UPDATE ON 11 MAY: In response to queries from Yahoo News Singapore, an IMDA spokesperson said that it will review the books in question. “IMDA steps in when there are public feedback or complaints, or when importers refer publications to IMDA for advice,” added the spokesperson.
IMDA did not respond toYahoo News Singapore’s query on whether any member of the public had given feedback about the books to IMDA.
A father need not worry about “martyrdom in the battlefield” as God will provide for his children. Muslims cannot “praise” non-Muslims even if they are “trustworthy” or “interact with people in a good way”.
These are just some of the claims set out in books found on the shelves of a well-known religious bookstore and a popular shopping centre in Singapore.
Religious scholars and teachers spoken to by Yahoo News Singapore were particularly concerned by “The Wisdom Of Jihad”, found at Mustafa Centre in Little India, and “Things That Nullify One’s Islam”, which was being sold by a religious bookstore at Golden Landmark Shopping Complex.
The asatizah (Islamic scholars and teachers) said that such English-language books, originating from Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, are ill-suited for Singapore’s multi-racial and multi-religious context.
If allowed to take root, the ideas found in such texts will “inevitably affect” inter-religious relations in Singapore, added Dr Mohamed Ali of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS).
“Jihad”, an Arabic term for striving, can refer to both physical and spiritual struggles. However, “The Wisdom Of Jihad”, written by Abuhuraira Abdurrahman and published by Perniagaan Jahabersa in Johor Baru in 2000, deals specifically with armed jihad.
Such a book should not be made available to the public, said religious teacher Zahid Zin, chief executive officer of the Muslim Youth Forum in Singapore. He added that the 7th-century battles referred to in the book must be seen in the “context of that age” and cannot be applied today, particularly in Singapore where a Muslim’s right to live and practise Islam is protected.
The jihad for Muslims in Singapore focuses on dealing with a disruptive economy, education, and income inequality among other issues, said the 34 year-old, who is a board member of the Islamic Scholars and Religious Teachers Association (Pergas).
A spokesperson from the Management Office of Mustafa Centre declined to comment on how the books came to be sold on their shelves.
Meanwhile, “Things That Nullify One’s Islam”, published by T.R.O.I.D Publications in Canada in 2013, focuses on the work of 18th-century theologian Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab from central Arabia.
It also includes commentaries by Dr Saalih al-Fowzaan from Saudi Arabia. One of Saalih’s books was banned by the Ministry of Communications and Information (MCI) last October.
Religious teacher Ashraf Anwar felt that “Things That Nullify One’s Islam”, is of greater concern because of the way it has presented verses from the Quran. For example, while Quranic verses in the Arabic language were accurately printed in the book, the English interpretations of these verses were questionable.
For example, a passage in the book states that it is “obligatory… to have animosity for the disbelievers and hate them even if they are the closest relatives of a Muslim”.
But the Quranic verse that the passage referenced has “no mention of hate or animosity”, said Ashraf, who teaches Arabic language and Islamic studies at Simply Islam, a private Islamic education centre in Singapore.
Ashraf noted that he uses the same verse to teach his students that faith is “personal” and should not be imposed on others. He added that interpretations in the book are “biased and de-contextualised” and may mislead the average local Muslim who may not speak Arabic.
An exclusivist mindset may lead to extremism, added Dr Mohamed Ali, a counsellor with the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) that works on rehabilitating Muslim extremists.
The long-term solution is for Muslims to continually learn to have a “critical and discerning” mindset said Mohamed. Muslims should also refer to Islamic scholars for a contextualised understanding of their faith.
“The Islamic learning tradition relies on face-to-face interaction with a teacher,” he added.
The owner of the religious bookstore in Golden Landmark Shopping Complex where the book was found on sale did not respond to repeated calls and requests for an interview.
Singapore’s publishing industry is mostly self-regulated with guidelines set by the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA). Importers, publishers, and retailers of books dealing with religion must ensure that their content does not promote violence, or incite inter-religious or inter-racial tensions.
Last October, four books on Islam were banned by MCI for promoting inter-religious hostility. Three months before that, nine books by Singaporean Rasul Dahri were also banned for containing extremist views.
Yahoo News Singapore has sent queries to the IMDA with regard to “The Wisdom Of Jihad” and “Things That Nullify One’s Islam”.