Staying secure amid the terror threat

Observatory fights extremist ideology

President Tony Tan on a tour of Al-Azhar University's Observatory for Foreign Languages in Cairo, Egypt, last month. The observatory monitors extremist ideology online, checking websites and social media in nine languages - including English, Chinese
President Tony Tan on a tour of Al-Azhar University's Observatory for Foreign Languages in Cairo, Egypt, last month. The observatory monitors extremist ideology online, checking websites and social media in nine languages - including English, Chinese and Urdu - and publishing rebuttals. Dr Tan highlighted the observatory as one example Singapore can learn from in its fight against terror.PHOTO: MINISTRY OF COMMUNICATIONS AND INFORMATION

Each day, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) issues up to 7,000 rulings to its followers through its online networks.

The terror group's messages mislead Muslims, giving them the wrong idea about the religion. This is a key reason that Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, set up a dedicated unit last year to monitor and rebut extremist ideology online, said its representative Abdel Rahman Moussa.

Al-Azhar is one of the world's oldest universities and an authority in the Islamic world. About 240 Singapore students now study there and many will become religious teachers when they return.

Its Observatory for Foreign Languages monitors extremist ideology online, checking websites and social media in nine languages - including English, Chinese and Urdu - and publishing rebuttals.

 

Insight visited the observatory last month during President Tony Tan Keng Yam's state visit to Egypt. It is an example of how other countries are mounting a growing counter-offensive to combat ISIS' influence online.

During his state visit, Dr Tan highlighted the observatory as one example Singapore can learn from in its fight against terror.

Religious scholars there analyse content and immediately reply online on the same social media platforms, using Islamic law and theology, said Mr Moussa.

They "refute these ideas and explain to youth the proper thoughts and ideas, and how all these allegations are false, and don't have any connection with Islam, Muslims and the Islamic cause", he said.

Al-Azhar decided to set up the observatory last year after discovering ISIS' growing network online.

One common misconception spread by ISIS is that Muslims must establish and live in an Islamic state, or caliphate. Mr Moussa said there is no justification for an Islamic state in Islamic teachings. He also said Al-Azhar is training imams from around the world in how to spot and confront extreme ideas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 20, 2016, with the headline 'Observatory fights extremist ideology'. Print Edition | Subscribe