUIS plays an advisory role. At the same time, this cluster manages the Mosque Building and Mendaki Fund (MBMF) as well as the design and construction of new mosques, taking over this role from the Housing Development Board (HDB) in 1994.
The assets cluster handles finances, halal certification, hajj services, zakat and wakaf. Since 1978, MUIS has been the sole body providing halal certification for eating establishments in Singapore. For the yearly haj or pilgrimage to Mecca, MUIS coordinates with travel agencies and the Saudi Arabian government so that Singapore pilgrims can have a smoother journey. In the management of zakat and wakaf, MUIS acts as manager and disburser of these funds in accordance with Islamic principles.
The religious development cluster encompasses the Office of the Mufti, which provides religious direction to the Muslim community through its fatwas or religious rulings. It also set the standards for the more ritualistic aspect of the religion. For example, the Mufti announces the start and end of Ramadhan, the fasting month. This cluster also charts future policy development as well as youth education.
MUIS is also involved in Muslim religious education. Although madrasahs (religious schools) in Singapore have their own independent history, MUIS has become increasingly involved in madrasah curriculum development over the years. MUIS’s achievements in recent years include integrating three madrasahs into a streamlined joint madrasah system and the institution of a new part-time religious curriculum for youths known as A.L.I.V.E. (Learning Islamic Values Everyday ).
The capacity-building cluster manages the communication aspect of the organisation, particularly with the larger Singaporean community. Among the sub-organisations under its umbrella are the Harmony Centre and MUIS Academy. The Harmony Centre, located as An-Nadhah mosque in Bishan, was formed in 2005 in response to calls for greater inter-faith understanding after the 11 September 2001 tragedy in the United States. It encourages inter-faith dialogue and regularly participates in inter-religious activities.
Since 2008, the MUIS Academy has invited world-renowned speakers such as Professor Tariq Ramadhan of Oxford University, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf from the United States, and writer Karen Armstrong to give lectures in Singapore. It has also engaged in dialogue with institutes such as the Hartford Seminary in the United States. The lecture series has been well received, with hundreds attending every year.
1966 : Administration of Muslim Law Act passed in Parliament.
1968 : Ismail Abdul Aziz, Sanusi Mahmood and Jamil Dzafir were appointed first President, Mufti and Secretary of MUIS.
1972 : Mahmoud Hj. Yusof appointed as second president of MUIS.
1974 : Buang Siraj appointed as third president of MUIS.
1975 : Mosque Buiding Fund was set up.
1977 : Opening of Masjid Muhajirin, the first mosque built with mosque building fund.
1978 : First MUIS halal certificate issued.
1980 : Ismail Mohd. Said appointed as fourth president of MUIS.
1986 : Ridzwan Dzafir appointed as fifth president of MUIS.
1987 : MUIS moves from Empress Place to Islamic Centre of Singapore at Braddell Road.
1988 : Launch of MUIS logo.
1991 : Zainul Abidin Rasheed appointed as sixth president of MUIS.
1994 : Launch of Madrasah Fund.
1996 : Maarof Salleh appointed as seventh president of MUIS.
1998 : Awarding of first MUIS scholarships.
1999 : Setting up of the Office of the Mufti.
2002 : Awarded People Developer Standard (PDS), a local system of ranking excellent organisational practices.
2003 : Alami Musa appointed president of MUIS.
2004 : Launch of A.L.I.V.E, a revised part-time madrasah curriculum.
2006 : Opening of Harmony Centre at An-Nadhah mosque and launch of Distinguished Visitor Programme.
2007 : Launch of Singapore’s first halal directory.
2008 : MUIS conferred the Public Service Award for Organisational Excellence.
Abdul Rauf, Faisal. (2010). Forging a common humanity. Singapore: Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura.
(Call no.: RSING English 297.283)
Allowing a new lease of life. (2004, August 28). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved July 13, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
And the winners are… (2002, November 28). TODAY, p. 78. Retrieved July 7, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Arlina Arshad. (2005, June 4). Moves to get Korban sheep here on time.The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved July 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Arlina Arshad. (2005, November 5). Earlier shipping of Korban sheep. The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved July 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Armstrong, K. (2007). The role of religion in the new millennium. Singapore: Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura.
(Call no: RSING English 297 ARM)
Assault reported in Empress Place office. (1987, June 26). The Straits Times, p. 13. Retrieved July 20, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Blythe at Muslim party. (1951, December 29). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved September 26, 2011, from NewspaperSG.
Cost-effective for Muis to rebuild mosque. (2005, June 4). TODAY, p. 20. Retrieved July 15, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Green, A. (2007). Continuing the legacy: 30 years of the Mosque Building Fund in Singapore. Singapore: Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura.
(Call no.: RSING 297.355957 GRE).
Green, A. (2009). Honouring the past, shaping the future: The MUIS Story. Singapore: Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura.
(Call no.: SING English 297.65095957)
Ilio, L. (2003, May 12). Will Muis leadership change lead to revamp being sought? The Straits Times, p. 12. Retrieved July 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Late arrival of 4,600 sheep from Australia. (2005, January 24). TODAY, p.8. Retrieved July 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Mafoot, S. (2006, August 9). Making Singapore an interfaith hub. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved July 20, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Mahmoud M. Ayoub. (2011). Basis for interfaith dialogue. Muis Academy.
(Call no.: RSING English 297.28)
Muis’ stand on organ transplant has evolved. (2004, January 10). The Straits Times, p. 32. Retrieved July 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Muis updates fatwa on joint tenancy. (2009, July 16). TODAY, p. 3. Retrieved July 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Muslim Law Bill is passed in Parliament. (1966, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 8. September 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
New advisory board. (1915, June 19). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved September 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Put $7m for Islamic Hub to better use. (2005, May 30). TODAY, p. 16. Retrieved September 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Religious court urged for S'pore. (1951, February 16). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved September 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Sit, Y. F. (1958, November 9). First Muslim court set up in Colony. The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved September 22, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Tantawi, M. S. (2006). Transcript of inaugural MUIS lecture distinguished visitors programme, 26 May 2006, Ritz Carlton, Singapore. Singapore: Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura.
(Call no.: RSING English 297 TAN)
Zakir Hussain. (2006, September 26). Muis in US tie-up to boost faith dialogue. The Straits Times, p. H5. Retrieved July 20, 2011 from NewspaperSG.
Zakir Hussain. (2011, January 21). Keeping the faith, striking a balance. The Straits Times. Retrieved September 22, 2011 from Factiva.
Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. Annual report. Singapore: Muslim Religious Affairs Division.
(Call no.: RSING 297.65095957 MUISAR -[AR])
The information in this article is valid as at 2011 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.