The Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, Yaacob Ibrahim, says it is “totally irresponsible” to show support for the Islamic State (IS), a jihadist group fighting to establish a caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
Dr Yaacob was giving his comments on the sale of flags which resembled those used by the IS by a shop in Singapore.
The owner of Albenyahya Enterprise, a store in Arab Street in Singapore catering to the Muslim community, said it had ordered 20 such flags in July, and had sold them during the month of Ramadan at a bazaar. The unsold ones were eventually put on sale online through the company’s Facebook page.
The sale was first highlighted by some members of the public who raised the incident online earlier this week.
The black flag consists of an Arabic inscription, known as the shahada or the Islamic declaration of faith, and is translated as: “There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”.
The IS uses it as its symbol and its militants are seen and photographed with it in the conflict areas.
While the words may be a common declaration of faith used by Muslims, “the specific font and design have been associated with the terror group which is trying to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria”, the Straits Times reported.
The owner of Albenyahya, Syed Mohammad Faisal, has since filed a police report to complain about “baseless accusations” that his company had links with terrorism or with IS.
“I didn’t anticipate such a reaction. The most important thing is for me to protect my family,” said Mr Faisal.
He did not realise selling the flags would be such a big deal, the Straits Times said.
Referring to the sale of the flags in Singapore, Dr Yaacob said, “The question you must ask is, why would you want to support a movement that promotes mass killing, the murder of innocent lives?”
“It is totally irresponsible of them and I do not think we should condone this at all,” he added, apparently alluding to the sale of the flag.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has condemned the IS and said its acts “tarnish the Islamic faith and image of Muslims in general.”
On Wednesday, the Ministry of Home Affairs also gave its response to the sale of the flag in Singapore.
It said, “The IS has enlisted foreign fighters including those from our region to fight alongside the group, and this has raised the threat of terrorism to Singapore. The authorities are monitoring the situation closely.”
It called on Singaporeans to play their part “by preventing their family and friends from becoming radicalised and unknowingly drawn into the violence.”
In August the Minister of Defence, Ng Eng Hen, warned that citizens who have gone to support the extremist groups in these regions pose “a significant threat” to their own countries.
The IS is known to have recruited thousands of fighters from other countries, including in the Southeast Asian region, such as Malaysia and Indonesia.
In March, the authorities in Singapore disclosed that an Indian national and a Singapore citizen had attempted to “take part in the conflict in Syria”.
The Ministry of Home Affairs eventually deported the Indian national, while the alleged “radicalised” Singaporean’s whereabouts are still unknown.
Dr Ng said, “When they finally return to their home countries [from the conflict regions], the threat they can pose to their home population, it is a significant threat.”
“So this is no longer fiction,” he said.
Dr Ng said “the only way” to prevent or counter home-grown transnational terrorism is to step up the sharing of information and intelligence between countries and agencies.
“In this battle against terrorist elements, information is key and sharing of information is key,” he said.
“The more we know… the safer we can be and better prepared we are.”
Earlier reports in August from Malaysia quoted a top Malaysian counter-terrorism official as saying that a “group of radicals planning to attack several targets in Malaysia had their sights set on a wider campaign — the creation of an Islamic Caliphate that includes Singapore.”
Meanwhile, United States president, Barack Obama, has vowed to “degrade and destroy” IS.
He said the US “will not be intimidated” by the killing of journalist Steven Sotloff on Monday.
“Those who make the mistake of harming Americans will learn that we will not forget and that our reach is long and that justice will be served,” Mr Obama said, on a visit in Estonia on Thursday.
“That [objective] is to degrade and destroy [Isis] so it’s no longer a threat, not just to Iraq, but also to the region and to the United States.”
He added, “We can accomplish that. It’s going to take some time, it’s going to take some effort.”
“This is not going to be a one-week or a one-month or a six-month proposition.”