SINGAPORE: Singapore must keep a close watch on exclusivist teachings and divisive statements and ensure no one spreads ill-will against other religions or believers, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Tuesday (Mar 14).
Speaking at the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG)'s 13th annual retreat where the role of asatizahs – or Islamic religious teachers – in peace-building was discussed, Mr Teo noted attacks claimed "in the name of Islam" have led to a rise in Islamophobia, leading to anti-immigration rhetoric and negative reactions among other communities..
“The Government takes a strong stand on such teachings or statements. We will investigate each case carefully and take action if necessary. 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,” he said.
The RRG can therefore help to build a united and cohesive society at three levels, DPM Teo said. At an individual level, counsellors from the RRG can help people at risk as well as detainees to support their rehabilitation.
Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, pointed out that the profile of such individuals has changed. “They are significantly younger, have no prior terror links and were self-radicalised by extremist propaganda. They often suffer from a range of psychological issues – for instance, with their families, or with their colleagues or workmates. They are confused about how they should respond to global events,” the deputy prime minister said.
Secondly, the RRG can play a “peace-building” role by enhancing cohesion and fostering more inter-faith understanding, which has become increasingly important as exclusivist religious teachings from the Internet have tried to make inroads into Singapore, he said.
Lastly, the RRG can continue strengthening the understanding of the practice of Islam within Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious context, Mr Teo added.
“The community will depend on the wisdom of religious teachers. This is where the asatizahs in general, and RRG members, can play a part by promoting how Muslims can live harmoniously alongside non-Muslims and to be progressive Muslims and at the same time trying to internationalise national identity,” said the RRG's vice-chairman, Dr Mohammed Ali.
The RRG has also worked closely with MUIS on the compulsory Asatizah Recognition Scheme, which requires religious teachers and scholars to meet minimum standards of qualification to preach and teach Islamic religious knowledge. DPM Teo said this will help assure Muslim parents on the guidance of their youths.
Dr Mohammed Ali said the RRG plans to boost its online presence, in light of growing numbers of younger individuals who are self-radicalised through extremist propaganda. The group is also looking reach out to more Muslim households by enlisting the help of more female asatizahs and equipping them with skills such as counselling.