Transcript of Speech by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the official launch of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) Majulah Gallery at the revitalised Khadijah Mosque on 3 May 2023.
RRG Co-Chairmen Ustaz Mohd Hasbi Hassan and Ustaz Dr Mohamed Ali
Mr Wong Kan Seng, Ministers, Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen
A very good evening to everybody.
I am very happy to join you today to celebrate RRG’s 20th anniversary and to launch the RRG’s Majulah Gallery. This is a significant milestone in Singapore’s long fight against terrorism and extremism.
Many of us will recall the Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) arrests in 2001. JI members had plotted to carry out major terrorist attacks here in Singapore. They identified close to 80 possible targets. Including key military installations like MINDEF HQ, western embassies, and a shuttle bus service that ferried American military personnel and their families from Sembawang to Yishun MRT. The JI members conducted video reconnaissance on these targets, and took steps to procure ammonium nitrate to use for making truck bombs. We were that close to a devastating terrorist attack happening on our soil. Thanks to the good work of ISD, we broke up the JI cell and arrested its members before they could mount the attacks, and sounded the alarm on the regional JI network to our neighbouring countries.
But we knew that it was not enough to just uncover the terror plots and stop them from happening. We needed to tackle the source of the danger, which was the radical misinterpretation of Islam. This was an ideological battle involving hearts and minds. We are grateful to a small group of religious scholars who stepped forward to counsel and rehabilitate the JI members. This was our first attempt at religious rehabilitation of terrorists. The religious scholars took a leap of faith by working with ISD. They risked being seen as doing the bidding of the Government and being branded “munafik” (hypocrites). But they were men of courage and conviction, who were convinced that they were doing the right thing to counter religion-based violent extremism. So they pressed on. With their dedication, perseverance, and wealth of religious knowledge, they methodically countered the extremist narratives, and worked to persuade the detainees to realise the error of their ways. Eventually they got through to most of the Singapore JI members and their families, even some of the hardcore ones.
This pioneering group of religious scholars later formed the RRG in 2003. It was co-chaired by the late Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed and the current RRG Co-Chairman Ustaz Mohamad Hasbi Hassan. Other members included the late Ustaz Ahmad Sonhadji Mohamad, Ustaz Syed Ahmad Semait, Ustaz Ibrahim Kassim, Ustaz Hassan Mustakim, and the current senior RRG leaders Ustaz Syed Isa Semait and Ustaz Mohamad Rais.
Over the years, the RRG has steadily enhanced its capabilities and expanded its capacity to provide counselling and guidance. It has also strengthened its links and networks with foreign partners. And kept itself up-to-date and effective in tackling the threat of extremist ideologies in our society. The RRG does this in three principle ways:
First, through rehabilitation. The RRG works unremittingly to rehabilitate terrorism-related detainees misguided by radical ideologies, and reintegrate them into society. It partners other community groups, especially the Inter-Agency Aftercare Group (ACG), to give detainees much-needed encouragement and motivation. Some RRG volunteers have also become mentors and tutors to the young detainees, providing them with social support and equipping them with useful life skills. Take 22-year-old self-radicalised youth, Amirull bin Ali. Amirull was detained two years ago for planning to carry out a knife attack against Jews in Singapore and to travel to Palestine to fight for Hamas. While in detention, he underwent a comprehensive rehabilitation programme, including religious counselling, and corrected his violent radical mindset. He was released in March. To help him reintegrate into society, an RRG volunteer gives him English lessons so that he can further his studies and fulfil his aspiration of becoming a chef.
There are many other similar RRG stories. Of the approximately 140 Singaporeans dealt with for terrorism-related activities since 2002, close to 90% have made good progress in their rehabilitation and successfully reintegrated into society. Most are gainfully employed. Some are running their own businesses, while the younger ones have often resumed their studies.
Second, community outreach. The RRG has stepped up outreach efforts to sensitise the public to the terrorism threat and strengthen the Muslim community’s resilience against extremist ideas. In 2014, the RRG established the Resource & Counselling Centre (RCC) to educate the public about radical ideology and violent extremism, as well as to provide counselling services. Since its opening, the RCC has hosted about 20,000 visitors. They include community leaders, school groups and government agencies and also foreign visitors, including the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Syeikh Dr Shawki Allam, the former Australian Prime Minister, Mr Tony Abbott, and the Minister of Religious Affairs of Brunei, Pehin Dato Haji Awang Badaruddin. Beyond providing in-person touchpoints, the RRG has also widened its reach through its helpline and mobile app. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the RRG raised its online presence, organising virtual events and putting out educational videos and articles, to sustain its outreach.
