Photo by Pedro Dias on Unsplash.

Photo by Pedro Dias on Unsplash.

Church leaders were swift to condemn any ideology that promotes or incites violence, after news broke of the arrest of a 16-year-old Singaporean Protestant Christian teenager who had planned to use a machete to attack Muslims at two mosques.

Any ideology that encourages acts of violence against others does not originate from Scriptures, said President of the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS), Rt Rev Keith Lai, in a statement released today (January 27).

He added that NCCS received the “alarming news with grave concern” and expressed his appreciation to the authorities for the “swift action in arresting the planned attack which could have led to the serious injury to members of the Muslim community present at the mosques”.

“We totally reject any ideology – even if they should come fictitiously under the label ‘Christian’ – that promotes or incites violence against another.”

“As Christians, we are directed by our Lord Jesus Christ, who commanded us to ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:39). As such, we totally reject any ideology – even if they should come fictitiously under the label ‘Christian’ – that promotes or incites violence against another, especially if they are of a different religious community,” he said.

Bishop Dr Gordon Wong, head of The Methodist Church in Singapore, the biggest Protestant denomination here, also released a statement saying the church had received the news with “shock and sadness”.

“As Christians, we seek and pray for the welfare of our city and strive to live in peace with one another. This encapsulates the teaching of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ, to love our neighbour as ourselves,” said Bishop Dr Wong.

“Through the pain of the news, we are reminded of how easy it is for external forces to influence our flock and we urge our pastors and leaders to redouble their work in good Christian education and discipleship.

“We encourage all to come together in unity; Christians, Muslims and others faiths alike to pray for the peace and harmony within our nation; let us live together in compassion and consideration for each other.”

Similarly, the Alliance of Pentecostal & Charismatic Churches of Singapore (APCCS) also released a statement saying that it is “deeply saddened” to learn about the news and “stands in solidarity with the Muslim community”.

Its chairman, Rev Yang Tuck Yoong, said: “We treasure inter-religious harmony in Singapore. This is what makes our country a safe place for people of diverse religious beliefs to live together in mutual respect.

“We are committed to safeguarding this aspect of what makes Singapore unique in an era of polarised religious views.”

Acted alone

According to a media release by the Internal Security Department (ISD), the Secondary 4 student, who was arrested in December 2020, had made detailed plans to attack two mosques near his home in Woodlands – Assyafaah Mosque and Yusof Ishak Mosque.

He had also conducted online reconnaissance and research on both mosques to prepare for the attack, which he planned to carry out on March 15, 2021, the anniversary of the mosque attacks in Christchurch, New Zealand, in 2019.

“We urge all church leaders and Christians to be vigilant and to continue careful nurture of youths who worship in our churches.”

The release added that he was “self-radicalised, motivated by a strong antipathy towards Islam and a fascination with violence”, adding that ISD’s investigation to date indicated that the youth had acted alone.

“He watched the livestream video of the terrorist attack on the two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand on March 15, 2019, and read the manifesto of the Christchurch attacker, Brenton Tarrant.

“He had also watched Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda videos, and came to the erroneous conclusion that ISIS represented Islam, and that Islam called on its followers to kill non-believers,” said the ISD statement.

In a press conference this evening, Law Minister K Shanmugam told reporters: “It is the first case we have of a right wing extremist targeting Muslims.

“Violent impulses – I’ve said this many times – are not restricted to any particular racial group or religious group. It can occur amongst any one. It’s really a question of being exposed to hate speech and then being influenced by it.”

Rev Dominic Yeo, co-chairman of APCCS, said: “This disturbing incident once again shows the two-edged sword of the digital space with easy access to a wealth of information. We need to be alert and safeguard our young people who are more susceptible to negative online influence.”

Common goal of harmony

Even as the Church spoke up against extremism, leaders urged prayers for the youth and his family.

“We definitely do not condone the hatred and evil intent but let us also remember to pray for this young man who has been led astray that God will change his heart and mind towards love, joy and peace; with repentance comes forgiveness. Let us remember his family, friends and community as they heal from this incident,” said Bishop Dr Wong.

They also encouraged members of different faiths to live in harmony.

Rt Rev Lai said: “NCCS treasures the special relationship it has with the Muslim community. Therefore, it wishes to assure our Muslim friends that there is no animosity between our communities, and that we remain committed to defeating hatred and violence.

“We will not be deterred from our common goal to build harmony and cohesion in multi-religious Singapore society.”

About the author

Gracia Lee

Gracia is a journalism graduate who thoroughly enjoys people and words. Thankfully, she gets a satisfying dose of both as a writer and Assistant Editor at Salt&Light.