IN a bid to nip religious radicalization in the bud, Singapore is making it mandatory for all Islamic religious teachers (asatizah) to register under a government-run recognition scheme beginning next year.
All existing asatizah will be given a one-year grace period in order to obtain the necessary qualifications, which include at least a diploma in Islamic studies from a government-recognized institution, said Muslim Affairs Minister Yaacob Ibrahim, as reported by the Straits Times.
The scheme has been in place since 2005, but up until now, registration has been voluntary, with approximately 80 percent (or 1,700) of the country’s asatizah certified.
However, following the reported rise of radicalization among Singaporean Muslims, the government has found it necessary to keep a closer watch on the island state’s religious educators.
Most of those who are not registered under the scheme are either teaching at private schools and centers, or run their own classes, added Yaacob.
This month, two Singaporeans who were planning to travel to Syria to fight for the Islamic State (IS) were detained, while eight have been arrested under the Internal Security Act for their involvement in terror activities and five were put under Restriction Orders.
The country’s Muslim leaders were the ones to propose making registration mandatory after observing the spread of extremist ideology through the Internet via foreign religious teachers.
Singapore’s Islamic Religious Council chief executive Abdul Razak Maricar told members of the press recently: “It will be an important assurance to the community that the young get guidance on religious matters from those who are qualified to teach the religion, particularly in the context of a multi-religious Singapore.”
In his address at the National Day Rally yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong spoke of the changes, saying: “I commend the Malay/Muslim community for taking the initiative to deal with a sensitive problem. These measures will ensure that all asatizah in Singapore understand how Islam is practised here, and can guide their students to live in harmony with fellow Singaporeans of all races and religions.”