New Mufti set to tap podcasts, blogs and social media to better engage Muslims in Singapore

Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir will assume the role of mufti - Singapore's top Islamic leader - on March 1, 2020. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - From podcasts and Facebook posts to articles carried by news outlets and blogs, incoming mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir is keen on harnessing the power of different forms of media to better engage with Muslims here.

Such forms of engagement - a departure from traditional sermons and lectures - will also help Dr Nazirudin, 43, involve his wider team to spread important messages, like clarifications about religious rulings and ways to preserve religious harmony, and bring fresh elements to the understanding of Islam.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday (Feb 25), he said: "The need to engage the community is still very, very important and that will continue, but the ways I engage the community might be slightly different.

"So, maybe not necessarily as many kuliah (lectures). The occasional one, that will continue, but there are other means, like through writings and social media. In fact, we'll be starting a podcast in March."

This podcast will be issues-based and in English, and more details will be revealed soon, said Dr Nazirudin, who will assume the role of mufti - Singapore's top Islamic leader - next week on March 1.

Such forms of engagement would also allow his two deputy muftis' work to be seen and recognised, he said. "I have two deputies and I have a very strong team. Actually, they do more of the hard work."

Earlier this year, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) announced that the current Mufti, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, 49, will be retiring after nine years in office.

Dr Nazirudin will be the fourth mufti in Muis' history and will be supported by two deputy muftis: Ustaz Mohd Murat Md Aris and Ustaz Mohammad Hannan Hassan.

Last March, he was appointed deputy mufti, after previously holding the post of Muis' senior director for religious policy and development. Dr Nazirudin has a PhD in theology from the University of Oxford and has helped Muis develop fatwas, or religious rulings, and religious teacher training.

Speaking to the media on Tuesday at the Harmony Centre, an exhibition space in Bishan that encourages inter-faith dialogue, Dr Nazirudin emphasised the need for Muslims to continue working to achieve Singapore's unique model of racial and religious coexistence.

"We have actually moved even beyond tolerance. We know our other communities a lot better than in other places," he said. "We have also started to build a lot of trust and confidence. Whenever a community needs help, another religious community does not hesitate to offer the help."

This, Dr Nazirudin said, is because Singapore Muslims have been open to making adjustments to their ways of thinking - something which has to be upheld in order for them to confront challenges of the future.

He touched on how Muslims here have actively discussed complex and controversial topics, such as the permissibility of human organ donations and the validity of joint tenancy in Islam.

Dr Nazirudin will be the fourth mufti in Muis' history. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

Singapore is a country where developments in terms of science, technology and business occur rapidly and, as a result, its Muslims will have to be prepared to have discussions on such topics, said Dr Nazirudin, who added that religious leaders and teachers will be more important than ever.

"One of the ways that we can continue to harness this confidence and resilience is to prepare our next generation of religious leaders very well, and to work with them very closely and to engage them on a frequent basis," he said.

The perennial issue of radicalisation will be something that Dr Nazirudin said he and his team will continue to deal with, and he is thankful that no incidents have happened here.

He said that more can be done to explain to Muslims why the extremist way of thinking is problematic, as this would help them fundamentally reject it so that they will not be susceptible to such radical influences.

He said: "If you reject an idea, you need to provide the alternative, and the alternative has to be very clear - that Muslims can contribute in a very positive way and Muslims must also, from the outset, understand the conflict very well."

On Tuesday, Dr Nazirudin was asked about an incident in February where an Islamic teacher was placed under investigation by the Ministry of Home Affairs after he said on Facebook that the coronavirus was divine retribution against the Chinese for their oppressive treatment of Muslim Uighurs in China's Xinjiang province.

Denouncing this way of thinking, Dr Nazirudin said that it is important that Muslims avoid making denigrating comments that are "unhelpful".

"I think we make a fundamentally wrong step if we use religion in a negative way when there is a crisis. And this is the kind of ideas and teachings that we must reject - that in a time in which there is suffering, we need to come together as one society and one community," he said.

When asked how he feels about taking over as mufti during the coronavirus outbreak, Dr Nazirudin said he sees it as an opportunity for him to play his part and to show how it is possible for Muslims to make adjustments to their life, given the current situation.

Muslims here are now encouraged to bring their own mats for prayers and to avoid shaking hands to minimise contact - a step that he acknowledges has been met with confusion and rejection by some members of the community.

But such steps will take time to become habits, and they are opportunities to show Islamic values in a new light. In the case of the coronavirus, Dr Nazirudin said social responsibility and cleanliness are part of the Islamic faith, and that is why such steps are encouraged.

"We need to continue to educate our community, but also build the kind of resilience and confidence that we can continue to practise our religion in a safe, responsible way," he said.

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