Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966



The Parliament of Singapore passed the Administration of Muslim Law Bill on 17 August 1966.1 The resultant Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966 (AMLA), which came into operation almost two years later on 1 July 1968,2 provides for a centralised system of administration covering all aspects of Muslim life in Singapore. The Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS, or Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) was constituted under AMLA, and serves as a statutory body that oversees Muslim affairs in Singapore.3 Besides MUIS, AMLA also governs the Syariah Court (Islamic Court), as well as the Registry of Muslim Marriages since 1978.4

Background

Since colonial times, Muslims in Singapore have had their own legal jurisdiction on issues pertaining to marriage, divorce and other civil matters.5 The development of a separate Muslim legal jurisdiction began with the Mahomedan Marriage Ordinance V of 1880.6 The Mohammedan Advisory Board – later replaced with the Muslim Advisory Board in 19477 – was formed in 1915 to represent the Muslim community on matters related to Islam, as well as the customs and welfare of the community.8

In the early 1950s, prominent Muslims and Muslim organisations proposed to the Muslim Advisory Board to establish an Islamic court of law.9 The board announced in 1952 that plans were afoot to form an Islamic court so as to counter the high divorce rate then in Singapore’s Muslim community.10 The Muslims Bill, which provided for the formation of a Syariah court dealing with Muslim matrimonial matters, was subsequently introduced in the Legislative Assembly in 1955 and passed in 1957.11 The Muslims Ordinance 1957 came into force on 25 November 1958, replacing the Mahomedan Marriage Ordinance.12 The resultant Syariah Court was empowered to settle matrimonial disputes in Muslim marriages and provide recourse for Muslim women in the event of a divorce.13

Calls for centralisation
Plans to have a central body representing Muslims in Singapore were mooted as early as January 1948, when a committee comprising representatives from various Singapore Muslim organisations was formed to consider “either the formation of a central Muslim body or the strengthening of any existing organisation to become the mouthpiece of Singapore Muslims”.14 More than a decade later in October 1960, four prominent Muslim groups – the Muslim Advisory Board, All-Malaya Muslim Missionary Society, Singapore Religious Teachers’ Association and the Mohammadiah Movement – came together to articulate the need for a central Muslim authority. The body was headed by Ahmad Ibrahim, the first state advocate general in Singapore, who later played a major role in the introduction of systematic reforms to centralise the administration of Muslim affairs in Singapore.15


Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966
The Administration of Muslim Law Bill was first introduced in the Legislative Assembly in 1960. It was to replace the Muslims Ordinance 1957, and sought to strengthen the Syariah Court and constitute a central governing body, MUIS (to replace the Muslim Advisory Board), for Islamic matters.16 It borrowed extensively from Muslim laws in Malaysian states such as Penang, Selangor and Pahang, while parts of the bill were amendments to the Muslims Ordinance 1957.17 It took almost six years after the bill was first tabled in the Legislative Assembly for it to be passed by the Singapore parliament on 17 August 1966.18


With the exception of two clauses, sections 81 and 82 which pertained to the regulation of Muslim religious schools and the government grants for such schools,19 the date of commencement took place two years later on 1 July 1968.20 The delay was attributed to difficulty in finding appropriate candidates to head MUIS.21

Unlike the Muslim Advisory Board, which performed only an advisory role, MUIS is vested with wide executive powers to oversee and administer Islamic matters in Singapore.22 The statutory body is charged with a range of responsibilities, including being the sole trustee of mosques in Singapore; the issuer of fatwa (Islamic decree); appointment of mosque officials; management of wakaf (endowment); supervision of religious education; and the collection and disbursement of zakat (tithe) and zakat fitrah (obligatory charity tax).23

Ismail bin Abdul Aziz was appointed as the first president of MUIS,24 with Jamil bin Dzafir as its first secretary25 and Sanusi bin Haji Mahmud as the mufti.26 The enactment of AMLA abolished the office of the chief kathi (priest), replacing it with a mufti as the highest religious position within Singapore’s Muslim community.27

AMLA was more comprehensive and detailed than the Muslims Ordinance 1957 in defining the powers of the Syariah Court.28 The court was empowered to settle disputes involving Muslim marriages, divorces, betrothals, disposition or division of property on divorce, as well as the payment of mas kahwin (dowry), maintenance and muta’ah (compensation upon divorce). Muslim women in Muslim marriages were said to benefit from the act because they were not covered under some provisions of the Women’s Charter of 1961.29

When the Registry of Muslim Marriages was formed in 1978, it was constituted under AMLA.30 All Muslim marriages henceforth had to be registered with the central registry, although kathis could still be engaged to solemnise the marriage.31

