The case of a terror financier rejecting Singapore law: What does it tell us?
The recent prosecution of 36-year-old Imran Kassim on terrorism financing charges invoked Singapore’s Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act (TSOFA) for the first time. The public interest in his trial comments provides a timely reminder that in the wider context of fighting terrorism, counter-ideology efforts to protect Singapore’s racial and religious harmony remain a work in progress.
Singapore introduced the Terrorism (Suppression of Financing) Act (TSOFA) in 2002 to tackle terror financing and beefed up the legislation in 2018 with harsher penalties for offenders and stronger enforcement power to the authorities.
In April 2019, Imran Kassim, a former managing director of a logistics firm, became the first Singaporean to be charged under TSOFA.
Six months later, Ahmed Hussein Abdul Kadir Sheikh Uduman became the first Singaporean to be convicted for terrorism financing in closed court. The former IT engineer pleaded guilty to two charges of paying about S$1,145 to an individual who was “facilitating terrorist acts” and was jailed for 30 months.
Imran claimed trial and his case was the first of its kind to be held in an open court. His rejection of Singapore law during the trial this month caught public attention, with questions subsequently emerging on what Singapore can do to further curb such extremist views to protect harmony in its multi-racial and religious setting.
Radicals arrested under the Internal Security Act have shown support for the Islamic State (IS) by harbouring intentions to travel to Syria to fight in the so-called jihad there, propagating IS’ materials online, and gathering support online for the terrorist group.
As Imran’s and Ahmed’s cases have illustrated, providing monetary assistance has become another means of showing pro-IS support.
Imran channelled S$450 overseas for the publication of IS propaganda. He had erased all possible traces of his communication and evidence of the money transfer in a bid to evade detection by local authorities.
During his trial, Imran explicitly made clear his non-recognition of Singapore law, and the primacy of Syariah (Islamic) law in guiding his actions.
Imran has now been convicted and will spend 33 months in jail.
MANAGING MUSLIM IDENTITY IN THE MODERN WORLD
According to Islamic tradition, Imran’s assertion to only recognise Syariah law is flawed.
Rejection of other forms of law and systems is heavily propagated by IS. This binary view reduces the world to a black-and-white or ‘us-versus-them’ one and is based on a heavily distorted version of Muslims being under Syariah rule.
Such extremist thinking rejects other important Islamic perspectives, where Islam enjoins its adherents to embrace diversity.
Historical Empirical evidence shows that Muslims have had no problem living under non-Muslim rule.
During the early period of Islam, many companions of the Prophet resided in Abyssina, under the rule of a Christian king. It was an act which informed generations of jurisprudential specialists on the legality of Muslims to live in non-Muslim societies.
For instance, 9th century scholars like Al-Shafi'i (d.820) permitted Muslims to reside under the administration of a non-Muslim.
Minimally, Muslims must be able to manifest their wajibat-al-din (duties of religion) which are commonly known as acts of private worship such as daily prayer and fasting in the month of Ramadan.
Another consideration was the principle of peace (aman) in the host country. To that end, most jurists within classical Islamic thought agree that Muslims must abide by the law of the host country on the principle of aman.
Extremists like Imran reject man-made laws and consider them as concepts adopted from the West. Such opinions show a feeble understanding of Islamic thought. Modern-day, respected jurists like Pakistani Mahmood Ghazi contend that as long as “man-made” laws establish justice and human rights, they can be regarded as Islamic.
Distortions of Islamic jurisprudence and governance such as those held by Imran must be debunked rigorously.
There are now various initiatives to counter extremist narratives at every level of the community.
Weekly Friday sermons prepared by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) often touch on themes to remind Muslims of the need to contextualise the religion in today’s modern world.
Many mosques have education and outreach programmes such as the “Being a Muslim in Singapore” series to equip Muslims with the religious understanding of how to live in a secular state without compromising the principles of Islam.
The Religious Rehabilitation Group, which is involved in the religious counselling of detainees, also launched the Awareness Programme for Youths in 2018, which focuses on the practice of Islam in a plural society.
Notably, the community has seen accredited religious clerics adopt more innovative ways to reach groups susceptible to online radicalisation.
A case in point is the Asatizah Youth Network, a group of 30 young religious clerics who are trained to utilise social media platforms to reach out to youth.
These clerics discuss and refute distorted extremist ideologies online through creative ways that appeal to their targeted audience. These include offline pop-up events, online interactive video-logs and Buzzfeed-like articles.
Since it was first set up in 2017, the network has been able to amplify the profile of local religious clerics within the community and increase the public’s confidence to turn to them for religious guidance vis-à-vis online extremist clerics, who propagate exclusivist teachings that are not suitable in Singapore’s multi-racial and religious context.
Religious and community leaders must continue to seek new and innovative ways to transmit the right understanding of Islam and values of religious tolerance and moderation to the Muslim community.
For example, sermons, education and outreach programmes must continue to be dynamic and able to reach different community segments via various modalities and languages.
The day-to-day lived reality of local Muslims, based on responsible citizenry, tolerance and moderation, is the context which must remain front and centre of such initiatives.
In today’s religio-political climate, the extremist ideology does not have any specific demographic target. Imran’s case provides us with a timely reminder that hard security and counter-ideology measures must go hand in hand in the fight against the ongoing threat of IS.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS:
Amalina Abdul Nasir and Ahmad Helmi Hasbi are research analysts at the International Centre for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, a constituent unit in the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University.