SINGAPORE - Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Singapore met on Thursday (Jan 28) to reaffirm the mutual trust and understanding between the two religious communities and condemn the plot by a Protestant Christian youth to attack Muslims at two mosques here.
The meeting was held at the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, one of two sites targeted by a 16-year-old Singaporean of Indian ethnicity who was inspired by the 2019 Christchurch mosque shootings, a tragedy which claimed 51 lives in New Zealand.
The other site targeted by the youth was the Assyafaah Mosque in Sembawang.
Leaders from the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) met Mufti Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, the highest authority on Islam in Singapore, and Mr Esa Masood, who is chief executive of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).
Also present were the chairmen of the Yusof Ishak Mosque and Assyafaah Mosque as well as Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and Minister of State for Home Affairs and National Development Faishal Ibrahim.
Speaking to the media after the meeting, the NCCS president, Reverend Keith Lai, said the Christian community was pained by news of the alarming plot.
"We were in shock and disbelief that this could happen, and especially coming from a 16-year-old," he added, noting that "whatever had been planned by this young man is contrary to what our Bible teaches about love and acceptance".
The teenager, who was a secondary school student when he hatched his plan last year, became the youngest detainee under the Internal Security Act after the plot was uncovered.
"This is indeed a wake-up call for us as a community, not just a Christian community but together as a nation, how we can help our young people, and guide them and mentor them in the right way," said Rev Lai.
Dr Nazirudin, who spoke of the mutual respect and friendship between the two religious communities here, thanked the Christian leaders for their reassurances that "no Christian wishes any harm or harbours any ill will or hatred towards Muslims".
"As a community that has often needed to explain itself and what Islam truly represents, we deeply empathise with your shock and anguish that someone who professes the Christian faith seeks to do the very thing that would desecrate it," he added.
Dr Nazirudin said the leaders discussed various steps that could be taken to deepen understanding between the Christian and Muslim communities here.
Among other things, they agreed on the need to guide young people from being influenced by extremist ideologies, which can be easily found online.
"The young man may be a Protestant Christian, but his hate and deep-seated enmity towards Islam and Muslims, and his anger and violent proclivities stem from far-right and extremist leanings acquired online, that have merged with his misguided religious fervour," said Dr Nazirudin.
The leaders also agreed that the detention of the 16-year-old reinforces the need for people to respect differences, and to preserve the harmonious relations between communities in Singapore's multi-religious society, said the Mufti.
He added that extremist ideologies feed on fear, anxiety and misinformation that could spread easily in online platforms, apps and games.
Such ideologies prey on the vulnerable and less informed, including youngsters, and are a growing threat that must be confronted, said Dr Nazirudin.
"Our unequivocal message of respect and care for others must reach our young in our communities from the pulpits, in classrooms and in our own homes," he said.
Rev Lai said the the onus is on the community and parents to make sure they understand the emotions and struggles of their children and teenagers, to counter the potentially damaging influence of online radicalisation.
"This is something that we cannot abdicate and pass it to government agencies. It is something that... we have to take responsibility," he added.
"And as religious organisations, we play a very important role as well to make sure we guide them in the right way."
Dr Nazirudin said the Muslim leaders were reassured that the case was an isolated incident, and that the youth's views are not representative of the Christian community here.
During the meeting, Christian church leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working with Muslim religious leaders to "assure them that there is no animosity between Christians and Muslims".
Rev Lai said the NCCS has a warm relationship with the Muslim community here, with the leaders on both sides calling each other over the phone directly when an issue crops up.
Dr Nazirudin also thanked the security agencies for their efforts in detecting threats before they happen, and called for Singaporeans to remain united through this problem.
"We have witnessed how in this difficult and challenging times in a global pandemic, our common humanity and the sanctity and safety of human lives matter the most. We have put all differences aside to unite and protect each other," he added.