CAIRO: As religious extremist groups increasingly turn to social media to entice youths to join their ranks, young Singaporeans who graduated from the prominent Al-Azhar University in Egypt on Tuesday (Nov 1) said they see themselves as having a unique position to address and refute these extremist views.
“As a graduate of Al-Azhar university, I feel that yes, I do have a role to play and in teaching, in educating the masses that Islam is not an extreme religion,” said class valedictorian Nur Diyana Zait, who said she planned to pursue a career in education after graduating, “to educate young children, to continue to inspire and also to empower women”.
“I dream to spread the true teachings of Islam and give the best idea of Islam, and to share whatever I have learnt here,” added 25-year-old Aufa Muhammad Sidqee, who studied philosophy and Islamic Creed, and also plans to go into teaching once he returns to Singapore.
Mr Aufa and Ms Diyana graduated on Tuesday night, in a ceremony where Singapore President Tony Tan Keng Yam, who is on a state visit to Egypt, was the guest of honour.
There are 45 Singapore students graduating from Al-Azhar University this year – one of the centres of Islamic learning in the world, and described by some as the “Oxford of Islamic studies” – with degrees in Islamic law, theology or Arabic language and literature.
Singaporean students at the graduation ceremony. (Photo: Kenneth Lim)
“You now represent the next generation of leaders for the Muslim community,” Dr Tan told the students at a reception after the ceremony, where he wished them continued success in their endeavours.
The President added that he was confident the students would “continue to promote racial and religious harmony in Singapore”, something he described as “precious and should be treasured.”
Many of Singapore’s Muslim leaders graduated from Al Azhar, including former and current Muftis. The university accredits the certificates of four madrasahs in Singapore, and has awarded scholarships to Singaporean students over the past decade. While most Singaporean Al-Azhar graduates become religious teachers in madrasahs, others have joined non-governmental organisations or worked as translators in foreign embassies.
“They (the graduating students) have an important role to play,” said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, who also attended the graduation ceremony. “They will be operating in Singapore (and) they command a certain respect in our community.
“They should use that respect wisely, to help guide the community towards the outcome that we want, which is a community that is inclusive and is well-integrated with the wider community.”
PRESIDENT TAN MEETS RELIGIOUS, POLITICAL LEADERS FROM EGYPT
On Monday, Dr Tan met the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al Tayeb, one of the most prominent figures in Sunni Islam. The two leaders discussed ways to counter religious extremism and the importance of promoting inter-faith dialogue – key tenets of the institution’s philosophy.
The President also visited the Al-Azhar Observatory for Foreign Languages – which seeks to correct misconceptions of Islam that youths may have picked up online. The centre monitors extremist messages in nine languages, including English, Mandarin and Urdu, and refutes them using its own online platforms.
Ambassador Abdel Rahman Moussa, Al-Azhar’s chairman of the Department of International Student Affairs, said the school’s main concern was to “teach the real Islam”.
This, he said, would help explain to youths “the proper thoughts and proper ideas”, and how extremist ideologies are false and do not have any connection with Islam, Muslims and the Islamic cause.
On Tuesday, Dr Tan also met Egypt Prime Minister Sherif Ismail at the Office of the Cabinet of Ministers in Cairo. The Prime Minister briefed the President on Egypt’s economic development plans and reform programmes, and said he welcomed investments from Singapore from companies in various sectors such as port and logistics, water desalination, as well as urban solutions.
Dr Tan, who wraps up his state visit on Thursday, said during the meeting that there was scope to strengthen economic relations, as Singapore companies explore opportunities in Egypt.