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Speech by Mr Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, at Berita Harian Achiever of the Year Award 2015

19 Aug 2015

Mr Bahreen Shaari, Board Director, SPH

Mr Patrick Daniel, Editor-In-Chief of English/Malay/Tamil Media Group, SPH

Mr Mohd Saat Abd Rahman, Editor of Berita Harian, SPH

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen

Good evening


1. I am very happy to be here today for the Berita Harian Achiever of the Year 2015 Award Presentation Ceremony.

2. I would like to begin by commending Berita Harian for organising the Achiever Awards, now in its 17th year. Over the years, the awards have recognised an outstanding cast of individuals, outstanding for their contributions both to the Malay-Muslim community and to Singapore. This year’s award recipients are similarly accomplished individuals, who are helping Singapore address the challenges of today’s world and strengthening our national identity.

Deepening Religious Harmony

3. One of today’s defining challenges is the globalisation of sectarian and religious conflicts. The conflicts are not new. But localised conflicts, including intra-national sectarian conflicts, are now quickly globalised.

4. Not a few of our neighbouring countries’ citizens have joined ISIS. A few Singaporeans had gone over too, and some others who were planning to go have been intercepted.

5. But ethnic and religious harmony is for Singapore not just a defensive issue. It is at its heart an ideal and cherished vision for our nation. The progress we have achieved in the last 50 years, social and economic, would have been unthinkable without the active acceptance of each of our major communities of each other, as well as the pride that they have taken in both their own cultures and religions, and in Singapore’s multi-ethnic and multi-religious identity.

6. We must build on this foundation in our next 50 years, and develop an even deeper national identity. We must deepen our understanding of our various cultures, heritages and religions, and weave tighter relationships with each other, starting young.

7. Tonight, we recognise two award recipients who have worked tirelessly to promote religious harmony and strengthen the ties between the Malay-Muslim community and other faiths.

8. Our Berita Harian Achiever of the Year (Anugerah Jauhari) 2015 award recipient is Mr Mohammad Alami Musa, who led MUIS through an extremely challenging decade – in the wake of Sept 11, and the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) arrests in Singapore. He introduced several programmes to strengthen our resilience. One of his initiatives was the statement of the Singapore Muslim Identity. It recognises that there is no conflict in Muslim Singaporeans being true to their faith and being loyal to the country.

9. While Alami has left his executive position with MUIS, he continues to contribute to our multi-religious society as an educator and researcher, and I am sure in every appropriate way he finds. I share Alami’s thoughts on how we should go forward in deepening the ties between our various communities. As he puts it in a recent article, “harmony has to be well-founded on interreligious literacy, a strong attitude of inclusivity of the religious other and a feeling of mutual dependence on each other.”[1]

10. Sahibus Samahah Shaikh Syed Isa Semait is well-known to all, as a venerable leader of the Muslim community. During his tenure as Mufti, Shaikh Isa led the way in fostering friendships with leaders of other faiths in Singapore, besides his deep contributions to the development of a confident and progressive Muslim community in Singapore. He is being honoured with the Berita Harian Pioneer Generation Achiever Award (Anugerah Jauhari Perintis).

11. It is also fitting that both Shaikh Isa and Alami were recognised in the National Day Awards, with the high honour of the Meritorious Award.

12. Today, we are honouring two cultural icons, who also will be receiving the Pioneer Generation Achiever Award. Dr Muhammad Ariff Ahmad has been held in the highest regard as an expert on Malay language and culture in Singapore, and has received several awards nationally and regionally over the years. What is not well known is that he worked together with Mr Zubir Said on the lyrics of our National Anthem in 1959, when we achieved self-government. The lyrics of the anthem are beautiful, yet simple enough for everyone including the non-Malay speaking population to learn and take pride in singing. As in many things in life, it took much expertise to ensure this simplicity. Unfortunately, Dr Ariff cannot be here with us today. His daughter will be accepting the award on his behalf, and we wish him a speedy recovery.

