Social media-savvy religious teachers to help in fight against youth radicalism: Mufti

The Interfaith Eid Tea Reception hosted by the Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram.
The Interfaith Eid Tea Reception hosted by the Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - Social media is a battleground where extremist groups can bait individuals with false narratives and ideas, and recruit them for violent ends.

Singapore's highest Islamic authority, Mufti Fatris Bakaram, who was speaking at an inter-faith Eid celebratory event on Thursday (July 6), said that to combat this, there needs to be continuous education on the right teachings of Islam and youth, in particular, must have proper channels to direct their religious queries and seek guidance.

He added that the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) is working with young, media-savvy asatizah (religious teachers) to reach out to youth in the virtual world.

"Social media is now fast becoming a site of contestation, particularly for the spread of radical views and recruitment of individuals toward violent ends. The recent cases of self-radicalised individuals underscore this challenge," he added.

Last month (June 2017), a 22-year-old Singaporean woman working as an infant care assistant, was detained under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for radicalism.

In 2015, two Singaporean youth, aged 17 and 19, who were radicalised by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), were also arrested for terrorism-related activities.

Dr Fatris said Muis is working hard with various agencies and partners to deal with the issue of radicalism, and various measures have been implemented to ensure that the Muslim community remains on top of the challenge.

Among them is a mandatory Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) to allow only accredited religious teachers to offer religious instruction.

"This will ensure that teachings that veer towards exclusivist behaviours, teach violence or go against the interest of our multicultural and multi-religious nation will not be endorsed or given space to influence the Muslim public," said Dr Fatris.

"We do recognise that the challenge is becoming greater, particularly in this age of social media."

Beyond social media, Dr Fatris said it is critical to ensure that youth have a sense of belonging and avenues are provided for them to channel their energy into something positive through meaningful social participation.

He reiterated the importance for interfaith leaders to stand in solidarity against the present threat of terrorism.

"I will like to offer my sincere gratitude to all of you, and the National Council of Churches for its recent letter to quickly assure Muslims that the recent arrests of radicalised Muslim individuals will not lead to the blaming of the entire Muslim population who remain peace-loving and practice a moderate form of Islam as how it has been for generations," he said.

"Muslims are exposed to the danger of extremism and radicalism, non-Muslims too may fall into confusion by thinking that Islam is at the root of the problem, and hence view their Muslim neighbours and fellow citizens with suspicion."

Dr Fatris added that this would not bode well for our nation and would destroy the social fabric of our country.