Yesterday, news broke out about an attempted terrorist attack on 2 Singapore mosques by a 16-year-old radicalised Protestant youth. The teenager is the first person to be arrested in Singapore for extreme right-wing ideology and was inspired by the terrorist who killed 51 people at mosques in Christchurch in 2019. He is also the youngest person detained under the Internal Security Act for terrorism-related activities.
Singaporeans of all backgrounds have expressed grief and sorrow at the horrifying plan. The National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCSS) released a statement that included assurance to “Muslim friends that there is no animosity between our communities” and that they “remain committed to defeating hate and violence in Singapore”.
“We will not be deterred from our common goal to build harmony and cohesion in multi-religious Singapore society,” it added.
Today, leaders from NCSS met with Muslim leaders to reaffirm the mutual trust and understanding between their communities and condemn the plotted terrorist attack. They met at the Yusof Ishak Mosque in Woodlands, one of two targeted mosques.
Rt Rev Keith Lai, President of NCCS, expressed their shock and disbelief that “this could happen, especially coming from a 16-year-old.”
"This is indeed a wake-up call for us as a community, not just as a Christian community but together as a nation, how we can help our young people, and guide them and mentor them in the right way," said Rt Rev Lai.
He highlighted that they have always treasured the trust, understanding and warm relationship shared with the Muslim community and that they are so close and connected that “anytime there is an issue”, the leaders “just call up each other”. Rt Rev Lai assured that “there is no animosity between Christians and Muslims.”
“We will stand together to fight and defeat hatred and violence because whatever has been planned by this young man is contrary to what our Bible teaches about love and acceptance. So we want to reassure our Muslim friends that we are here for them, we stand with them and we want to help in any way possible,” he added.
In response, Mufti Dr Nazirudin expressed his gratitude to be able to meet in a safe and sacred space “with understanding, harmony, respect and compassion even as incidents local and abroad threaten to tear us apart.”
He said the Muslim leaders were reassured that the case was an isolated incident and that the youth's views are not representative of the Christian community here.
Mufti Dr Nazirudin pointed out that as a community that has often needed to explain itself and what Islam truly represents, we “deeply empathize” with the “shock and anguish that someone who professes the Christian faith seeks to do the very thing that would desecrate it.”
“We have no doubts that Christianity through the teachings of Jesus, Church Fathers and the Bible, like Islam through the teachings of the Quran and Prophet Muhammad preach love in place of hate, peace in place of violence, compassion in place of enmity.”
Among other things, Rt Rev Lai and Mufti Dr Nazirudin acknowledged the need to guide young people from being influenced by extremist ideologies that, Mufti Dr Nazirudin highlighted, feed on fear, anxiety and misinformation and could spread easily in online platforms, apps and games.
“We know that hate and extremist ideology, not scripture or faith, is the real threat that can drive a sharp wedge between communities,” said Mufti Dr Nazirudin.
Rt Rev Lai said, “The onus is on us, not just as a community, but all the way down to all the parents to make sure that we are present with our children, our teenagers to know what they are going through, to understand their emotions, their struggles. This is something that we cannot abdicate and pass it to government agencies. It is something that... we have to take responsibility," he added.
"And as religious organisations, we play a very important role as well to make sure we guide them in the right way."
Echoing the same sentiments, Mufti Dr Nazirudin said, “Our duty now is to help this young man and many others like him to heal from this wound of hate and violence, to help them understand the world and people through real friendships in our places of worship, in our communities, not to form stereotypes and prejudices through the frosted blinkers and pixelated screens of hate and violence extremism.”
He emphasized that the “unequivocal message of respect and care for others must reach our young and our communities from the pulpits, in classrooms and in our own homes” and that “there is a lot more that we need and can do to protect our young and our communities”.
Mufti Dr Nazirudin also thanked the security agencies for their efforts in detecting threats before they could materialise and called for Singaporeans to remain united through this problem.
"We have witnessed how in these difficult and challenging times in a global pandemic, our common humanity and the sanctity and safety of human lives matter the most. We have put all differences aside to unite and protect each other. When we stand united with respect, compassion and care, we will always be stronger than the forces that seek to divide us," he added.
Mufti Dr Nazirudin ended with a prayer that this “understanding, respect and friendship” between the communities will continue and for God to “protect us, our communities, our places of worship and our country from all forms of danger, harm and disunity.”