Singapore has announced it will begin requiring Islamic religious teachers, or asatizah, to register with the government in January, with a one-year grace period for all currently practicing teachers to qualify.
Asian Correspondent reports the measure is intended to curb Islamic radicalization. A registration system has actually been in place since 2005, but it has been voluntary until now, with an estimated 80 percent of Singapore’s asatizah participating.
The 20 percent who did not register reportedly mostly teach at private institutions. This includes many older teachers and those who received only informal training from individual mentors.
Mandatory registration was reportedly encouraged by Muslim leaders in Singapore, as they were concerned about “the spread of extremist ideology through the Internet via foreign religious leaders,” including ISIS recruiters.
The Jakarta Post writes:
About 20 community and religious leaders asked for the scheme to be made mandatory on Saturday at a closed-door dialogue with Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli, where they discussed issues such as the economy and the threat of terrorism.
The recent arrest of two Singaporeans who were attempting to join the Islamic State in Syria is mentioned in just about every report on the new mandatory Islamic teacher registration initiative. The Jakarta Post adds that eight citizens have been detained under the Internal Security Act for terrorist activities since January of last year, with many of them “radicalized through the extremist teachings of foreign preachers they came across online.”
“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,” said chief executive Abdul Razak of the Islamic Religious Council.
The chairman of the board that handles asatizah certification, Ustaz Ali Mohamed, spoke of the need to ensure teachers “have a vision of Islam that is compatible with Singapore as a secular state.”
At a rally on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said:
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 practiced here, and can guide their students to live in harmony with fellow Singaporeans of all races and religions.
Lee denounced those who “preach separation between believers and non-believers,” according to The Straits Times.
“They condemn those who practise other faiths, and sometimes even those who practise the same faith, but in different ways. They advocate practices and customs that would cause grave harm in Singapore,” said Lee. “The Government has to be consistently firm no matter what the religion, in order to safeguard our religious harmony.”