Explaining the Syrian conflict to Muslims in Singapore

Malay-Muslim leaders help spread message to guard against extremism

Leaders of the Malay-Muslim community are taking steps to put across the right message about the Syrian crisis, which has drawn fighters from around the world to take up arms.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore, or Muis, has roped in mosques, religious teachers and madrasahs to explain the conflict to Muslims here and to put things in perspective.

The Government has also started working with the Malay media, like the Berita Harian newspaper, to put out explanatory articles, and is looking into cyberwellness programmes that will guard against young people being radicalised via the Internet.

Some Malay-Muslim groups have also sourced for bona fide channels for Singaporeans to provide humanitarian aid and donations to victims of the conflict.

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said of the efforts: "It shows the community is taking ownership of the challenge and we want to do something about it."

Dr Yaacob was speaking to reporters after a closed-door dialogue with 60 community and religious leaders, at which he and Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean spoke of the Syrian crisis.

The conflict has claimed 150,000 lives and drawn foreigners, including Singaporeans, to join what some see as a jihad. This has sparked fears of the spread of extremism around the world.

Yesterday, Mr Teo, who is also Home Affairs Minister, reiterated concerns about the conflict's impact on security and social cohesion here, saying it has the potential to be worse than the Jemaah Islamiah threat. In 2001, Singapore arrested members of the terror group after the authorities discovered its plot to attack targets in the country, leading to worries it could affect community relations.

But radical ideology today, Mr Teo said, can spread more quickly than in 2001 because of the Internet and social media. The ease of air travel to Syria has also made it easier for people to join the fight.

And the scale of violence in the sectarian war in Syria and Iraq has "caused emotions to run high", drawing some to the fight.

Pergas president and co-chair of the Religious Rehabilitation Group, Ustaz Hasbi Hassan, said the rebels' calls for jihad "do not fulfil the teachings of Islam".

"This can lead to misunderstanding among Singaporean Muslims and also with non-Muslims. It can threaten the safety and harmony of our multi-racial and multi-religious society," he added.

Mr Teo stressed the actions of a small group should not be seen as representative of the Malay-Muslim community: "We need to understand that in Singapore all our communities believe in peace and harmony."

Dr Yaacob said the non-Muslim community can help spread the message that the conflict is not one Singaporeans should be involved in. Dr Wee Boon Hup, president of the National Council of Churches and bishop of the Methodist Church, said non-Muslims may be "concerned" about the developments, but noted "both the authorities and Muslim community leaders have a hold on the problem".



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