Third, inter-faith collaboration. I am glad to see members of other faiths present today. The RRG works closely with other religious groups to promote better understanding, strengthen ties, and tackle the terrorism threat together. For example two years ago, ISD detained a 16-year-old boy who wanted to attack Muslims in Singapore after being radicalised by far-right extremist ideologies. The RRG shared its experience with the National Council of Churches in Singapore (NCCS), to help rehabilitate him. It is important that we stay united always, and never let terrorism divide us.
The RRG has played an indispensable role. Not just countering terrorism and extremism in Singapore for the past two decades. But also promoting and strengthening interfaith bonds and cohesion in our multi-racial and multi-religious society.
I thank all RRG members and volunteers for your selfless service, sustained efforts and significant contributions. In particular, I wish to pay a special tribute to the late Ustaz Ali Haji Mohamed. As Co-Chairman of RRG since its inception, Ustaz Ali provided strong leadership and guidance to the RRG staff and volunteers. Ustaz Ali also served the community in many other ways, including as Chairman of Khadijah Mosque for 30 years. He redeveloped and expanded the mosque to better provide religious and social services to the Muslim community. Including most recently as we visited just now, anew outdoor gallery to showcase the rich history of the mosque and its support for the formation of the RRG. All of us who knew Ustaz Ali were deeply saddened by his demise in March. I had known Ustaz Ali for a long time, and benefited greatly from his honest and thoughtful advice about the practice of Islam in Singapore, and the community which he dedicated his life to serving.
Two years ago, when I met the Malay/Muslim community and religious leaders to discuss the issue of tudung for nurses, Ustaz Ali was in the audience. He was already ailing, but he came in a wheelchair. He spoke up to express support for the government’s handling of the issue, and its aim to resolve it in a way that would enhance inter-religious trust and harmony in Singapore. Last July, hearing that Ustaz Ali had not been well, I visited him and his family at his home in Sengkang. He was frail, but in good spirits. He shared with me his plans for the RRG and Khadijah Mosque. He invited me to come for today’s event, and of course I immediately agreed. He very much hoped he would be able to attend this ceremony, but sadly it was not to be.
The late Ustaz Ali touched the lives of many Singaporeans. I hope his efforts and contributions will inspire religious leaders of all faiths to guide their followers towards a harmonious, safe, and secure Singapore for many years to come.
In the fight against terrorism and extremism, we can never afford to let our guard down. The threat still exists, and continues to morph into new forms. Externally, terror groups like ISIS, Al-Qaeda and JI remain active. They still influence and inspire followers worldwide to mount attacks. Singapore is seen as a prize target by terrorist groups and continues to be mentioned in their propaganda. Locally, in recent years we have picked up a growing number of self-radicalised individuals. Since the rise of ISIS in 2015, we have dealt with 49 self-radicalised individuals under the Internal Security Act (ISA). This is four times more than the number of cases in the preceding period, from 2007 to 2014. Of the 49 self-radicalised individuals, 37 are Singaporeans. They include women and worryingly, many youths. 11 are aged 20 or younger. 5 of the youths even wanted to mount attacks in Singapore.
The Government is making every effort to neutralise the threat and to rehabilitate them all. We are increasing outreach to counter extremist ideologies. Improving border controls, and our response and investigative capabilities. We are strengthening our community response through SGSecure.
But every one of us has a role to play. Our strongest defence against terrorism is our collective vigilance. We must stay constantly alert against extremist ideologies. If you come across anyone showing signs of radicalisation, please promptly report him or her to the authorities. This is our first line of defence. We must also strengthen the racial and religious harmony that we have worked so hard to preserve. Terrorism and violent extremism exploit racial and religious fault lines to promote fear and hatred. Our diversity makes our social cohesion particularly susceptible to this threat. We must do our utmost to stay united and cohesive across the various racial and religious groups in our society.
It is important also that we continue to educate the public on the terrorism threat and its impact to Singapore. This is exactly why the RRG decided to construct its new Majulah Gallery. I visited it just now, I found the exhibits informative and immersive. They raise awareness of the important role and efforts of the RRG in combating terrorism and extremism. And they also help to propagate the message of Islam, as a religion teaching peace and harmony. I am confident that the Majulah Gallery will help the RRG reach out to more Singaporeans and foreign visitors, besides being a hub for inter-faith dialogue and collaboration. It is now my pleasure to officially launch RRG’s Majulah Gallery today.
Congratulations once again to all at the RRG – Happy 20th anniversary!
Thank you very much.
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