“USP is in my blood, hence it is second nature to offer a module in USP. You do more when you feel for the programme you have benefitted a lot from, so that others can follow in your footsteps and even surpass them.”
– Dr Mustafa Izzuddin
I met up with Dr Mustafa Izzuddin at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS)-Yusof Ishak Institute, where he is a Fellow. At USP, Dr Mustafa teaches the Inquiry module “UCV2209: The Heterogeneous Indians of Contemporary Singapore” (also a Singapore Studies module) that is offered in Semester 1 of every academic year.
Many USP students may know that Dr Mustafa was a USP student back when he was an undergraduate – the first batch back in 2001, in fact. However, not many would know that his days as a USP student inspired him to create the module he is teaching now. The inspiration came from the module “Culture and Civilisations of India” he took in USP, taught by then-USP and History professor Dr Medha Malik Kudaisya. He benefitted much from that module, so when the opportunity arose for him to offer a module at USP, he got in touch with Dr Kudaisya. It is interesting to learn how, 16 years later, Dr Mustafa’s professor in his undergraduate days still had such an impact on him.
“I thought of offering a module similar to what she offered, but with a greater focus on Singapore. ‘Heterogeneous Indians of Contemporary Singapore’,” Dr Mustafa said, “The keywords here are ‘heterogeneous’, to show heterogeneity amongst Indians here, and ‘Singapore’, referring to Indians in Singapore.” It is an interesting idea – to think not only of how Indians in Singapore are not all the same, but also how they may be perceived. Situating it in Singapore also makes it even more relevant – these issues impact me and the people around me every day.
I got curious. I had always assumed that Indians in Singapore were quite similar. I knew, of course, that there were Northern and Southern Indians, and different languages spoken by my Indian friends, but not much past these. “To what extent are the Indians in Singapore heterogeneous?” is one question Dr Mustafa wants to pose to students, followed by the broader question, “What makes a community heterogeneous?”
In designing the module, Dr Mustafa thought long and hard about the kind of teaching to do. “I wanted it to be based on two principles,” Dr Mustafa explained, “I wanted to talk less, and for students to talk more, so it had to be on themes the students would be interested in.” From the start, Dr Mustafa wanted learning to be just as much outside the classroom as it was in it – students in his class enjoyed regular field trips to heritage sites germane to the module, such as the Sikh Gurdwara and the Sri Mariamman Temple.
Dr Mustafa recalled one interesting study trip—that of treating the class to Indian food in the Burhani Mosque. “They were eating with their hands, and had to wash their hands in a container. There were many rituals and it was part of the trip to the mosque, so I think the students really liked that.” Dr Mustafa also sought to bring in prominent speakers for students to engage with, including the past-president of the Parsi Zoroastrian Association of Singapore and a prominent member of the Syrian Christian diaspora in Singapore. “Of course I could have just done reading or two, or a PowerPoint, but it’s better to have someone well versed and familiar with the community,” Dr Mustafa said.
Winnie Tan (Business + USP, Class of 2019), one of his students last semester, agreed, “The speakers invited were all very enthusiastic... for example, Dr Jayati Bhattacharya (South Asian Studies Programme, NUS) shared with us about Indian businesses in Singapore. I even managed to get her advice in writing my term paper.” It is these departures from readings and trips out of the classroom help Dr Mustafa to strike a balance between classroom learning and experiential learning.
I asked Dr Mustafa what he felt the difference was between the USP student of his time and the USP student now. Dr Mustafa remarked, “Nowadays, students are smarter, more driven, and have more opportunities available.” He pointed to the residential college, internship opportunities, and global mindset that USP offers or inculcates in us. “USP gives you a well-rounded holistic education, while the students are more disciplined and more driven,” Dr Mustafa concluded.
Reflecting on what USP means to him, Dr Mustafa mused, “Perhaps what makes me a little different from others is that my university life started with USP. It is important for me not to forget my roots. USP is in my blood, hence it is second nature to offer a module in USP. You do more when you feel for the programme you have benefitted a lot from, so that others can follow in your footsteps and even surpass them.” To that end, Dr Mustafa is also actively involved in USP beyond teaching. He has helped with The Sessions (a series of student-run speaker engagement sessions in USP), being an important point of contact for speakers such as Mr Masagos Zulkifli and Mr George Yeo; and more recently, brought together four experts to discuss the reserved elected presidency in Singapore. Dr Mustafa also actively helps with USP’s outreach effort, both as an alumnus and a teaching faculty. His words and actions got me thinking of what I would do for USP, as an alumnus 10 years from now.