Wednesday, 7 February 2018

Keeping the peace in Singapore in a 'Post 9/11' world

The world is a complicated place, more so after the events of 9/11. Especially if one happens to be from the Muslim world. Especially, especially if one happens to be from Pakistan.

Singapore's unofficial national mosque, Sultan Mosque. The mosque is located in the city's Kampong Glam district and can accommodate almost 5,000 faithful. (Photo: Wikipedia)
In the post 9/11 era, making sense of Bush’s black and white ultimatum to the world – “either you’re with us or you’re against us” – is no easy task.

To help me unravel these mysteries I recently completed an online course, “Understanding 9/11: Why 9/11 Happened and How Terrorism Affects Our World Today” offered by Duke University.

The course provided me with some insights into the post 9/11 world we now live in. Undoubtedly, like any humanities course, there are biases in the material and its presentation. However, I soaked in the knowledge in order to make better personal judgments about the subject.

To complete the course I submitted submit two papers.

The first assignment – a maximum of 1,000 words – is about radical Islamic fundamentalism I titled ‘The Post 9/11 era and periods in history’ for my blog. Through the document I explained key elements of Al-Qaeeda's philosophy, its origins and the radicalization process to my local police chief.

The second assignment – also a maximum of 1,000 words – is proposing steps to counter possible radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist atrocities in Singapore. The steps “should NOT [emphasis added] include things like military action, foreign policy, or law enforcement actions designed to degrade the groups or pre-empt individuals plotting or planning a violent attack.”

The paper takes the form of a memo to Singapore’s (fictitious) National Security Adviser. Perhaps the ideas will help us maintain our peaceful Singapore. It is reproduced in its entirety below. 


To:             The National Security Adviser,

From:        Imran Ahmed,
                  Security Analyst.
Subject:    Preventing radicalization of Singapore's Muslim community
Date:         December 19, 2017
Singapore's significant Muslim population, comprising of almost twenty percent of the country's residents, has recently been affected by Al-Qaeeda and ISIS inspired radical fundamentalist Islamic ideologies. Some Singaporean Muslims have started espousing violent ideas and even traveled overseas to pursue 'Jihad.' These activities raise the risk of domestic terrorism in Singapore. To minimize the attraction of radical Islamic terrorism, we must harness the influence of Singapore's religious leaders to propagate the historically tolerant and inclusive message of Islam. Additionally, we must inculcate Singapore's traditional tolerant values into our youth from an early age by running an awareness campaign targeted at young Singaporeans.


Singapore and Southeast Asia's Muslim community have lived peaceably with the region's non-Muslim communities for centuries. Though a climate of multi-religious harmony continues to prevail, isolated segments of the Muslim community have fallen prey to radical Islamic fundamentalist ideas of the sort espoused by Al-Qaeeda and ISIS inspired fringe groups. Building on a global narrative of Islamic nations and Muslim lifestyles being persecuted by Western countries, radical Islamic fundamentalist groups have adapted the ideology to encompass regional Muslim communities in Singapore's immediate neighborhood of Indonesia and Malaysia. In particular, Southeast Asia's Al-Qaeeda offshoot of Jemaah Islamiyah has already mounted spectacular attacks in Muslim majority Indonesia, including in the tourist resort of Bali and Indonesia's capital city of Jakarta.

In Singapore we have avoided outright radical Islamic fundamentalist terrorist attacks to date. However, our law enforcement agencies have foiled several plots to attack targets within Singapore. Indeed, Singapore's close security relationships with the United States, Western nations and Israel make us a 'legitimate' target for radical Islamic fundamentalist groups. Additionally, Singapore's liberal (read un-Islamic in the eyes of extremist groups) environment with casinos and an active nightlife add more legitimacy to Singapore as a target in the eyes of Islamic extremists.

