Singapore needs to keep a close watch on teachings or statements that are exclusivist and divisive, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.
These have had repercussions in other countries, he noted at a gathering of Islamic religious teachers.
“Attacks claimed to be in the name of Islam have led to a rise in Islamophobia, with anti-immigration rhetoric and negative reactions among other communities,” he said.
“More importantly, no person should spread ill will against other religions or non-believers,” said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.
The Government takes a strong stand on such teachings or statements, he said. “We will investigate each case carefully and take action, if necessary.”
He added: “It has taken many years for us to build a cohesive society, united as one people regardless of race or religion. We must focus on what we have in common rather than allow others to divide us.”
FOCUSING ON COMMON GROUND
It has taken many years for us to build a cohesive society, united as one people regardless of race or religion. We must focus on what we have in common rather than allow others to divide us.
DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER TEO CHEE HEAN
His speech in Malay was made at the annual retreat of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a group of local Muslim scholars who spend time with terror detainees to counter their misunderstanding of religious concepts.
Mr Teo said the threat of terrorism to Singapore and the region is at its highest level in recent years.
As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) terror group faces severe pressure in Syria and Iraq, its fighters are likely to disperse and find new battlegrounds.
“We have to be prepared for attacks from ISIS-linked cells in South-east Asia,” he said.
Observers have noted that the threats of terrorism and extremism could affect social cohesion here, and Mr Teo suggested ways the RRG could help to build a united and cohesive society.
First, the group could counsel individuals at risk and detainees to support their rehabilitation.
RRG co-chairman Ali Mohamed said the trend of younger people being radicalised by extremist material on the Internet makes his group’s work more challenging.
“We never know, the next individual to be self-radicalised could be someone dear to us – our relatives, our next-door neighbour or even our own children,” he added.
For this reason, the RRG needs to go beyond rehabilitation to strengthening the unity among various communities so that people embrace those of different races and religions, he said.
His call dovetails with Mr Teo’s second point that the RRG can play a “peace-building” role in the community, by promoting understanding among different religions.
Said the DPM: “By working with other communities and religious groups, we can show how Islam as a religion is inclusive and consistent with our nation’s values.”
Third, the RRG could continue to strengthen the understanding of the practice of Islam in Singapore’s multiracial and multi-religious context.
At the retreat, the RRG also discussed ways to stay relevant and respond to the evolving landscape of terrorism, such as by beefing up its social media presence and expanding its pool of female religious teachers.
The RRG began recruiting female religious teachers in 2005, and one-quarter of its 44 members are women.
Ustazah Nur Irfani Saripi, 31, who joined the RRG in 2008, said the main role of the female teachers used to be counselling detainees’ wives.
“But over the years, our roles have changed because we are seeing young girls and women who are also influenced by extremist ideology,” she said.