Last week, someone called Terence Nunis uploaded a video snippet of an Imam’s sermon, which was allegedly insensitive towards non-Muslims.

Of course, netizens jumped to all sorts of conclusions, some more rational than others. The video also sparked off a whole series of events:

  • Terence, the whistleblower, made a police report
  • NUS Malay Studies professor Dr Khairudin Aljunied chastised Terence for whistleblowing
  • Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and various MPs spoke about it in Parliament
  • Mufti wrote a cryptic poem, then shut down his FB page
  • Mufti re-emerged, explaining that he wanted a time-out to reflect on the matter
  • Minister for Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim called for calm after the storm

Now that Mufti has spoken, the saga has pretty much died down. Everyone is moving on from what probably was a non-issue in the first place.

As a non-Muslim, non-Malay Singaporean who grew up with Ali, Bala, Sumei and John in school, my first reaction was that the community would resolve this on their own – because that’s the Singaporean way. We have a problem, we fix it and we move on.

But reading through the news reports, I had some thoughts:

Did we overreact to the original video?

I think so.

Religion is a dangerous concept – countless wars have been waged over it. I can’t speak for the Quran, but I have attended church and it is no secret that ancient religious texts like the Bible are full of statements that, taken literally, range from morally questionable to downright shocking (and quite possibly illegal).

But that’s the thing: these are ancient religious texts meant to be read and interpreted in a specific context by a specific group of people. There’s a reason why a church sermon is given by a trained pastor, and not just any random person.

And there’s a reason why, barring the Joseph Prince and Kong Hee types, most people are careful about putting sermons online, as-is. Because without the right context, explanation or guidance, these things can go very wrong.

Should whistleblower Terence have uploaded the video?

This was an issue that could and should have been resolved by the community. After all, this group was the intended audience of the sermon. If Terrence’s accusations were found by the community to be valid, then the appropriate action could have been taken with the Imam.

Terence had no business posting the video (and a truncated one without context, too) on social media. What was he thinking? Sure, he made a police report after uploading the video. But before all that, could he not have consulted a religious leader, or even sought views within the community?

If someone is saying something that borders on racial/religious insensitivity or even sedition, the LAST thing to do is post it online. Our millennials may be afflicted with this ‘Pics, or it didn’t happen’ disease, but surely our adults have a bit more common sense, especially for such sensitive issues?

How badly hit is our Malay Muslim community?

The saga – and more crucially the way it was resolved ­­– shone a spotlight on our Muslim community today and the diversity and dissent within. Within the community, some supported the Imam, others disagreed with Terence, but to varying degrees. To me, this was a clear signal of the complex layers within a community that I’ve always regarded as a single entity.

Nobody knows how badly the community has been hit, or how quickly it’ll recover. Regardless, the Mufti’s post was incredibly powerful in unifying the dissenting voices. It was honest, humbling and reflective (or maybe the FB translation worked pretty well, but I’m gonna give Mufti the benefit of the doubt). In a single post, he politely put to shame those who had been clamouring for their views to be heard, drumming up unhappiness and turning those in the community against one another.

What does this mean for Singapore?

PM Lee with members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO)

 The Mufti is right. This is Singapore. We have no room for such dangerous notions to take root, especially not in today’s sociopolitical climate.

As a tiny country with too many people, we’ve done pretty well in keeping this balance. Different races and religions living side by side as fellow Singaporeans, taking both the good and the bad into stride. But all it takes is one piece (or one person, as can be seen in this Imam saga) to trigger a domino effect. It’s not exactly a house of cards, but the fact is that this is a delicate matter that can turn faster than you can say ‘that escalated quickly’. That is the reality we live in today.

So be warned, anyone – not just Muslims – who chooses to push extremist agenda or try to wreak havoc in our social fabric will be taken to task. DPM Teo Chee Hean, Minister Shanmugam and others have said as much. And we’ve taken action against others. These people, are of course, entitled to their views, but please, take them elsewhere. Singapore is our home, and we do not want that destructive force here.