December 14, 2020
Speech by Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Education, at the Launch of the Book Beyond Bicentennial – Perspectives on Malays on Monday, at the Malay Heritage Centre
Mr Zainul Abidin Rasheed
Mr Wan Hussin Zoohri,
Dr Norshahril Saat,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Tuan Tuan dan Puan Puan,
Good afternoon dan selamat tengah hari. I'm very happy to be with all of you today. My heartiest congratulations to the editors and contributors on the launch of this important book, Beyond Bicentennial – Perspectives on Malays.
2. Change is the inexorable law of life. As they say, those who only look to the past or the present are certain to miss the future. But at the same time, if we move forward without a good understanding of our past, then we risk losing our identity and we will be easily swayed by external influences. We end up being just like a tree without any roots so we cannot grow tall and we will be easily blown away when the storm comes.
3. That is why we must always have a balance of perspectives, between the past, the present, and the future. And as Zainul said just now, we must learn the "necessary lessons from our history to prepare for the future", quoting from the book. When we have a good understanding and appreciation of our history, we can move forward with confidence even in a rapidly changing and uncertain future.
4. And that's why it's so important for all of us to know our roots. It's especially important for our young who grow up in modern Singapore. They need to understand how our ancestors used to live; to appreciate their rich and colourful history; and acquire the attitudes and values that brought us to where we are today.
5. And to fully appreciate Singapore's heritage, we need to understand that Singapore's history is closely intertwined with Malay culture. Before the British arrived in 1819, Singapore was part of the Malay world comprising the Riau Islands and Johor. And as we started flourishing as a trading port, Singapore became a centre for Islamic life and learning. So Malay culture is a key part of our history and heritage. It's an essential and integral part of our national identity and our way of life.
6. So it is therefore fitting that this event is being held at the Malay Heritage Centre.
Part of Kampong Glam – an area with many special memories to the Malay community with historic buildings and monuments.
I'm also very happy that it's now a distinctive and popular venue for locals and tourists alike, showcasing the rich culture and heritage of the Malay community.
That's an achievement that all of us in Singapore can be very proud of.
7. In this regard this book plays an important role, as it brings together different accounts, by both Malays and non-Malays, to tell the unique stories of the Malay community in Singapore, whose rich heritage runs far into our history.
8. We learn a great deal from these stories, about the contributions of the Malays in driving Singapore's development and transformation over many decades.
Many of us are familiar with the contributions of prominent Malay personalities like Mr Yusof Ishak and Mr Ahmad Ibrahim.
But this book also shines the spotlight on individuals who are parhaps lesser known but no less important, someone for example like Che Sahorah.
She is a lady ahead of her time. She played a key role in uplifting women's rights in Singapore. Believing in women receiving equal pay and fair treatment at the work place, she petitioned the government to make these changes. And in 1962, the government gave its assurance that these demands would be met.
Today in Singapore, women have made significant progress and excel across all fields of society. But despite the progress made, this is still work in progress. When Che Sahorah was an MP, then in the first legislative assembly, there were all of 5 female MPs. Today we have close to 30. It's not bad but there is still room for improvement. And so we are embarking on a conversation and further review of gender equality and women's development. And as we go about this next bound of change, we pay homage to pioneers like her who have been pushing for gender equality all this while.
9. The values important to the Malay community have also very much shaped the fabric of our multicultural society in Singapore.
For example the gotong-royong spirit has helped us to strengthen care and trust in our society.
Families relied on this community spirit to weather through hardships during the colonial period, and through the Japanese Occupation.
10. This gotong-royong spirit remains strong today in the Malay community and across all the communities in Singapore.
Within the Malay Muslim community, you have formed many MMOs over the years to support the less fortunate amongst you.
And now you are moving forward with M3 – Muis, Mendaki and Mesra – to galvanise a community to support our broader Singapore Together movement.
11. And we see this spirit of mutual support during this COVID-19 crisis as well.
I've been fully engaged on Covid-19 for almost a year now and I have had a front row seat at seeing the best of Singaporeans at work.
And there have been so many shining examples within our Malay community.
You have supported very difficult decisions like the closing of mosques during the circuit breaker. I remember I had a dialogue with many community and religious leaders to expalin why this was necessar and was very happy to see how many of them step forward to expalin to the people why this was an important and necessray move. And you supported new rules for Friday prayers.
You have worked together to raise funds and deliver food for the needy during the circuit breaker in Ramadan.
So I want to thank everyone in the community, especially our community and religious leaders for your very strong support and for standing and working together as one, in order for us to fight this virus together.
12. There are many other stories both within the book and beyond the book of how the Malay Muslim community has developed and grown over the years and helped to build today's Singapore. These stories are precious and they should be shared and built upon.
This is because they help to unpack the lessons drawn from the past, that will prepare us to face the challenges of tomorrow.
We must always remember, the Government alone cannot define the Singapore heritage. Our shared heritage, and that is what it means, it is a shared heritage – this collection of our individual memories woven together into a national story. It is something that we all contribute to – as we tell our stories, and pass down the convictions, sentiments and values to our children and grandchildren.
13. So I hope these stories inspire our younger generation to pause, reflect and appreciate the contributions and sacrifices of all our communities in nation building.
And importantly I hope it will help our young appreciate the open hearts and minds of the Malay community towards other communities, which has helped us to build the harmonious Singapore which we have today.
I hope that we will continue to add to these stories, and for every generation to weave in even more brilliant threads to the rich tapestry of the Singapore story.
14. This is because these shared experiences can help enlarge our common ground and strengthen our sense of belonging to Singapore. This is crucial for our long-term survival as a nation. As President Halimah Yaacob put it in the opening of Parliament earlier this year: "In the longer-term, the key to Singapore's future success lies in our sense of shared identity. Singapore can endure and secure our place in history, only if Singaporeans feel passionately about our country, and put our hearts and souls into making this a better home."
15. So with that let us continue this important work together, regardless of race, language or religion, to build a better Singapore for all.
16. Congratulations on the book launch and thank you very much.