DPM Lawrence Wong at RRG's Annual Iftar and Naming of Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed Auditorium

DPM Lawrence Wong | 1 April 2024

Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Religious Rehabilitation Group's (RRG) Annual Iftar and Naming of Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed Auditorium on 1 April 2024.

RRG Co-Chairmen, Ustaz Mohamed Hasbi Hassan, and Ustaz Dr Mohamed Ali
Mr Wong Kan Seng, Ministers and Colleagues,
Mufti, Religious Leaders,
Distinguished Guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

Selamat petang, selamat berpuasa, and Salam Ramadan

I am delighted to join all of you this evening. We are halfway through the month of Ramadan. I have attended countless iftars; I have lost count already. But this evening’s event is special for me because it is my first time having a buka puasa with the RRG and also here at Khadijah Mosque.

Ramadan is a time for Muslims to fast, pray, reflect and give back to the community. It is also a timely reminder for all of us – Muslims and non-Muslims alike – to reflect and give thanks for the peace and harmony that we enjoy in Singapore.

Global Environment

What we have today is something precious that we must cherish and safeguard and protect. Especially so as we enter a world that is becoming more dangerous and violent, compared to the past. We already see a growing number of armed conflicts around the world that cannot be easily resolved by the global community. The major powers of the world are competing with an increasingly zero-sum mindset – it is either I win or you lose. There is less talk about win-win cooperation, and more emphasis on nationalism and security. It will become harder for countries to work together to solve pressing global problems. Instead, we must expect more global competition, even conflict; and unfortunately, that can only mean more troubles and suffering around the world.

What does this mean for us as Singaporeans? Naturally our first instincts are to look after our own community and the more vulnerable in our midst. But we should also look beyond our shores and do our part as a responsible member of the international community.

This is why Singapore has stepped up efforts to support the Palestinian people. The government has provided three rounds of aid, including the latest delivery by the RSAF with the Royal Jordanian Air Force. We have deployed an SAF medical team onboard a French Navy ship. And our community groups all over the island have also stepped forward in concrete ways to provide assistance.

Singapore will continue to work with like-minded countries to help the innocent civilians Gaza. We will continue to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire, a return of hostages and a permanent end to hostilities. We will also do our part working with others in the international community towards a negotiated two-state solution.

Role of RRG

Even as we do more overseas, we must also redouble our efforts to strengthen cohesion and harmony here in Singapore. We know that what we have today did not happen just by chance. The government has passed laws and policies to protect and safeguard cohesion. Organisations like the RRG, and the pioneers in RRG, have also made a significant difference.

First, the RRG has helped to steer misguided individuals away from radical ideologies, and protected the common space between our different religious groups.

For more than 20 years, you have provided counselling and guidance, and helped to rehabilitate many of our fellow citizens. One recent example is Saad. He was issued a Restriction Order in 2016 when he was just 17 years old. He received RRG’s religious counselling, and his Restriction Order was allowed to lapse in 2020. In a media interview last April, he expressed his appreciation to RRG’s counsellors for correcting his misinterpretations of religious concepts, and guiding him towards focusing on pro-social goals, like strengthening his bond with his family.

I also want to acknowledge the contributions of the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG). Khadijah Mosque is a member of the ACG, and there are many ACG leaders here today. By providing detainees, supervisees and their families with social support, the ACG has also helped them in their reintegration into society, so thank you all for the important work that you do.

Second, beyond religious counselling, the RRG has also in recent years taken on the additional roles of mentoring and tutoring the youth detainees and supervisees, providing them with guidance and equipping them with useful life skills. These efforts have helped the youths to turn their lives around. Take the case of the 16-year-old youth radicalised by far-right extremism who was detained in December 2020. He was released in January this year and was assigned with RRG mentors to aid in his rehabilitation. They worked with him to improve his interpersonal skills, and self-esteem. He is now in a much better place in life, and pursuing his further studies at an Institute of Higher Learning – and again, all thanks to the work of our RRG volunteers.

