Parents, clerics flag kid's books from Saudi Arabia

Books being sold here could be misconstrued by the young and encourage extremism, they say

The children's books are being sold for just a few dollars each at a prominent religious bookstore at Golden Landmark Mall on Victoria Street.
The children's books are being sold for just a few dollars each at a prominent religious bookstore at Golden Landmark Mall on Victoria Street. ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Some Muslims, including parents and clerics, have raised concerns about a few children's books being sold in Singapore, saying their content could be misunderstood by impressionable young readers and steer them towards violence and extremism.

The English books originate from Saudi Arabia and may not be suitable in multiracial and multireligious Singapore, they say.

One of the books, entitled Men In Captivity, is the tale of a 13-year-old boy who convinces his mother to allow him to perform a "jihad", or holy war, against Christians.

It contains some troubling passages, including a quote by the boy who says: "The teacher told us that we may join the Muslim soldiers in jihad... Do not forget, my mother, that we have been under training for more than a year in the use of swords and horse-riding."

Muslim clerics cited unsettling content in titles such as The First Human Murder, a detailed account of the killing of Abel by his brother Cain, the Old Testament story that is also mentioned in the Quran.

Another title, In Quest Of Truth, contains phrases that could be read to be disparaging of other faiths.

The paperbacks can be bought for a few dollars each from a prominent religious bookstore at Golden Landmark Mall on Victoria Street.

"These books should be banned. I wouldn't want my son to think fighting is needed in any way in these days. He will think it's his duty to fight when it's totally not," said housewife Nurshida Hussin, 34, who has a 10-year-old son and a six-year-old daughter.

She added: "Kids are still kids, so it's best to protect them from questionable material as they are easily influenced and impressionable."

Muslim cleric Zahid Zin, chief executive of the Muslim Youth Forum in Singapore, agreed that the books should be removed from the shelves, saying they are "very dangerous" and may spread the wrong understanding of Islam not only to Muslims but also non-Muslims.

"Children tend to refer to narrated events in the present time. So when you talk about jihad, they may not connect it to wars during the time of the prophets, but to the present which is not suitable in the current climate," he said.

Cleric Muhammad Mazdiuky Md Ishak agreed that these kinds of books "should not be sold in Singapore and other countries, especially in our region".

Dr Mohamed Ali, an assistant professor at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), was concerned that Muslim militant groups could make use of the narratives in such books.

He said: "Without proper guidance, young people can develop a sense of exclusivism and if left unchecked again, exclusivism could lead to extremism and extremism could lead to terrorism."

In Singapore, the publications industry is largely self-regulated.

Book importers and retailers must ensure that publications distributed are not prohibited, obscene or objectionable under the Undesirable Publications Act or in breach of Content Guidelines for Imported Publications. The Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) steps in when there is public feedback.

In response to queries from The Straits Times, IMDA said it would be reviewing the books in question even though it had not received any public feedback on them.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 30, 2018, with the headline Parents, clerics flag kid's books from Saudi Arabia. Subscribe