Responses
The enactment of AMLA was a watershed event in Muslim legal history in Singapore. However, the passage of the legislation was not smooth. After its introduction in the Legislative Assembly, the bill was put before a select committee for review in order to solicit more views from the public, due to the wide-ranging impact that the legislation would have on Muslims in Singapore.32 The public was asked to submit their representations regarding the bill to the select committee in 1961 and again in 1966.33

Among the responses solicited, one called for the total withdrawal of the bill, while the Muslim Welfare Association objected to the establishment of MUIS to “control and regulate” Islamic affairs in Singapore. The latter asked for the removal of the parts of the bill pertaining to MUIS, financial aspects of Islamic law, as well as the regulation of mosques and religious schools.34

Another point of contention was having a centralised system of collecting and distributing zakat and zakat fitrah. Some commented that it would not be “practical” to implement the system because of existing economic inequality in the Muslim community.35 In other quarters, the bill was criticised for allowing the government to interfere with Islamic affairs in Singapore. Ahmad Ibrahim appealed to the different factions in the community to resolve their differences and cited the necessity of creating a “national consciousness transcending racial and religious groups”.36

One of the major concerns was the appointment of MUIS leaders and members by the government without external consultation, thus the risk of MUIS being manipulated for political ends.37 Then-Minister for Culture and Social Affairs Othman Wok had assured that MUIS would not be a political entity, and that the bill was concerned only with the administration of Islamic law.38

AMLA specifies that the MUIS president would be appointed by the president of Singapore; the mufti by the president of Singapore after consultation with the MUIS president; the secretary by the minister-in-charge of Muslim affairs; not more than five MUIS members by the president of Singapore on the recommendation of the minister-in-charge; and not less than seven members by the president of Singapore from a list of nominees submitted by the MUIS president.39 Currently, the laws governing the appointment of the top posts remain the same, except that the chief executive of MUIS is appointed by MUIS with the approval of the minister-in-charge (currently Yaacob Ibrahim40), and not more than seven members are to be appointed by the president of Singapore on the recommendation of the minister-in-charge.41



