"It's about trade-offs...What is being lost?" | Book Launch of Khairat Kita : Documenting a legacy of community aid
Livestream of Khairat Kita: Documenting a legacy of community aid
The book launch of Khairat Kita took place on 25 September 2022. You can watch the livestream above and access the full transcript of the programme on this page. Portions of the transcript have been edited for clarity.
About Khairat Kita: A History of Malay/Muslim Mutual Aid in Singapore
A collection of interviews, photographs, essays and personal reflections, Khairat Kita: A History of Malay/Muslim Mutual Aid is a project documenting the last few remaining Malay/Muslim Mutual Benefit Organisations (MMBOs) providing aid and charity to their deceased members' families. Known as badan khairat kematian, they are volunteer, community-led initiatives based on a centuries-old tradition of mutual aid.
Khairat kematian organisations are social anchors in the community and custodians of intangible cultural heritage in Singapore’s Malay/Muslim community.
With around 20 such organisations left, declining membership and ageing committee members, the future looks uncertain for these MMBOs.
You can find the speaker bios at the bottom of this page. Enjoy the conversation!
Photo of speakers (left to right): Milah Binte Haji Bakri, Ibrahim Ariff, Hidayah Amin, Mohamed Yahaya Bin Kadri, Fauzy Ismail
Cassandra: Good afternoon everyone! I am Cassandra and I’m an editor at Ethos Books. Welcome to the launch of Khairat Kita: A History of Malay/Muslim Mutual Aid in Singapore, which documents the history and people of Malay/Muslim Mutual Benefit Organisations, or MMBOs for short. Before we begin, we would like to thank the National Library Board for partnering with us for this book launch, and to thank all of you here and at home for joining us.
Today’s programme will centre around two main conversations. The first will be conducted with representatives from the MMBOs and one of the book’s authors, Fauzy, and discuss the significance and history of the MMBOs. For this first segment, the MMBO representatives may respond in Malay, with Fauzy assisting to translate their answers. And now I’ll pass the time to Hidayah to begin the conversations. Please join me in welcoming our speakers.
Hidayah: Asalaam Alaikum, good afternoon everyone! It’s so nice to see everyone without masks after Covid. Before I start, let me give a bit of background about myself and how I came to know about Khairat. My late uncle (who has just passed away), when he was in the hospital, asked me to help him contact Persatuan Kebajikan Kampong Telok Kurau, to pay the monthly subscription of seven dollars. I asked him why, because I didn’t know much about this Khairat, and I asked him what was the benefit of paying this subscription. He told me, 'If I die they will take care of everything, and even give assistance to the family'.
I didn’t know anything about Khairat until he told me that, I didn't even know they could go to your house and collect the subscription. So I went to the office, looked around and saw a bit of its history and how they were established and I thought, 'someone should do research on this'. Then a few weeks later I received the email from Fauzy saying ‘would you like to moderate this book I’m doing on Khairat?’ So I think, memang, macam dah jodoh gitu lah. So it was meant to be right? (laughs)
Unfortunately I belong to the generation that does not know much about Khairat. I’m not proud to say this but I only knew about Khairat when my uncle was sick and passed on. Anyway I am thankful to be here, and let us start the conversation.
Maybe we can start with Cik Yahaya here, I will ask in Malay. You can answer dalam Bahasa Melayu ke Inggris, and then I will translate.
Bolehkah Cik Yahaya ceritakan sedikit tentang sejarah bagaimana kebajikan khairat bermula?
Could you give us a brief history of how Khairat started?
Yahaya: Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi ta'ala wabarakatuh. How we started: The establishment was within the customs and excise department, of the ministry of finance. So we started off in the government department. That was on 10 July 1965. We had the recognition and support of the comptroller of customs and excise, he was our patron.
Later on in 19 July, we have this body known as Lembaga Khairat Kematian Pekerja Islam Kastam Singapura, it was registered under that name - the name shows that the purpose was for khairat kematian, for death. We started with that.
Then came 1980, 23 July. This body later changed the name again; it was renamed as Lembaga Kebajikan Pekerja-Pekerja Islam Kastam Singapura, and the meaning is ‘death then comes benevolence’ [association]. So it served that purpose also - the association wanted to ease the financial burden of the members and their dependents, and bear part of the cost of funeral expenses. In 2003, it was renamed again. Because of restructuring of the government department of customs and excise, we have the Singapore Immigrations and Registrations and subsequently, the reformation and establishment of ICA (Immigration Checkpoint Authority of Singapore), and then our members were split. We had ICA and Singapore customs at the same time. It really affected the management of our organisation, because originally our name is called "Customs". "Immigration" couldn't be there (in the name) according to the law. So we sought approval for our name to be amended again to Singapore Customs and Immigrations Muslim Benevolence Association.
