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'Don't spread ill will against other religions'

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DPM Teo says S'pore must keep close eye on divisive teachings, statements

Singapore needs to keep a close watch on teachings or statements that are exclusivist and divisive, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said yesterday.

These have had repercussions in other countries, he noted at a gathering of Islamic religious teachers.

"Attacks claimed to be in the name of Islam have led to a rise in Islamophobia...," said Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

"More importantly, no person should spread ill will against other religions or non-believers."

The Government takes a strong stand on such teachings or statements, and "will investigate each case carefully and take action, if necessary".

Said Mr Teo: "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."

His speech in Malay was made at the annual retreat of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG), a group of local Muslim scholars who spend time with terror detainees to counter their misunderstanding of religious concepts.

Mr Teo said the threat of terrorism to Singapore and the region is at its highest level in recent years. As the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) faces severe pressure in the Middle East, its fighters are likely to disperse and find new battlegrounds.

Mr Teo suggested ways the RRG could help in building a united and cohesive society.

Firstly, it can counsel individuals at risk and detainees to support their rehabilitation.

He said they tend to be younger, have no prior terror links and were self-radicalised by extremist propaganda.

RRG co-chairman Ali Mohamed said the trend of younger people being radicalised by material on the Internet makes his group's work more challenging.

"...The next individual to be self-radicalised could be someone dear to us," Ustaz Ali said.

For this reason, the RRG needs to go beyond rehabilitation to strengthening the unity among communities so people embrace those from different races and religions, he added.

His call dovetails with Mr Teo's second point that the RRG can play a "peace-building" role, by promoting understanding among different religions.

Said Mr Teo: "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."

Thirdly, the RRG can continue to strengthen the understanding of Islam in our multi-racial and multi-religious context.

The RRG also discussed ways to stay relevant and respond to the evolving landscape of terrorism, such as expanding its pool of women teachers. It began recruiting female religious teachers in 2005, and a quarter of its 44 members are women.

Ustazah Nur Irfani Saripi, 31, who joined in 2008, said the main role of women teachers used to be counselling detainees' wives.

"But our roles have changed because we are seeing young women who are also influenced by extremist ideology."