Don’t link any par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion with ex­trem­ism, says Shan­mugam

The Straits Times - - TOPOF THE NEWS - Dan­son Cheong

Ex­trem­ism and di­vi­sive prac­tices are prob­lems that are not the sole pre­serve of any one re­li­gion, de­spite what ter­ror­ist groups and their ac­tions might seem to sug­gest.

Home Af­fairs and Law Min­is­ter K. Shan­mugam stressed this yes­ter­day, as he pointed out that it is the goal of ter­ror­ist groups such as the Is­lamic State in Iraq and Syria to try and sow “deep di­vi­sions” and Is­lam­o­pho­bia within so­ci­ety.

“We have to get away from the idea of link­ing any par­tic­u­lar re­li­gion with ex­trem­ism,” he said at the open­ing of a two-day in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence on the role of Mus­lim non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) in pro­mot­ing peace.

He cited deep-seated con­flicts in the re­gion – be­tween Catholics and Mus­lims in the Philip­pines, and Bud­dhists and Mus­lims i n Myan­mar – to il­lus­trate that ex­trem­ists on all sides abuse re­li­gion for ne­far­i­ous ends.

Mr Shan­mugam noted that the “high-pro­file na­ture of the at­tacks in the last few years, linked with ter­ror­ists who do it in the name of Is­lam, has cre­ated this mind­set among a lot of peo­ple of as­so­ci­at­ing Is­lam with ter­ror­ism”.

Gov­ern­ments i n Asia, Europe and else­where must take an ac­tive part in dis­pelling this mis­con­cep­tion, at a time when ter­ror­ists want to di­vide Mus­lims and nonMus­lims, he said.

It is also im­por­tant for NGOs, com­mu­nity lead­ers and re­li­gious lead­ers to come to­gether, he added, say­ing con­fer­ences like this week’s can al­low the dis­cus­sion of “thorny, sen­si­tive is­sues” that might arise from liv­ing in multi-re­li­gious so­ci­eties.

These in­clude schol­ars say­ing that Mus­lims can­not ex­tend Christ­mas or Deep­avali greet­ings, and the case of a laun­derette in Malaysia that said only Mus­lims could use it – which rulers have said is not ac­cept­able.

It would do Mus­lims and non-Mus­lims a great ser­vice if these is­sues are con­sid­ered at such fo­rums, the min­is­ter said, adding that a stamp of au­thor­ity would make sure the ground does not get con­fused.

“My un­der­stand­ing is that from the very early years, Mus­lims co­ex­isted peace­fully with oth­ers in Mecca and many other places,” said Mr Shan­mugam.

“Some­times, the ma­jor­ity are Mus­lims and some­times they are the mi­nor­ity. They all co-ex­isted peace­fully and in­te­grated in a way that con­trib­uted to so­ci­ety.”

In his 30-minute speech, Mr Shan­mugam out­lined Sin­ga­pore’s ef­forts to main­tain har­mony among peo­ple of dif­fer­ent faiths, cit­ing how the po­lice take a firm stand against those who in­sult re­li­gious feel­ings, as well as how eth­nic quo­tas in pub­lic hous­ing es­tates en­sure that racial en­claves do not de­velop.

Sin­ga­pore took a firm stance on those who of­fend re­li­gious sen­si­tiv­i­ties, he said, adding: “If you sug­gest some state­ment that Mus­lims are ter­ror­ists, or Chris­tians are like this, or Jews are like this, my in­ter­nal se­cu­rity peo­ple will come and talk to you straight­away.”

The two-day fo­rum was or­gan­ised by Jamiyah Sin­ga­pore and the Morocco-based Is­lamic, Ed­u­ca­tional, Sci­en­tific and Cul­tural Or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Speak­ing be­fore the min­is­ter, Dr Mo­ham­mad Ab­dul Karim Al-Issa, sec­re­tary-gen­eral of the Mus­lim World League, said that ac­cord­ing to sur­veys by his NGO, only 1 per cent of Mus­lims world­wide can be con­sid­ered ex­trem­ists, adding that this was often due to a lack of un­der­stand­ing of Is­lam.

Mr Shan­mugam said this fig­ure was “noth­ing” com­pared with the pop­u­la­tion of Mus­lims around the world. “Most peo­ple are tol­er­ant, most peo­ple be­lieve in ac­com­mo­da­tion, but a small mi­nor­ity to­day hold the rest of us hostage,” he said.

Jamiyah pres­i­dent Mohd Hasbi Abu Bakar said it is “re­li­giously in­cum­bent” on Mus­lims to tell oth­ers that to “re­sort to vi­o­lence in the pur­suance of one’s goals is to cross the ‘red line’ of Is­lam”.

Mr Mustafa Rasheed, coun­cil mem­ber of the Mus­lim Youth Am­bas­sadors for Peace – a Jamiyah ini­tia­tive to get vol­un­teers to steer their peers away from ex­trem­ism – said he does just that, by or­gan­is­ing di­a­logues with dif­fer­ent re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties. More Mus­lims have to fol­low suit, en­gage other com­mu­ni­ties and dis­pel mis­con­cep­tions about Mus­lims, said Mr Mustafa.

“We need to say, ‘I am a hu­man be­ing, just like you’. I like the same things, I also get hun­gry, I also like to have fun,” he said.

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