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Veteran composer is Achiever of the Year

August 6, 2003, Wednesday --- His music is known not just in Singapore, Hongkong, Taiwan but as far afield as Hollywood!

Veteran composer and music arranger Iskandar Mirza, 47, who has worked with some of the biggest names in the Chinese entertainment scene, Disney and other top international billings, is the winner of this year’s Achiever of the Year Award announced today by Berita Harian and McDonald´s.

The award is in recognition of his musical talent and outstanding contribution to Singapore’s music scene. He will receive the award from Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Community Development and Sports & Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs on August 6 at the Ritz Carlton, Millenia Singapore.

The annual award, now into its fifth year, is given to Malay/ Muslim individuals for their achievements in the fields of education, business, arts, and culture, sports, the professions or social work. The recipient must show perseverance, determination and a willingness to overcome odds in his or her respective field, and possess an outstanding integrity and be looked upon as a role model for the Malay/ Muslim community in Singapore.

The winner is picked by a panel of six judges drawn from the Malay/ Muslim community and headed by Mr Ridzwan Dzafir, a consultant with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Editor of Berita Harian Guntor Sadali, a judge in the selection committee, said: “Iskandar was chosen for his outstanding talent as a composer and music arranger. His contribution goes beyond the Malay community. He was the Music Director for our National Day Parade for 12 years. He also made his mark in the international music scene by working with Disney and many other big names in the industry.”

In his distinguished musical career spanning almost 30 years, Iskandar has worked with Asian superstars such as Jacky Cheung, Sally Yeh, George Lam, Tracy Huang and Aaron Kwok. He also composed the theme song for the Disney´s animated movie "Dinosaur".

The eldest of five children, the young Iskandar was a musical prodigy and started learning the piano at eight. He then picked up the electone and at 16, became the youngest teacher at the Yamaha Music School, after clinching first prize in a Yamaha Electone Competition in 1975.

He performed with numerous bands in clubs, and in 1976, went to Berklee College of Music in the United States. Three years later, he graduated with a Degree in Professional Music and won the John Lewis Jazz Masters Award for his excellence in jazz music.

His career highlights include arranging music for Jacky Cheung´s groundbreaking sell-out musical Snow.Wolf.Lake which packed the concert halls in Hongkong and Singapore. He also led China´s National Orchestra and Ballet in the musical Chang & Eng, which was staged in Singapore, Thailand and China.

In October 2002, he composed songs for Perahu - Memecah Ombak - the only paid performance staged by a Malay group at the opening of the Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay. Other major performances for the Malay community include partnering with Malaysia´s singing sensation Siti Nurhaliza in a concert in Kuala Lumpur and a charity concert Azam, telecast live on Suria Channel which raised $500,000 for the Education Trust Fund to help needy Malay students.

Despite his achievements in the musical field, the humble musician thought it was a joke when told that he was named Achiever of the Year.

“My first reaction was shock because music usually is not the primary focus for prestigious awards such as this. I hope that I will open more doors for my fellow practitioners in the music industry. I´m really honoured to be placed together with the past winners who have achieved excellent results in their respective fields,” he said.

Past year´s winners include Dr Mansoor Abdul Jalil, lecturer with the Department of Electrical Engineering at the National University of Singapore (NUS), Professor Aziz Nather, director at the Tissue Bank and consultant with the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at NUS, Madam Halimah, Assistant Secretary General of NTUC and master potter Mr Iskandar Jalil.

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ON 6 AUGUST 2003, 8.10 P.M.

Good evening to all
And let me wish all of us a Happy National Day.

When I was in Bandar Seri Begawan recently, I gave away to the Minister for Religious Affairs there a truly Singaporean gift. The creator of the work is a past winner of this award. I explained both the work and the man behind the work to my Bruneian counterpart. I told the Minister than this man took a scholarship and went to Japan in search of bettering his art. He has been in touch with the Japanese masters since 1974. Only recently have they recognised him as a master potter. I admire Pak Iskandar Jalil for his personal drive and determination to challenge
himself to give his all to his art. We took some time to realise the gem we had in Pak Iskander. And saluting his exemplary pursuit of excellence, perhaps his works should be displayed in our institutions, including our mosques.

Mendaki recently did a study on the Mathematics performance of Malay/Muslim students from 300 low-income families. The study looked at students who did well in Mathematics as well as students who did not do well in the subject. The key finding was that students, who did well, did so because they had good home support and parental involvement in their education. It did not matter that the parents themselves were not highly educated. What mattered was that the parents were motivated and took all the necessary actions they could to help their children do well
in their studies.

