Othman Wok was a ‘courageous soul who spoke up for diversity’

Othman Wok was a ‘courageous soul who spoke up for diversity’
Mourners including PM Lee Hsien Loong observing a minute of silence during a memorial service for Mr Othman Wok at Victoria Concert Hall yesterday. Photo: MCI
Published: 4:00 AM, April 20, 2017
Updated: 11:36 AM, April 20, 2017

SINGAPORE — Paying tribute to Mr Othman Wok’s ability in leading not just the nation but also the Malay-Muslim community, Communications and Information Minister Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday said that the late Old Guard minister’s ethos of multiracialism is “ever more important today”.

In his eulogy, Dr Yaacob, who is also the Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, said: “At a time when extreme ideologies are being peddled on many fronts, the need for courageous souls like him to speak up for diversity and respect for differences is ever more crucial. And the battle for respect, trust and mutual understanding is won, and will always be won, when men like Othman Wok fight with sheer passion and conviction against any force that seeks to divide us.”

While Singapore has become a modern nation and has a “progressive Muslim community” today, “it does not take much to unravel this”, he noted.

“We must never allow this to happen. Encik Othman may have left us, but we must always remember that he has left his legacy about what this nation, our Singapore, stands for — courage, conviction and a deep-seated commitment to the ideal of multiracialism.”

Dr Yaacob attributed Mr Othman’s commitment to multiracialism to the latter’s life journey.

As an “ordinary clerk” who was thrust “into public life”, Mr Othman was faced with two choices back in the 1950s: He could be part of the “privileged majority” where the minorities would feel less than welcome, or he could choose to be part of a new nation founded on the principles of multiracialism, where everyone would have an equal opportunity to succeed.

Mr Othman made clear what his choice was by joining the People’s Action Party in 1954, Dr Yaacob noted.

In everything he did, be it sports, culture or Muslim affairs, Mr Othman strove to unite the country and inspire the Singapore spirit.

“... He always believed that sports was a powerful unifying force, because the collective experience of cheering our sporting heroes on nurtures a deep love for the nation, one that transcends race, language and religion,” said Dr Yaacob.

Dr Yaacob delivered part of his eulogy in Malay, where he noted Mr Othman’s many contributions to the Malay-Muslim community, such as the introduction of the Administration of Muslim Law Act (Amla) in 1966.

The introduction of Amla “reflected his foresight and sincerity in safeguarding the Malay-Muslim community to this day. Mr Othman was committed to ensuring that the community was able to lead its religious life, in a way suited to Singapore’s multiracial context”, Dr Yaacob said.

The Act led to the establishment of three key Muslim institutions, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), the Syariah Court and the Registry of Muslim Marriages.

He added: “Mr Othman ignited a ‘can-do’ spirit in the Malay-Muslim community living in a country that was experiencing rapid change. He was determined to fight against divisive forces and firmly believed that all Singaporeans were equal, regardless of race or religion.”