Muis to harness social media to counter radical ideology

SINGAPORE - The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) will intensify efforts to counter extremist ideology by tapping technology and getting more parents and community groups involved.

It plans to equip asatizah, or religious teachers, with social media skills so they can better connect with the young.

A Muis spokesman told The Straits Times on Tuesday (June 13) that this could include teaching the teachers how to make better use of platforms like Facebook Live, which allows people to post live videos, and helping them package religious knowledge in digestible, bite-sized forms that will work better online.

When news broke on Monday that 22-year-old Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari had earlier this month been detained for radicalism, Muis said in a statement that the incident highlighted the serious threat of self-radicalisation.

It warned that social media platforms are fertile ground for radical ideology, saying: "The community needs to be very wary of the carefully crafted messages which ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and similar movements are projecting on social media."

Izzah, who was a contract infant care assistant at a pre-school, actively posted and shared pro-ISIS material on social media.

Muis said it hopes to beef up the presence of local asatizah on social media to spread legitimate Islamic teachings. Otherwise, young people, who are more likely to turn to the Internet for religious guidance, may be exposed to the teachings of foreign preachers that may not be contextualised, said the Muis spokesman.

"We want to have home-grown alternatives online, who are able to provide content that is appropriate to Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious context," he said.

Muis is also looking to partner parents and community groups to spread the message of rejecting extremism.

Over the years, it has rolled out a wide array of initiatives to counter extremism and exclusivism.

For instance, it introduced topics in religious education programmes to debunk radical interpretations of jihad that are used by terrorist groups to justify armed violence.

Muis also has plans to increase spaces in its Adult Islamic Learning programme from the current 2,500 to 10,000 by 2020 to meet the rising demand for proper religious education.

And to further ensure the Muslim community gets advice from credible religious teachers, the Asatizah Recognition Scheme was made mandatory this year. Teachers must meet requirements spelled out under the scheme in order to provide Islamic instruction in Singapore.

These include abiding by a formal Code of Ethics that stresses moderation and lays out what religious teachers here must or must not do.

They must not, for one, do anything that directly or indirectly denigrates any race or religion, or advocate any idea likely to encourage extremism or violence.