With this name change came a change in purpose - the association introduced two additional benefits - study grant and hospitalisation benefits. So you have death benefits, hospitalisation, and the study grant.
I think in 2015 we started our modernisation process of the association and we had the first website created. Again in 2017, we revamped the website. We have a new website, it is slightly different. This happened when Registrar of Societies approved our application for expansion of bond among the Malay community.
In 2021, we renamed our association to the current name, registered under MMBOs. There's a lot of changes. We created a new website that really helps all the members. We have a lot of members of the public joining us; we have about 85 members today. I think it is a very good sign. This website is to enhance automations. At the same time we have a forum page which is interactive. This is different from what we had last time. This change and registration under the Singapore Muslim Community Benevolent Association was because the members aspired to reach out to more members, or the wider Muslim community.
Hidayah: Thank you. So if i may summarise, Khairat started for the sole purpose of kematian, to support members with funeral expenditures, so that it will lighten the burden of families. You mention now Khairat has expanded services to include study grants, hospitalisation benefits, and also to help members when they are having financial difficulties?
Yahaya: It was not direct financial support, but indirectly, we help to support and ease the financial burden. There is a a system of benefits where we give out (money) to the members, and also their dependents. Last year we put in another benefit, where any of our current members who are incapacitated do not have to pay any fees, whilst keeping the benefits.
Hidayah: So in a way I see Khairat as a grassroots insurance where the community looks after each other. Because I think even earlier on when you started, to me it seems like a form of insurance, in a way. But it’s more tolong-menolong.
Maybe we’ll go to puan Milah. Majority of people who sit in the Khairat committee are men. You are one of the few women who sits on the committee. What do you think is the role that the woman plays in the khairat?
Milah: Asalaam Alaikum. Actually the role is the same, whether it is a man or woman. Saya cakap bahasa Melayu, eh. Sebenarnya, sebelum saya bekerja pung dalam persatuan khairat ini, saya nampak ada a few ladies yang sudah pun jadi jawatankuasa, tapi – macam biasa lah, bila volunteers ni, come and go lah. Jadi, pada suatu masa itu, ada ahli yang ada masalah tentang anak. Jadi beliau datang ke ofis, nangis-nangis. Jadi saya, waktu itu, pejabat KKI juga adalah pejabat saya, jadi saya cuba menenangkan beliau. Dari situ, suami saya, Cik Ibrahim mengatakan, kenapa tak saya involve in PKKI?
Dan role, sebenarnya untuk wanita ini, adalah multitask. As you know, wanita ini, nombor satu: sabar. Nombor dua: kalau ada sesuatu, mereka cuba menyelesaikan masalah itu sampai tak boleh tidur. Walapun inilah adalah volunteers. Kerana pada kita, itu adalah satu yang perlu kita lakukan. Once you are involved, you must do it, all out.
So dari situ, saya lihat yang kebanyakan members, ataupun kebanyakan jawatankuasa, adalah yang peringkat umur dah agak lanjut lah. Jadi pada saya, kenapa kita tak ambil lebih wanita yang mungkin berpelajaran, dan juga yang muda. Jadi mereka menjadi pelapis untuk kita, nanti kemudian hari. Jadi dari situ, Alhamdulillah, saya dapat mengambil a few jawatankuasa. Yang paling mudah hari ini adalah 36 tahun, dan beliau adalah principal sekolah, walaupun sekolah childcare lah. Tapi Alhamdulillah, bermakna apa yang saya nak kan sudah tercapai. Wanita harus juga bekerja pung dalam persatuan khairat. Kerana, nombor satu, kita akan dapat memberi ideas ataupun menenangkan kepada ahli ataupun dependent yang kematian suami, jadi kita boleh kedepan untuk memberikan nasihat dan sebagainya.
Hidayah: (translating for Milah) Basically puan Milah said that the office of PKKI is the same office where she worked and people would come to her crying about their son and all that, so she started to comfort and talk to them.
Her husband said 'why don't you get involved', as women tend to be more patient, they can be more emotionally connected to a person. So even for women, they feel more comfortable talking to another woman. She said that when there are problems women will think until they cannot sleep, so they are very immersed in the situation. Which helps as it connects with the other party. She mentioned that when she’s involved, she tries to get the younger generation to come forth as well; although they do the same thing, the women’s touch is also very needed. Especially in times of death, let’s say a woman’s husband or son passes away, it is more comforting to see another woman there. She's trying to bring in more female representation, and the youngest is a 36 year old pre-school principal. So I think that's a very good step to getting the younger generation involved.
Fauzy: I would also like to add on; thankful to puan Milah for sharing that there are more young women participating. Actually, women’s role in badan khairat is very important, especially when they first started off. Some women are not comfortable talking with men, especially widows.
