Building strong communities key to preserving harmony: President Halimah Yacob

President Halimah Yacob met about 25 members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) over a buffet brunch at the Istana's Reception Room, where she expressed her support for their work.
President Halimah Yacob met about 25 members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) over a buffet brunch at the Istana's Reception Room, where she expressed her support for their work. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG
President Halimah Yacob met about 25 members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) over a buffet brunch at the Istana's Reception Room, where she expressed her support for their work.
President Halimah Yacob met about 25 members of the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) over a buffet brunch at the Istana's Reception Room, where she expressed her support for their work. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Building strong relationships between the different communities in Singapore is critical, especially with racial and religious tensions boiling over around the world, said President Halimah Yacob on Thursday (Sept 28).

This is why promoting understanding between people of different faith is important, she added, saying she was pleased to hear that the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) has plans to start a formal youth arm for this purpose.

"What's happening around us shows that religious and racial issues can become potential flashpoints," she said to reporters after a meeting with IRO members.

She met about 25 of them over a buffet brunch at the Istana's Reception Room, where she expressed her support for their work.

The IRO presented her with a crystal plaque as a token of appreciation.

Madam Halimah highlighted young people as a group that needs extra attention, saying that their use of social media will expose them to material of various persuasions.

Elaborating on the organisation's plans, IRO president K. Kesavapany said it currently engages young people through ad-hoc activities but plans to start a formal youth arm.

IRO honorary secretary Ameerali Abdeali said it has been encouraging to see young people taking an interest in inter-faith activities.

"Then we know that the next generation that comes after us is already attuned, they're already aware of the importance of respecting each other, treating each other with consideration. (They know) not to ridicule, minimise or mock other people's beliefs," he added.

Besides its plans for a youth arm, the IRO also has plans to expand its women's wing, which is called Women of Faith.

Madam Halimah said she felt these two branches of the organisation would be useful in the continuing effort to preserve racial and religious harmony.

"Women discuss a lot of such issues at home with their children, with their family, so they play a very important role in the maintenance of harmony," she said.

"With access to social media now the young also need to have a safe place where they can talk, discuss different faiths and their own faith as well."

Citing the recent discovery of an Islamic State in Iraq and Syria propaganda video featuring Singaporean Megat Shahdan Abdul Samad, Madam Halimah said it brings the terror threat closer to home, adding that attacks can happen at any time.

If it should happen, religious leaders and the IRO Council play an important role in maintaining peace and calm in Singapore, she said.

She added that efforts to promote harmony between different racial and religious groups must be enhanced through various channels, "so that everyone understands it as a value, and as something that we need to uphold for the benefit of our society".

On this front, the IRO has plans to increase outreach in the heartland, by tying up with religious institutions around the island to organise talks or events involving multiple religious institutions that more Singaporeans can attend.

It will also work with the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles committees in various constituencies to heighten awareness of terrorism, so people are prepared for an attack and know how to respond, said Mr Ameerali.