Malay community can be 'a beacon in troubled times'

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam urged the community to continue working hard.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam urged the community to continue working hard.ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Muslim society can set example on tolerance, success and education, says Shanmugam

Singapore's Malay/Muslim community can take pride in the significant progress it has made over the years and face the future with confidence, said Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam.

The community is better educated, has more assets and is more resilient, he told 400 Malay grassroots leaders and People's Association staff at a dialogue on religious harmony and resilience held yesterday at the Grassroots' Club.

He added that the Malay/Muslim community can be "a beacon in these troubled times".

"The Muslim society in Singapore can be an example on tolerance, on success, on education. In every field... we can be the example. Look around at other societies in the world. How many have this kind of success?" he said.

In an hour-long speech, he highlighted successful members of the community from the public and private sectors, and urged the community to continue working hard.

It must be successful, confident in its own culture, traditions and religion and integrated into Singapore's multiracial fabric, he said.

Mr Shanmugam also flagged several challenges facing the community, and chief among them was radicalism and terrorism.

One worrying trend in the region is the rise of exclusivist views and the influence of foreign preachers who lead young men astray.

He singled out hardline preachers Zakir Naik and Ismail Menk, who have preached in the region.

Mr Naik has said Muslims cannot vote for non-Muslims, or have Christians and Jews as friends.

Mr Menk has said it is blasphemous for Muslims to greet believers of other faiths during festivals such as Christmas or Deepavali.

"Unfortunately, in this region, no one is stopping this kind of teaching," said Mr Shanmugam.

He stressed that there are also exclusivist preachers from other religions, and the Government would take a tough stand on anyone who denigrates people's race or religion.

He pointed out that the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) had denied entry to two foreign Christian preachers.

MHA said last Friday that the duo had made "denigrating and inflammatory comments" on other religions in the past, and had their applications for short-term work passes to speak here rejected.

He also called on the community to stay alert for signs of radicalism, as radicalisation from ISIS-related propaganda can take as little as "one to two months", referring to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

"It makes it very difficult for security agencies, so the community has to play a big part in this," he said.

Grassroots leaders can do more, by rallying Malay/Muslim residents and youth to take part in community programmes and activities, and helping them to understand the "multiracial ethos" of society, he added. "Without the community, this cannot be done, and if this is not done, we get more radicalisation. Ultimately... we will get more Islamophobia and all of us will lose. The country will lose," said Mr Shanmugam.

Other challenges he raised yesterday included those faced by Malay/ Muslim professionals in finding employment and the community's over-representation in drug and crime statistics.

After his speech, Mr Shanmugam took questions from the audience in a closed-door dialogue. He was joined by Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Chan Chun Sing and Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Amrin Amin.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 14, 2017, with the headline 'Malay community can be 'a beacon in troubled times''. Print Edition | Subscribe