Reclaiming Islam from extremists
Moderates must speak out, says Dr Tan; We are, says Muis
Loh Chee Kong
AS GLOBALISATION sweeps the world, the trend of religious revivalism is becoming a “potent force” in many countries, said Dr Tony Tan, chairman of National Research Foundation, former Deputy Prime Minister and Co-ordinating Minister for Security and Defence.
“For a variety of reasons, people in many countries have felt the need to return to religion,” said Dr Tan. “By and large, the call to religion is to be welcomed … However, religious resurgence can be a problem when people’s need for faith is twisted.”
Addressing about 100 participants at the opening of a two-day conference organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), Dr Tan called upon moderate Muslims in Singapore to “dispel suspicion by unequivocally denouncing terrorism, countering erroneous teachings of jihad and working with the Government to root out extremists and radical teaching”.
Said Dr Tan: “The challenge for moderate Muslims in the Islamic community today is to seize back the agenda from the small band of extremists … It is no small thing to speak out against terrorists.
“But to stay silent would be wrong as the radicals and extremists would take the silence of the peace-loving majority as support for their outrageous acts.”
Referring to the recent “forthright denunciations” of violence and terrorism by the Muslim communities in the United Kingdom and Australia, he said that these are examples which Muslims in other countries should “consider emulating”.
While Dr Tan applauded the efforts of local Islamic religious leaders who have “taken it upon themselves to go down to the ground, to counter the extremist ideology”, he stressed that “the community as a whole, and not just individuals, must partake in such efforts, if we are to stand a chance of keeping the vulnerable segments of our community, like our youths, from the clutches of terrorism”.
Responding to this call, the president of Muis, Mr Mohd Alami Musa, said: “The local Muslim community has been and will continue to be vocal against acts of terrorism, violence, the abuse of religion. There is a sense of ‘enough is enough, we do not want to bear the brunt of all these’.
“The Singaporean Muslims are very focused and clear in their minds what the teachings of Islam are and they know that what had been put forth by these irresponsible groups and individuals are things alien to Islam and have to be rejected in its totality.”
Mr Mohd added that a fresh approach is needed to reach out to young Muslims.
“Gone are the days when the ustaz (teacher) will stand at the blackboard, using a chalk-and-talk kind of approach and everything is either halal or haram,” said Mr Mohd Alami. “We are changing our tack and making our Islamic education more connected to their lives and more relevant. We are talking about issues which mean a lot to the young now such as issues of identity, relationships and self-esteem.”
Calling traditional Islam the “antidote to extremism”, Professor Syed Farid Alatas, from the National University of Singapore’s Department of Sociology, questioned the label of “moderate Muslims”.
“What we need are not moderate Islam or Muslims, if by moderate we mean Muslims who are less strict about their religions,” said Prof Syed Farid. “What we need, in fact, are Muslims who are strict about their religious observances, practices and values.”
To help Muslims better understand challenging issues, Mr Mohd Alami announced that Muis will roll out its Distinguished Visitors’ Programme next year. The programme, of which Dr Tan will be a patron, will invite personalities of high stature in the Muslim world to deliver lectures here.
Thank Allah swt for my prayers have been answered! I am certainly looking forward to such lectures, giving me an opportunity to understand what it means to be a Muslim and the role of Muslims in a highly globalised and modernised world of today.
While the first portion of the article deals with the much emphasized “Muslims-must-speak-out-against-extremists” platitudes (seriously, there is much more than we can do besides denouce their evil acts!), the second part promises some inkling of change in the Muslim mentality of endless self-denial, aggressive finger pointing through arbitrary labels, and the acute sense of insularity of the role of Islam in our modern world itself. I applaud MUIS for taking a first step forward, ever since the JI tried to carry out their heinous plans of bombing one of our MRT stations a few years ago.
However, I could not stifle my disbelief over the fact that religious education in Singapore has gone through a paradigm change, or has gone through any change at all. Tthe fact still remains that in the classroom, the ustaz ultimately has the power to influence the minds of the children with whatever they seem fit, even though it may not be reflective of our modern times. When he said, “We are changing our tack and making our Islamic education more connected to their lives and more relevant”, I just recalled anecdotes by my old ustaz and how he used stories of teen pregnancies, drug abuse and other “Western-related” excesses (or so they claim) to justify the return to Islam as a form of salvation, and how the West is evil and so on. Its basically the same thing. Is there any change? If so then what has been done?
The issue of labels is a highly contentious issue which needs careful explication and understanding (something, which I confess, am not very good at yet). What Professor Syed Farid Alatas said is true, but the term “Moderate Muslims” came about more as a reaction against extremists and fundamentalists, rather than too strict or too literal in their practices. Using peaceful methods of discussion and consensus as a form of communication, rather than the more violent forms of miscommunication.
Simply cant wait for the lectures next year. Hopefully, it will be conducted on weekends when I am out of camp!