Both of these stories demonstrate a fact that would be well for all of us to reflect upon. If people are highly self-motivated, and supported, they can excel. Pak Iskander is clearly a highly self-motivated individual whose pursuit had the support of his family. I am told that when he does his pottery, his wife would do her quilting and they would comment on each other´s work. Similarly, the parents of the kids who did well in Mathematics undertook their efforts of their own accord. They were also
supported by a variety of programmes undertaken by the schools and other organisations such as Mendaki, AMP, Pertapis, PPIS, 4PM, and the like. If as a society, we are prepared to support the notion of a community of excellence, then I am confident we will one day realise this vision.

The key is to find a way to create the conditions to motivate the community to strive for that vision.

In less than 2 months, community leaders will come together to discuss with our Prime Minister several issues relating to the idea of a community of excellence. After engaging in 6 focus group discussions, I am confident that we will be able to establish some clear thrusts and directions. Three issues have been identified. We see the need to build strong families and develop our youth potential to its fullest, stay the course on improving our educational achievements, and find ways to make
our community robust to changes in the employment landscape. All three are not issues isolated from each other. The underlying thread is the building of a strong community. A community is strong when it can pursue a positive development path where the individuals in that community are not only able to achieve a decent standard of living, but are able to comprehend the modern world and develop the resources and capabilities to contribute to all aspects of society.

At the centre of this drive toward a strong community is the idea of excellence.

Without a sense of excellence, Pak Iskander would not have ventured to find a top rate teacher to pursue his passion of pottery. Without a sense of achievement, the parents of the students who did well would not have spent resources and time to support their kids´ education. Ultimately what drives both Pak Iskander and the aforementioned parents is the idea that they must try their best.

Imagine that you want to become the best high jumper in the world. What would you do? You would probably train very hard, study the mechanics of high jumping in order to improve your technique, eat right, sleep well, put yourself in the company of like-minded people and adopt the attitudes and behaviour that would help you to achieve the desired results. Not all who give their very best will become the best. But if you do not give it your all, you will not stand a chance to become the best.

We also have to be clear to distinguish excellence from benchmarks. Excellence is not about achieving the 3-C´s or outdoing others. It is about having a strong interest and commitment to learning, to our work, to the people we interact with and the greater community. It is about being a good worker, a good student and a good parent. It is about wanting well-managed organisations and institutions. It is about
recognising people who are truly excellent.

We must judge a person by his substantive contribution and work and not merely by his new title. In our religious life we sometimes confuse the spirit of excellence with outward display of religiosity, instead of the true struggle to live life according to the great universal values enjoined by Islam. Indeed, excellence is about an orientation towards life, which shapes and colours everything that we do, no matter what our
occupation or station in life may be. Understood in this sense, we all have the potential for excellence.

As a community, we need to develop the conviction that the road to excellence is ours to take. That road may be long and bumpy, and require some flexibility and creativity, but success is not beyond our reach.

Since we obtained independence, we have had to overcome many odds as a country. Our workers, for example, have had to adjust to a number of economic restructuring exercises. Amid the gloom of retrenchments, many have managed to survive and some have even re-invented themselves and thrived. While we struggle with the issue of retrenchment in our community, we must not forget that some of our workers affected have been working for many years in the same company. They showed company loyalty when that was a premium. But now we all have to adjust to a new employment landscape of short-term contracts.

This reminds me of the character of Sang Kancil found in Malay folklore. His ability to adapt and stay on top of things is a reminder for all of us that we, as a community, must stay relevant, adapt and move on with the current trends.

The above is not a romantic view of the Malay community. Our capacity to excel is real and there are many examples at the ground. The Malay family that is volunteering at Dover Park Hospice comes to mind. I am told that not only is this family committed to volunteerism but also does a good job at it. I have also come across many Malay doctors who have given their best in voluntary work. Hence it is not about being a volunteer but about being a good and effective volunteer. Many Malay workers have won productivity awards. They are shining examples of Malays who have given their best in what they do. They reflect the spirit of excellence.