Thirdly, RRG is doing more in your community outreach. The Majulah Gallery, which I visited just now, is a good example. By educating the public about RRG's efforts in countering terrorism and extremism, it has helped to increase vigilance against extremist ideologies. More recently, the RRG has also used social media to reach out to more people, especially youths. During the COVID period, the RRG raised its online presence to sustain its outreach. Last year when we met, I recall we launched the RRG’s TikTok account. Before coming here I checked what you were doing on TikTok – I must say your efforts are very commendable. I see the videos there making an impact and some of them have received very good traction online. This year, in conjunction with Ramadan, the RRG launched the Ramadhan video series to remind Singaporeans of the importance of peaceful coexistence and social cohesion. So all of these efforts – whether it is in the physical space like the gallery, face to face outreach or online – all of these efforts are paying off and helping the RRG to widen your very important outreach efforts.

All in all, the work of the RRG is indispensable and extremely important, especially in countering extremism, and protecting our cohesion and harmony. So to all our RRG leaders and volunteers, I would like to say a very big thank you for your selfless service and sustained efforts. Thank you very much.

Remembering the Late Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed

Of course, this year’s buka puasa holds extra significance because we are also marking the launch of the Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed Auditorium, where we are right now.

The passing of Ustaz Ali last year was a great loss for Singapore. As the Chairman of Khadijah Mosque, and founder and co-Chairman of the RRG, Ustaz Ali played a crucial role in building trust between Singaporean Muslims and non-Muslims.

Whenever we gather in this auditorium, from henceforth, we will be reminded of his contributions and his steadfast commitment to racial and religious harmony because the auditorium will be named after him.

In January this year, the Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS) also launched the Ali Haji Mohamed Scholarship for Community Leadership. In addition to academic achievements, this scholarship will seek out individuals who share Ustaz Ali's values of selfless service.

I hope all this will inspire many more Singaporeans to do their part in stepping forward and strengthening our sense of common purpose and national unity.


In the years ahead, we must be prepared for more pressures that will threaten to pull our society apart. This is happening everywhere around the world, not just in Singapore. It is one of the great ironies of modern life: humans today are freer than ever to do whatever they want. We are more connected than ever through technology. Yet around the world, people are also reporting more emotional stresses; and a greater sense of isolation and loneliness.

And when this happens – when people feel lonely, isolated, when our human connections are eroded – it is natural that we tend to revert to our tribal instincts. We ask: what tribe am I part of?

Now this identification to a particular group or tribe can sometimes be a positive affirmation – it can bring people together with a common purpose and instil a sense of belonging. But it can also be negative and dangerous. Because people may define themselves solely based on what their tribe believes, even if these are falsehoods. They may become so deeply entrenched in their own ideology that they are unable to compromise with others because any compromise is seen as “selling out” of their tribe. All this can lead to an us-versus-them mindset. It can stoke radicalisation, it can stoke grievance and hostility between groups, and it can divide our society.

We are not just talking in abstract because we can see these threats already happening in countries everywhere. We already know the dangers of tribes that propagate a false and extremist version of their religions. During Covid, we had to deal with anti-vaxxer tribes. And till today, they continue to believe whatever is being promulgated within their own groups. And in the West, we now see the rise of far-right and neo-Nazi tribes.

This formation of tribes, these tendencies to pull us apart, these pressures exist in Singapore too. We experience the same pressures. Fortunately, up to now, we have been able to resist them, and find common ground as Singaporeans. But looking ahead we must work even harder to do so, especially in an era of rapid changes taking place globally and also within our own society. That is why we embarked on the Forward Singapore exercise last year, to engage widely with Singaporeans so that we can strengthen our social compact and forge a consensus on our new way forward as a country. That is why the work of the RRG is so important and is much appreciated and valued.

The government and I are fully committed to deepening this reservoir of trust in our society, and finding ways to keep our society strong and united, even as we embrace our diversity. This has always been the secret to Singapore’s success – that from diversity, we find unity from many, many races, religions, languages, faiths, customs, from many, we become one united people. This is not just the government’s responsibility, this is not just my responsibility. In fact, this is our collective mission as Singaporeans. So, I look forward to working with all of you on this important shared endeavour to ensure that Singapore remains a peaceful and harmonious oasis, and that we will always be one united people even amidst a dangerous and troubled world. Thank you very much.