Religious Harmony

A Historic Meeting
Towards Peace and Justice
Letter to the Editor
Published in Straits Times on Feb 5, 2021

Forum: Vigilance of ISD to be commended

While it is a matter of concern that some in our region are being influenced by terrorist ideology through social media, the reality of home-grown terrorism is an alarming wake-up call.

We would like to appreciate the efforts and vigilance of the Internal Security Department (ISD) in foiling the recent planned terrorist act.

Religious harmony is a basic part of the fabric of Singapore; hence it is important that there is love and respect for different religions and faiths.

Religious regulatory bodies should check if they are doing enough to cater to the needs of different segments of their believers.

Jaafari Muslim Association Singapore would like to condemn any act of terror, as well as activities like hate speech and the propagation of hatred against any particular religion or segment of the religion, that may lead to radicalisation.

The recent case of a 16-year-old student developing extremist thoughts is something that all parents should pay close attention to. They should be extremely alert to erratic behavioural changes in their child, and look out for any innuendos by frequently engaging them in dinner-table discussions on religious harmony.

We would also request the Government to look into the possibility of blocking access to more websites/social media pages that sway viewers towards self-radicalisation.

Singapore is a multiracial and multi-religious country whose strength lies in being united, and in loving and respecting each other’s beliefs and faiths. Together we can prevail.

Muhammad Raza Zaidi (Dr)

Honorary Secretary

Jaafari Muslim Association Singapore (JMAS)

Excellent Reminder of Perils of Hate Speech
Published in Straits Times on August 26, 2017

We applaud this important and timely advice by Professor Syed Farid Alatas. Read here: (full article) 

Extracts: While not all hate speech is uttered by individuals who wish for physical violence to be perpetrated on the objects of their hate speech, we must ask ourselves if anti-Shi’ite hate speech may be one among many factors that encourage would-be terrorists to join the so-called Islamic Statein Iraq and Syria (ISIS) or other groups in Iraq and Syria to fight against Shi’ites.

If this is possible, it means that our society has to take a very active role in minimising anti-Shi’ite hate speech not only for the sake of national security, but also to protect the dignity of Singaporean Shi’ites.

Traditionally, the Sunni majority of the Malay world of South-east Asia was not anti-Shi’ite. In Singapore, for example, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) was established with the cooperation of Sunnis and Shi’ites. As was pointed out by Imam Habib Hassan Al-Attas, head of the Ba’alawi Mosque, the legal adviser during the formation of Muis in 1970 was the prominent lawyer, Mr Mohamed Javad Namazie, a Singaporean of Persian origin and a Shi’ite.

Many other prominent Singaporean Shi’ite personalities have contributed much to the overall development of the Singapore Muslim community. This includes the Jumabhoy family, whose contributions to commerce and industry in Singapore are well known. The official position of Muis, the Muslim religious authority, is that Shi’ites are a part of the Muslim community. Muis recognises Shi’ism as a creed and jurisprudential school of thought within Islam.

Promoting Muslim Unity
Our Intra-faith Iftar Reciprocated

Our pioneering Intra-faith Iftar of 2017 at AECC was reciprocated by our Sunni brothers at Masjid Baalwie. Here is a heartening report posted by a sunni attendee on his fb page:

“It’s so refreshing to see my newsfeed today filled with stories from yesterday’s Iftar at Ba’alwie mosque where youths from both the Sunni and Shia schools of thought, came together to share a meal under the auspices of the Honourable Habib Hassan Al-Attas. This meaningful event was organised by The MusLIM COLLECTIVE (TMC) as part of their shared and common purpose to unite the Muslim community here in Singapore.
Whilst there are bound to be naysayers given the comments towards the news article, I’m confident however that this initiative by TMC is a good and noble start. More support however needs to be accorded to such groups that promotes not only inter-faith dialogue but also intra-faith harmony as well. Given the recent detention of several individuals for their leaning towards extremism and acts of terrors that dominated the headlines for the past few weeks, it’s really heartening to see on the other hand, these youths, rallying together to promote religious and sectarian harmony here in Singapore.

We need to firmly dispel the notion that Shias are not Muslims or that they are part of the unbelievers. We must never allow the rhetorics of hatred and divisiveness to destroy the social fabric we have carefully preserved all this years. The Muslim community is one Ummah despite the variations in opinions and school of thoughts – this we ought to remember.

I look forward towards more engagements between Sunni and Shia Muslims here in Singapore in the near future. Together, let us be a blessing to all humanity and God’s creation”.

