Two years after banning Mufti Menk from giving a lecture in Singapore, the government is still explaining themselves to the community why they decide to ban him and the likes of him.
It’s difficult to detect it on the surface level but when you look at transcripts of their sermons, it’s obvious that their understanding of the religion (i.e. his school of thought) and the way they conveyed it to people is not suitable for Singapore’s context.
It was in the way they weaved their narrow and intolerant views of non-Muslims under the broad definition of Islam which makes them extremely toxic.
It’s misleading, it’s biased and it is extremely penetrative on a sub-conscious level.
Pious Singaporean Muslims have trouble reconciling the fact that they are going to hell, just because they chose to embrace their friend of a different faith, that they must reject multi-religious inclusion if they hope to see paradise.
And so, the authorities will use Menk (and the likes of him) as examples, till kingdom come – to deliver the message that we must agree to disagree and must not put other people down, just because they practice a different faith from yours.
I did wonder why our people are generally not looking up to our local religious leaders to guide them the way they did with Menk?
What is the draw about these foreign preachers?
Perhaps, unlike our local imams and muftis, foreign preachers like Menk and Estes are extremely fluent and charismatic in English.
They have huge social media presences and connects with their audience well.
When they talk, they engage not only their circle of followers but to the wider international audience as well.
This is where I think, our local religious leaders lack significantly.
They may be credible but they are poor communicators in this digital age.
They may have the content and the context but not the presence or the charisma.
They converse mainly in Malay and are not engaging the audience online as much as they have offline.
It’s always a balance between becoming a cult, celebrity-like preacher and being just plain good at engagement and communication
Essentially, our local religious leaders are the kind that Singapore needs but not the kind that we want/crave for.
And honestly, our MUIS and local religious leaders are sooooo behind the social media game.
Until they up their game significantly and be the preachers that the community wants, the community will likely continue to look up to foreign preachers for guidance.
The authorities will then have to continue and cast Menk as an example and flog him like a dead horse, leaving a sour taste in everyone’s mouth.
If this continues, while the government’s main aim is to instil awareness, they may instead trigger a push back and incept Islamaphobia even further.
Menk is only half of the problem. The local religious leaders and their resistance to adopt a more dynamic communication strategy is the other side of the problem, and they must do better.