Singapore's Malay/Muslim community recognises the dangers of extremist ideology and is taking steps to counter its spread here, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said in Parliament yesterday.
A key project spearheaded by a network of young asatizah, or religious teachers, to prevent radicalisation among youth, will be expanded, he said. The Asatizah Youth Network, which has 11 religious teachers trained in digital media and counselling, will see its membership grow to 30 by the year end.
Dr Yaacob announced this as he laid out plans to strengthen religious education and key community institutions, one of three key strategies he highlighted for the Malay/Muslim community, along with efforts to support families and children and help people embrace technology.
Noting that Muslims have been set against non-Muslims in many societies by the spread of extremist ideology and acts of terror by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Dr Yaacob said the same cannot be allowed to happen in Singapore. He also cautioned against religious teachers preaching segregation and a rejection of the secular state. "This is surely the road to alienation, marginalisation and ruin. In Singapore, we must stand united against such ideologues and ideologies, and against Islamophobia," he said.
The young, especially, must be inoculated against such views, he added during the debate on the budget for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, which oversees Muslim Affairs.
Responding to Mr Zainal Sapari (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC), who asked how young people can be protected from radical ideology, Dr Yaacob said over the next five years, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) aims to conduct drop-in sessions for youth at Al-Falah Mosque in Orchard Road, and continue training asatizah in digital media engagements and counselling techniques to counter youth radicalism. This is on top of growing the Asatizah Youth Network, formed last year, he said.
He also gave an update on Singapore's plan to develop an Islamic college here, in response to queries from Dr Intan Azura Mokhtar (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Dr Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC). He said he has gone with Muis officials to study different models of tertiary Islamic education in Middle Eastern countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Turkey, as well as multi-religious nations such as the United States and Canada. "An Islamic college in Singapore would adapt appropriate features from overseas institutions so that we will, in time, produce Islamic teachers and scholars who balance a deep learning of the Islamic sciences with broad-based skills and knowledge, and more importantly are rooted in the belief and practice of Islam in Singapore's multi-religious and multi-racial context," he said.