Singapore denies entry to ‘extremist’ Indonesian preacher

Abdul Somad Batubara

Abdul Somad Batubara

By Ivan Lim,
Former AJA President, Contributor to AsiaN  

SINGAPORE: On May 16, an Indonesian preacher Abdul Somad Batubara travelled from neighbouring Batam island by boat and arrived at Tanah Merah Ferry Point in Singapore.

The cleric, who had been known to the authorities for his extremist religious views, was “interviewed” by immigration officials and then put on a boat back, together with his six followers.

The news set off protests from his followers who claimed the city-state’s ban as disrespectful of Muslims and Islamic religious scholars. They staged protests outside the Singapore embassy in Jakarta and consulate-general in Medan and demanded an apology.

His online supporters went so far as to post threats to bomb the island-nation and send Islamic religious defender troops to carry out 9/11-style attacks.

They also spammed the social media pages of President Halimah Yacob, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and several other political office-holders and agencies.

This has prompted Home Affairs and Law Minister, K. Shanmugam to explain that Singapore was not targeting only extremist Islamic preachers like Somad.

“…We take a zero tolerance approach and even-handed approach towards any form of hate speech and divisive ideology,” he said on May 23.

“And it is not directed at any specific individual or any specific religion, or any specific nationality. Our position applies to all.”

Giving the grounds for barring Somad from Singapore, he cited the case of a 17-year-old student, who had been detained after he was radicalised by watching the cleric’s Youtube videos and believed that bombers are martyrs.

The preacher’s teachings would create religious and political disharmony, according to Mr Shanmugam. For example, he had labelled non-Muslims as kafirs or infidels; asserted that Muslims should not accept non-Muslims as their leaders; and that non-Muslims could conspire to oppress Muslims.

Somad’s other derogatory and denigrating remarks about Christianity included telling Muslims not to travel in Red Cross ambulances because they display a cross symbol. Also, he said Muslims should not wish others Merry Christmas.

“The language, the rhetoric … is very divisive, completely unacceptable in Singapore. Racial, religious harmony, we consider fundamental to our society and most Singaporeans accept that.”

The popular preacher, 44, said he would try to enter Singapore again, arguing in a YouTube video that Singapore was Tanah Melayu (Malay land) and part of Riau (archipelago)

“We will not allow persons like Somad any opportunity to build up a local following or engage in activities that threaten our security and communal harmony,” said Mr Shanmugam.

The government’s crackdown on extremist Islamic ideology has won backing by the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) of Islamic asatizah (scholars and teachers).

“We stand strong by the Singapore government’s position that divisive and segregationist views have no place in this country,” they said in a Facebook post on May 24.

“The RRG responds with deep embarrassment and utmost regret to a fellow preacher who appears to                                        possess and propagate views that are opposed to accepted Islamic and universal values of humanity, mercy and unconditional love to others.”

The RRG, formed in 2003, has played a key role in correcting misinterpretation of Islamic concepts and counselling young Muslims who had been radicalised by deviant and terrorist ideology.

Thus, the volunteer group has urged Muslims to reject  those spreading views opposed to the spirit of the Sharia or Islamic law, even if they are from within their own fold.

To be sure, Islamic preachers are not the only ones the government have declared persona non-grata for their extremist or divisive teachings.

In 2017, the government banned two foreign Christian preachers from speaking in Singapore for having made derogatory remarks toward other religions.

In 2018, American Christian preacher Lou Engle was banned from preaching for derogatory remarks about Islam.

Likewise, the controversial Indian film, The Kashmir Files,was  banned by the InfoComm Media Development Authority for its  “provocative and one-sided portrayal of Muslims and the depictions of Hindus being persecuted in the on-going conflict in Kashmir.”

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