S'pore's rejection of extremism pays off

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam (third from left) speaking to young Islamic teachers at a seminar in the Muis auditorium yesterday. The event sought to equip religious teachers to guide the community at a time when extremist messages are b
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam (third from left) speaking to young Islamic teachers at a seminar in the Muis auditorium yesterday. The event sought to equip religious teachers to guide the community at a time when extremist messages are being spread online.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

More S'poreans saying no to divisive practices, say Shanmugam and community leaders

Saying no to extremism in Singapore has paid off, even though the campaign has been uncomfortable at times, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam and community leaders yesterday.

More Singaporeans are rejecting practices that divide communities, they added, at a seminar on helping the Muslim community to stand even firmer against radicalism.

"If you go today and talk to the average Muslim on the streets... they will tell you what is and what is not acceptable," said Mr Shanmugam.

"It is sinking in, it is accepted and the small groups of people who advocate a more extreme view are also keeping quiet," he told 270 religious teachers and community leaders.

These are signs that Singapore has achieved a certain level of psychological resilience, he added.

Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) director of religious policy and development Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said people now better understand what is not acceptable.

As a result, when they or their families read radical messages spread on social media, "they are able to respond to them in the right way and be that first line of protection for their family members", he said. But he also noted that on hearing sermons by Muis on extremism, Muslims sometimes get the "uncomfortable sense that they are associated with these acts".

Mr Shanmugam also acknowledged the discomfort of this spotlight, saying: "Most of our Muslims are peaceful and moderate, so sometimes there is the thinking... we are not extremists, we do not support any of this ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) ideology, why do you keep talking about terrorism?"

The reason: to help broader society understand that extremism has no place in Singapore, he said.

Yesterday's event sought to equip religious teachers to guide the community at a time when extremist messages are being spread online. It was organised by three Muslim groups: Muis, the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas).

Singapore's top Islamic leader, Mufti Fatris Bakaram, urged leaders to promote an understanding of Islam within the context of Singapore's diverse society.

For example, they should challenge the idea of the caliphate as the only ideal and legitimate political system that Muslims can live and take part in. Concepts like the caliphate must be understood in the context and socio-political environment of the time, he said.

He urged leaders to make sound Islamic knowledge easily accessible.

To this end, the RRG and Khadijah Mosque published a book of 15 essays debunking extremist teachings like those that promote slave-taking and emigrating to the caliphate. The 92-page book will be distributed to all 70 mosques and via the RRG's website and Facebook page.

RRG vice-chairman Mohamed Ali said: "With this publication, we hope the community will better understand the need for us to reject extremism and ensure their loved ones will not be easily swayed by the ideas of the extremists."

Muis also published a parenting handbook on how to identify signs that family members have been radicalised, and how to help them.

Leaders also said it was time for a broader approach to building social cohesion that applies to all religions, instead of only Islam.

This includes encouraging inclusivity, and making sure people have friendships across communities, said Dr Fatris and Mr Shanmugam.

From next year, said the minster,"we can spotlight a little bit less on terrorism and a little bit more on values and a Singaporean identity".

He added: "I think this is more comfortable for everybody as well."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on October 08, 2017, with the headline 'S'pore's rejection of extremism pays off'. Print Edition | Subscribe