SINGAPORE: Terrorist attacks worldwide have shone a spotlight on the Malay-Muslim community here, but with the help of other communities, it has pulled through.
Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim said this in Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 3), as he voiced support for a motion that fortifies Singapore's resolve to unite against terrorism.
“It is not a pleasant experience when your religion and your religious orientation is under constant scrutiny,” he said. “For the Malay-Muslim community, this sense of being misunderstood is deeply felt, having been in the spotlight for quite some time.”
Dr Yaacob recalled how the community faced “intense scrutiny” in the wake of the September 11 attacks in the US and the uncovering of the Jemaah Islamiah terror plots in Singapore and the region.
“It has been a difficult and challenging journey for my community,” he said. “Sometimes, the majority does not know what it feels (like) to be a minority community.”
And the friction between communities might lead to “exclusivist beliefs and segregationist practices”, Dr Yaacob said, as he cautioned against societies that are informed only by stereotype or prejudice.
“When groups segregate themselves from others, social harmony is easily lost and hard to recover,” he added. “So when a crisis hits, when a terrorist attacks, or when times are tough, such societies can fall apart.”
However, Dr Yaacob said the Malay-Muslim community has persevered with the help of other faith communities that “lend support to our struggle”.
“So while Muslims have come under scrutiny in recent times, Singaporeans recognise that it is not only our community’s battle, it is everyone’s battle,” he added.
For example, Dr Yaacob pointed to the Buddhist community in Singapore that supported its Muslim counterpart in voicing concern for the situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar. “They did so despite sharing a common faith with the majority in Myanmar,” he added.
He also highlighted how the Buddhist Lodge donates rice to mosques every year to be used for breaking fast during Ramadan.
“I commend these efforts,” he said. “We need more to step up and reach out across the boundaries of race and religion.”
To that end, Dr Yaacob urged more individuals to step forward in the online sphere.
“New media and the anonymity it lends have led to individuals denigrating other religions or sowing discord between communities over the Internet, inadvertently or otherwise,” the Minister for Communications and Information said.
“We need netizens to speak up with moral clarity against injustice and stereotypes, and those who promote hatred and intolerance.”
And instead of hatred, Dr Yaacob stressed the importance of empathy.
“We can defeat extremism, exclusivism and Islamophobia, and other threats only if we feel for one another and do whatever we can to tackle these challenges,” he said. “We must all work together to ensure that we preserve a cohesive Singapore society.”