Singapore must keep a close watch on exclusivist and divisive teachings or statements, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said on Tuesday (March 14).
Such remarks have had repercussions in other countries, he noted in a speech at the annual retreat of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a group of local Muslim scholars who have been countering terror detainees’ misunderstanding of religious concepts.
“Attacks claimed to be in the name of Islam have led to a rise in Islamophobia, with anti-immigration rhetoric and negative reactions among other communities,” he said.
“More importantly, no person should spread ill-will against other religions or non-believers,” said Mr Teo.
Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security, said the Government takes a strong stand on such teachings or statements.
“We will investigate each case carefully, and take action if necessary,” he said.
“It has taken many years for us to build a cohesive society, united as one people regardless of race or religion. We must focus on what we have in common rather than allow others to divide us,” he added.
He was speaking in Malay to about 50 RRG members and volunteers, many of them religious teachers.
In his speech, Mr Teo noted that the threat of terrorism to Singapore and the region is at its highest level in recent years.
As terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) faces severe pressure in Syria and Iraq, its fighters are likely to disperse and find new battlegrounds.
“We have to be prepared for attacks from ISIS-linked cells in South-east Asia,” he said.
Observers have noted that the threats of terrorism and extremism could have an impact on social cohesion here, and Mr Teo suggested three levels the RRG could help in building a united and cohesive society.
First, it can counsel individuals at risk and detainees to support their rehabilitation.
Such individuals now tend to be significantly younger, have no prior terror links and were self-radicalised by extremist propaganda, said Mr Teo.
Second, the RRG can play a “peace-building” role to enhance cohesion and promote inter-faith understanding within the Singapore community.
“By working with other communities and religious groups, we can show how Islam as a religion is inclusive and consistent with our nation’s values,” he said.
This is especially important as exclusivist religious teachings from the internet or preachers have tried to make inroads into Singapore, he added.
Third, the RRG can continue to strengthen the understanding of the practice of Islam within Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious context.
“Every one of you in the RRG has worked tirelessly,” Mr Teo said, thanking members for their work. “You make an important contribution to maintaining peace and harmony among all Singaporeans,” he said.