Thursday, 7 July 2016

Terror attacks during Ramadan 'barbaric'; ISIS videos declare war on Malaysia and Indonesia

They show how groups like ISIS pervert Islam teachings, Singapore's religious and political leaders say
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 6 Jul 2016

Religious and political leaders in Singapore have denounced as "barbaric" the series of terror attacks in this holy month of Ramadan, saying they show how terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) have completely perverted the teachings of Islam.

The fact that most of the attacks were in Muslim-majority nations and at holy Islamic sites has also laid bare the terrorists' lies that they commit such atrocities in the name of Islam, they added.

"The attacks on Muslim-majority cities and countries, claiming lives of Muslims... confirm that their heinous acts are against Islam and do not represent Muslims all over the world," said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim.

"I strongly condemn such barbaric acts," added Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information.

Singapore's Ministry of Foreign Affairs also used strong words to condemn Monday's terror attacks in three places in Saudi Arabia: Jeddah, Qatif and Medina.

The attack in Medina is particularly heinous as it is near the Prophet's Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, the ministry said. "Such acts of violence show that terrorism knows no boundaries."

Some of the attacks also took place in Malaysia and Indonesia. In Indonesia, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the police headquarters in Solo yesterday morning, while in Malaysia a grenade was lobbed into a pub in Selangor last week.

Scores were killed within a week in a terror attack on a cafe in Dhaka in Bangladesh popular with expatriates, as well as in suicide bombings in Iraq and at an airport in Turkey.

Ramadan is viewed by Muslims as a period of charity and compassion, but groups such as ISIS have twisted its purpose, noted Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam. "ISIS sees Ramadan as an opportune time to take away innocent lives, declaring that they would make it 'a month of pain for infidels everywhere'," he said.

ISIS has claimed credit or been linked to many of the attacks.

Terror experts such as Dr Rohan Gunaratna said ISIS has amplified its guerilla operations as coalition forces have shrunk its territory.

"The last two years, they were focused on building their so-called caliphate, but now they can't do it because they're being attacked," said Dr Gunaratna. "So they transform their capabilities into attacking their enemies, and mounting attacks in peripheral countries."

The surge during Ramadan is because ISIS had instilled in its followers the warped belief that striking in the holy month will bring them bigger rewards from God, he added.

ISIS' interpretation of Ramadan as "a month of jihad against its enemies" is a total misrepresentation, as this is when Muslims do jihad of the self, struggling against their desires and refraining from food and drink, said Dr Mohamed Ali, vice-chairman of the Religious Rehabilitation Group. "These acts of indiscriminate killing are absolutely against the teachings of Islam."

Muslims like businessman Rushdy Hakam, 30, worry the attacks nearby may spill over into Singapore. "On Hari Raya, we congregate in mosques in the morning and later, with the family. It's mind-numbing to think something may happen."

But Singapore's Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram urged Muslims to remember the good deeds of individuals and their community.

People of different faiths have also gathered with Muslims to break fast, strengthening their bonds.

"This is the embodiment of the teachings of Islam and all religions. This is the spirit we should continue to harness to help further strengthen us as a society," said Dr Fatris.

Additional reporting by Charissa Yong and Muneerah Razak.

ISIS videos declare war on Malaysia and Indonesia
The Straits Times, 5 Jul 2016

PETALING JAYA (THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - A gun-toting adult is surrounded by children, and a teen standing away from the group is seen cradling an AK-47 assault rifle.

The man is wagging his right index finger back and forth, and talks in a mix of Bahasa Malaysia and what sounded like Arabic.

He expresses gratitude to Allah for "easing our journey and jihad" and for appointing them as "soldiers of Tawhid (The Oneness of God)".

He called out to the authorities of the nusantara (archipelago) - especially in Malaysia and Indonesia.

"Know this ... we are no longer your citizens, and have liberated ourselves from you," he said as the camera panned to show a goateed man nearby holding another Malaysian passport.

"With His permission and His assistance, we will come to you with a military force that you cannot overcome.

"This is Allah's promise to us," he said.

This footage is seen in one of the video clips released by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

The man also referred to the toppling of governments and leaders who did not follow Islamic principles to make way for the supremacy of Islam.

Shortly later, he threw his passport into the middle of the circle, and the children followed suit.

A young boy stepped forward with a silver lighter and uttered Bismillah before lighting up a folded piece of white paper.

He then placed it among the pile of documents to set the heap ablaze, a sight which is greeted by raucous cheers and singing from the other children as their fists punched the air.

The scene then moves to a classroom setting, depicting children wearing songkok chanting during religious lessons supervised by an adult, and undergoing combat training under the watchful eyes of another.

They also go through outdoor learning sessions, where a man in a red headwrap conducted quizzes for his young charges.

In another clip of a sandy clearing surrounded by coniferous trees, children stood in line as they fired rounds from semi-automatic pistols.

In a testament to their tender years, their small bodies jerked back from the recoil, with the hems of their oversized camouflage fatigues falling past their knees.

