Muis to harness tech in bid to counter radical ideology

Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was detained earlier this month for radicalism.
Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari was detained earlier this month for radicalism.

It plans to train religious teachers on social media use, get more parents and community groups to join efforts

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) will intensify efforts to counter extremist ideology by tapping technology and getting more parents and community groups involved.

It plans to equip asatizah, or religious teachers, with social media skills so they can better connect with the young.

Yesterday, a Muis spokesman told The Straits Times that this could include teaching the teachers how to make better use of platforms like Facebook Live, which allows people to post live videos, and helping them package religious knowledge in digestible, bite-sized forms that will work better online.

When news broke on Monday that 22-year-old Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari had earlier this month been detained for radicalism, Muis said in a statement that the incident highlighted the serious threat of self-radicalisation.

It warned that social media platforms are fertile ground for radical ideology, saying: "The community needs to be very wary of the carefully crafted messages which ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) and similar movements are projecting on social media."

Izzah, who was a contract infant care assistant at a pre-school, actively posted and shared pro-ISIS material on social media.

Muis said it hopes to beef up the presence of local asatizah on social media to spread legitimate Islamic teachings. Otherwise, young people, who are more likely to turn to the Internet for religious guidance, may be exposed to the teachings of foreign preachers that may not be contextualised, said the Muis spokesman.

  • WHAT'S BEING DONE

  • The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore's efforts to counter extremism and exclusivism include:

    Friday sermons on the Syrian conflict and the threat of ISIS

    Topics covered in these sermons, held in mosques before Friday prayers, range from the fallacy of ISIS' so-called Islamic caliphate, to the need to avoid literal interpretation of religious texts - an approach that is prevalent among extremists - and the concept of moderation in Islam. Muis has also worked with the Religious Rehabilitation Group to conduct pre-sermon talks every Friday on themes such as the importance of staying vigilant, and building resilience against extremist and exclusivist ideologies.

    Certification programme for graduates returning from Islamic institutions abroad

    These graduates will be automatically enrolled in the programme, which aims to familiarise them with how Islam should be practised in Singapore's context. A 10-day pilot was run last year, and a second run is due next month. It is being adapted into a certification course, which will be a compulsory requirement in the Asatizah Recognition Scheme. This will be launched in the third quarter of the year.

    Mandatory Asatizah Recognition Scheme

    The scheme, which endorses qualified religious teachers in Singapore, was made compulsory this year in a move to ensure the community knows whom to turn to for credible religious advice. A register of these teachers is available at www.ars.sg

"We want to have home-grown alternatives online, who are able to provide content that is appropriate to Singapore's multiracial and multi-religious context," he said.

Muis is also looking to partner parents and community groups to spread the message of rejecting extremism.

Over the years, it has rolled out a wide array of initiatives to counter extremism and exclusivism.

For instance, it introduced topics in religious education programmes to debunk radical interpretations of jihad that are used by terrorist groups to justify armed violence.

Muis also has plans to increase spaces in its Adult Islamic Learning programme from the current 2,500 to 10,000 by 2020 to meet the rising demand for proper religious education.

And to further ensure the Muslim community gets advice from credible religious teachers, the Asatizah Recognition Scheme was made mandatory this year. Teachers must meet requirements spelled out under the scheme in order to provide Islamic instruction in Singapore.

These include abiding by a formal Code of Ethics that stresses moderation and lays out what religious teachers here must or must not do.

They must not, for one, do anything that directly or indirectly denigrates any race or religion, or advocate any idea likely to encourage extremism or violence.

SEE FORUM: Send a clear signal in fight against terrorism

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 14, 2017, with the headline 'Muis to harness tech in bid to counter radical ideology'. Print Edition | Subscribe