As extremists continue to peddle radical ideology online, Singapore's Malay/Muslim community is fighting back with a new network to counsel youth and prevent them from being led astray.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) will bring together asatizah (religious teachers) and youth groups, who will be trained to counter radicalisation and also reach out to young people on social media.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim announced this at the Marina Mandarin hotel yesterday, at an annual Hari Raya gathering he hosts each year.
The network is among several efforts to help the community weather challenges such as terrorism and the future economy.
Other plans include initiatives by self-help group Mendaki to equip students and workers with skills to be relevant in a changing economy.
In a speech that took stock of the community's progress over the years and outlined the work ahead, Dr Yaacob, who is Communications and Information Minister, noted that "the great challenge of our time is the radical ideology that has hijacked the name of Islam".
Last month, the authorities announced the detention of two radicalised persons, including the first female detainee, who were planning to travel to Syria to fight.
RESOLVE TO DO WHAT'S RIGHT
We cannot allow extremist and exclusivist ideologies to take root here in Singapore... In overcoming our past challenges, the starting point has always been the resolve of our community.
MINISTER-IN-CHARGE OF MUSLIM AFFAIRS YAACOB IBRAHIM
Urging family and friends to seek help early, Dr Yaacob said such inaction could harm social harmony.
"We cannot allow extremist and exclusivist ideologies to take root here in Singapore," he said.
"In overcoming our past challenges, the starting point has always been the resolve of our community. More than ever before, as a community, we must have the resolve to do what is right, especially to protect our young."
The new network is an important step in the community's battle for the hearts and minds of its youth, to inoculate them from virulent radical teachings, and overcome the inhibition of discussing the thorny issue of radicalisation, he added.
The network will also serve as an avenue for people to seek religious advice or help for loved ones, with total anonymity, to help with earlier detection and intervention.
Muis said in a statement that more serious cases will be referred to the Religious Rehabilitation Group, senior Islamic scholars who counsel terror detainees.
Dr Yaacob also updated guests on the planned Islamic college Muis is setting up to nurture religious leaders. Muis has set up a work group to plan its development, is developing a framework for a robust curriculum and will seek views from the community. It will also learn from the best institutions in the world.
Muis will also organise a series of activities to mark its golden jubilee next year, including an international conference of religious scholars and engagements with the community.
Dr Yaacob also touched on new initiatives by self-help group Mendaki, which turns 35 this year. Educational achievement remains a critical community priority, he said, noting that the number of Malay/ Muslim students excelling in national exams has gone up each year.
But the community must look beyond just formal education: It must look at ways to learn continually, in a world battered by economic and technological change.
Mendaki will therefore work with more institutes of higher learning to help students pick up skills for the future. It will also start Socialthon, a platform to unite youth and industry experts to think up new solutions on sectors ranging from the arts and culture to health.
Dr Yaacob noted that unlike many other minorities in modern democracies, the Malay/Muslim community has adapted well to life here. It has survived challenges through its resolve and resilience, and ability to find solutions unique to Singapore's context, even as new challenges loom on the horizon.
"We must never give up and compromise on the core values that have held our community and nation together," he said. "We must stand firm that Singapore is our home which we love, care and protect with fellow Singaporeans. The future is ours to shape."