Blessings of Ramadan
Annual Welfare program and a Pioneering Intra-faith Iftar

More families were covered this year for our annual program”Blessings Of Ramadhan / Sentuhan Ramadhan”, where we distribute provisions and visit the sick and needy within the community. This year’s program was carried out jointly by HBI and Jaafari Madressah.

On June 5, 2017 an Intra faith Iftar was organized jointly by JMAS and HBI at their newly acquired Ahlul Bayt Education and Cultural Centre. Participants included 53 Sunni and 59 Shia muslims.  All places had been taken up well ahead of the closing date for registration for this pioneering event . For most Sunni brothers and sisters it was the first time ever to perform congregational prayers lead by a Shia. It was wonderful to see both communities mingle in a spirit of unity and friendship. Notable speakers from both sides as well as many comments from attendees reflected the same positive message: we need to learn  each other’s beliefs, continue similar interactions throughout the year to build mutual trust and love based on our many commonalities and let Singapore be at the forefront in showcasing exemplary initiatives for peace, unity and co-operation.

Summary of speeches

1. Speech by Mr Ridzuan Wu, Chairman of CCIS
He highlighted on the pluralistic nature of Singapore society and to build relations through intra-faith dialogues. He emphasized that the focus of such dialogues should not be to outdo or to outshine each other but to understand each other and not focus on differences but focus on commonalities. He said that Muslims have good interfaith relations however difficulties in engaging dialogues amongst ourselves are still very much present. It is important to acknowledge the diversity within the Muslim community, as differences and diversity will always be there. He affirmed the need for intra-faith dialogues to bridge understanding amidst differences.

2. Speech by Mr Baqir, President of Muslim Youth Assembly (Himpunan Belia Islam)
Brother Baqir welcomed everyone to the intra-faith event on behalf of the Shia community. He highlighted on the importance of building trust among each other as part of community-building efforts. He emphasised on the current global and regional climate and why intra-faith unity is so important today in eliminating prejudice and discrimination. He envisioned Singapore to be at the forefront in showcasing exemplary initiatives in promoting intra-faith unity within the Southeast Asia region. He encouraged all to sustain more similar efforts and harmony beyond just during the month of Ramadhan.

3. Speech by Mr Ameerali Abedali, Chairman of MKAC
Mr Ameerali shared the benefits and beauty of learning from other faith groups based on his interfaith work. He highlighted that the focus of interfaith and intrafaith work should not be to debate or to prove to each other but rather to build understanding amongst each other through discourse. He called upon everyone to achieve higher levels of interaction which goes beyond tolerance, to mutual understanding as well as intimacy in building harmonious friendship with others. He expressed his happiness in being a part of a milestone in experiencing the first intra-faith iftar in AECC. He mentioned that he could feel the warmth of love when he stepped into the Centre.

Personal sharing from guests

Lot of guests shared their feelings and thoughts. Following is the summary of the points they made.

1. Harmonious friendship can be forged through learning and understanding.
2. It is important to focus on the commonalities. For most, it was the first time taking part in congregational prayers, led by a Shia and that turned out to be an eye-opening experience for them.
3. A reminder not to import the divisive Muslim politics of abroad into Singapore but to focus instead in building bridges. Singapore is in a unique position to instil unity amongst Muslims because it is well-known for its diversity and multicultural society.
4. Sunni brethren expressed genuine interest in wanting to know what they can do to help their Shia brethren feel more inclusive and welcomed in society.
5. Muslims should not focus too much on theology but rather, agree to disagree and foster harmony between each other.
6. Muslims need to engage in conversations more often so that we can understand the other better and debunk myths that are otherwise circulated and damaging to the Muslim community.

Enthusiasm of attendees:

A significant number of attendees stayed back after the event officially ended to engage in conversations. There were those who wished that more time was set aside for comments and sharing. One participant in particular commented that it was the most meaningful iftar he has attended in a long while.

Positive feedback has been received through personal sharing as well as reflections and comments on social media. The feedback included following key points:

a. Importance on having safe platforms to learn and share about each other. Especially learning about other traditions within Islam.
b. More focus on commonalities which far outweigh the differences.
c. Instilled hope in bridging communities together despite differences.
d. To have more dialogue sessions and conversations to foster deeper understanding.
e. Appreciation for experiencing Maghrib congregational prayers together. Some guests found the subtle differences refreshing and interesting.
f. Increased curiosity by guests who had posed questions to the Shia hosts.
g. There are many misconceptions about the Shia faith that need to be corrected.
h. At the end of the day, we need to see the bigger picture and that we need to strive to build a solid unified ummah.

There have been requests for similar efforts to take place more often so that more awareness can be raised.

Submitted by Dr Raza Zaidi, Honorary Secretary , JMAS