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    May 23, 2014

    A S'porean in Syrian war - for what?

    IT IS a civil war, not a religious one.

    That is what Mohamed Ali wants Muslims in Singapore to know about the fighting in Syria.

    "There is no obligation for Singaporean Muslims to go to Syria to fight. The context of the problem is that it is a Syrian problem, not a Singaporean one," said Dr Mohamed, a research fellow with the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) at Nanyang Technological University.

    He said a "very small" number of self-radicalised individuals who think of going to Syria to take part in the war do so because of "lack of knowledge of Islam and lack of understanding of the situation there".

    One person allegedly did make the trip - the Government said in March that it was investigating allegations against former Indian national Haja Fakkurudeen Usman Ali.

    He had allegedly travelled to Syria with the intention of being a fighter. Haja, 37, who had obtained his Singapore citizenship in 2008, had worked as a supermarket manager.

    Governments around the world are concerned that their citizens have been drawn into the conflict in the belief that it is a religious obligation.

    Since the conflict erupted in March 2011, the number of foreigners who have joined the Sunni side (rebel forces) is estimated to be around 10,000.

    A similar number of foreigners is believed to have joined the Shia (pro-government) side, according to a December 2013 paper published in the Carnegie Middle East Center journal.

    Why have these foreigners joined the conflict?

    Blame religious extremist ideologues, said security analyst Kumar Ramakrishna of RSIS.

    He said: "They argue that the Syrian conflict is the start of the end-times, the apocalyptic struggle between the forces of good and evil.

    "So this is a political message couched in religious terms - and (it) could have potent emotional appeal."

    Associate Professor Kumar said that senior and respected Muslim scholars here and overseas should debunk the extremist ideological narrative.

    That advice is echoed by Dr Mohamed, who added that Muslims here can make meaningful contributions towards the Syrian war by contributing humanitarian and financial aid through Muis, or praying for the afflicted parties.