Also, sharing from experience, for a wedding, the women will be the ones planning almost everything. The men will most likely just make the pelamin and put the khemah, but it is the women who do the cooking, the bunga manggar, dressing, makeup, and everything. So the women’s role is really very important for badan khairat, especially in activities beyond just life and death.
Hidayah: Thank you Fauzy. So now we will ask Mr Ibrahim, apakah antara cabaran yang dihadapi oleh kebajikan khairat yang boleh menjejaskan kemapanannya. What are some of the challenges faced by MMBOs that could affect their sustainability? Especially here (in Singapore), a lot of people are already senior citizens, so you need to sustain this, and I think that this is a very good organisation that should survive everybody’s lifetime, so over to you, Cik Ibrahim?
Ibrahim: Thank you puan Hidayah. To my Muslim friends, assalamu'alaikum warahmatullahi ta'ala wabarakatuh. And to my non-Muslim friends, a very good afternoon to you all. First let me touch on the women in MMBOs. The importance of having a woman there is because, for a makcik or lady whose husband has just passed away, when she speaks to a man and he tries to comfort, something may go wrong. It is quite dangerous. It’s safer to have a woman there because they can react more neutrally between them. Okay, moving on to answer Madam Hidayah’s question. In fact, what happens today, I think there is a sort of cancer attacking the mutual benefit organisations, especially our malay mutual benefit organisations.
Total number of MBOs is 65, inclusive of non-Malay organisations. The Malay MBOs consist of 22. If the younger generation is not coming forward, then most likely Malay/Muslim Benefit Organisations will be forgone. Today, every mutual benefit organisation will likely have five hundred thousand (dollars) in the bank if not a million dollars. Why don't we unite and start an mutual benefit bank in Singapore? We can talk with the non-Malay mutual organisations which form a larger group in Singapore. Sit together and discuss forming an MBO bank in singapore. It is possible if you really want to work together. With these MBO bank in Singapore, it will help more younger people to come forward, and more professionals to share ideas. How will it work? Maybe MCCY can play a role in inviting everyone together to sit and brainstorm how we can share the benefits. Maybe it can be a form of insurance where the subsidiaries will have a certain amount of money, those with bigger shares will have more benefits to their members. It's possible if we discuss together, if we really are sincere, it will happen if we make it happen. Insya Allah.
To sustain ourselves is rather difficult if we are the only people who are leaders in MMBOs. Just look around here, I’m already 80, I don’t know how long I'll survive. I don't see any new generation who wants to take over this position. I wanted to relinquish my position but it is difficult because no younger generation wants to do it because they think they have nothing to do. They just sit there waiting for people to die. I think it’s also time that the rules and regulations change. 40% of the income you receive is the only amount you can spend per month. Without my secretary’s office that allows us to be a registered office in her office, I think we’ve already spent a lot of money. It’s already beyond the 40% required by the mutual benefit governing body. This is something we need to amend.
MBOs act is under Parliament Act. We cannot go over the required Act that is already in parliament, it has never changed since day one. Imagine 100 years of parliament rules and regulations. It is obsolete today. We have to sit together, discuss, and amend what is necessary. Maybe it is time to consider other activities for MBOs, not only to wait for people to die and thinking every day 'Siapa nak mati? Siapa nak mati?'. You should pray for people to live longer. This is something we all need to look into. Then MMBOs will survive and flourish and maybe out of the 66, more MMBOs will grow. From over a hundred MBOs before, there's only 65 or 66 left. Where have they all gone to? Most of the non-Malay MBOs are clan types, and some are organisation types like police MBOs, Customs and Excise MBOs and all that. If all those are no longer relevant, then where will the MMBOs go to? We will become part of the history of MBOs in Singapore written in this book by our friends. That will be the only thing that remains. We have to look beyond 50, 100 years. We have to think wisely if we want MMBOs to survive. I apologise if this hurts anyone. Bahasa agak terlajak sikit, terkasar, saya minta maaf. Terima kasih. Assalamu'alaikum warahmatullahi ta'ala wabarakatuh.
Hidayah: Thank you Mr Ibrahim. Actually, one suggestion, since we already have this book, why not we bring it and have a meeting with the minister in charge of Muslim affairs at least, and bring forth this problem? Because they always want to see ‘Oh what evidence do we have?’ So now you can say ‘Hey we have this book, we interviewed all these MMBOs!’ Maybe that is one step forward? So Fauzy, please take note.
Now we have come to the Q&A session, do you have questions for the panellists?
