The project seeks to understand the roles played by Islamic studies graduates who have pursued higher religious education locally and abroad, in shaping religious orientations, beliefs, practices, and religious discourse within the local Muslim community; as well as the extent to which they serve as cultural brokers in contextualising religious teachings that facilitate the community’s adjustment to and integration with Singapore’s multi-ethnic, multi-religious society.
The project will examine the nature of religious education received by these graduates, their educational experiences within their religious institutions and beyond, their career paths, channels of religious learning and engagement upon their completion of their studies or return to Singapore; as well as the extent to which these graduates are impacted by informal networks or clerics and scholars beyond the formal institutions they attended. The project will also investigate the pervasive influence of social media in the dissemination of information which shapes people’s views and beliefs on religious teachings.
The findings would be potentially useful to stakeholders, such as Malay-Muslim community leaders and policy-makers who devise policies and programmes that can harness the contribution of these graduates in strengthening Singapore’s social cohesion and resilience.
The research tackles some common issues associated with the Islamic religious elites such as Arabization of the Malays and their inability to contextualize ideas learned from their overseas stint to the local Singapore situation. This research concludes that the graduates have no problems contextualizing ideas to the Singapore’s context. They are insulated from the politics of Islamist groups, radical groups and ideological currents (ie not exposed to ideas that will threaten social cohesion) of their host countries. However, they are not totally insulated from what they are exposed to online.
Moreover, while policy makers are concerned about the quality of religious education in Middle East Universities, and how they become conservative if not puritan, this study examines the impact of Islamic universities or colleges in the region. For example, half of Singapore madrasah graduates are enrolled in Malaysian universities. Theological and political ideas from the region, especially Malaysia, impact the graduates more than the Middle East.
Furthermore, the undergraduates and graduates shared that employability is a serious concern for them. There are impediments of entry in certain employment services and sectors that Islamic studies graduates can enter by virtue of their training, and their skills and knowledge for work they are currently doing or expected to undertake, such as counselling and teaching are underdeveloped. Exposure to the social sciences is hardly integrated with the teaching of the religious sciences, which impacted the way the graduates diagnose social problems.
Overall, there is also a need to relook into Islamic education, content, and its related discourses (mode of thinking, mode of assessments). Relevant authorities need to rethinking madrasah education and objective (creating Islamic religious teachers or Islamic environment).