Local Muslim convert Terence Helikaon Nunis has asserted online that the Singapore Armed Forces does not discriminate against Muslims.
Answering a question, on question-and-answer portal Quora, on why there aren’t any Muslims in some sectors of the Singapore Army and Navy, Terence replied that the reason is due to logistical issues and not religious discrimination.
Terence, a former commissioned officer for security and intelligence, blogs at ‘A Muslim Convert Once More‘ and describes himself as follows:
“I used to be Catholic and belonged to a missionary organisation. After my conversion, I sat on the board of a Muslim converts’ organisation and specialised in da’wah programmes, convert management, interfaith issues and apostasy cases. I am an initiate of the Sufi order.”
Some may know him as a whistleblower who lodged a police report against an imam here in 2017.
In February 2017, Terence uploaded a sermon that was delivered by Imam Nalla of Jamae Chulia Mosque on Facebook where the Imam had said, “Grant us help against the Jews and Christians” in Arabic.
Terence criticised the imam for “supplicating as if we are all living in the Crusades” and urged netizens to not “encourage this sort of thinking or condone this sort of supplications”.
The authorities later fined Imam Nallah S$4,000 and repatriated him to India after confirming that the imam’s words were not from the Quran and were instead taken from an old text from his village in India.
The incident gave rise to heated debate on social media and among the Muslim community. While some praised Terence for his whistleblowing, others said that he should have approached the imam and advised him in private instead of posting the video on social media.
The incident even sparked responses from more prominent Singaporeans. Dr Khairudin Aljunied, a tenured Associate Professor at the NUS’ Department of Malay Studies, made a veiled criticism of Terence, calling him a “silly convert”.
In a now-deleted Facebook post, Dr Khairudin imagined a conversation between a convert and an imam and in the conversation, the imam asks the convert to “stop being a Muslim for now.”
The NUS don’s post caught the attention of Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam who sided with Terence. The Minister criticised the NUS don for “encouraging the vilification of Terence” and said that the academic’s “position and actions are quite unacceptable.”
This past Tuesday, Terence asserted that the SAF does not discriminate against Muslims and that he has “never felt that I lacked opportunities because of my religion.”
He added that while there were “historical reasons” on why there were not many Muslims in the army in the past, tensions have now eased and “there is no longer any real reason for us to doubt Singaporean Malays.”
In his response on Quora, Terence went into what he calls the “real reason why there were no Malays in much of the SAF [that] is not found in our history books. It is no longer classified, but it is a forgotten episode, just like much of the events during the period of our Separation from Malaysia and the Konfrontasi”:
“Singapore’s SAF does not discriminate against the Muslims. We have a lot of Muslims in sensitive positions. I am, myself, a Muslim convert, and I have never felt that I lacked opportunities because of my religion. The issue is Malays, for historical reasons. The real reason why there were no Malays in much of the SAF is not found in our history books. It is no longer classified, but it is a forgotten episode, just like much of the events during the period of our Separation from Malaysia and the Konfrontasi. For those interested, there are people around who lived during that period, and were there when it happened, although all of them are very old.
“When Singapore separated from Malaysia, the divorce was painful. In the election prior, when the PAP campaigned in Malaysia for a a “Malaysian Malaysia”, instead of a “Malay Malaysia”, UMNO were outraged and played the race and religion card.
“The main instigator was Syed Jaafar Albar, the so-called “Lion of UMNO”. He was a radical Malay supremacist, despite the fact that he was clearly Yemeni Arab, and not Malay. He was vehemently against Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, and resigned as secretary-general of UMNO in protest. He went as far as to advocate that Malaysia militarily occupy Singapore.
“At the time of Separation, almost half of the troops based here were from Malaysia. When the British gave control of the various units to Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, they neglected to consider that the units were recruited from all over the Malay Peninsula. We had Singapore-born Malays and Malaysian-born Malays in the SAF and the Police, at SAFTI and elsewhere.
“The 4th Malaysian Infantry Brigade consisted of two infantry regiments of about 1,000 soldiers each. Just over half of them were Malaysian, and they had divided loyalties. They were commanded by Brigadier-General Syed Mohamed Alsagoff, a relative of Syed Albar, and another Yemeni Arab. To say that he did not get along with Lee Kuan Yew is to put it mildly. He claimed it was a joke when he told Lee Kuan Yew that he could have had the PAP leaders arrested and shot. Lee Kuan Yew and his family moved out of the Istana and borrowed the Gurkha Regiment to guard them.
“The Malaysian troops, all ethnic Malays, mutinied. Just over half of them supported Malaysia. One of the Singapore officers was killed. It was Col. Alkaff, BG Alsagoff’s cousin, who negotiated a withdrawal of the Malaysian troops. The 4th Malaysian Infantry Brigade withdrew from Singapore by November of 1967. The murderers of the Singapore officer were arrested. Two were hanged, and the others were only released from detention a decade or so ago.
“As a consequence, Lee Kuan Yew used the Land Acquisition Act to dismantle the Alsagoff family landholdings in Singapore. Conscription was instituted, but no Malays were conscripted at first. The commandos, once dominated by Malays, now have none. The Malay officers and NCOs, even though they did not mutiny, were either never promoted or were let go. This included the entire ethnic Malay cohort of officer cadets. And of course, Singapore invited a few countries to come and train our soldiers. Only Israel accepted. They stood by us when we had nothing, and we do not forget our friends.”
Asserting that this generation of Singaporean Malays “should no longer pay for the sins of a generation that has almost died out,” Terence argued that every citizen must play a part to protect Singapore today, especially given issues like the nation’s low fertility rate:
“Over the decades, that has slowly been eased. One of the reasons is because we have forged our own destiny as a nation, and there is no longer any real reason for us to doubt Singaporean Malays. This generation should no longer pay for the sins of a generation that has almost died out. Even the Malay community is ignorant of this.
“Another reason is that due to the low fertility, we need every Singaporean, every citizen counts. We cannot disregard qualified people simply on the lottery of birth. Now, even madrasah students have to serve National Service, which should be seen as a sign that they are trusted to serve their country.”
Terence further said that today, Singapore has Malay commandos and at least one fighter pilot. He shared: “Will we have Malay commandos? We already do. Malay fighter pilots? We have one, and I still remember that there was a huge discussion behind the scenes about whether we could trust him. Common sense prevailed.”
Furthermore, Terence claimed that”One of the reasons we do not have more Malay pilots is simply because they fail the selection test – particularly the mathematics test.”
He added that today, the SAF puts “Malays in many sensitive positions, from SIGINT to MINDEF itself. As long as you are qualified and determined enough, the SAF will take you, regardless of race or religion.”
As far as the Navy is concerned, Terence said that Muslims are not present on naval vessels “due to logistics, not religious discrimination. RSN’s policy is to not have vegetarians, Hindus who do not eat beef, or people who have any sort of food allergies.”
He added: “Our naval assets are meant to be ready for extended deployment. We do not have the luxury of stopping in the middle of a war to look for halal food.”
Terence’s response has received a hefty 16,500 views and 163 upvotes. Among the Quora users who upvoted Terence’s views is a former SAF officer. Read Terence’s response in full HERE.
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