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DPM Teo and religious leaders discuss impact of Syria conflict on Singapore

At the session, Muslim leaders  highlighted the steps that have been taken here to help the community understand the situation in Syria, efforts which have met with very positive response from non-Muslim leaders. 

SINGAPORE: Malay-Muslim community leaders have been working together with their counterparts from other faiths for many years and will continue to do so to ensure peace and harmony in Singapore. 

Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Teo Chee Hean said this following a dialogue with over 60 religous and community leaders of various faiths, which focused on the conflict in Syria and its potential impact on Singapore. It comes a day after he told Parliament that a "handful" of Singaporeans have gone to Syria to take part in the ongoing conflict, while others who wanted to do so have been detained or are under investigation. 

Speaking to Channel NewsAsia after the dialogue, Mr Teo said that non-Muslim leaders were very positive about the efforts made by the Malay-Muslim community to address this potential threat.

“I would say that most of them were very positive with regard to our own Malay-Muslim community because we have been working together for many years in community outreach, in welfare work and so on,” he said. “So I think it's been very important that over the years we have been working very closely together, through their own activities, IRCCs (Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles), and through their own community engagement programmes. So as I said, the level of confidence is high."

Mr Teo said Malay-Muslim community leaders at the dialogue also highlighted the steps that have been taken here to help the community understand the situation in Syria. These included working with younger Muslims to ensure they stay on the correct path of learning.

The Deputy Prime Minister says self-radicalised Singaporeans who seek to join jihadist efforts in conflicts like the ongoing one in Syria present not just a Malay-Muslim problem, but are a national concern. "There may be individuals who become radicalized, but the community wants harmony." 

In addition, he said the Syria issue has the potential to be be a greater risk than the Jemaah Islamiyah terror group. The reasons: the Internet today spreads radical ideology more quickly, and people are now able to travel much more widely. The extremity of the violence in Syria has also not been seen in previous conflicts, and this makes "emotions run high", he said. 

Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, said that Malay-Muslim religious and community leaders have worked with various segments of the community since the JI's planned attacks on Singapore were uncovered in 2001.

Some of the measures implemented include cyber-wellness programmes in mosques and madrasahs, where youths can learn to navigate the Internet and know what to do if they come across potentially harmful websites.

Dr Yaacob also said that the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore or MUIS, has used various touchpoints to address concerns about the Syrian conflict, such as Friday sermons. Channels for Singaporean Muslims to donate to the humanitarian effort there has also been set up.

The role of the non-Muslim community in Singapore is to "help articulate the message that this is not just a Muslim issue", said Dr Yaacob. He added that community leaders of other faiths also have a role to play in ensuring social cohesion is not threatened. 

"Obviously in terms of understanding Islam, spreading the message of Islam, of what they have understood from all of our inter-faith work - to their own flock. Because we also worry that some misconceptions may emerge in some segments of society, that just because a small group is involved, the entire community is tarnished,” said Dr Yaacob. “Again it's now new, but we have to continue with that effort."

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