Acting PM Teo: Islamic teachers can help battle terrorists online
Acting PM Teo: Imams and accredited asatizah can guide youth away from ISIS
There have been 15 Singaporeans who have been detained or given restriction orders under the Internal Security Act (ISA) after being radicalised by terror group Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).
All were below the age of 30, said Acting Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who stressed how vulnerable the young were to online extremist and exclusivist ideology.
Mr Teo, who is also the Coordinating Minister for National Security, revealed that five of 15 were radicalised when they were still teenagers.
They had accessed online material that promoted extremism and violence, which played a significant part in radicalising them over time, according to Mr Teo. He was speaking at a breaking fast event organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Khadijah Mosque in Geylang yesterday.
He underscored the importance of seeking help from the proper channels available.
"The guidance of families and friends is important," he said.
"We need to teach our people, especially the youth, that if they have questions on Islam, they should seek answers from the imams and asatizah who are accredited under the Asatizah Recognition Scheme, and not search the Internet in a haphazard and unguided way."
Mr Teo added that the terror threat Singapore faces is at its highest level since 9/11.
He warned that even if ISIS is eventually defeated, terror groups would "continue to push out extremist propaganda".
Mr Teo highlighted three rings of "trust and confidence" that have kept Singapore safe: security agencies that work round-the-clock, the trust and confidence Singaporeans have in the Muslim community and the bonds that stretch across communities of different beliefs.
His comments came two days after the Ministry of Home Affairs announced that a 22-year-old had become the first Singaporean woman to be detained earlier this month under the ISA for radicalism.
Syaikhah Izzah Zahrah Al Ansari, an infant care assistant and a mother of one, started to be radicalised by online propaganda in 2013, when she was around 18.
Although her family knew about it in 2015, they did not report her.
Mr Teo said Izzah's radicalisation could have been prevented if her family had sought help earlier, underscoring the importance of loved ones coming forward and seeking help.
He said: "If Izzah had gone to Syria to join ISIS, her family may have lost her and her daughter forever. Luckily, she was arrested in time and stopped."
Ustaz Ali Mohamed, co-chairman of the RRG, echoed Mr Teo's sentiments and urged parents to be alert if their children are "on the path to radicalism".
He said they could seek help from authorities like RRG, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), or an accredited asatizah.
"It is our duty to provide advice and guidance to our children and report them to the authorities should they choose to take the path towards violence," he said.
All asatizah to be accredited within three years: Dr Yaacob
Within the next three years, the Asatizah Recognition Scheme (ARS) will reach its goal of accrediting all local asatizah, or Islamic religious teachers, said Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.
"We have done most, close to 90 per cent. Some of them we need some time because they have to be trained and retrained, so the process is ongoing," he said on the sidelines of a breaking fast event organised by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) and the Khadijah Mosque in Geylang.
"Our goal is to try and accredit... 100 per cent within the next three years."
All qualified Islamic teachers must be endorsed by the ARS.
This is to ensure all Islamic religious teachers are equipped with the appropriate qualifications and have a strong understanding of Singapore's multi-racial and multi-religious make-up.
To be certified, religious teachers must complete 30 hours of modules under the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis).All Islamic education centres will also be required to register with Muis and can only hire certified religious teachers. The ARS, started in 2005 by Muis and the Singapore Islamic Scholars & Religious Teachers Association (Pergas), recognises teachers and scholars who meet the minimum standard of qualification to preach and teach Islamic knowledge.
Dr Yaacob urged families to step forward and make use of the resources available if they believe loved ones are in danger of being or have been radicalised by terror groups.
He stressed that they should not feel ashamed because seeking help would save the family member, the family, the community, the nation and more importantly the religion.
"The list (of accredited asatizah) is available online so we appeal to the community if they need guidance to turn to that list," he said.
"(They) have been vetted by Muis and Pergas, and therefore, we know that they will basically preach the kind of Islam that we think is important for us here in Singapore."