The importance of respecting diversity and condemning views that denigrate other cultures was stressed by Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim yesterday at a meeting of religious affairs ministers from neighbouring countries.
Without social cohesion, a country's development can be hampered, he said at the biennial meeting to discuss the administration of Muslim issues in the region.
It was held in Kuala Lumpur, with the ministers from Brunei, Indonesia , Malaysia and Singapore.
Dr Yaacob noted that the Malay/Muslim community has long been seen as a group that is open and accepting of diversity.
"I agree that as challenges grow more complex today, it has become harder for us to balance the varying views and interests in a pluralistic society," he said, speaking in Malay.
"But as a mature community, we must keep striving to instil respect for diversity."
His remarks come amid a wave of rising extremism and divisiveness in the region.
Dr Yaacob also noted that social cohesion does not come naturally. It needs constant tending.
In Singapore, it has taken a deep commitment and continued efforts to foster understanding among the various communities.
But such harmony can come under attack. "Various acts of terror in the name of religion can give rise to misunderstandings and anxiety," said Dr Yaacob, who is also Minister for Communications and Information as well as Minister-in-charge of Cyber Security. "Comments on social media, too, may trigger unease and threaten this unity."
He called for the rejection of views that belittle the culture and traditions of other communities, saying they not only sow discord but also refuse to acknowledge the differences among communities.
"If you don't know, you can't love. That's why we should build bridges of understanding to strengthen social cohesion," he added.
The four ministers also launched a new five-year plan for Mabims, a regional initiative among the Muslim authorities of Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore.
Dr Yaacob later said in a Facebook post that Singapore will share its experience in enhancing harmony amid diversity. The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore will conduct workshops and dialogues on it for the other countries.
On the digital front, a particular concern was the spreading of untruths and rumours on social media.
"We agreed on the importance of attaining clarification and verification from reliable sources,'' he said.
Dr Yaacob also suggested they look at optimising the potential of youth in using infocomm technology and social media to do good.