Muslim leaders concerned about extreme leanings

Ambassador Mohammad Alami Musa (centre) chatting with Professor Emertus Julius Lipner(right) of Cambridge University and Archibishop William Goh at the lecture.
Ambassador Mohammad Alami Musa (centre) chatting with Professor Emertus Julius Lipner(right) of Cambridge University and Archibishop William Goh at the lecture.ST PHOTO: LIM SIN THAI

Muslim leaders have, in recent years, noticed a disturbing trend among a section of the community.

Some of the young feel it is against their faith to wish Christians "Merry Christmas" or Hindus "Happy Deepavali".

Some also preach that it is wrong for them to recite the National Pledge, sing the National Anthem or undergo national service.

They also believe the democratically elected Government in Singapore is not compatible with Islam, and they should live in a caliphate.

That such marginal, exclusive sentiments are held worries Muslim religious leaders interviewed by The Straits Times, who say these have not taken root here.

"Like it or not, members of our community have been influenced," said Ambassador Mohammad Alami Musa. Mr Alami, who heads the Studies in Inter-Religious Relations in Plural Societies (SRP) Programme at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, added that such ideas are "alien to the Islamic ethos in Singapore".

"Muslim leaders teach what it means to be a Singaporean Muslim - to be faithful, good members of the society and to be loyal citizens," he said. But the sanctity of these values is threatened by mutilated and erroneous messages from outside, spread through social media, he added.

Minister for Home Affairs and Law K. Shanmugam flagged the exclusivist tendencies yesterday in a speech where he also noted that Singapore Muslims have been a successful model for the modern world for their moderate worldview and practices. But intolerance by others towards Muslims is also a threat to social harmony, he said.

"The community must continue to preserve and protect their way of life, despite challenges within and without," he added.

Community leaders have sought to develop a Singapore Muslim identity and strengthen ties with other religious groups. Some are active in the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) that counsels terror detainees and counters radicalism.

The leaders have also initiated the Asatizah Recognition Scheme to accredit religious teachers and ensure that divisive and extremist teachings do not gain ground.

Going forward, the SRP will work with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and religious scholars' association Pergas to help religious teachers apply their knowledge to Singapore's context.

Ustaz Mohamed Ali, the RRG's vice-chairman, said it is important to teach young Muslims to be more discerning about information they gather online. Efforts to deepen trust are also key, he said, adding that places of worship like temples, mosques and churches can play a bigger role in "organising inter- faith activities and engagement that specifically deals with the threat of religious extremism".

Madrasah Al-Ma'arif Al-Islamiah student Nur Ardini Mohd Khafidz, 18, welcomed Mr Shanmugam's citing recent examples of Islamophobia as a reminder that discrimination must not take root here.

"I remember watching Al Jazeera - they interviewed female Muslims in America afraid of leaving their homes without wearing disguises such as caps," she said.

"It's good that really specific examples were brought up, because being politically correct all the time will not solve this problem."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 20, 2016, with the headline 'Muslim leaders concerned about extreme leanings'. Print Edition | Subscribe