Audience member: Assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh. Nama saya Rahim Raus daripada badan kebajikan Bukit Panjang. To add on to the point on collaboration of MMBOs, if you refer to the Berita Harian article on 12 September, there were about 124 registered MMBOs in the '70s and '80s. Now we are left with only 22. There’s about 102 MMBOs who are now defunct. What is the reason behind this closure? Is it because there's no new blood to take over the association? Was there no new membership to sustain the viability of these MMBOs? In 1997, there was a big convention held between MMBOs. It was held at Masjid Mandasar Wak Tanjong if I'm not mistaken. There were a lot of things said during that convention, but there was no follow up. We don’t know what happened. There was something that was mooted, a good idea, but there was no follow up. Fauzy and his team, maybe you want to look at this again?
If you look at the MMBOs that closed down, there could be some leadership or financial problems. Perhaps we can tap on the Customs MBO and the PKI MBO, what are some of the successful factors that keep them viable today? We also have problems with our membership numbers going up and down. At one time we managed to get 2 or 3 young members who were willing to come forward, but sad to say, after one year they backed out. What remains is my president (serving for 20 years) and vice-president (serving for over 20 years), so we are the one carrying on like what Mr Ibrahim says. I’m here today but what about tomorrow? There’s no continuation in this, so I do hope this collaboration can be started.
Hidayah: Maybe before I let you answer, there is an Association of Muslim Professionals Convention coming up in the middle of October, there is also a panel about senior citizens. You may all want to attend the convention and bring this up? As it is very relevant to the Malay-Muslim community. That is one platform that you can do.
Okay, would Mr Ibrahim like to answer the question?
Ibrahim: Thank you, kerana membangkitkan soalan tersebut – kerana mengemukakan soalan tersebut, maaf. Saya ingin menjawab. Yang sebenarnya, ada dua convention. Satu dianjurkan oleh PKKI, oleh Alayaham Abdullah Musa, untuk menyatukan semua badan-badan khairat di bawah satu umbrella body.
Hari pertama – penuh. Hari kedua – agak tinggal tiga-suku. Hari ketiga – dah takde, tinggal dua ke tiga badan khairat. Kerana apa – badan khairat yang besar-besar—saya tak mahu sebut nama—dia tak mahu. Kerana apa, dia cakap, 'Duit aku ini banyak, kenapa mesti aku nak ikut orang yang sikit?' Ataupun katakanlah, kalau PKKI dilatih sebagai pengerusi, atau presiden badan umbrella body itu – 'Dia siapa,' dia bilang? 'Berapa aja ada wang dia?' Jadi ini masalah yang pertama.
Masalah yang kedua ditajuk oleh “Great Eastern Insurance”, jika tidak silap saya. Convention yang kedua. Pun sama juga – hari pertama ramai datang, hari yang kedua tinggal badan khairat-khairat yang kecil-kecil lah, macam kita PKKI dah berapa orang. Yang besar, tinggalkan. Jadi inilah masalah kita – masalah keinginan untuk jadi pemimpin, sama ada dia berkebolehan atau tidak kebolehan. 'Kerana wang, aku mesti nak lead – kalau tidak, aku tak mahu ikut.' Jadi inilah masalah kita.
Dan saya rasa, mungkin, pada generasi sekarang – the generation now–I think—things must have changes. Maybe we can try and start again to organise, not only among the Malays but also non-Malays as well.
Kerana apa, kita duduk di Singapura sebagai sebuah negara. We need to work together regardless of race, religion and beliefs. And I think ini kita boleh work out. We can work it out if MCCY is willing to assist us in this matter. Thank you.
Hidayah: I will quickly summarise, apparently there were two conventions. Of course for the first convention, everybody comes on the first day, then by the third day only the small Khairat are left. The same with the second convention organised by Great Eastern Insurance. The problem they have is ‘who wants to helm the leadership?’ Because if it is helmed by the smaller Khairat, the bigger Khairat will feel that it is unfair as the smaller Khairat have limited funds so why should they lead them? These are some of the challenges they face.
So Cik Yahaya maybe you can tell them how you— this problem of continuity, like, to make sure that, boleh berterusan, how do you do it in your own Khairat?
Yahaya: Insya Allah, thanks. Thanks for the questions.
Okay there are many factors as to how we all can survive as an association. I think one of the most important things is that we must have very good team work: a team that is dynamic and always looking forward to changes. Before I came here, yesterday I was thinking that the decline in the number of associations is of concern. Today we only have 22 registered MMBOs. Of course there are many unregistered associations as well, but for the registered ones it fell from a big number to only 22. Before I came here I was thinking of bringing this up with Fauzy. Maybe we can do another round of work to find out why many of the registered MMBOs closed down, and maybe reach out to them.
