Dorm operator, Muslim groups, reach out to foreign workers in fight against extremism

From left (squatting): CEO of MES Group Mohamed Abdul Jaleel, Parlimentary Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs Amrin Amin, and High Commisioner of Bangladesh to Singapore Mahbub Zaman speak to Bangladeshi workers at the Leo dormitory.
From left (squatting): CEO of MES Group Mohamed Abdul Jaleel, Parlimentary Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs Amrin Amin, and High Commisioner of Bangladesh to Singapore Mahbub Zaman speak to Bangladeshi workers at the Leo dormitory. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - When news broke that 27 Bangladesh nationals were arrested for terror activities, businessman Mohamed Abdul Jaleel was concerned that others living in the dormitories he ran could be similarly influenced.

That was in January this year.

On Friday (May 20) night, a group of Islamic religious leaders he had contacted began their bid to educate Bangladeshi workers on the dangers of radical ideology. This new initiative is called community engagement and religious guidance for foreign workers. About 300 workers attended an hour-long session at a dormitory in Kaki Bukit.

"We see this as a way to educate the workers and ensure they are not misguided by these ideologies," said Mr Jaleel, chief executive officer of MES Group, which runs three dormitories for foreign workers.

Ustaz Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) that conducted the session, said: "This is our first effort at reaching out to foreign workers, and we hope to engage them not only at dormitories, but also mosques and elsewhere."

The RRG counsels terror detainees and conducts public education on the dangers of extremism for the wider community. The need to also reach out to foreign workers has become more urgent with the detention last month(April) of another eight Bangladeshi workers for being part of a group they called Islamic State in Bangladesh, that was plotting attacks in their home country.

Those arrested had met outside their dormitories, but community leaders here feel dormitories are a suitable venue to educate workers.

Bangladeshis make up about 40 per cent of the 4,300 residents at the Kaki Bukit dormitory, and future talks will be held at MES' other three dormitories, in Jurong.

Ustaz Mohamed gave the talk in English, with translation into Bengali by a Singapore Bangladesh Society member.

Ustaz Mohamed stressed that groups like ISIS have misused religious concepts to support its ideology of terror, and that the Singapore Government takes a hard stance on all terrorism-related activities. He advised them against joining any deviant religious groups and to report any suspicious matters to the authorities.

Pamphlets by the RRG in English and Bengali were also distributed. These highlight Islamic scholars declaring that ISIS' actions are against Islam, which stresses compassion, peace and respect for others. They also advise workers to distance themselves from extremist ideas.

Mr Naseer Ghani, president of the Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League that works with MES, RRG and Jamiyah Singapore to organise the programme, said it is important that such efforts help distinguish religiosity from radicalism.

"Being more religious doesn't mean becoming an extremist," he said.

Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin, who was also at the session, spoke to some of the workers after the talk and said they appreciated MES and other organisations helping them to address the issue of extremism.

Electrical engineer Kawsar, 28, welcomed the effort to educate his peers on the dangers of extremism, and added that he would not hesitate to report any radical activities.

"If I see people making problems, I will call the police," he said.

There are plans for similar sessions in other languages for workers of different nationalities. MES is also ready to work with other dormitory operators.

"At the end of the day, it's about Singapore's safety," said Mr Jaleel.