The emergence of terrorist organisation, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), has prompted a group of ulama and Islamic scholars and teachers in Singapore to extend its outreach to those who might be influenced by ISIS’ extreme ideology.
The Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) was formed in 2003 to counter the threat of the Jemaah Islamiah (JI) terrorist group, and to provide counselling to JI detainees.
Now, the RRG has launched a new helpline for anyone seeking information or answers to questions on extremism and advice on religious matters.
It is also issuing a new guidebook to help counsellors refute the ISIS' extremist narratives.
Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is also the Home Affairs Minister, was the guest at the RRG's retreat on Tuesday where he was presented with the guidebook.
The book and helpline are part of the RRG's efforts “to derail radical propaganda” spread by ISIS, reports the Straits Times.
The helpline can be reached at 1800-7747747, and it will be manned by RRG members.
The RRG is also working with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) to conduct talks before Friday prayers at mosques.
“Meanwhile, RRG counsellors will have clear guidelines to refer to with the launch of a third counsellor's manual. This manual, produced by the RRG, focuses on refuting ISIS' extremist narrative and making clear how they are not relevant to Singapore Muslims in particular,” reports the Straits Times.
Last month, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed that a 19-year old Singaporean student, M Arifil Azim Putra Norja’I, was detained in April for planning to join ISIS and was allegedly ready to assassinate President Tony Tan and Mr Lee if he was not allowed to leave to join the terror group.
In May, another 17-year old was arrested on suspicion of having similar inclinations.
"This is why Singapore takes terrorism, and in particular ISIS, very, very seriously,” Mr Lee said on 29 May at the Shangri-la Dialogue. “The threat is no longer over there, it is over here."
On the same day, news reported that Singapore was identified by ISIS on social media as a potential target for attacks.
Last August, Malaysian authorities revealed that ISIS-inspired groups in Malaysia had plans to establish a hardline South-east Asian Islamic caliphate spanning Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Singapore.
However, Mr Lee said “the idea that ISIS can turn South-east Asia into a province of a worldwide Islamic caliphate controlled by ISIS, that is a grandiose, pie-in-the-sky dream.”
But, he said, it is not so far-fetched that ISIS could establish a base somewhere in the region, in a geographical area under its physical control like in Syria and Iraq, somewhere far from the centres of power of state governments, “somewhere where the governments’ writs does not run.”
“And there are quite a few such places in South-east Asia. If ISIS did that, it would pose a very serious threat to the whole of South-east Asia.”
It is believed that there are now more than 700 fighters from Indonesia and over 200 fighters from Malaysia fighting in Iraq and Syria where ISIS is based.
It is unclear how many Singaporeans have made the trip to join the terrorist organisation but in September 2014, it was reported that a 37-year-old Penang-born man has taken his Singaporean family to Syria to fight alongside ISIS jihadists.
DPM Teo urged the community to come together to protect youths from radical ideology.
According to the Straits Times, Mr Teo suggested three ways they could better tackle concerns of terrorism:
First, religious teachers must work with MUIS and groups like the RRG and Pergas to develop an ideology that counters ISIS' radical take on the religion. This should be attuned to Singapore's context - a multiracial, multireligious society - he added.
Second, the RRG and other community groups should work with young people to reach out to youths - who are most vulnerable to the spread of extremist propaganda online - through social media and the Internet.
And third, he said, Singapore needs to go beyond countering distorted and radical ideology, and put out a positive agenda that allows the different communities to live together peacefully.