SINGAPORE - Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam has called on Singaporeans to reach out to their Muslim neighbours and build social cohesion, saying they are obliged to do so as the recent string of terror attacks threatens to fray the trust between communities here.
He underlined the need to thwart Islamophobia from developing on Wednesday, after a closed-door meeting with 60 students from the six full-time madrasah, or Islamic religious schools, in Singapore.
"Whatever it is, we are Singaporeans together and that trumps everything else," he told reporters, adding that "the 85 per cent who are non-Muslim have an obligation to reach out to the Muslim community and make sure the bonds are strong".
He noted that after each of the recent terror attacks in Europe and the US, the number of attacks against Muslims shot up three-fold.
While there was no immediate threat of such violence erupting in Singapore, he warned that non-Muslims could start developing negative attitudes towards Muslims.
"People will be too politically correct to express them, but internally they will start looking at Muslims differently," he said, adding that feedback from Muslims indicate they are concerned about rising Islamophobia in Singapore.
Before the dialogue, Mr Shanmugan visited the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and later, the adjacent Madrasah Irsyad Zuhri.
Muis chief executive Abdul Razak Maricar and Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin also took part in the dialogue.
Mr Shanmugam said the students raised the topic of Islamophobia in Singapore, adding that it was an issue the Government recognised as a significant risk to the country's social fabric.
If Singaporeans become prejudiced against Muslims, terrorists will find it easier to recruit them, he said.
"If 85 per cent of the population that's non-Muslim starts developing Islamophobia, that's precisely what the terrorists want you to do... When the minority Muslim community feels marginalised and discriminated, that's when you get fertile ground for recruitment."
"We'll be playing right into their hands," he added.
A student at the dialogue, Madrasah Al-Maarif Pre-U 1 student Afifah Shameemah, recounted to reporters an incident at a school camp two years ago when a participant from another school made a joke about Muslims being terrorists.
The 17-year-old said it hurt her feelings, but she did not speak up at that time.
But if it were to happen today, she would, she said. "It may be a joke, but beause we are in a multi-racial country, we really have to be careful of what we say and make sure we aren't hurting anybody with our words."
Madrasah Al-Arabiah Secondary 3 student Kasyful Azim, 15, who also took part in the dialogue, suggested including madrasah schools in more national sports and academic competitions so that their students can better integrate with their peers in mainstream schools.