Singaporeans should be careful, apply own judgment on foreign preachers and their teachings: Shanmugam

Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam noted that the far-right movement has influenced at least one Singaporean boy. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam on Monday (May 23) urged Singaporeans to be careful and discerning when it comes to foreign religious preachers and potentially divisive teachings.

"Apply your own judgment - you know what makes Singapore work, you know what's good for oneself as well as the society," he said.

"Everyone is free to practise their religion here. Everyone is free to believe in God or not believe in God, or believe in whichever god they want to believe. But we don't need to cross the line and attack somebody else."

He was speaking to reporters in the wake of the controversy over Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara being denied entry into Singapore last week.

Somad was turned away at Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal when he arrived from Batam on May 16. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said his extremist and segregationist teachings are unacceptable in Singapore's multiracial, multi-religious society.

Asked if there was any indication that Somad planned to speak in Singapore, Mr Shanmugam said: "Our position is very simple. Persons like this, we will not let them come."

He added: "Even if he's on a private visit, that doesn't preclude him from saying some things when he is here. It is for us to decide what our security requires."

Somad's airing of the issue on social media saw his supporters make online threats against Singapore, as well as hold protests at Singapore's foreign missions in Jakarta and Medan.

Asked by reporters about Somad's potential supporters in Singapore, Mr Shanmugam said it was not possible to track the preacher's following here.

"We, the Government, MHA, ISD (Internal Security Department), intervene when we sense, pick up, that there's radicalisation," he said.

"Beyond that, we cannot go around telling people what they can watch and what they cannot watch. That's not our business and we do not have the power to do that either," he added.

But his advice was to "have a care" on such foreign preachers on all sides, noting that on the Internet, there are plenty of people attacking other religions.

"This is not unique to any particular community. If you see preachers from Indonesia, they attack Christianity, they attack non-Muslims.

"But if you watch videos from some of the Western preachers, they attack Muslims unreasonably. They say all sorts of unspeakable things about Islam and the Quran," said Mr Shanmugam.

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The minister noted that the far-right movement has influenced at least one Singaporean boy, who wanted to go into mosques and kill Muslims - and is now in detention.

"It can affect anybody, and we just need to be careful," he added. "But at the same time, we need to inculcate the sense of our own unique identity and the importance of approaching these teachings with a sense of perspective."

Mr Shanmugam gave examples of Somad's divisive teachings, including how he had told Muslims not to travel in Red Cross ambulances because they have a cross.

The preacher had also said that Muslims should not wish others "Merry Christmas".

Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara was denied entry into Singapore last week. PHOTO: USTADZABDULSOMAD_OFFICIAL/INSTAGRAM

Mr Shanmugam also cited examples of other divisive preachers or material that Singapore had acted against in recent years.

In 2017, two foreign Christian preachers were banned from speaking in Singapore for having made derogatory comments towards other religions.

One had described Allah as a "false god" and described Buddhists as "Tohuw people", using the Hebrew word for "lost, lifeless, confused and spiritually barren".

The other had referred to "evils of Islam" and had said that Islam was "not a religion of peace".

And in 2018, American Christian preacher Lou Engle was banned from preaching for having made derogatory comments about Islam.

Earlier this month, Singapore also banned the Hindi-language film The Kashmir Files because of its provocative portrayal of Muslims.

"Many people in India criticised us for banning this film, but I make no apologies for our approach," Mr Shanmugam said.

"We will not allow persons like Somad any opportunity to build up a local following or engage in activities that threaten our security and communal harmony."

The minister also noted that last week, former Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee was charged over racist comments about an inter-ethnic couple - as well as over insensitive remarks about religion during a lecture and on an online forum.

Former Ngee Ann Polytechnic lecturer Tan Boon Lee leaving the State Courts on May 17, 2022. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Mr Shanmugam noted that Parliament passed the amended Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act in 2019, which toughened provisions for offences that could affect religious harmony in Singapore.

And MHA is working on a new piece of legislation, the Maintenance of Racial Harmony Act, which will encourage moderation and tolerance between different racial groups, and signal the importance of such harmony in Singapore, he added.

"We are a unique country, with a strong emphasis on racial and religious harmony. But we don't just have fine words, like some other countries. We back up the words, we back up our philosophy, with laws, and not just laws - we enforce those laws equally," he said, adding that he will introduce the new legislation in Parliament once it is ready.

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