No room for religious extremism in Singapore, say Muslim leaders

Shanmugam welcomes their commitment to harmony, says Govt does not take sides


Muslim leaders yesterday made clear their stand against religious extremism and called for calm amid the ongoing controversy over an imam's reportedly offensive remarks.

Singapore's top Muslim leader, Mufti Fatris Bakaram, said in a Facebook post that while the community holds fast to its faith, it has to ensure its religious texts are read appropriately and not misunderstood, as this would smear the good name of Islam and Muslims here.

His comments came a day after the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said there can be no room for discourse that promotes intolerance, enmity or violence against other communities.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam yesterday welcomed these statements, saying in comments to Malay daily Berita Harian that they "show clearly that the Muslim community strongly values our commitment to religious harmony in Singapore".

"This shows the spirit of multiracial, multi-religious harmony in Singapore. It is a very heart-warming move, and the majority of Singaporeans will both be reassured, and also welcome these statements."

Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim also called for calm and unity in a Facebook post, saying: "There is no space in Singapore for extremism or exclusivism because we uphold values of mutual respect and harmony. We utterly reject any speech or actions that foster ill will between communities. This is the Singapore way."

Their comments came a day after Mr Shanmugam told Parliament that police are looking into the conduct of everyone involved in the case.

Last month, investment associate Terence Nunis posted a video online of an imam at Jamae Mosque who, after a sermon, reportedly recited a prayer in Arabic that said "God grant us victory over Jews and Christians", among other things.

The video gained traction online and offline and, as part of due process, the imam has been placed on leave while investigations, which Muis is assisting in, are ongoing.

It has also sparked a storm in the community, and Dr Yaacob noted: "Many in our community felt angry, because they believe that the postings could be used to cast aspersions on Islam and the asatizah (religious teachers) in our mosques."

Some also felt the imam's recitation had been taken out of context.

Mr Shanmugam said police will investigate the case thoroughly and interview all parties involved, including those who filmed and publicised the video.

"Whether there is a case for further action against any of the parties, will depend on the outcome of investigations," he added.

"The Government does not take sides in this issue - if anyone is found to have committed an offence, action will be taken."

Dr Yaacob agreed, saying in his post that it is important to step back and reflect on the incident.

There will not be any double standards in dealing with race and religious harmony issues, he said.

"If one of us, a preacher or otherwise, has crossed the line, he or she must be taken to task," he noted. "This has been done in other cases involving other religious groups which have crossed the line."

Both he and Mr Shanmugam also stressed that while it was right to blow the whistle on wrongdoing, some sensitive matters may be better reported directly to the authorities rather than aired online.

Said Dr Yaacob, who is also Communications and Information Minister: "One must also ask whether the manner in which this is done is appropriate, or if it sows more discord and causes tension in our society."

Mr Shanmugam said he had been asked if it was all right for the video of the imam's preaching to have been uploaded on social media.

"Today, many take it as a norm to post - the more sensational, the more it's likely to multiply its reach.

"The right thing to do, though, is that when a matter like this is encountered, it should be reported to the police, and not put out on social media. That will allow police to focus their investigations on the subject of the complaint," he added.

"If the matter is publicly posted, it could lead to a groundswell of feelings, in this case, both from Muslims as well as non-Muslims.

"It could cause confusion about religion, and increase tensions and so on. We don't want that in Singapore," he said.

The Singapore Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas) said its members would endeavour to spread the correct teachings on Islam, as it has been doing with groups like the Religious Rehabilitation Group and mosques.

"We have to support the shared peace and prosperity we enjoy," said Pergas chair Hasbi Hassan.

Dr Yaacob noted that Dr Fatris took his Facebook account offline for one day to "cool things down" because he saw emotions being whipped up.

The minister shared Dr Fatris' latest post yesterday, where the Mufti said he did not agree with the approach taken by some to sensationalise the video on social media.

"Whatever our views, it is not appropriate to act or comment in a way that hurts feelings or creates public unease," Dr Fatris said, adding that no one should give the wrong impression of Islam or the community, which has done much to help build social and religious harmony.

Mr Shanmugam, in his remarks, also had strong words for those who have attacked Muis and the Mufti over this case and in the past.

He noted that they play a critical role in keeping religious harmony and harmonious inter-faith relations. "Regrettably, some people have been attacking them. The Mufti himself has been attacked, in rude and unacceptable language.

"Just because these people may not agree with the Mufti, or the Islamic authorities, does not mean they should use rude and abusive language against them. I find that very saddening - kurang ajar," he said, using the Malay term for lack of good upbringing.

"We are keeping a close watch on people who do these things. If the conduct crosses over and becomes criminal, action will be taken."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 05, 2017, with the headline No room for religious extremism in Singapore, say Muslim leaders. Subscribe