SINGAPORE - Singapore's progress in the last 50 years would have been unthinkable without the active acceptance of each of the major communities here of each other, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Wednesday.
Neither would it have been possible without the pride that they have all taken not only in their own cultures and religions, but also in Singapore's multi-ethnic and multi-religious identity.
"We must build on this foundation in our next 50 years, and develop an even deeper national identity," he said.
Mr Tharman, who is also Finance Minister, was speaking at a dinner organised by Malay daily Berita Harian at the Raffles City Convention Centre to present its 17th annual Achiever of the Year award.
Speaking in Malay at the tail end of his 15-minute address, he cited a saying that means "as the padi ripens, it bends lower".
He said: "We must always remember that our work is never done. But we have one big advantage, in the unity, and the special Singapore spirit that we have developed in our first 50 years."
"It gives us confidence in our future. But we must do more."
Mr Tharman also cited the globalisation of sectarian and religious conflicts - including that of militant group Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) - as one of today's defining challenges that underscore the need to deepen religious harmony.
Singapore and its neighbours, too, have been susceptible. ISIS has attracted 30,000 foreign fighters to territory it controls in Syria and Iraq, including about 1,000 from South-east Asia.
"But ethnic and religious harmony is for Singapore not just a defensive issue," he stressed. "It is at its heart an ideal and cherished vision for our nation."
So, moving forward, he said Singaporeans must deepen their understanding of the various cultures, heritages and religions here, and "weave tighter relationships with each other" from young.
The winner of this year's award, which recognises Malay/Muslim individuals for their achievements in various fields, went to Mr Mohammad Alami Musa, who helmed the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore from 2003 to 2013.