Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam has publicly criticised a controversial Facebook post by an ustaz or religious teacher, for his remarks that the novel coronavirus is God's retribution against Chinese for oppressing Muslim Uighurs
In a statement uploaded on his Facebook page on Feb. 7, Shanmugam said:
"Online, the current situation has brought out the worst in some. One example is Abdul Halim bin Abdul Karim...
Such comments are quite unacceptable from anyone, let alone someone who is supposed to be a religious teacher".
According to Shanmugam, Abdul Halim had also uploaded a follow-up post saying that the Chinese do not wash properly after defecating and are not as hygienic as Muslims.
He then went on to cite two incidents in 2019 that involved racism— a Chinese male who was sentenced to 13 months’ jail for scrawling offensive words against Malays on a public building and the infamous Preetipls kerfuffle, which resulted in her video being taken down.
Shanmugam further explained that MHA has taken action against other preachers who have made unacceptable remarks.
For example, he said that two pastors were taken to task in recent years for their comments "which were (by comparison) less offensive".
Shanmugam added that the Ministry of Home Affairs will also be looking into what Abdul Halim has said.
Abdul Halim apologises
He said that he would like to assure Shanmugam that he "understand his concerns" and also share the Minister's appreciation for the need for religious harmony in Singapore.
However, he said that he realised that there may be people who are genuinely offended, and he "apologise as my post has hurt them".
Here is his earlier post which was uploaded on Jan. 29:
As of Feb. 7, the post garnered over 100 reactions, 40 comments and 20 shares.
Claimed coronavirus is divine retribution
In his post, Abdul Halim claimed that the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan, China was divine retribution for the oppression of Muslim Uighurs by the Chinese government.
"There are so many verses in the Qur'an that speaks of Allah's swt retribution and punishment to people who are unjust and wicked with fire and brimstone from the sky, all sorts of calamities including floods, drought, pestilence and yes, diseases and plague.
So it is no surprise if Muslims think that the virus outbreak is just that, a retribution and an answer to the prayers of the oppressed which Islam taught us is acceded to by Allah swt."
International media, including the Washington Post, have claimed in reports that Muslim Chinese were subject to waterboarding and forced to denounce their Muslim faith.
China has officially recognised the existence of "re-education camps" in the region of Xinjiang, but it has denied that it is violating the rights of its minority population.
Was an accredited religious teacher by MUIS
Abdul Halim was recognised as an accredited religious teacher by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS).
In 2004, MUIS formed the Asatizah Recognition Board (ARB) as a way to provide accreditation for asatizah.
Asatizah is the plural term for ustaz and ustazah, the Arabic word for a religious scholar or teacher. They are authoritative figures on Islamic teaching in Singapore, recognised as legitimate by our government.
They are intended to provide sound religious guidance in line with Singapore’s values of multiculturalism and diversity, and guard against problematic ideologies and practices.
In 2005, the Asatizah Recognition Scheme was launched. The scheme provides recognition for religious teachers in Singapore, and is intended to serve as a credible source of reference for the Muslim community here.
According to MUIS:
“Recognition is granted only to qualified Islamic religious teachers and scholars who meet the minimum standards of qualification, and are considered fit and proper to preach and teach Islamic religious knowledge.”
His views "do not represent the Muslim community"
Responding to queries from Mothership, MUIS said that it is aware of Abdul Halim's Facebook post and is investigating the matter.
MUIS added that Abdul Halim's post "do not represent the Muslim community".
"Given that the 2019 nCoV 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. All of us also have a responsibility to maintain good personal hygiene, and follow the advisories issued by the Ministry of Health."
MUIS' sentiments were also shared by other members in the ARB.
Chairman of ARB, Ustaz Ali Mohamed, told Mothership that one should not assume that a tragedy is God's retribution for a specific race or nation.
He also hopes that religious leaders can act responsibly when sharing information or responding to queries from the community; whether in classes, lectures, or personal social sites.
Another ARB member and Deputy Mufti Designate, Ustaz Murat Aris, said in response to Abdul Halim's post:
"Such views are utterly wrong and do not represent the views of the majority of asatizah and religious leaders in Singapore. We do not tolerate such views and advise the community to exercise sound judgement and caution when making or sharing such comments especially on social media."
You can read Shanmugam's full statement here:
Top images from Abd' Al-Halim/FB & gov.sg.