Interfaith talk busts myths about 'jihad' and Islam

Dialogue participants and religious leaders discuss sensitive and contentious issues

A search for "jihad" on the Internet typically throws up references to religious wars, but this is a distorted interpretation of the term, said some religious leaders at an interfaith event last night.

In fact, jihad means to struggle against oneself to become a better Muslim, said religious teacher Khalid Rafi, 36, an imam at Muhajirin Mosque.

It does not mean to wage war against non-Muslims, he stressed.

He was speaking at a dialogue organised by the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP) as part of its CommaCon campaign to promote social cohesion by encouraging public discussion of sensitive and contentious issues.

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About 50 people, mostly in their 20s, attended the session last night, where they debunked misconceptions about jihad. Leaders of other religions were also invited.

Mr Hazni Aris, 39, president of AMP's youth wing, said jihad is often wrongly linked to the concept of a holy war against "infidels".

Ustaz Khalid said this was because extremist political movements in the 21st century have hijacked the term to justify violence against non-Muslims.

STRIVING TO BE THE BEST MUSLIM

Jihad is to strive your utmost best to become the best Muslim you can be, through words, actions or intentions. That is the true essence of jihad.

USTAZ KHALID RAFI, an imam at Muhajirin Mosque, explaining the meaning of the term "jihad".

During the two-hour event, participants discussed how to dissociate the term from terrorist attacks.

Venerable Chuan Guan of the Singapore Buddhist Federation encouraged non-Muslims to condemn terrorist attacks as going against Islam.

He said: "We need to stand in solidarity with Muslims, instead of expecting Muslims to always stand up and explain themselves."

Meanwhile, pre-school teacher Syahdiqin Ismail, 25, suggested that Muslims and non-Muslims get to know one another better so they feel comfortable asking each other questions about their religions.

She said: "Get to know a Muslim, or if you're Muslim, get to know non- Muslims. In Singapore, we're all kind of living beside each other rather than understanding each other. Breaking down the communication barrier goes a long way."

About half of the dialogue participants were Muslim. They broke fast and ate dinner alongside the non-Muslim participants.

Religious teacher Ridhwan Basor, 32, from the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, said Ramadan is a time for spiritual reflection, when Muslims refrain in particular from doing bad deeds and try to perform more good deeds, which are rewarded many times over.

Another topic discussed was how people should respond when those of other faiths insult Islam. One participant recounted how her friends called Islam a "false religion".

To this, Mr Nicholas Lye, 36, a Catholic, said he believed that "God's truth can be reflected in other religions too", adding that there was always something to learn from one another.

Interfaith activist Mohamed Imran Mohamed Taib, 40, said people should try not to be offended right off the bat. Instead, they should try to understand where the other person is coming from.

"Be a bridge builder rather than jump on the other person... (or) make police reports, or insult someone online," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 10, 2017, with the headline 'Interfaith talk busts myths about 'jihad' and Islam'. Print Edition | Subscribe