Saturday, 8 February 2020

Ministry of Home Affairs investigating Singapore religious teacher for xenophobic, racist posts about the coronavirus

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam slams Abdul Halim bin Abdul Karim comments on Chinese over coronavirus outbreak as xenophobic
By Rei Kurohi, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2020

The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is investigating online posts by a Singapore religious teacher about the coronavirus which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan.

The teacher, Mr Abdul Halim bin Abdul Karim, said in a public Facebook post on Jan 29 that the coronavirus was retribution by Allah against the Chinese for their oppressive treatment of Muslim Uighurs in China's Xinjiang province.

Following news reports that the virus could potentially be transmitted through faeces, he also wrote in a separate private post that Chinese people do not wash properly after defaecating and are not as hygienic as Muslims.

In a Facebook post yesterday, Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam described Mr Abdul Halim's comments as xenophobic and "thoroughly racist".

Such remarks are "quite unacceptable from anyone, let alone someone who is supposed to be a religious teacher", Mr Shanmugam said.

Society has to take a clear stand against such comments, he added.

Said the minister: "Abdul Halim's comments against Chinese in general (including Singaporean Chinese) are simply unacceptable - and these can't be left alone."

He cited two pastors who were taken to task in recent years for comments which he said were less offensive in comparison.

"I have asked MHA to look into what Abdul Halim has said," Mr Shanmugam added.

Mr Abdul Halim has since apologised on Facebook for his private post, which he said was never intended to be made public. It was not aimed at any race, and nothing in it was intended to be racist, he said yesterday. He added that there was "no malicious intent" and his post had been misunderstood.

"It is about hygiene and health, the importance of which cuts across all race and ethnicities. As a matter of fact, cleaning only with toilet paper after doing their business is not just the practice of non-Muslims of Chinese descent; other non-Muslims of other races do that too," he said.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) said it is aware of the public post, which "expresses views that do not represent the Muslim community".

It is also investigating the matter.

"Islam does not allow its followers to hurt the feelings of others in the name of the religion," said a MUIS spokesman, noting that the coronavirus does not distinguish between nationality, race or religion. "We would like to urge all parties to express views with consideration, and show care to those affected."

Other religious teachers have also spoken out against racism and xenophobia in the midst of the evolving coronavirus situation. One teacher, Mr Mohamad Ghouse Khan Surattee, said the outbreak is an opportunity to display unity and help one another overcome the crisis.

"Now is not the time to blame anyone, or to look at it as a punishment or retribution to a specific nation or race," he said in a Facebook post on Thursday.

Mr Mohd Murat Md Aris, a member of the Asatizah (religious teacher) Recognition Board, said religious leaders and teachers "must counter the irresponsible practice of using the spread of the novel coronavirus in many parts of the world to spread divisive and xenophobic views".

"Such views are utterly wrong and do not represent the views of the majority of asatizah and religious leaders in Singapore," he added.

"We do not tolerate such views and advise the community to exercise sound judgment and caution when making or sharing such comments, especially on social media."

Said Mr Shanmugam in his post: "Racism exists in all communities in Singapore - but thankfully, I believe, it is exhibited by a minority in each community."





Remarks which hurt religious or racial feelings uncalled for even if done privately, says Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli
By Dominic Low, The Sunday Times, 9 Feb 2020

Making remarks which hurt the religious or racial feelings of any community is uncalled for even if done privately, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said yesterday.

Referring to recent online posts by religious teacher Abdul Halim Abdul Karim, Mr Masagos told The Sunday Times the Government is serious in dealing with hate speech.

Mr Abdul Halim wrote in a Facebook post on Jan 29 that the coronavirus was retribution by Allah against the Chinese for their oppressive treatment of Muslim Uighurs in China's Xinjiang province. He said in a separate post that Chinese people are not as hygienic as Muslims.

The religious teacher has apologised on Facebook for his remarks, which he said were never intended to be made public, even as the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) are investigating the matter.

Mr Masagos was speaking to The Sunday Times after delivering the opening speech at the inaugural M3 Forum held at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The forum was organised by self-help group Mendaki, Muis and the People's Association Malay Activity Executive Committees Council to discuss ways to improve on services to the Malay/Muslim community.

Mr Masagos, who is also Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, told The Sunday Times that enhanced measures have been taken by the National Environment Agency since the outbreak alert status was raised to orange.

"Ultimately, maintaining cleanliness and hygiene is everyone's responsibility," Mr Masagos said. "We should not just be maintaining good hygiene standards in a crisis."

At a separate event at the National Library yesterday, Education Minister Ong Ye Kung said that while enhanced measures at schools may affect learning, online resources and smaller classes might be used to make up for any shortfall.

Last Friday, the Ministry of Education announced measures such as suspending inter-school activities and external activities until the end of the March school holidays.

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