Durian parties - a good way to build religious harmony

Leaders and representatives of different faiths from Indonesia and Singapore observing a minute of silence yesterday before the launch of the 1st Indonesia- Singapore Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue and Exchange held in conjunction with the 50t
Leaders and representatives of different faiths from Indonesia and Singapore observing a minute of silence yesterday before the launch of the 1st Indonesia- Singapore Interfaith and Intercultural Dialogue and Exchange held in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of bilateral relations.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Such gatherings among people of different faiths help foster friendship: Religious leaders

They worship in different ways, but share a love for durian. So members of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church and Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist temple regularly bond over durian parties.

Reverend Gabriel Liew, a pastor at the church, does not just organise such social events and visits, but also invites other religious leaders to visit and teach about their faiths.

"We seek to understand the religious teachings of other communities, because ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance breeds fear, and the root of war is fear," said Reverend Liew, as he shared his church's efforts to contribute to religious harmony.

More such friendships and interactions between people of different faiths should be encouraged for religious harmony to flourish, religious leaders from Singapore and Indonesia said yesterday.

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They were speaking at a dialogue at the Harmony in Diversity Gallery in Maxwell Road which was organised by the inter-faith community here and the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore to mark the start of a four-day inter-faith exchange programme.

As part of the exchange, a group of visiting Indonesian religious leaders will visit the Inter-Religious Organisation as well as various religious bodies in Singapore.

The initiative is part of a series of events to mark 50 years of diplomatic relations between Singapore and Indonesia.

Indonesia's Religious Affairs Minister Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said that beyond differences in rituals, all religions share the same basic principles of upholding justice and the equality of all mankind.

Singapore's Social and Family Development Minister Tan Chuan-Jin said peace and tolerance are central to all religions, but dialogue is needed for people of different faiths to find common ground.

"Religions or cultures don't enter into dialogue - people do," he said.

"Governments can support dialogue morally and financially but, in the end, it's up to individuals to engage each other," he said, adding that those who do not believe in any religion should be included.

Drawing on their experiences, religious leaders at last night's session gave suggestions on how to encourage such dialogue. Leaders also stressed it was crucial to be able to agree to disagree, and be willing to learn about other faiths.

The key is to respect differences and accept the existence of other religions, said Dr Abdul Mu'ti, general secretary of Muslim group Muhammadiyah and a senior lecturer at Indonesia's Walisongo State Islamic University.

Reverend Martin Lukito of the Simalungun Protestant Church in Jakarta called on people to speak up in support of tolerance and harmony, saying: "If we keep silent, then discussions on religion may be dominated by hate speech."

Said National University of Singapore sociologist Syed Farid Alatas: "The first line of defence against religious conflict is close relationships between religious leaders." These friendships mean that if misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians arise, for example, an imam can ask his pastor friend to explain the misunderstanding at his mosque and clear the air, he said.

"In Singapore, this is something normal. But in other countries, an imam would never have stepped into a church. Imams in a mosque would never have received a priest in the fasting month to break their fast with them," he added.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 12, 2017, with the headline 'Durian parties - a good way to build religious harmony'. Print Edition | Subscribe