Muslim youth look at ways to ease Islamophobia worries

The arrests of two young Singaporeans for radicalism last month has reignited concerns among Muslim youth here that anti-Muslim sentiments would rise in the wake of those detentions.

At a forum yesterday, some of these youth expressed fears about Islamophobia and asked how they could help allay doubts or misconceptions other communities might have about Islam.

"Islamophobia in Singapore is not as bad as it is in the West, but these days I do worry that some people will look at me differently or suspiciously because of my religion," said ITE student Nur Nabilah Isaman, who wears a tudung.

She also recognised the need to reach out to people from other races and religions, to help them understand Islam, adding: "To fight Islamophobia, I can't just keep quiet and hope people won't think the worst of me."

The 18-year-old was among 200 participants at an annual youth forum by the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group, which supports the families of terrorist detainees.

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam, who fielded questions during a closed-door session at the forum, told reporters Singapore's policies and approach to integration has helped foster social cohesion. "The majority of us trust each other. We work with each other, we live with each other, stay in the same housing estates," he said.

But at the same time, attacks around the world have made dents in that trust, he noted.

Islamophobia is something the country needs to watch out for, he said, reiterating a message that political leaders have stressed in recent weeks in the wake of arrests of radicalised Singaporeans.

Mr Shanmugam said efforts to engage both Muslim and non-Muslim communities must be ramped up.

Muslim youth, he added, should understand that they can be good Muslims and still take part in activities that involve the larger Singaporean community.

Building bonds between the different communities is key in the fight against terrorism, he said.

"The terrorists win if Islamophobia grows, if the trust deficit widens in Singapore, if there are deep rifts and if, the day after an attack, we start pointing fingers at the Muslim community," he said.

A recent report by the Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict warned that Singapore could be a potential target for the terror network in Marawi.

In response to media queries, the Ministry of Home Affairs said security agencies are on high alert, and on the lookout for attempts by militants to transit through Singapore to join the insurgency in Marawi.

It also warned that any Singaporean who attempts to travel to conflict zones to join the armed conflict will be firmly dealt with.

When asked yesterday, Mr Shanmugam told reporters that there is no intelligence to suggest a "specific threat from Marawi", but added that the situation there raises the overall terror threat.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 23, 2017, with the headline 'Muslim youth look at ways to ease Islamophobia worries'. Print Edition | Subscribe