What I feel is a pity is that many of the younger generation today do not have access to this. This is partly our fault. The associations did not reach out to them via media or whatever. I am very thankful and our association is pleased with the research that NHB and Ethos Books have done. We are thankful to Hakimi for producing the documentary on this. All these can be used to reach out. Since some don’t even have knowledge about MMBOs documentation, our plan is to maybe try to be actively involved in the media such as Facebook, Instagram, depicting whatever activities we have.
Today we have about 85 new members. A lot of them came from when we registered our name as Muslim Community. They do not come from the Customs and Excise officers. Although we still have that pool (of members), the aspiration of our association is to expand to the wider Muslim community.
We are also concerned about the same matter Mr Ibrahim has mentioned, to collaborate with all the other MMBOs. It could be a good idea, though there could be some constraints. It could be a good move to have a similar activity like this to encourage expansion. Maybe researchers like Fauzy, Zakariah, Zaki could also help us.
Hidayah: I’ll quickly run through the question. I saw somebody say that now you can pay membership dengan PayNow, so actually yes because I paid by PayNow for my uncle. How to attract young people to join MMBOs? I think our Lepak Conversations friend is here so please use your social media to reach out and spread the message. What I did on my own, after I found out how good Khairat is, I Whatsapped all my family and younger cousins, to spread the word and encourage them to join Khairat.
So I think that is what we can do on our part, to reach out to family members first, and also make use of influencers like Lepak Conversations to reach out to the younger generation.
But maybe you all can think about it, boleh fikirkan. How do we contact the khairat for help if we encounter people, like homeless Muslims who can’t afford decent food? Also, how do you keep pace with modern trends of privatisation of insurance and rising healthcare costs which often exceed funeral costs themselves?
Some of you also want to know how MMBOs are run e.g. membership criteria, management of the funds? I think, please read the book, it’s in the book, that’s the most ideal right? And are there overlaps in the functions of MMBOs and MUIS? The next session is with the authors themselves, so maybe we can bring forth the question to the next session.
Okay, so, terima kasih banyak-banyak, kerana menjawab soalan-soalannya. Please give our panellists a round of applause.
Cassandra: Thank you so much to the MMBO representatives for joining us today and sharing about their experiences and insights! Let’s give them a round of applause.
I hope you’ve been enjoying the rich exchanges so far; next up, we have the second conversation, centring around the documentation work done through the book and accompanying film. Please join me in welcoming them. And over to you, Hidayah.
Photo of the speakers (left to right): Zaki Jumahri, Fauzy Ismail, Hidayah Amin (moderator), Zakaria Zainal and and filmmaker Hakimi Jamil
Hidayah: I watched the documentary and it touched my heart so congrats. I hope more people will get to watch the documentary after the launch. We’ll start with fauzy. I’m quite surprised, we knew each other for a while but I never figured he’d be someone to embark on this topic. Fauzy, what was your motivation to embark on this book project?
Fauzy: One of my inspirations is Hidayah, of course. When she produced her Gedung Kuning book, I used it for my thesis, it was quite revolutionary for a Malay author to write something so personal about her life and sell it. For me what started this project was when I was working at Singapore Registrar society, I was sick of Chinese people talking about clans. Always about clans and more clans. When they started to explain about their structure, I realised that this is something I used to experience in my life.
My family has been in Khairat for a long time, but I never thought anything much about them. They just happened to be there in my life. They were one of the first few people to teach me religious classes, to do Ramadan prayers. I started seeing the numbers get less and less, and decided it’s important to document this. I wanted people to know that this exists.
Hidayah: I think it's also interesting that you learned agama from religious classes from Khairat. So this shows that Khairat not only looks after your well-being upon death, but also nurtures and gives pelajaran agama to the younger generation.
That’s something that I did not know they did, so I’m glad you brought it up. So the next question is for Zakaria. I know you from your documentation of the Gurkhas. Now you are documenting Kahirat through photos. So what did you learn from your documentation? They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, sometimes it could even be more powerful.
Zakaria: I'd like to say thanks to Ethos Books for organising this and all the guests for coming. When we talk about documentation and the first few challenges that come to mind - Fauzy approached me and he has been thinking of this since 2018. We applied for a grant but we didn't get it (at first). We got it in 2020 at the height of the pandemic. We thought it was fantastic we got some income, but wow, how were we gonna do it with all the restrictions? Nothing was going to happen, meetings were not there. Covid really was a big challenge. How are we gonna do contemporary documentation? How to get images of them at work or play, interactions? Mostly talking heads, interviews. Second problem was ambition. Fauzy said 'let’s have social media, documentary, book, research'. But we knew it was an important topic. My role was being the interpreter of the medium, and stories. These people are their brother's and sister's keeper. What's fundamental, is no matter how poor I am, I’m able to help my brother - that’s what they were trying to say. So I tried to bring that out in the stories. My background in journalism helped me to try to flesh out these stories. Taufik as well, who was a big part of the project, isn't here today. We tried to translate all this research into stories we could use for the book.
