A lot has been said about the recent self-radicalised Singaporean youths and their intended actions.
Time and time again, the response to this is that the answer lies in the importance of attaining the right religious guidance, and providing the right education channels and programs. But the fact is that despite our best efforts, self-radicalisation continues to be a mainstay in the news, and this affects not just interfaith but intrafaith relations too.
It is common to hear about “wanting to protect the youth from radicalisation and negative influences”. But my question is, how do we protect them from the deluge of information that overwhelms them daily with a few taps on the phone? What do we protect them with, and how do we do so when they spend more time online than with their families and the community?
Below are some points to ponder over and revisit how we train our young to establish their train of thoughts and lived experiences in a multiracial and multi-religious society.
1. Create opportunities for polarising opinions. Rather than dismissing them, they should be used as a learning tool to build negotiation and disagreement skills
We cannot stop others from holding different opinions and leading different ways of life from us. But we have control over how we react towards spiritual or religious differences.
We have seen this in our Islamic history, be it an interfaith encounter or a theological debate among the different sects. There is always room to reject or disagree with kindness.
From the Islamic perspective, this is also emphasised in the Quran about engaging in a debate in the best manner, as mentioned in chapter An-Nahl verse 125:
ٱدْعُ إِلَىٰ سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِٱلْحِكْمَةِ وَٱلْمَوْعِظَةِ ٱلْحَسَنَةِ ۖ وَجَـٰدِلْهُم بِٱلَّتِى هِىَ أَحْسَنُ ۚ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَن ضَلَّ عَن سَبِيلِهِۦ ۖ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِٱلْمُهْتَدِينَ
“Invite (all) to the Way of your Lord with wisdom and kind advice, and only debate with them in the best manner. Surely your Lord (alone) knows best who has strayed from His Way and who is (rightly) guided.”
(Surah An-Nahl 16:125)
The "Rise Above Together" initiative in Singapore is an example of how young people from different religions can come together and engage in dialogue to build understanding and compassion.
"Rise Above Together" is a Muslim and Christian youth dialogue session organised by Masjid Yusof Ishak and the Covenant Presbyterian Church supported by Harmony Centre, Muis, right after the self-radicalised incident in 2021 in Singapore
We from Harmony Centre worked with the youths to develop the conversation kit, followed by community work. We also created an opportunity for this initiative to be shared in an international interfaith conference.
Eventually, the Christian youth presented this successful initiative at a workshop at the International Council of Christians and Jews Conference, showcasing youth in Singapore and their continuous effort to strengthen social harmony.
This is just one of several initiatives out there as more youth initiatives are sprouting to helm programs such as Interfaith Youth Circle, Roses of Peace, hash.peace and ground-up initiatives for youths to build friendships and immunise them with an understanding of different races, faiths and cultures.
2. Do not kill curiosity with silence
With the advancement of technology, our children are more exposed to a range of sensitive issues such as cyberbullying, radicalisation, and Islamophobia. It is important to continue to create spaces to engage. By creating a safe and non-judgmental environment, we can help our children to develop a strong sense of identity and resilience.
As technology becomes more advanced, there is a greater need for parents, educators, and mentors to be more open and equipped to discuss complex and sensitive issues such as these. It is also important to acknowledge that not all of us are equipped to handle these issues. As such, we sometimes may need to seek the guidance and support of professionals with the necessary skills and expertise to help us.
3. Importance of parental supervision on their child’s use of the internet
Two years ago, I had an interview with Dr Mohamed Bin Ali, Vice Chair and Counsellor for Religious Rehabilitation Group and Dr Noor Huda Ismail, Countering Violent Extremism Expert from S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) for the ‘Detik Dialogue’ program on Suria Mediacorp where we talked about parental roles in this digital age.
And today, we continue to see parents who are unaware of their children’s access to radical content. Parents need to continue to strive and be a safe space for the young, so they will not get isolated in their own world.
4. Strengthening familial bonds
The more advanced the technology, the more we need to strengthen familial ties.
وَالَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا هَبْ لَنَا مِنْ أَزْوَاجِنَا وَذُرِّيَّاتِنَا قُرَّةَ أَعْيُنٍ وَاجْعَلْنَا لِلْمُتَّقِينَ إِمَامًا
And (they are) those who say, “Our Lord, make our spouses and our children the joy of our eyes and make us ourselves leaders in piety and righteousness.”
(Surah Al-Furqan 25:74)
To raise a generation with love and to be the cooling eyes, parents need to be the cooling eyes to their children. We need to invest more time to express love and affection to our family members.
Without a strong foundation at home, the young can easily take comfort and make confidantes out of strangers and their online “family”.
Additionally, Rasulullah s.a.w. never failed to make dua and seek protection for his family. Ibn ʿUmar reported that the Prophet s.a.w. would never leave out the following words every evening and every morning,
اللَّهمَّ إنِّي أسألُكَ العفوَ والعافيةَ في ديني ودُنْيايَ وأَهْلي ومالي
“O Allah, I ask you for forgiveness and protection in regard to my religion, my worldly affairs, my family and my wealth…”
(Sunan Abi Daud)
Al-Amīr Aṣ-Ṣanʿānī remarked, “(Asking for protection) regarding one’s family is to be saved from poor or negative interaction with them as well as from them being afflicted with illness and disease or from a preoccupation with overindulgence of transitory, material possessions.”
Having a family is a loan of love from Allah s.w.t. One way for us to repay this gift is by strengthening the gift of love towards our family.
In today's digital age, where the internet is a primary source of information, nurturing a generation with compassion can be challenging. Self-radicalisation continues to be a significant concern.
While there is no single answer to the problem, teaching our children how to deal with differing views, encouraging curiosity, providing parental supervision, and strengthening familial bonds are some of the ways to protect young people from harmful influences.
To build a generation with compassion, we need to nourish them with the attention and affection that they need.