My hope is that when our leaders meet in October, we would be able to think collectively on how such a view @ of excellence in whatever we do - can be further entrenched within the community. The role of the community is to support such a positive orientation towards life. It is also important that we, as a community, promote the right idea of excellence. Our leaders must take the lead in demonstrating to the wider community the type of individuals we want to see emerging and developing amongst us. The way we manage our institutions and organisations must reflect and help to shape the orientation that we want to see in our community.

Islamic history is full of examples of such individuals and societies. The well-known sociologist Professor Syed Hussein Al-atas has argued that in any society the type of individuals in it will determine the fate of that society. He notes that a society will only grow and develop if it has a good share of individuals who care about the well-being of society as a whole, as opposed to individuals who are self-serving or

One particularly moving story that I came across in Professor Al-atas´s work is that of Salahuddin Al-Ayubi. He was the ruler of Egypt. Salahuddin was a progressive individual and ruled fairly, irrespective of creed or station in life. Throughout his life, Salahuddin spent his fortune on charitable works, encouraged learning to take place within his empire, and paid attention to the development of knowledge in areas such
as history, geology, and theology. His close companion and personal doctor was the Jewish scholar Moses Maimonedes. Perhaps his most famous characteristic, which has attracted the attention of many scholars, is his generosity and love for his people. He spent his money on the poor. When Richard the Lion heart was injured, Salahuddin asked Maimonedes to attend to the wounds of Richard. When Salahuddin died in 1193, he only had an armour, a horse and small amount of money. The family did not have enough money to buy the burial cloth for his funeral.

Indeed, for a community of excellence to emerge we need to have individuals committed to building the good society and the common good. There are many examples of such individuals today, both locally and overseas. Professor Mohd Yunos of Bangladesh started the Grameen Bank, which offers micro-financing services to the poor, not to enrich himself but to empower low-income women. Our teachers, Muslims or otherwise, give their best to train and develop our young minds, to enrich our society with creative and productive individuals. When the Malay/Muslim officers
of the Police Coast Guard, together with their colleagues strove to save the sinking navy vessel, they did so to save lives and avert a greater disaster. Pak Iskander, the parents of the kids who did well in Mathematics, and the Malay family who are volunteering also enrich our community and society in their own way.

Awards, such as tonight´s, serve to reinforce the idea of excellence in the community. Individuals such as Pak Iskander and the winner tonight should be seen as reflecting the type of individuals we want in our community. More importantly, their commitment and interest in excellence is something we can all achieve as a community. I am confident that with individuals like these permeating our society, the community of excellence we desire will be realised not too far in the distant future.

Thank you.


(In both Malay and English version)


Assalamualaikum w.w.

Selamat malam dan salam sejahtera kepada tetamu terhormat kita pada malam ini, Menteri Pembangunan Masyarakat dan Sukan yang juga Menteri Bertanggungjawab Bagi Ehwal Masyarakat Islam, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim;

Speaker Parlimen, Encik Abdullah Tarmugi;

Saudara dan saudari yang saya hormati sekalian.

Pada malam yang berbahagia ini saya ingin merakamkan jutaan terima kasih kepada anda semua kerana sudi hadir untuk sama-sama menjayakan majlis ini.

Tanpa sokongan anda, kita tidak mungkin dapat menyampaikan Anugerah Jauhari
ini untuk kali kelima.

Di pihak kami, kami akan pastikan agar orang-orang yang kami tampilkan adalah mereka yang benar-benar layak dan dapat sama-sama kita banggakan.

Dan sebaik-baiknya bakat dan sumbangannya itu tidak terbatas kepada masyarakat Melayu saja, tetapi juga di peringkat nasional. Malah, jika boleh, di peringkat antarabangsa.

Inilah yang menjadi matlamat Anugerah Jauhari ini.

Dengan saiz masyarakat kita yang kecil, tugas ini menjadi kian sukar dari tahun ke tahun.

Namun, saya percaya, jika kita tidak jemu mencari, pasti ada di kalangan kita individu yang menyerlah bakat atau sumbangannya, yang dapat kita


Dan sekali lagi saya ingin ucapkan terima kasih kepada semua yang hadir pada malam ini dan juga kepada mereka telah memberikan kerjasama kepada kami. Terima kasih.

LADIES and gentlemen,

This has been an eventful year for us.

Sars struck us in the midst of the Iraq war.

For weeks, the news on Sars overtook stories on war in Iraq. Even when the final shot was fired in the battle of Baghdad, we were still fiercely engaged in a battle in our own backyard against this invisible enemy.

