SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) will look into the remarks made by a religious teacher over the deadly novel coronavirus, that has so far infected 30 people in Singapore.
In a Facebook post on Friday (Feb 7), Minister of Law and Home Affairs K Shanmugam said that the current coronavirus situation "has brought out the worst" in some people.
Mr Shanmugam gave the example of religious teacher Abdul Halim Abdul Karim, who has made "xenophobic" remarks against the Chinese.
"He says that the coronavirus was retribution by Allah against Chinese for oppressing Muslim Uighurs. Such remarks are silly, can be rebutted by reference to other examples," said the minister.
"He says that Chinese do not wash properly after defecating and were not hygienic as Muslims, and suggested that that had caused the virus to spread."
Mr Shanmugam said that Mr Abdul Halim's comments were "simply unacceptable" and could not "be left alone", adding that he has asked MHA to look into this.
"When other preachers have made unacceptable remarks, they have been taken to task.
"For example, two Pastors were taken to task, in recent years, for comments which were (by comparison) less offensive. I have asked MHA to look into what Abdul Halim has said," he wrote.
"It is to be welcomed that MUIS, PERGAS, the Association of Muslim Professionals, the Religious Rehabilitation Group, Muhammadiyah Association, and Singapore Kadayanallur Muslim League have spoken up to urge Singaporeans not to make insensitive comments," he added.
SOCIETY TO TAKE CLEAR STAND AGAINST SUCH COMMENTS: SHANMUGAM
Mr Abdul Halim's comments were "quite unacceptable from anyone, let alone someone who is supposed to be a religious teacher", said Mr Shanmugam in the Facebook post.
He added that society needed to take "a clear stand against such comments", and gave an example of a man who got a jail term and caning for scrawling racist graffiti in Geylang last year.
Chen Jianbang had scrawled more than 10 messages in permanent marker in places such as void deck walls. One such message was "MALAY MATI" meaning "Malay die".
"We took action because if such comments are normalised, with regular attacks along racial lines, then interracial relations will worsen – and the minorities will in fact be worse off, " said Mr Shanmugam.
He also cited the example of YouTube star Preeti Nair who had published "a throroughly racist video".
"She played a scene ... where ang pow money was equated with money collected from prostitution," Mr Shanmugam said.
Ms Nair last year received a conditional warning for another controversial rap video that questioned the use of "brownface" in an advertisement.
"Racism exists in all communities in Singapore – but thankfully, (I believe), it is exhibited by a minority in each community," said the minister.
NO INTENTION TO BE RACIST, SAYS RELIGIOUS TEACHER
In response to Mr Shanmugam's post, Mr Abdul Halim said that his Facebook post, which was written in Malay, was not intended to be racist.
"I am merely referring to the fact about those who do not use soap and water to clean themselves ... after doing their business," said Mr Abdul Halim in a Facebook post on Friday afternoon.
He added that his comment was in light of reports about the spread of the coronavirus through contamination with human faeces.
Mr Abdul Halim also said that his post was not about "any particular race".
"I understand different cultures may have different practices but my concern is hygiene not any particular race," he said, adding that the post cited by the minister was not for public viewing but for Facebook friends only.
Mr Abdul Halim also apologised, saying that there was no malicious intent.
"This is never, in a million years, to undermine our racial harmony and peace that we all treasure and have enjoyed for so long" he said.