Hidayah: Thank you Zakaria. Maybe we will just go to Zaki. As Zakaria mentioned, when you received the grant it was in the height of the pandemic. So what are some of the challenges you faced?
Zaki: I think the main difficulty was our primary sources. We could only start researching once we got the grant money. A number of individuals and organisations we approached had to decline because a lot of the people with knowledge were ill or in poor health. We couldn't access their wealth of knowledge when it came to understanding these histories. Practically speaking, when it happened, the library was closed so I couldn't access archival material. I was going to the digital archives and newspapers in Singapore. We were lucky 'cos they digitally archived mostly all the roman Malay newspapers like Berita Harian. I found lots of articles and materials. Finally when the library opened, I could access the rare materials and films. Ultimately what we found was there was a lack of contemporaneous material relating to the histories of these organisations.
A lot of these organisations don't document their activities. What we have are second hand accounts. It's not bad but it's not ideal when we're trying to track the number of organisations. When we approached some of the agencies that were involved in mutual benefit organisations, they didn't have the historical data. But I did 'cos I went through it. What government agencies do is publish a gazette of organisations, and I went through all these gazettes to find out all the organisations that were cancelled or registered. I wanted to find out what was the extent of the MMBOs here. There's an amnesia in the whole culture here. I wanted to see how we can remedy that in our small way. I didn't know what they were like before this project. I had to find out from my parents that they were involved in MMBOs when they were young. This is our small way to try to remedy that.
Hidayah: As someone who also does research, I agree it’s a thankless job. Congratulations to all of you for this important piece of documentation. I resonate with Fauzy who talked about the Chinese clan associations. I think we all know about them more than we know about our own malay MBOs.
Maybe we’ll go to Hakimi. You produced a wonderful documentary with a lot of heart and soul, I could feel the emotions when I watched it, there were some parts where I teared up! Were there any parts that did not make the cut in the documentary and why?
Hakimi: Nothing major got cut from the documentary. The idea was to tell the stories of the MMBOs from the past, present and future. What we got out of soundbites from interviews was exactly that. We are also working on a series of online videos in addition to the documentary, so some of the footage for the documentary went into the online videos. We wanted to tell an honest story about MMBOs. It's a topic that not many of us know. We want to explore and expose that to people as much as possible.
Hidayah: I think let's go to the Q&As. How can we bring the Mutual Benefit Organisations together and invite the younger generation to participate and volunteer? The younger generation themselves can help our pakcik and makcik, I think you guys would know best how to reach out to your generation. Another question: Are there plans to help foreign Muslims in Singapore in blue collar work facing difficulties? Maybe the khairat boleh fikirkan kalau nak tolong pekerja Muslim yang bukan rakyat Singapura?
Fauzy: So in terms of difficulty, it is limited to what kind of service the organisations provide. For BARKIS (Badan Kebajikan Khairat Kampong West Coast Singapura), they consider Bangladeshi workers as part of their membership because a lot of them are living within that area. Some of these organisations are area-based. They do terawih prayers, death benefits, healthcare and a lot of services but they do not do food services as those are covered by the mosque. When resources are scarce, we don’t want to have an overlap of services. So yes, badan khairat helps but it also depends on the badan khairat of the area. As a young person who doesn't know much about MMBOs, what's the best way for us to help?
Hidayah: Just go on to social media - twitter, instagram, tik tok, just spread the word. It seems the value of Khairat has been to organise community aid outside the limitations of government structures. How important do you think it is for it to stay this way?
Fauzy: So I will give an example of some Badan Khairat set up in new Housing estates - I’ll use the West Coast as an example. When the West Coast neighbourhood was set up, there was no mosque or CC (community centre) or anything. Some people moved from kampungs or older estates, like Queenstown or Redhill area. It was up to the people to fend for themselves. So how were they going to provide funeral services or organise weddings? It was up to the people in the neighbourhood to take up responsibility for the services.
It was similar to NGOs; they cover gaps that the government cannot. They should stay that way. With tightening government sources, merging into government is not the way to go. They still need to be registered as a society or non-profit.
Zakaria: Adding to Fauzy’s point, the three of us continuously had conversations on the decline and the relationship that the MBOs had with the government. At the height of MMBOs, the government constantly reached out to the MBOs because they know that their community support is very strong. So if you were to read in their newsletters, former members of parliament will pen opening notes, events—President Halimah Yacob used to attend one of the MMBO’s events. The government does see them as a source of support or maybe even political capital by association.