The whole population was gripped with fear. Schools were closed. People were afraid to leave their homes. Shopping centres and entertainment outlets were deserted. And our tourism industry was nearly crippled as tourists avoided us. Life almost came to a halt.

The entire government machinery and resources were mobilised to fight this unusual war, one that we have never fought before. And Singaporeans, including Malays, responded as one people.

There were some members of the Malay/Muslim community, however, who regarded the outbreak as a blessing in disguise. They felt that it has helped to take away the attention from them since it happened in the midst of the Iraq war and while there was a growing interest as to how Malay/Muslims here would react to the war.

I, however, personally think otherwise.

I believe Sars has in fact put the Malay/Muslim community again in the spotlight, only this time, in a much more refreshing and positive light.

In fact, I have no doubt, that the Sars outbreak put to test the whole question of our loyalty and our willingness to sacrifice for this nation.

And I believe we passed this test with flying colours.

When Sars was at its height, the Malays did not run away or hide in one corner to look only after themselves. Instead, our courage, dedication and unflagging spirit to serve was an eye-opener to other Singaporeans.

Without the slightest hesitation, our Malay nurses, medical officers and even Cisco personnel bravely offered their services whether to those infected, or those suspected with Sars and needed to be traced; helped to distribute food to those who were on home quarantine order and tirelessly monitored them during the quarantine period.

They did this, fully aware that their own lives were at risk. And in fact one staff nurse, Hamidah Ismail, even gave her life. We should all be proud of them.

Fellow Singaporeans saw the true Malay Singaporeans in action -- willing to give anything and everything, even their lives, when the country needed them most, in a real crisis.

Sars is only one example.

When one of our navy boats, RSS Courageous, collided with a ship near Pedra Branca early this year, killing four female officers, a number of Malay police officers from the Police Coast Guard who were in the rescue team gallantly stepped forward and offered their helping hands to those who needed to be rescued.

It was a truly difficult and dangerous operation, because the sea was very rough and the night was pitch black.

Yet, our Malay officers, together with their non-Malay colleagues, bravely crossed over to the boat to rescue the victims.

We should all be proud of them too.

Berita Harian has invited some of them to be with us here tonight.

And, lest we forget, it was also a Malay/Muslim who alerted the security authority here of the existence of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) network in our midst, which subsequently led to the arrest of more than 30 JI members and uncovered its connections in Malaysia and Indonesia.

The rest is history.

To me, these episodes are clearly strong signals to other Singaporeans -- that we can be relied on in times of crisis; that when it really matters most, our hearts and souls belong to Singapore.

And I have no doubt that in the event of a real war, the Malays would stay put and fight, and relive the spirit of Lieutenant Adnan.

Hopefully, these signals will pave the way for greater trust and confidence among Singaporeans and help to strengthen further the bond between us.

Let this be food for thought for all of us.

At the same time, let real food help to strengthen our ties too. I think we should thank many non-Muslim food operators for doing an excellent job by going halal, for this helps in the bonding process.

The list of restaurants that have gone halal has grown longer over the years: McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Long John Silvers, Delifrance, Swensen´s, Magic Wok, Seoul Garden, Banquet, Han River, Rice Table and Breeks, to name just a few.

The number of halal catering services run by non-Muslims is also growing.

Malays are now able to savour many of the delicacies that non-Malays/non-Muslims have long enjoyed.

As far as I can remember, the Malay community has never asked any non-Muslim restaurant here to go halal. They decided to go halal, purely on a commercial basis. However, they have unknowingly contributed towards greater interaction among Singaporeans.

We should encourage this development.

(And of course, if these restaurants want to attract an even bigger crowd, they should advertise in Berita Harian).

Perhaps our People’s Association can learn something from the experience of these restaurants. If they can apply the same formula, but perhaps using slightly different ’ingredients’, they would be able to attract many more Malays to participate in their activities. And I believe PA is already thinking of doing that.

The trick actually lies in simply understanding and appreciating our basic needs as Muslims, and our areas of interest.

However, it is equally important for the Malays to be more accomodating. They should not try to impose their views when a compromise is possible. A give-and-take approach must be the norm in a multi-racial, multi-religious society like Singapore.

It is not proper to ask others to make sacrifices and give way all the time. We too, from time to time, and wherever possible, need to do the same.

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is the fifth year that we are presenting this award. My congratulations to this year’s winner.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your support all these years. I hope to see you again, not just next year, but in the years to come.

Thank you.