In his latest remarks urging the Muslim community in Singapore to be alert to radicals within its fold, the Second Minister for Home Affairs, Masagos Zulkifli, warned of the growing presence of and threats posed by “absolutists” in the community.
The minister was speaking to the media in a special interview which included questions on how the government was dealing with extremist ideologies online.
Mr Masagos advised that Muslims should not easily “succumb” to the views and opinions of “absolutists”.
“They may look attractive, they may look correct,” he said, “but do not be gullible.”
Mr Masagos warned that these “absolutists” interpret the teachings of Islam in a rigid way, and that those who disagreed with their views were seen as “un-Islamic”, for example.
The emergence of these “absolutists” could be a result of religious teachers coming here from “all over” the world.
“The variations of Islam they embrace are ‘very cultural’, and some of the conflicts experienced in other countries are brought to Singapore”, Channel Newsasia reported the minister as having said.
“The differences among the Muslims are something the Muslims must address themselves,” Mr Masagos said. “We have to look at what is important for the community, what principles we should hold as an exemplary Muslim minority community that others can look up to.
“Therefore we must know what principles must rule us. Is tolerance important? Is acceptance of a plural society important? Is participating in a modern economy important? If these are all important to us, then we must set the norms for ourselves and therefore those who do not, we must try to bring them back to these norms.”
On what could then be done to address the presence of such thinking of ideology within the community, Mr Masagos said, “When we hear something that is really out of the norm, be alert to it. We have to accept them for their freedom to express their religious variations, too.”
But the fight against extremist beliefs, such as those espoused by the Islamic State of Syria and Iraq (ISIS), is not limited to Singapore alone, especially online.
“It’s important for the Muslim community, not just in Singapore, in fact the whole world, to really think about how to present Islam in an attractive way to counter the attractiveness of the information that is put up by the proponents of ISIS doctrine,” he said.
“However, there is also the need to also counter the doctrine that is put forth by ISIS and also in an attractive way. There are some sites that do this but not enough and our youths have to be made aware that there are alternative views, counter-views to what ISIS is proposing.”
Mr Masagos, however, said that at the end of the day, “we cannot run away from the fact that parents need to be responsible to watch out for their children.”
Mr Masagos has been raising concerns about the emergence and presence of radical Islamic teachings in recent months.
In January, in an interview with the Straits Times, he explained how Singapore dealt with those who were influenced by such ideologies.
“It is crucial to build up community resilience in peacetime so that, should a terrorist attack occur in Singapore, it does not adversely impact on our communal relations, and suspicions and mistrust between the different communities do not arise,” he said then.
“We have laid the foundations for good social relations with the establishment of the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles and the Community Engagement Programme in the wake of the JI arrests in 2001/2002, and the continuing effort by our communities to strengthen community bonds. The real test will come in the event of a crisis.”
And in March, Mr Masagos again cautioned the community to be aware of the threat of ISIS and to take preventive measures, especially for parents to be aware of what their children are involved in.
“We have to play a preventive role – the society, the Government and especially parents – to watch out for tell-tale signs in our children, family, and friends…(and) we want them to report early to the authorities.
“The Government’s role is to ensure that our borders are secure, there is racial harmony and that we do not become a society that hates each other… But everyone has a part. We would like the community to be involved, be our eyes, our ears.”