13. It is my privilege too to be here as we honour Mr Sarkasi Said, who has been an inspiration both as an artist and in a broader way. He in fact epitomises the spirit behind our national SkillsFuture movement. He followed his passions, and sought to master what he enjoyed doing. It took a leap of faith at 16 years of age to drop out of Beatty Secondary School to pursue his passion in art – even when he was doing well in school. He did not have any formal training in batik art, but he persevered. He travelled extensively to learn from other artists, he observed, and he experimented. And he became a highly innovative artist, working on batik in a new and unconventional way. Today, Sarkasi is an internationally renowned Singaporean artist that we are all proud of.

Diversity Strengthens Us

14. The Malay-Muslim community has made substantial progress in the last five decades together with Singapore. We can see it in this year’s Berita Harian Young Achiever of the Year (Jauhari Harapan) award recipients.

15. Ms Amalina Ridzuan and Mr Ahmad Abdurrahman Hanifah Marican are examples of young successful Malay-Muslim students. They are the first two former Madrasah students to be offered places in the highly competitive NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. The School also found merit in students applying from a broader range of Junior Colleges. It is a heartening development. It says something not only about their own talents and attributes, but about how we can gain collective strength by drawing on diversity.

16. We have to keep evolving and broadening our education system. Keep looking for talents and strengths everywhere, knowing that they often come up unpredictably. And encourage our young to follow their interests, and have the confidence to develop themselves along the less conventional paths. Like Sarkasi did.

Mengukuhkan Semangat Singapura Kita

17. Sebagai penutup, izinkan saya memberikan beberapa komen ringkas mengenai semangat Singapura, dan apakah inti pati bagi anugerah-anugerah yang diberikan malam ini.

18. Pertama, izinkan saya mengucapkan tahniah sekali lagi kepada semua penerima Anugerah Jauhari tahun ini. Tahniah kerana anda telah memberikan makna yang lebih mendalam kepada identiti kebangsaan kita dan menambah  puncak kejayaan baharu pencapaian kita.

19. Pada tahun Jubli istimewa ini, kita boleh berbangga dengan apa yang telah kita capai bersama-sama selama ini, sebagai sebuah negara.  Namun, seperti kata pepatah Melayu “Ikutlah resmi padi, makin berisi semakin tunduk” (as the padi ripens it bends lower), kita perlu sentiasa ingat bahawa kerja kita belum selesai.

20. Tetapi kita mempunyai satu kelebihan yang besar, dalam perpaduan dan semangat Singapura istimewa yang telah kita bina dalam tempoh 50 tahun pertama kita. Ia memberi kita keyakinan terhadap masa depan kita. Tetapi kita mesti terus gigih berusaha. Kita mesti kukuhkan semangat Singapura ini dalam peringkat pembangunan seterusnya, sebagai sebuah negara:

– Kita mesti mengukuhkan semangat berbilang bangsa dan menghargai keharmonian agama

– Membangunkan keinginan yang mendalam untuk terus cemerlang dalam segala usaha yang kita lakukan

– Dan terus menjiwai semangat belas ihsan kepada mereka yang memerlukan.

Semangat Singapura inilah yang akan terus menjadikan Singapura negara istimewa bagi semua rakyatnya, untuk jangka masa yang panjang.

Majulah Singapura!

Terima kasih.


(Translation in English)

Deepening Our Singapore Spirit

17. Let me conclude with a few brief comments on the Singapore spirit, and what is at the heart of these awards tonight.

18. First, let me congratulate all the award recipients once again. I say congratulations not only for your contributions to the Malay-Muslim community, but for adding depth to our national identity and enabling us to reach new heights in our achievements as a nation.

19. In this special Jubilee year, we can take pride in how we have progressed thus far together, as a nation. However, as the Malay saying goes “Biar ikut resmi padi, makin berisi makin tunduk” (as the padi ripens it bends lower), we must always remember that our work is never done.

20. But we have one big advantage, in the unity, and the special Singapore spirit that we have developed in our first 50 years. It gives us confidence in our future. But we must do more. We must deepen this Singapore spirit further in our next stage of development as a nation:

– We must deepen our spirit of multiracialism and of treasuring religious harmony;

– develop a deep desire for excellence in everything we do;

– and deepen the spirit of compassion for those in need.

It is what will keep Singapore special for many years to come, for all Singaporeans.

Majulah Singapura!

Thank you.



[1] ‘Non-Zero Sum’ Mindset in Inter-Faith Relations: