Changes in Community Leadership: What They Mean for the Malay/Muslim Community

The first three months of 2020 have been a period of change. In those months, three Malay-Muslim organisations announced a change in leadership.

AMP Singapore welcomed a new person at the helm as Executive Director (ED) with the retirement of community veteran Anuar Yusop. After 15 years as ED, Anuar, 62, made way for younger blood, with 47-year-old Zarina Yusof appointed as his replacement.

Zarina, who assumed the role of Acting ED on February 1, has a strong communications background. Her former appointments include Director for Communications at the Persatuan Pemudi Islam Singapura (PPIS). She also served at the Temasek Foundation and the Health Promotion Board (HPB).

Earlier in January, Yayasan MENDAKI announced a change in leadership too. The highest ranking Malay female officer in the Singapore Police Force, Senior Assistant Commissioner (SAC) Zuraidah Abdullah returns to the self-help group as Chief Executive Officer (CEO), a post she held there from 2007 to 2009. The 57-year-old was appointed CEO-designate on March 1, before assuming the top post on April 1, taking over from Madam Rahayu Buang.

The change in MENDAKI’s leadership was also accompanied by the announcement of key changes in Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura (MUIS).

The highly respected and much loved Mufti Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, handed over the amanah or responsibility of being Singapore’s highest Islamic authority to his deputy, Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir.

Dr Nazirudin, 43, has a PhD in theology from the University of Oxford, and is widely regarded as one of the brightest minds in the Singapore Muslim community. Dr Nazirudin is the fourth Mufti in the history of MUIS and is supported by two deputy muftis, Ustaz Mohd Murat Md Aris and Ustaz Mohammad Hannan Hassan.

What is the significance of these changes to the Malay-Muslim community?

The leadership change in MENDAKI is not meant to be transformational. Instead, it ensures continuity and the presence of an experienced and capable person at the helm to guide the organisation forward.

The MENDAKI CEO position is tradition- ally filled through secondments from the civil service. Rahayu herself returned to the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) where she had served before being posted to MENDAKI. Rahayu and her team had been working hard to strengthen MENDAKI as a key institution in the M3 initiative – a collaboration of three Malay organisa- tions to improve support for the commu- nity. Besides MENDAKI, the other two organisations making up M3 are MUIS and MESRA or the People’s Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council. M3 is the vision of Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Masagos Zulkilfi Masagos Mohamad, who is also chairman of MENDAKI.

While Zuraidah is expected to execute the vision laid down by the Minister, her role is not merely a transactional one. She will be expected to provide feedback, motivate her staff and galvanise volunteers to further strengthen the M3 network.

To achieve this, a strong leader is needed and Zuraidah has all the attributes required. One just has to look at her many professional achievements, the most prominent of which was rising to become SAC in a male-dominated field.

Some might question why a former CEO has been brought back to MENDAKI to serve, but it must be said that it is not the easiest of tasks to convince senior civil servants to leave their current post and head a self-help group. In this case, it is wise to bring in someone who will give her full commitment and energy to the cause. Zuraidah has proven that her heart is with the community. Even after leaving MENDAKI, she continued to serve as chairperson to the Malay Heritage Foundation until 2018.

Meanwhile in AMP, it is worth noting that in the 15 years he was ED, Anuar had transformed the organisation into a professional outfit. AMP’s income rose from $4.5 million in 2005 to more than $16.1 million in 2019, thus ensuring a steady stream of funds for the organisation’s many programmes. AMP also expanded from 30 staff to more than 50 staff today in the same period.

Under Anuar’s stewardship, AMP also formed new, meaningful partnerships. This includes the Development and Reintegration Programme for drug offenders – a collaboration between the Singapore Prison Service and AMP to provide support to Malay/Muslim inmates in the Drug Rehabilitation Centre and their families.

AMP’s leadership role in the fight against drugs is timely and an important one as the problem of drug abuse once again rears its ugly head in the community. While drug abuse affects all communities, the Malay community is over-represented. In 2017, more than one in two drug abusers arrested were Malay. The proportion of Malays among new drug abusers has also increased, from 36% in 2007 to 50% in 2017.

With AMP growing from strength to strength, the temptation must have been strong for Anuar to remain in his post and for the AMP board of directors to stick with the tried and tested. However, both sides must have realised the importance of leadership transition. While Anuar’s departure may be a great loss to AMP, passing on the baton is the wise thing to do in the long run. AMP will be able to continue to tap on Anuar’s expertise and network as he remains a consultant to the board.

Dr Nazirudin’s appointment as Mufti was expected – although the timing may have surprised some considering that the previous Mufti, Dr Fatris, is relatively young at 49 years old. Dr Nazirudin had been deputising Dr Fatris since March 2019 after previously holding the post of MUIS’ senior director for religious policy and development. Dr Nazirudin is highly regarded among both the Muslim and non-Muslim communities.

He studied in Al-Azhar University in Cairo, the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, and was conferred a doctorate in the study of Abrahamic religions from University of Oxford in the UK.

His depth of knowledge covering both religious and non-religious fields, and understanding of global developments are outstanding, demonstrated by the fact that he is both an associate member of the Fatwa Committee as well as a member of the Bioethics Advisory Committee of Singapore.

In his last interview as Mufti, Dr Fatris revealed that the search for his successor began the day he took office. Dr Fatris said the mufti before him, Shaikh Syed Isa Semait, had to delay his resignation as there was a lack of potential candidates, even after he had reached retirement age.

Dr Fatris added this spurred MUIS to plan for his succession as soon as he was appointed. While acknowledging he still has plenty to contribute, Dr Fatris, with an eye clearly on the renewal process, said he was moved to step down because he believed that it was important to bring in new blood.

In many organisations, and even countries, leadership change brings about instability and uncertainty. However, as the past few months have demonstrated, this may not always be the case. Leader- ship transition in AMP, MENDAKI and MUIS has been smooth and well-planned.

MENDAKI has an important job ahead in strengthening the M3 network. The work has just begun and a steady, experienced hand will ensure the work is done right. AMP and MUIS have both gone with younger blood, supported by the network and wisdom of older, more experienced colleagues. Zarina can rely on Anuar to provide the much needed support in her early months at the helm while Dr Nazirudin will be able to tap on the wisdom of his two deputy muftis.

These younger leaders will make up for their inexperience with agility, hunger, desire and commitment to serve and to make a difference in the community. In this fast-paced, ever-changing world, these attributes are very much needed.

We need to make this forward-looking leadership transition a culture among our Malay/Muslim organisations in order for us to manage the complex challenges we will continue to face in the future and to take advantage of opportunities that will be presented to us. ⬛


Nazri Hadi Saparin is Assistant to Editor of Berita Harian and Berita Minggu. This article is written in his personal capacity.

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