Muis nod required for new textbooks in Islamic schools

Islamic schools must now get approval from Singapore's top Islamic authority before they can introduce any new religious textbooks in their classrooms.

This comes after the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) "uncovered the use of problematic texts and materials" in some Islamic schools, Mufti Fatris Baka-ram said yesterday when he announced the new move.

The requirement covers not just the mosques and madrasahs, but also religious teachers who use their offices or homes to teach Islam to non-family members on a regular basis.

Examples of books with problematic materials include those that say that "Muslims living in a majority non-Muslim society must maintain a feeling of enmity and animosity towards the non-Muslim", said Dr Fatris, Singapore's top Islamic scholar.

"Many of these materials unfortunately were sourced from overseas without any due care to review the materials contained in such books or publications," he said.

"We must take a firm stand on the kind of teachings that should not be allowed in our context."

He said Islamic schools will be barred from using books and literature with such teachings.

These schools will also have to "work with Muis if they wish to introduce any new books into their curriculum", he said, adding: "This (new requirement) will be institutionalised henceforth."

There were previous instances where religious teachings that promoted intolerance surfaced in Singapore. In April, a chief imam of a mosque was charged in court, fined $4,000 and repatriated for committing an act that was prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between religious groups.

The Indian national had in January during a mosque sermon recited a prayer in Arabic which said: "Grant us help against the Jews and Christians." The additional prayer he read was not from the Quran, but an old Arabic text originating from his village in India.

Dr Fatris revealed that Muis has stopped some foreign preachers from speaking in Singapore because their teachings had called for non-Muslims to be subservient to Muslims, and making multicultural societies exclusive to Muslims, among other things.

He warned that while Muis may be able to control the content of books in religious schools, the ideas and teachers can still be accessed through other means, including via the Internet.

It is thus important for the Muslim community to be resilient so that it does not get easily influenced by such "unfounded and irrelevant ideas, however charismatic the preacher(s) may be".

Dr Fatris yesterday presented certificates to 193 Islamic religious schools that are now registered under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) that became compulsory from January this year.

The scheme requires both Islamic religious teachers and the schools where lessons are held to be registered with Muis.

There are more than 3,000 religious teachers under the ARS now.

Dr Fatris also announced a new Basic Certificate for Quranic Teachers course, which will help around 700 teachers qualify for the ARS after they complete it.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2017, with the headline 'Muis nod required for new textbooks in Islamic schools'. Print Edition | Subscribe