Syria and Singapore: A worrying connection

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Amidst all the debate about NLB’s decision to remove LGBT-friendly books, Medishield Life premiums, CPF truths and half-truths, a sobering revelation was made in Parliament yesterday.

A “handful” of Singaporeans have joined the Jihadist cause in Syria. Even children, one of them two years old, have been taken by their parents. Several others were stopped before they could travel to Syria or other conflict zones. Some who wanted to go are under investigation.

We spoke to Dr Mohamed Bin Ali, who is familiar with the Syrian conflict and has experience in counselling Muslim extremists.

He is the secretary of Religious Rehabilitation Group that counsels detainees of Jemaah Islamiyah. JI threatened to blow up some buildings in Singapore in the early 2000s.

Reasons for joining the conflict

“One reason is that they believe in the end-of-the-world prophecy and that Muslims must join their brothers in Syria.

“Another reason is they are not well-educated in the Islamic knowledge. So they believe that Jihadist cause in Syria is an obligation for all Muslims.

“You know, Muslim Singaporeans live in a democratic and free environment. When they see what they consider to be the oppression of Muslims in Syria, they get sentimental and they want to defend their religion.”

His solution

Dr Ali and his group will be distributing pamphlets to the public on the war in Syria.

“This is a civil war. It has nothing to do with religion. It is Muslim fighting Muslim. Muslim Singaporeans must understand it is not the Muslim obligation to join this war.”

If Muslims want to help the Syrians who are suffering, they can do so through legal welfare organisations, he said.

Singaporean children in to Syria

He said: “It is very sad that this time, there are children involved.”

“They don’t understand what they are doing to their children. The place is dangerous even for adults, what more for children.”

His experience in counselling Jemaah Islamiyah detainees

Most of them are free men today, but some remain in detention. He said: “They [who are in detention] have not changed their ways. I think it will take some time.”

Constant religious counselling is mandatory even for those who are released.

How they are rehabilitated

“First, you must listen to all the issues that have drawn them to the Jihadist cause. Not everything they say has to be countered.

“When you understand where they are coming from, you can provide them with answers based on proper understanding of Islamic knowledge.

“Lastly, as counsellors we ensure that they understand Singapore is a multi-religious society where different groups live together – something they should never take for granted.”

However, Dr Ali said these radicals comprise a very small number of the larger Muslim community.

“We think we have learned our lesson from the Jemaah Islamiyah days. I doubt our social cohesion will be threatened.”