And I think we—just going back to the book and I’m not trying to promote, but I think looking at the conversations that we—we did a last chapter on the future of MMBOs, and I tried to shepherd the conversation between Fauzy and Zaki and we talked about how this has happened, and I remember clearly, I forgot who mentioned this to me, but someone said, ‘Our organisation is now badan only, because when other organisations came about like Mendaki, one leg went away. When MUIS came, one arm went away. So sekarang tinggal badan aje, just left the body, we don’t have anything else.’ So that’s a very interesting way of seeing how, good or bad, because of the banyan tree of government coming in, it’s worth looking into the relevance of MBOs—it’s a chance, actually, maybe to innovate or to transform, when the threat is existential. So it’s something worth thinking about. Correct me if I’m wrong.
Hidayah: Any questions from the audience?
Audience member: Pardon me, my ignorance, if I do not understand completely. I would just like to know, speaking as someone who’s not Muslim, two things. You mention outreach and to reach out to the younger people, is this confined to Muslim younger people? Of Singapore, or Muslim people generally, whether foreign workers or not, of a locale, or non-Muslims as well, as Cik... pardon I can’t remember the name, I think he was head of an organisation, just now he spoke, that’s the first thing.
My second question pertains to areas of overlap, because as you say when Mendaki came, one limb went, and there is another organisation, I understand, called PERCAS, has that taken away something else? So my question coming here as an outsider is, what does the Muslim MBO give, that Mendaki, PERCAS, these government organisations do not? Is there something, or even in the form of the unquantifiable, intangibles that the government cannot provide?
Hidayah: Anyone would like to reply?
Zakaria: MBOs have been organised around a few things, one of them being their ethnic group. So before we think of Malays as super homogenous—we are, but we’re not, actually—Javanese, Minang, Orang Bugis, Orang Laut, even, we are all that, but because of CMIO, we are just 'Malays'. So we have lost this, ‘Oh, I am actually Malay-Javanese and Minang, but now, eh I budak Tampines aje.’ We are known as our location as compared to before, so there’s that big loss there. What these MBOs do is to build community around ethic groups, professions, trades, locations. Even if you were from elsewhere say Batu Pahat, they help to build bonds, the same way the Chinese clans do. It’s just that we don’t have the kind of voice that the other groups have. That will answer the first question.
When you have a community like that, they look at all parts of life, not just death, education etc. It's about anything. But what happens then is, of course, when you have better bureaucracy taking over, it’s a multitude of factors: it’s about relocation, it’s about expulsion from where you were supposed to be. Like our friends from Kampong Ayer Gemuroh, they were scattered. Twice in fact, because of housing policies and so many reasons. You slowly have this splintering and fragmentation of community, and slowly we just become this, ‘I am Zakaria from Tampines,’ ‘this is Fauzy from West Coast,’ instead of an understanding of our cultural background, and who we actually are.
Fauzy: They accept membership from many kinds of Muslim backgrounds, but the similarity between them is that they do Muslim funeral burial services. If a non-Muslim joined, they would not know how to manage a Chinese or Christian funeral. That’s why membership is limited only to Muslims or Malays. There are some Tamil groups that exist as well.
To answer the second question, what they provide in today's context is convenience. Singapore is limited by land size and how many mosques we can create, so for terawih prayers or the prayers during Ramadhan, some do it in void deck prayer spaces. Within a few clusters of flats, there's one prayer space. So because these prayers are done every night, they provide convenience. When someone passes away, you just need to call the leader in the area and he will take care of everything. For me the most effective thing is, they try to instill good values in children. When I was young, when I did well in exams they gave me $50 every year as a kid. When my dad passed away I took on the membership. They instill these values, teach me religion, they even did my parents’ wedding. They provide convenience and this feel-good feeling where you’re part of a community and there's always someone thinking of you.
Audience member: In fact in the 1970s and '80s, PKKI opened membership to non-Malays, we had Chinese members. Unfortunately after one or two years, they did not pay the subscription fee, and are no longer members. I even asked one of them (Chinese), and the benefit that we give of two thousand dollars per death is not sufficient for them, since their clans’ mutual benefit payouts are much higher. But considering that the membership fee we charge is six dollars per person, and covers the whole family, including dependents like the husband, wife, father, mother, children etc.. so you just imagine that six dollars times twelve is $72 per annum, and we have to cover the members ($2000), parents ($1000), children ($600). Thinking wisely, we will not be able to support if three or four deaths happen in a year. That might be one of the reasons non-Malays are not interested in MMBOs.
