Fight against extremism uncomfortable, but bearing fruit: Shanmugam

Minister K Shanmugam speaks with young Islamic teachers at a seminar held at the Muis auditorium on Braddell Road on Oct 7, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
(From left) Minister K Shanmugam shares a meal with Dr Fatris Bakaram, Singapore's Mufti, and other Islamic religious leaders at a seminar for Islamic teachers held at the Muis auditorium on Oct 7, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
Attendees listen to Minister K Shanmugam's speech at a seminar for Islamic teachers held at the Muis auditorium on Oct 7, 2017. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - 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 Muslim community leaders on Saturday (Oct 7).

More Singaporeans are able to reject practices which divide communities, they added, during a seminar on helping the Muslim community to stand even firmer against radicalism.

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

"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.

He added that these are signs that Singapore has achieved a certain level of psychological resilience.

Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) director of religious policy and development Nazirudin Mohd Nasir said people have begun to understand the need to spread awareness of what is and is not acceptable.

As a result, when they or their families read radical messages spread on social media, "they're able to respond to it in the right way and be that first line of protection for their family members", he said.

But Dr Nazirudin also acknowledged that when Muis rolls out such sermons, the Malay-Muslim community tells them they 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 ideology, why do you keep talking about terrorism?"

The reason is to get the broader community to understand that extremism has no place in Singapore, said the minister.

The event was organised by three Malay-Muslim organisations as part of their efforts to equip religious teachers to better guide the community at a time when extremist messages are being spread online.

They are: Muis, the Religious Rehabilitation Group, and the Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas).

Singapore's top Islamic leader Mufti Fatris Bakaram called on community leaders to promote an understanding and practice of Islam within the context of Singapore's diverse society.

Religious teachers can give sound religious guidance and help people be discerning when discussing religious doctrines, added the Mufti.

For instance, he questioned if a caliphate is the only ideal and legitimate political system which Muslims can live and take part in.

"There is a need to question some assumptions of our fundamental understandings of these concepts, as they were not formed in isolation of the social and political contexts of their time," said Dr Fatris.

He urged leaders make sound Islamic knowledge easily accessible.

To this end, the RRG and Khadijah Mosque published a book with 15 essays debunking misinterpretations of Islamic concepts.

It rebuts extremist teachings that promote taking slaves and emigrating to the caliphate, among others.

The 92-page book will be distributed to all 70 mosques in Singapore, and uploaded on the RRG's website and Facebook page.

Said RRG vice-chairman Mohamed Ali: "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 their 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 communities to be more inclusive, and making sure people have friendships across communities, said both 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."

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