SINGAPORE — Religious preaching that encourages violence or seeks to pit one religion against another will not be tolerated, said Minister for Home Affairs K Shanmugam on Friday (March 3), as the police investigate remarks made by an imam who had allegedly insulted Christians and Jews during his sermons.
Mr Shanmugam also called out National University of Singapore (NUS) academic Khairudin Aljunied, who had openly criticised an individual who made public the imam’s alleged comments. Dr Khairudin, an associate professor at the university’s Department of Malay Studies, is also being investigated by the police for his remarks about the incident.
Speaking during the debate on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ budget on Friday, Mr Shanmugam, who is also the Law Minister, noted that terrorism remains a key concern among the public, and stressed the need for the authorities to intervene early.
Referring to the terror threat in the region, he noted that the militant group ISIS seems to be concentrating on southern Philippines. Last year, for instance, four militant groups formed the Islamic State Philippines, pledging its allegiance to ISIS.
Responding to Members of Parliaments’ comments on the imam incident, Mr Shanmugam noted that Mr Chris de Souza (Holland-Bukit Timah GRC) and Ms Rahayu Mahzam (Jurong GRC) had expressed concerns, with Mr de Souza stressing that “risks of flashpoints are higher” in multi-racial societies such as Singapore.
The imam was said to have repeatedly quoted a verse from the Quran along the lines of “God grant us victory over Jews and Christians”, among other things, said Mr Shanmugam.
He noted that Dr Khairudin, without verifying the facts, had “encouraged vilification” of the individual who brought the matter into the public eye.
Describing the academic’s conduct as “wrong and unacceptable”, Mr Shanmugam said: “He seems to suggest that it is okay for the imam to say that Jews and Christians should be defeated. He assumes that the imam intended to mean that, and Dr Khairudin sees nothing wrong with that.”
Prior to Mr Shanmugam’s comments in Parliament, Dr Khairuddin said in a Facebook post on Thursday night that his initial remarks were “not meant to malign, insult or say bad things about anyone in particular, whoever you may think it is”.
They were meant to “illustrate a bigger point which we all should keep in mind: Islam is a peaceful religion and it promotes peace, much like any other religion”, he added.
His Facebook account has since been deactivated. When contacted, Dr Khairudin said he was advised by NUS to do so on Friday morning.
An NUS spokesperson told TODAY: “Dr Khairudin had indicated that he had been thinking of closing his Facebook account and asked for an opinion. The opinion shared was that it might be best for him to stay away from social media and concentrate on his teaching and research.”
In his speech, Mr Shanmugam noted that the Government has taken a strict position when Muslims have been attacked.
Citing a Christian couple who was jailed in 2009 for distributing publications that cast Islam in a negative light, he added: “People have been charged, sent to jail. The same applies to any attack on any other religions.”
Appropriate action will be taken if the imam had indeed make an “inflammatory suggestion”, said Mr Shanmugam, while also stressing that the authorities must be fair to the imam, as “we do not fully know the exact context in which the imam spoke”.
“But if he had said that Jews and Christians should be defeated, and for God to grant Muslim brothers victory over them, to make that very point, then that is completely unacceptable,” he said.
NUS ACADEMIC BEING PROBED NO STRANGER TO CONTROVERSY
Dr Khairudin Aljunied was, in 2014, embroiled in an online controversy over several Facebook posts discussing his views on homosexuality, prompting Professor Tan Eng Chye, provost of National University of Singapore (NUS), to issue a circular to staff members and students stating that Dr Khairudin’s comments on lesbianism “contained provocative, inappropriate and offensive language”.
Prof Tan said then that he had counselled Dr Khairudin — a tenured Associate Professor at the university’s Department of Malay Studies — who acknowledged that “whilst his only intention had been to convey his point of view, his original posts reflected poor judgment in the tone and choice of words”.
On the university’s website, it is stated that Dr Khairudin, who holds a PhD from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, instructs on religions in South-east Asia, as well as colonialism and decolonisation, among others. He has published books on Islam in South-east Asia, and radical politics in Colonial Malaya.
Last November, Dr Khairudin also created a buzz with a Facebook post about his aggregate score for the Primary School Leaving Examination (PSLE). Urging others to share their scores and present vocations, he wrote: “My PSLE score is 221. I am now an Associate Professor in a University.”
The post went viral and was shared more than 3,000 times in two days. Thousands of online users responded to his prompt and did likewise, echoing his message that PSLE achievements are not life-defining.