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(photo credit: AP [file])
A leading Sunni Islamic cleric spoke out against religious extremism and encouraged Singapore's Muslims to work with other races and religions for the good of their nation, a local newspaper reported Friday.
Sheik Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, the grand sheik of Egypt's Al-Azhar, one of the most powerful Islamic institutions in the Middle East, is on a three-day visit to Singapore. He has met with government officials and addressed a group of about 50 Malay-Muslim leaders on Thursday.
In those comments, Tantawi condemned religious radicalism and terrorism as "evil" and reiterated that Islam espouses tolerance and moderation, according to The Straits Times newspaper.
Such virtues "should lead us away from blind fanaticism and hatred because Islam considers all human beings to have come from one mother and father," he was quoted as saying.
He said Islam would offer its hand in peace if others also offered, but said that in the face of aggression toward Muslims: "We should stand and fight against those who would do this to us."
Tantawi also praised Singapore's multi-religious society.
"What made me feel very happy - and this is my first visit to Singapore - is that this country is based on very wise and open minds, even though the beliefs and ethnicities are very different,' Tantawi said.
He urged the Malay leaders to continue cooperation with other Singaporeans to bring "goodness to all the land."
About 80 percent of Singapore's 4.2 million people are ethnic Chinese. Malays, who are mostly Muslims, make up 15 percent while the rest are ethnic Indians and others.
He also urged the Muslim community to embrace scientific knowledge and education, noting that science had always been a part of what he called the "vision of Islam."
Tantawi arrived on Wednesday at the invitation of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. He concludes his visit Friday with a lecture on Islam and the Modern World.