References
1. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1966, August 17). Third reading of Administration of Muslim Law Bill (Vol. 25). Singapore: [s.n], cols. 237–248. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
2. Attorney-General’s Chamber. (2015, January 1). Legislative history: Administration of Muslim Law Act. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;ident=10535e70-d583-4642-a162-8302950314f1;page=0;query=DocId%3A3e90fc65-b364-434b-b2dc-ced1d9608640%20%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0#xv
3. Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura. (2015, March 12). About Muis. Retrieved from MUIS website: http://www.muis.gov.sg/About/
4. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1966, September 2). Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966 (Act 27 of 1966). Singapore: [s.n.], pp. 252–261. (Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS); Registry of Muslim Marriages. (2015, April 2). Our history. Retrieved from Registry of Muslim Marriages website: https://www.romm.gov.sg/about_romm/romm_profile.asp
5. Ismail Kassim. (1974). Problems of elite cohesion: A perspective from a minority community. Singapore: Singapore University Press, p. 48. (Call no.: RSING 323.1199205957 ISM)
6. Green, A. (2009). Honouring the past, shaping the future: The MUIS story: 40 years of building a Singapore Muslim community of excellence. Singapore: Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura, p. 10. (Call no.: RSING 297.65095957 GRE)
7. Named govt advisers. (1947, October 6). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. New advisory board. (1915, June 19). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Muslim court plan. (1952, July 14). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Muslim law court for colony. (1952, January 14). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Men ONLY, says Kathi. (1955, December 19). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Syariah Court Singapore. (n.d.). History. Retrieved from Syariah Court website: https://www.syariahcourt.gov.sg/Syariah/front-end/Default.aspx?pid=M02.01; Bartholomew, G. W. (1989). The Singapore legal system. In K. S. Sandhu & P. Wheatley (Eds). Management of success: The moulding of modern Singapore (pp. 601–646). Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 629. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 MAN-[HIS])
13. Singapore. Legislative Assembly. Debates: Official report. (1956, February 8). Second reading of Muslims Bill (Vol. 1). Singapore: [s.n.], col. 1482. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN); New bill makes Muslims happy. (1956, October 8). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Muslims form committee. (1948, January 26). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5; Central body for Muslims. (1948, February 24). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. Four Muslim groups get together. (1960, October 17). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. New bill proposes to scrap office of chief kathi. (1960, December 12). The Straits Times, p. 5; Muslim law. (1960, December 8). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1965, December 30). Second reading of Administration of Muslim Law Bill (Vol. 24). Singapore: [s.n], cols. 770–773. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
18. Muslim Law bill is passed in Parliament. (1966, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
19. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1966, September 2). Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966 (Act 27 of 1966). Singapore: [s.n.], pp. 269–270. (Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS)
20. Attorney-General’s Chamber. (2015, January 1). Legislative history: Administration of Muslim Law Act. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;ident=10535e70-d583-4642-a162-8302950314f1;page=0;query=DocId%3A3e90fc65-b364-434b-b2dc-ced1d9608640%20%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0#xv
21. No suitable men for 3 top posts. (1967, December 23). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
22. New council to advise President on Muslim religion. (1965, December 20). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Parliament. Parliamentary debates: Official report. (1966, August 17). Third reading of Administration of Muslim Law Bill (Vol. 25). Singapore: [s.n], col. 240. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
23. New council to advise President on Muslim religion. (1965, December 20). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
24. Singapore. Government gazette. (1968, June 28). (G.N. 64) Singapore: [s.n.], p. 2099. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SGG)
25. Singapore. Government gazette. (1968, August 2). (G.N. 76) Singapore: [s.n.], p. 2604. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SGG)
26. Jadi mufti? Haji Sanusi terperanjat membacha berita. (1968, July 28). Berita Harian, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
27. New bill proposes to scrap office of chief kathi. (1960, December 12). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
28. Amina Tyabji. (1974). The management of Muslim funds in Singapore. In Mohamed Ariff (Ed.), The Islamic voluntary sector in Southeast Asia: Islamic and economic development of Southeast Asia. Singapore: Social issues in Southeast Asia, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 197. (Call no.: RSING 361.7632088297 ISL)
29. Women to benefit ‘tremendously’. (1966, February 1). The Straits Times, p. 4; Muslims Bill changes raise minimum marriage. (1966, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
30. Registry of Muslim Marriages. (2015, April 2). Our history. Retrieved from Registry of Muslim Marriages website: https://www.romm.gov.sg/about_romm/romm_profile.asp
31. New ruling on Muslim marriages. (1978, December 24). New Nation, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
32. Singapore. Legislative Assembly. Debates: Official report. (1960, December 29). Second reading of Administration of Muslim Law Bill (Vol. 14). Singapore: [s.n.], cols. 912–921. (Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN)
33. Muslim Law Bill – There are no official recommendations. (1961, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 6; Public views invited on Muslim bill. (1966, January 5). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
34. Cut ‘zakat’ from new bill, say some Muslim organisations. (1961, May 23). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4; Muslim Law Bill – There are no official recommendations. (1961, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
35. Cut ‘zakat’ from new bill, say some Muslim organisations. (1961, May 23). The Singapore Free Press, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
36. Ahmad: Call for a pure Muslim law is absurd. (1966, November 9). The Singapore Free Press, p. 5; ‘Give Majlis fair trial’ call to Muslims. (1966, November 17). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
37. Muslim Law bill – There are no official recommendations. (1961, May 20). The Straits Times, p. 6; Govt. welcomes proposal on the Muslim Council. (1966, August 22). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
38. Muslim Law bill is passed in parliament. (1966, August 18). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
39. Republic of Singapore. Government gazette. Acts supplement. (1966, September 2). Administration of Muslim Law Act 1966 (Act 27 of 1966). Singapore: [s.n.], pp. 377, 382. (Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SGGAS)
40. Parliament of Singapore. (2015, December 22). Assoc Prof Dr Yaacob Ibrahim. Retrieved from Parliament of Singapore website: http://www.parliament.gov.sg/mp/yaacob-ibrahim
41. Attorney-General’s Chamber. (2015, January 1). Administration of Muslim Law Act (Cap. 3, Rev. Ed. 2009): Part II Majlis Ugama Islam: Membership. Retrieved from Singapore Statutes Online website: http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/aol/search/display/view.w3p;ident=0bec5ce3-2060-4041-babd-4c57098ddb43;page=0;query=DocId%3A3e90fc65-b364-434b-b2dc-ced1d9608640%20%20Status%3Ainforce%20Depth%3A0;rec=0#pr7-he-



Further resources
‘A disturbing figure’. (1958, February 9). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


Ahmad Ibrahim. (1984). Family law in Malaysia and Singapore. Singapore: Malayan Law Journal.
(Call no.: RSING 346.595015 AHM)

Hear our view, say Muslim women. (1955, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

New bill will control race or political hate lectures. (1965, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.


J-kuasa pilehan rang undang2 Islam S’pura memberikan laporan. (1961, May 20). Berita Harian, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

J-kuasa Undang2 Islam S’pura beri laporan. (1961, May 20). Berita Harian, p. 10. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Rang undang2 Islam di-huraikan. (1966, August 18). Berita Harian, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Singapura punya mufti ta’ lama lagi.  (1966, August 19). Berita Harian, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.

Zakir Hussain. (2009, July 11). From scepticism to confidence. The Straits Times, p. 28. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.



The information in this article is valid as at 28 December 2015 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.

Subject
Heritage and Culture
Singapore. Administration of Muslim Law Act
Law
Islamic law--Singapore
Ethnic Communities
Politics and Government
Politics and Government>>Law