Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam has raised the alarm over what he calls a “worrying trend” in the region: the rise of exclusivist views, and the influence of foreign preachers who lead young men astray.
The Straits Times (ST) quoted him as saying: “Unfortunately, in this region no one is stopping this kind of teaching.”
Praising Singapore’s Malays for their success and tolerance, Shanmugam noted that they faced many challenges today, especially radicalism and terrorism.
The ST report said he singled out Islamic preachers Zakir Naik and Ismail Menk, who have preached in the region, as being among those teaching exclusivist views.
The ST reported that Naik had said Muslims could not vote for non-Muslims, or have Christians and Jews as friends while Menk had said it was blasphemous for Muslims to greet believers of other faiths during festivals such as Christmas or Deepavali.
Both these preachers have also given speeches in Malaysia. Naik, who has been given permanent resident status by the Malaysian government, has come under fire by various groups which claim his speeches are a danger to national unity.
Naik is on the run from India as he is wanted for questioning over money laundering and terrorism-related charges.
Shanmugam said exclusivist preachers were also found in other religions, noting that the Singapore ministry of home affairs had denied entry to two foreign Christian preachers.
The home ministry said last Friday that it had rejected applications by the two Christian preachers for short-term work passes to speak in Singapore as they had made “denigrating and inflammatory comments” on other religions in the past.
Shanmugam warned that the government would take a tough stand against anyone who denigrated another race or religion.
Shanmugam was addressing about 400 Malay grassroots leaders and People’s Association staff at a dialogue on religious harmony and resilience on Sept 13 at the Grassroots’ Club.
According to the report he called on the community to stay alert for signs of radicalism, urging them to help the security agencies.
He urged grassroots leaders to help the youth understand the “multi-racial ethos” of Singapore society.
“Without the community this cannot be done, and if this is not done, we get more radicalisation. Ultimately… we will get more Islamophobia and all of us will lose. The country will lose,” the ST quoted Shanmugam as saying.
He said Singapore’s Malay/Muslim community, given the progress it had made, could be “a beacon” in the present troubled times.
Noting that the community was better educated, had more assets, and was more resilient, he added: “The Muslim society in Singapore can be an example, on tolerance, on success, on education. In every field… we can be the example. Look around at other societies in the world, how many have this kind of success.”
The ST reported that Shanmugam highlighted successful members of the community from the public and private sectors, and urged the community to continue working hard.
He told them to be confident in their culture, traditions and religion, while integrating into Singapore’s multi-racial fabric.