SINGAPORE: Religious preaching that encourages violence or pits one religion against another will not be tolerated in Singapore, said Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam in Parliament on Friday (Mar 3).
Referring to a video posted on social media which purportedly shows an imam saying “God grant us victory over Jews and Christians”, Mr Shanmugam said the context of what the imam said will be clear once investigations are completed.
“If the imam had referred to the phrase, to say, for example, that such phrases can promote ill will, hatred, enmity or violence against other communities, and that this is not acceptable in a multi-religious society, then there can be no objection.
“But if he had said that Jews and Christians should be defeated, and for God to grant Muslim brothers victory over them - to make that very point - then that is completely unacceptable.
“The Government has taken a strict position when Muslims have been attacked. People have been charged and sent to jail," he said. "The same applies to any attack on any other religions."
He cited the example of a Christian couple sentenced to eight weeks’ jail in 2009 for distributing material that cast Islam in a negative light.
Mr Shanmugam said the Government’s position has to be made clear because “matters like this have the potential to escalate, with people jumping in, opinions being formed, hardened, along religious lines”.
If the imam did not make any inflammatory suggestion, no action will be taken and the authorities will issue a public statement, Mr Shanmugam said. But if the imam had engaged in such preaching, "some appropriate action" will be taken.
“We have to be fair to the imam,” he said.
Mr Shanmugam also gave the assurance that the police will speak with "a wide variety of people" before coming to a conclusion on the case.
He was responding to questions by Members of Parliament (MPs) Zainal Sapari and Faisal Manap on whether the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) and the Islamic Scholars and Teachers Association (PERGAS) will be consulted, to establish if the imam's comments were inflammatory or taken out of context.
In particular, Mr Faisal said: "MUIS and PERGAS will be able to provide a more accurate interpretation of the imam's text, since he's said to be quoting from a verse from the Koran."
This sparked a pointed response from the minister, who asked the Workers' Party MP if he thinks it is alright for someone to quote from any holy text to encourage violence against others.
Following Mr Faisal's response that it would be wrong, Mr Shanmugam said "that is the question that the police will be considering".
MUIS said earlier this week that it is assisting police with investigations. In response to Mr Shanmugam's comments on Friday, the religious authority said it appreciated and fully supported the Government's "firm and consistent position on the matter".
"MUIS shares the view that there can be no room for discourse that promotes intolerance, enmity or violence against other communities," it said in a statement.
Mr Shanmugam also highlighted the actions of NUS academic Khairudin Aljunied, who had encouraged vilification of the individual who posted the video online.
“Looking at what Mr Khairudin has said, he seems to suggest that it is okay for the imam to say that Jews and Christians should be defeated. He assumes that the imam intended to mean that, and Mr Khairudin sees nothing wrong with that.
“Mr Khairudin’s position and actions are quite unacceptable. He has jumped into this, without verifying the facts and without checking the context. And supports a position that is quite contrary to the norms, values and laws in Singapore.
“The police will look into the issues, and the conduct of all involved - quite thoroughly,” Mr Shanmugam said.