For the other question, government organisations and badan khairat don't overlap. For the badan khairat they are more interested in their own family, unlike PERCAS they have their guru-gurus, and other organisations like MENDAKI are member-based associations, so it doesn’t overlap. One thing I am happy with regarding PKKI (Persatuan Kemajuan Kebajikan Islam) is that we were able to get the younger generation. One of them is here, Mohamad Matin, the treasurer of PKKI, and there is another one aged 35, he's an executive member. We are trying to recruit more younger generations. The only sad thing is that no younger person wants to take the position of chairmanship, president. That’s the only problem that we are facing. And we hope that those young in here, please join in. Whether you are Malay, or non-Malay. Muslim, or non-Muslim, because we are open to all other races. That’s all, thank you.
Zakaria: Sorry, I’d just like to clarify about MENDAKI and MUIS, before everyone goes and says ‘Zak says Mendaki is bad, MUIS is bad’ and all, I want to clarify, since next month is the anniversary of Mendaki, yeah. I think it's about trade-offs. You have to ask yourself how things are being done bottom-up and top-down? What is being lost? Obviously MMBOs are a bottom-up community initiative, and I think some community builders around here understand that building communities is very, very important, there's that belonging and closeness you get. And that's why they keep doing it, because of that friendship, and the bonds that they build, it’s purely that, you cannot get that. As we live more atomised lives in a city like Singapore, it’s something worth thinking about, where community building is from the bottom-up or top-down. What are the things that we have lost? Can we get it back? I think this is some of the things to think about at the end of the day.
Ibrahim: Regarding, Mendaki or MP, they also allow us to do meetings in their premises so there is no conflict of interest.
Hidayah: We have time for one last question:
Terima kasih atas mengadakan sesi begini. Mudahan ada BaraqahNYA. Muga ada sesi berikutnya. dpd. Ahli 5KAG
Basically, a member from 5KAG said, Thank you for organising this session, hopefully we can have another session. I’m sure a lot of people still have questions or are interested to join and contribute, it’d be good for you all to look into future sessions like this. I’d recommend you all to read this book!
Fauzy: Thank you so much everyone for coming. I’d like to acknowledge that even though I started this, Zakaria finished the entire book by himself. Thanks also to Ethos Books for supporting us for this.
About the Speakers:
Mohamed Yahaya Bin Kadri is the former chairman of The Muslim Community Benevolent Association of Singapore, and served in the organisation for 50 years. This MMBO is the only remaining MMBO whose membership is based on employees from one organisation, and started off as a benevolent society for Muslim officers in the then Singapore Customs & Excise Department, which today has become the Immigration & Checkpoints Authority.
Ibrahim Ariff is the president of Persatuan Kemajuan Kebajikan Islam, which is one of five existing MMBOs to survive World War II. Ibrahim has been involved in the organisation since the 1970s.
Milah Binte Haji Bakri serves as the secretary of Persatuan Kemajuan Kebajikan Islam.
Fauzy Ismail researches Singapore’s architecture and urban heritage. He completed his masters in architecture at the National University of Singapore, investigating heritage and thirdspaces in architecture, and dealt with gazetted buildings as a government conservation architect. He was an artist-in-residence at The Substation from 2018 to 2019, and was also a fashion designer in Paris.
Zaki Jumahri is an independent researcher and writer with a decade’s experience across the arts, cultural heritage, non-profit and legal sectors. His writings have been featured in Today and arts publications including Art & Market and Art Republik. His research interests include Jawi and Arabic manuscripts, Singapore history, and art and cultural heritage law.
Hakimi Jamil has been actively contributing to the media industry since 2010. He made his start as a junior video editor, working on TV Drama/Docu/Movie while also foraying into several other projects in various roles. Currently, he is the Creative Producer at SevenOne Films, a company he started in 2018 with his partner, Tawfik Daud, working on projects with Disney SG, Mediacorp, MINDEF, and a few others. Hakimi Jamil is a graduate of Chapman University Singapore with a BFA in Creative Producing.
About the Moderator:
Hidayah Amin is a Singapore-born, award-winning author. She wrote Gedung Kuning: Memories of a Malay Childhood in 2010. Since then, Hidayah has written eight non-fiction books and ten children’s books. Her book Leluhur: Singapore’s Kampong Gelam is the winner of the 2021 NUS Singapore History Prize.
paperback $20.00 SGD E-book $20.00 SGD Khairat Kita: A History of Malay/Muslim Mutual Aid in Singapore Quick view details A collection of interviews, photographs, essays and personal reflections, Khairat Kita is a project documenting the last few remaining Malay/Muslim Mutual Benefit Organisations (MMBOs) providing ai... paperback $20.00 SGD E-book $20.00 SGD
Khairat Kita: A History of Malay/Muslim Mutual Aid in Singapore
Khairat Kita: A History of Malay/Muslim Mutual Aid in Singapore
Quick view details
A collection of interviews, photographs, essays and personal reflections, Khairat Kita is a project documenting the last few remaining Malay/Muslim Mutual Benefit Organisations (MMBOs) providing ai...