A dining scene at Thye Hua Kwan celebration that Shanmugam finds heartening

Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam speaks during Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society's 39th Triple Celebrations dinner event at Hilton Hotel on May 11, 2017.
Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam speaks during Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society's 39th Triple Celebrations dinner event at Hilton Hotel on May 11, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
The Inter-Religious Organisation leading a minute of silent prayer during Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society's 39th Triple Celebrations dinner event at Hilton Hotel on May 11, 2017.
The Inter-Religious Organisation leading a minute of silent prayer during Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society's 39th Triple Celebrations dinner event at Hilton Hotel on May 11, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society chairman Lee Kim Siang and Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam standing next to the new dove logo after its launch at Hilton Hotel on May 11, 2017.
Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society chairman Lee Kim Siang and Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam standing next to the new dove logo after its launch at Hilton Hotel on May 11, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - The scene may appear nondescript: people of different races and faith sitting at the same table, eating and chatting.

And the food was halal, with vegetarian options for the non-meat eaters.

But for Home Affairs and Law Minister K Shanmugam, the dinner celebration of Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society's 39th anniversary, was a tableau of racial and religious harmony that heartens him.

Singaporeans "do things differently", and that has helped the country avoid social tensions such as those in Malaysia and Indonesia, he said at the dinner in Hilton Hotel, attended by about 450 people.

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For instance, racial and religious harmony events in Singapore show how things are done differently here compared to elsewhere, he added.

One such effort he cited was Thye Hua Kwan's annual racial and religious harmony night every July, in which guests of various race watch multi-cultural performances and pray for peace.

It has organised the event since 2004 with the four race-based self-help groups, as well as the Inter-Religious Organisation and other charities.

Such events help different races in Singapore appreciate their differences and move beyond mere tolerance to understanding, said Mr Shanmugam.

At last night's dinner, Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society chairman Lee Kim Siang said that in light of recent terror attacks and global unrest, it will focus on championing racial and religious harmony this year.

Mr Shanmugam and Mr Lee unveiled a new logo that will be used for this year's racial and religious harmony events.

It is a dove, which replaces the butterfly.

The dove symbolises the bringing of peace among different groups, he said.

Thye Hwa Kuan, a non-profit voluntary welfare group, operates a nursing home, community hospital and social services like free clinics.

It serves more than 55,000 people a year, regardless of their race or religion.

Such generosity of spirit is something which all religious traditions have in common, said Mr Shanmugam.

Quoting Ms Karen Armstrong, a scholar on religions, he said all religious traditions have at least one strand in common: "to insist that we cannot confine our compassion to our own group".