Terror arrests

ISA arrests show need to raise vigilance, say Muslim leaders

Congregants performing evening prayers during Ramadan at the Al-Mukminin Mosque in Jurong East on June 17, 2015.
Congregants performing evening prayers during Ramadan at the Al-Mukminin Mosque in Jurong East on June 17, 2015. PHOTO: ST FILE

They plan to do more to engage Bangladeshi worshippers, to warn them about radical ideology

Hours after the news broke on Thursday that a group of 27 radicalised Bangladeshi men had been arrested, members of the Assyakirin Mosque management board gathered for a regular meeting but they had a new topic: Review the way they operate.

Said Ustaz Suhaimi Mustar: "You have to monitor all classes, all groups in the mosque, you need to talk to them individually... We don't want this to happen here."

The mosque chairman was referring to the fact that the rogue Bangladeshis had used the premises of a few Singapore mosques to discuss their radical ideology.

Like him, mosque and Muslim community leaders interviewed yesterday said the discovery of the radical study group was a timely wake-up call to step up vigilance against extremists who distort Islamic teachings to justify violence.

 
 
 
 
 

The Ministry of Home Affairs had said the men, construction workers aged between 25 to 40, shared radical material discreetly and urged members to take up arms against the Bangladeshi government.

KEEPING AN EYE ON GROUPS

You have to monitor all classes, all groups in the mosque, you need to talk to them individually... We don't want this to happen here.

USTAZ SUHAIMI MUSTAR, Assyakirin Mosque.


NO CLOSED CLASSES

We have an open concept, we do classes in the prayer hall, the light is on, no secluded place for them to do what they want.

MR ABDUL RAHIM KASSIM, Khadijah Mosque.


ADVICE FOR WORKERS

Sometimes, when I meet them, I also tell them, 'This is Singapore, don't do anything bad, you come here to work to support your family.'

MR HARON HAMZAH, Haji Mohd Salleh Mosque.

All but one of them were deported, the last serving a jail term for trying to leave Singapore illegally.

The news hit hard for a number of mosques like Assyakirin, the closest mosque for many Bangladeshi workers staying in nearby dormitories. Up to half the daily congregation is Bangladeshi, and many of them volunteer at the mosque. It also has a Bangladeshi board member.

On Friday afternoons, the mosque in Jurong West, which has a capacity of 6,000, has to hold two sessions, the second in Bengali. It also makes sure the Bangladeshi preachers are qualified.

As the number of Bangladeshi workers here grew in recent years to meet manpower needs, they have been welcomed in mosques as part of increasingly diverse congregations, said Mr Helmy Isa, director of mosques at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).

He notes that Muis has been stepping up efforts to prevent radical teachings from taking root, and urged the community to be vigilant.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, in a Facebook post, said: "I appeal that we be more vigilant, whether against radical teachings and ideologies, or of any suspicious activities around us".

He hoped that people would also remain united and not discriminate against foreign workers.

Like Ustaz Suhaimi, a number of other mosque leaders now plan to do even more to engage foreign worshippers. They stress that the majority of Bangladeshis here denounce extremist leanings like those held by the radicalised study group.

Mr Abdul Rahim Kassim, secretary of the Khadijah Mosque in Geylang Road, which has a sizeable Bangladeshi congregation, said mosque leaders had always made sure they were in the loop on the activities of those at the mosque, including their twice-weekly classes.

"We have an open concept, we do classes in the prayer hall, the light is on, no secluded place for them to do what they want, " he said.

But in the wake of the reports, they plan to hold more discussions with Bangladeshi worshippers.

"We don't want them to stop coming to the mosque to pray out of fear of any kind of backlash," he said.

Further down Geylang Road, the Haji Mohd Salleh Mosque sees largely Bangladeshi worshippers.

Vice-chairman Haron Hamzah said workers who stay in the nearby lorongs pray at the mosque in groups of three to five, and attend religious classes in larger groups.

"We get to know the ones who lead each group and advise them, and we will look at ways to better reach out to them so they can help us reach the wider Bangladeshi community," he said. "Sometimes, when I meet them, I also tell them, 'This is Singapore, don't do anything bad, you come here to work to support your family.' "

Mr Abdul Halim Kader, who heads Muslim group Taman Bacaan, which has held seminars to educate youth against extremism, now plans to hold sessions to educate foreign workers about the dangers of radical ideology. "This is a gap, we have to have Bengali speakers to educate them," he added.

Ms Ng Siew Lam, chairman of the Geylang Serai Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle, welcomed the assurance that Muslim leaders were being more watchful.

"Singaporeans do not see all Bangladeshis in the same light as those who were detained. Their radical views are not representative of the views of the majority of Muslims in Singapore and abroad," she said.

"We stand together in rejecting extremist ideologies, which have no place in multiracial and multi-religious Singapore."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 22, 2016, with the headline 'Arrests show need to raise vigilance, say Muslim leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe