PARLIAMENT: Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth

Muslim groups doing more to guide their community

Young people from various Malay-Muslim organisations at a discussion last month about their aspirations for Singapore's future. Listening in were Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim (standing, second from far left), Parliamentary Secretary for Minist
Young people from various Malay-Muslim organisations at a discussion last month about their aspirations for Singapore's future. Listening in were Associate Professor Faishal Ibrahim (standing, second from far left), Parliamentary Secretary for Ministry of Education & Ministry of Social and Family Development, and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (standing, far left), MP for Jurong GRC. Yesterday in Parliament, Dr Yaacob outlined measures to build a progressive Muslim community that strengthens Singapore's multi-religious society.BH FILE PHOTO

Efforts under way to counter extremist views online, support religious teachers and students

The Muslim community is stepping up its efforts to counter extremist influences online, at a time when radical groups abuse the Internet as a platform for their views.

The religious education curriculum already includes lessons that help inoculate youth against online radicalisation, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament yesterday.

And the Mufti's office at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and the Religious Rehabilitation Group - which counsels radicalised persons - are developing print as well as online material to guide the wider community on the issue.

Dr Yaacob was responding to Malay/Muslim MPs at the debate on the budget for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. Muis is a statutory board under its purview.

The above efforts are part of a range of measures that Dr Yaacob outlined yesterday, which aim to build a progressive Muslim community that strengthens Singapore's multi-religious society at a time when regional and global events could affect social bonds.

Dr Yaacob, who is Minister for Communications and Information, noted that Muslims in Singapore have long been guided by the principles of moderation and respect for different races and religions.

And while it will be increasingly difficult to balance competing views and interests, the community must instil, especially in youth, an appreciation of diversity.

"To me, being progressive is the ability to understand the modern world with an open mind and heart...We need to be well-read and be respectful as we balance differences in ideas, concerns and interests and gain a consensus to find the best possible solution," he said.

To better guide the community, Muis will work to build the capabilities of religious teachers.

Some 80 per cent of religious teachers are registered under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, and Muis will discuss with them how to enhance it and get the remaining 20 per cent - some of whom are informally trained - on board.

To better guide those seeking Islamic religious education abroad, Muis will have an enhanced Student Welfare and Careers Office.

Muis will also share knowledge on how Muslims in multicultural societies like Singapore practise their faith in a multiracial society. It will organise the first conference on fatwa - or religious guidance - in contemporary societies later this year.

And to ensure there are enough prayer spaces for Muslims, 15 mosques have been upgraded and two built since 2009. Maarof Mosque in Jurong West will open later this year, and the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands next year.

When current projects are ready by 2018, there will be 24,700 more prayer spaces compared to 2009.

Dr Yaacob also said the site for the new mosque in Tampines North has been decided: It will be built along Tampines Avenue 10, in the heart of the future Tampines North town.

Madrasah Al-Arabiah in Lorong 6 Toa Payoh will also have a new home next to its current premises.

The six full-time madrasah are also doing more with technology in teaching and learning, he added. Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri worked with the Infocomm Development Authority to set up a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) lab to expose students to game designing and robotics, and Madrasah Aljunied is piloting the teaching of the Arabic language using iBooks.

Dr Yaacob noted that just as the nation's pioneers struggled to make a nation out of disparate communities, today's generation must work hard to move into the future.

"Let us not wait for others to find the solutions to the challenges that trouble us," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 15, 2016, with the headline 'Committee of Supply debate: Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Muslim groups doing more to guide their community'. Print Edition | Subscribe