Speech by Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Redevelopment of Khadijah Mosque and expansion of RRG Resource and Counselling Centre on 29 April 2021.
SM Teo Chee Hean
Minister K. Shanmugam
Minister Masagos Zulkifli
Co-Chairmen of the Religious Rehabilitation Group Ustaz Ali and Ustaz Hasbi
CE MUIS Esa Masood
Mufti Ustaz Dr Nazirudin
Selamat menyambut bulan Ramadan to all Muslim friends. Bulan mulia yang mengajar nilai-nilai penting, seperti disiplin diri dan sifat ihsan. I am honoured to be here today for the unveiling of the redevelopment plans for Khadijah Mosque's and RRG's Resource and Counselling Centre.
Khadijah Mosque is one of the oldest mosques in Singapore. Built in 1920, the mosque had undergone major preservation works in 2001 to restore its splendour. Khadijah Mosque is known for its unique design – incorporating Indian, European and Middle Eastern features. The mosque is also a stone’s throw away from several temples and clan associations. These are testament to our multiculturalism.
Khadijah Mosque has also played a pivotal role in supporting the work of the RRG, hosting the RRG Secretariat since its inception. The RRG was formed in 2003, to rehabilitate detainees who had been radicalised, and integrate them back into society. It is encouraging that the RRG has evolved over the years, to go beyond rehabilitation, to also proactively reach out to the larger community. In 2014, the RRG's Resource and Counselling Centre was set up to provide religious counselling and guidance to the community. Visitors can learn more about the RRG’s efforts by visiting the Centre’s gallery, and I just had a tour of the gallery and learnt a lot. Prior to COVID-19, the gallery welcomed more than 15,000 visitors in total – from our schools, madrasahs and also from overseas. This is remarkable, given that the gallery can only accommodate 30 visitors at a time.
Such efforts to build understanding and tolerance are critical, given the deepening fault lines along race and religion in many societies. Even the most advanced economies are not spared, going by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US as an example. Despite COVID-19, acts of extremism are still taking place in many parts of the world.For example, just last month, two suicide bombers attacked a cathedral in Sulawesi ahead of the Easter weekend. As highlighted by Ustaz Dr Mohamed Ali last October, the pandemic has also resulted in people everywhere, including youths, spending more time online. They can be influenced by extremist and exclusivist narratives lurking on the internet if they are not careful.
Singapore is not immune from the influence of extremist ideologies. We continue to see troubling cases of self-radicalised Singaporeans youths. For example, a 16-year old youth was detained in December last year for planning to attack Muslims at two mosques in Singapore. He was the first Singaporean to be radicalised by far-right extremist ideologies. In March this year, a 20-year old youth was detained for planning to attack Jewish congregants at a synagogue in Singapore. He was primarily driven by his strong feelings towards the Israel-Palestine conflict. These cases remind us that the threat of terrorism remains very real. Regardless of the form of extremist ideologies they subscribed to, the commonality in these cases is their readiness to engage in violence. Had they succeeded in their attacks, there would have been severe consequences involving more than the physical loss of lives. A terrorist attack here can tear our social fabric apart, and destroy the social cohesion we have painstakingly built up over the years.
I am heartened that the leaders of our religious and community groups have rallied together in the fight against extremism. They have issued statements condemning violence and making clear that they stand firmly against all forms of radical ideologies. The outreach by the Religious Rehabilitation Group have been instrumental in building a Singapore where people of different race and religions can live peacefully together, built on mutual understanding and trust. In addition, the Resource and Counselling Centre serves not only to provide visitors with a better appreciation of global terrorism, but also an opportunity to understand the actual message that Islam teaches its followers – that of peace. This is why we have peace and harmony in Singapore.
Critical role of RRG
We must continue to press on with this important work. The pandemic imposes certain limitations, but I am glad that RRG has adapted well. You have ramped up online content through multiple platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter. You have produced over 70 digital products, published articles in the mainstream media, and embarked on a podcast initiative to reach out to an even wider audience. Amidst the pandemic, you also launched a 360° virtual tour of the Resource and Counselling Centre.
This redevelopment and expansion project – co-helmed by MUIS, Khadijah Mosque and RRG – is also an important and timely effort that will give a further boost to outreach efforts. It will uplift and breathe new life into the mosque, and expand the Resource and Counselling Centre to reach out to even more Singaporeans. The expanded Resource and Counselling Centre will also strengthen counter-ideology outreach efforts – which are most critical in this digital new normal where we face an increasing threat of online radicalisation.
Beyond these efforts by the RRG, the Malay/Muslim community has also been working hard to build up a reservoir of goodwill among the different communities here. Malay/Muslim Organisations have played a significant role in building our Malay/Muslim community in Singapore for which it has much to be proud of. This is from the efforts of many volunteers and community leaders who have come forward over the years.To uplift the community, preserve their culture and language, and guide their religious needs that also fosters harmony with other communities. This is why I am encouraged with your work towards building a community of success, or Masyarakat Gemilang. Indeed, the Malay/Muslim community has many successful role models, who are making significant impact to Singapore and contributing back to society. The community has dignity because it knows it has to be equal in substance and not only in rights. Those who have done well wants to give back but in ways that fulfil their personal mission in life. Which is why new initiatives like the recent M3@Towns are necessary to offer more opportunities to give back and not lose them. This initiative has enabled the community to reach out in scale to even more families and vulnerable groups, working with government social infrastructures like ComLink and UPLIFT. What is more impactful is when the programs from the MMOs and the reach of M3 find synergy – it will synthesise Masyarakat Gemilang with momentum and speed. As it stands today, many around the world admire how our Malay/Muslim community has successfully integrated in our multi-religious, multi-racial and multi-cultural society. With your collaboration, you will become the model community that others want to learn from.
It is not easy for a diverse society like ours, to remain harmonious and cohesive. This has not happened by chance. It is possible only because of our determined collective effort. Let me express my heartfelt thanks to our Muslim community, and the Religious Rehabilitation Group, led by Co-Chairman Ustaz Ali and Ustaz Hasbi, for your tremendous contributions to Singapore’s fight against terrorism and extremism. I also thank CE MUIS Esa Masood and Mufti Ustaz Dr Nazirudin for being active and instrumental partners in these efforts.
Let us continue to work together to preserve and strengthen our social bonds, drawing strength from our diversity, instead of letting it divide us. This is the true spirit of Singapore Together.
I wish all of you selamat berbuka puasa. Saya juga ingin ucap terima kasih kepada masyarakat Islam kerana sama-sama perangi COVID-19 (COVID- sembilan belas). Saya harap anda terus berjaga-jaga, agar kekal sihat, kekal selamat. Terima kasih.
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