An adult nearby, clad in camel khakis, long-sleeved shirt and a vest, raised his right fist, shouting takbir as the children followed suit with a chorus of Allahu Akbar (God is Great).

Develop Islam that embraces all people: Yaacob
This will preserve social harmony and prevent religious extremism from taking hold in Singapore
By Lim Yan Liang and Jeremy Koh, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2016

Singapore's Muslim community must continue to develop the kind of Islam that embraces Muslims and non-Muslims alike, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday.

This will preserve the social harmony their forebears have built and keep religious extremism from taking hold, he added.

Speaking to reporters after Aidilfitri prayers at the Ar-Raudhah Mosque in Bukit Batok, he said promoting integration is especially important in the face of the shocking terror attacks in several countries carried out by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria during the holy month of Ramadan.

The attacks took place in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Bangladesh, Turkey, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Turning to Singapore, he said: "We have a role to play to preserve the multicultural nature of our society. How we practise Islam here must suit the context."

Earlier, Mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram made the same point. Delivering his Aidilfitri sermon at the mosque to a 4,000-strong congregation, he encouraged Muslims to practise their religion with confidence and humility.

Recounting how early Muslim communities had interacted widely with people of different religions and races, he said Muslims today should similarly be confident in their interactions with others.

He added that they should not isolate themselves for fear of diluting their beliefs.

"The more they learnt and understood their religion, the more confident they were that their religion and their faith would not be easily watered down simply by participating and contributing to the larger society," he said in the sermon that was read out in all 69 mosques in Singapore on Hari Raya.

Dr Fatris also urged Muslims to be open to dialogue and discussion, adding that they should not label others as blasphemous just because they hold different opinions.

He called on people to avoid "religious teachers" who propagate such extremist teachings, adding that Muslims with a deep understanding of their religion can practise it "within the context of the environment he or she is in, without compromising his or her religious obligations".

Singapore's Muslims have done so in a secular country, he said, and have also exhibited confidence despite being a minority group.

He pointed to how the Muslim community had organised events in the past month for non-Muslims to learn about fasting. "These efforts reflect the confidence of the Singapore Muslim community in contributing to global efforts in establishing and maintaining peace," he said.

This tradition of building bridges was alive at the Al-Taqua Mosque in Bedok yesterday, where Muslims and non-Muslims came together to mark the end of the fasting month.

Mayor of South East District Maliki Osman said on the sidelines of the event: "We must come together... to make sure that the interracial and inter-religious harmony that we have is something that we hold on to for as long as we can."

Additional reporting by Linette Lai

Muslims open their doors to share Hari Raya cheer
People from other faiths tuck into festive spread as part of SG Muslims for Eid initiative
By Joanna Seow, The Straits Times, 7 Jul 2016

Muslims opened their homes to friends and relatives as part of Hari Raya Aidilfitri festivities yesterday but some even invited strangers.

Sikh, Christian and Hindu guests tucked into briyani and curry in Ms Noor Mastura's home in Serangoon, taking turns at the table with a steady stream of relatives.

Ms Mastura, 26, invited them through the SG Muslims for Eid initiative, which she started last year.

The scheme aims to link up Muslim households celebrating the festival with people of other faiths, and Muslims who want to join in the celebrations but have nowhere to go.

"The whole idea of Eid is to spread joy," said Ms Mastura, a flight attendant. "The first day is an important day and it's usually a family affair for the closest relatives and friends, but we wanted to let guests experience customs like the Eid prayer, and going home to ask for forgiveness from elders."

A total of 16 hosts and eight guests signed up for the initiative, which is modelled on a similar idea that the Humans of New York street photography project in the United States came up with for Christmas.

One of the three guests who visited Ms Mastura's home yesterday was polytechnic student Parvitar Singh, 19, who was experiencing Hari Raya in a Muslim household for the first time. "It's an honour to be here and to see how Noor's family comes together, how there is so much respect between her and her elders, and to experience their love and hospitality," he said.

He said he signed up for the event to learn more about other cultures and faiths. "Recent attacks around the world made me realise that it's very important to come together as a society," he said.

Ms Mastura and co-organisers Dhaniah Suhana, 29, a student, and Haider Amir, 31, a sales manager, said they started their society - Interfaith Youth Circle - to provide opportunities for deeper interfaith engagement, and to give young people a safe space to share their views.

They also organise activities such as monthly group discussions on different religious texts.

Mosques all over the island saw one of their busiest days yesterday.

At Al-Huda Mosque in Bukit Timah, relatives of mosque chairman Azman Kassim and long-time volunteers laid out prayer mats and prepared lontong - a vegetable stew with rice cakes - for 1,000 people.

"It's become a family tradition," said Mr Azman, 55, whose parents and some of their brood of 78 - including grandchildren and great- grandchildren - were helping out.

His nephew, Mr Zulqarnain Zulkiflee, 31, who helps looks after the mosque's social media presence, said: "For those who pray at this mosque, it's a challenge to come here because they have moved farther away, but the kampung spirit keeps bringing them back."

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