Thought Leadership in Singapore's Islamic Community

Singapore authorities should effectively use the existing framework for leadership within the Islamic community. The community's leadership must ensure the message delivered to Singaporean Muslims is compatible with the requirements of an open and diverse multi-religious society such as Singapore. The message is compatible with mainstream Islam. The message is also in line with existing religious practices of  the majority of Singaporean Muslims and will reinforce notions of citizens' freedom to practice Islam alongside other faith structures and religions found in Singapore.

As Singapore's Malay-Muslim Islamic community typically looks to religious community leaders for guidance on theological and spiritual issues the task is made easier for authorities. Indeed, the structural framework to dispense the message is also very much in place via the existing organization of Singapore's Islamic religious community. Through Singapore's government appointed existing apex Islamic body, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), as well as the formal control of Singapore's mosques and religious education by MUIS, the Singapore authorities may prevent extreme radical Islamic fundamentalist messages from entering mainstream debate.

Singapore must strengthen the mechanisms available to MUIS for controlling the quality and message of weekly Friday sermons delivered by individual mosque imams (or mosque prayer leader) at Friday prayers. Foremost among these tools must be ensuring the theological quality of religious leaders and religious education. Only persons properly qualified and licensed from accredited Islamic institutions should be allowed to dispense religious advice / education from within mosques and pulpits. Proper theological education will minimize the risk of worshipers receiving extremist opinions in the guise of religious knowledge.

Influencing the Grassroots Narrative in Singapore's Islamic Community

Education is key to ensuring a harmonious relationship between Singapore's main religious communities, i.e. Buddhism, Christianity, Islam and Hinduism. Firstly, the government may initiate an educational campaign about the legal parameters of Singapore's Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, 1990. Under the wide ranging Act no person is permitted to disrupt Singapore's religious harmony by inciting hatred, ill will or enmity between different religious groups through any medium. Consequently, as a result of greater awareness of Singapore's tough legal stance, individuals who may otherwise be tempted by radical Islamic fundamentalist thought may be deterred by the possible consequences of adopting a radical path. Also, greater awareness of the Act may result in individuals obtaining greater understanding of living in a mixed religious environment. Ultimately, these same individuals may even help authorities by reporting individuals preaching extremist Islamic thought.

Secondly, a targeted campaign aimed at raising awareness of the importance of religious harmony aimed at students enrolled in Singapore's many educational institutions. The campaign may be customized to cater to the varying levels of social maturity demonstrated by different age groups, e.g. a different message for university students and a more elementary message for primary school students.

All students should be communicated a clear educational message about living in a multi-religious society. Establishments such as the Home Ministry's existing Harmony in Diversity Gallery museum should be a key part of the educational message. The Harmony in Diversity Gallery museum showcases Singapore's existing model of integrating the country's various religious communities into one nation. The museum is an important tool in communicating to young Singaporeans the important consequences of maintaining social harmony. Singaporeans must be made aware that losing peace also has serious economic ramifications for a small country dependent on foreign trade and investment. If there is no peace then foreign investors and capital will shy away from Singapore.


Keeping Singapore's significant Muslim population away from ISIS and Al-Qaeeda radical Islamic fundamentalist ideologies should be a key aspect in Singapore's anti-terrorism policy. Two pillars underpinning Singapore's 'pre-emptive' anti-terrorism strategy must be formal control of Islamic religious education and preaching through an enforced licensing system for religious teachers. Through this mechanism deviant Islamic thought and preachers may be kept out of Singapore's mainstream Islamic community. Secondly, an educational campaign targeting schools, colleges and other educational institutions to raise awareness of Singapore's integration model and the importance of religious harmony. These two tools will play an important part in Singapore's anti-terrorism ecosystem by pre-empting the spread of radical Islamic fundamentalist ideas in the country.

Imran is an adventurer, blogger, consultant, guide, photographer, speaker, traveler and a banker in his previous life. At the time of writing, Imran lived in Rashidabad, Pakistan as a volunteer teacher at the SST Public School. He is available on twitter (@grandmoofti); Instagram (@imranahmedsg) and can be contacted at

No comments:

Post a Comment