Inter-religious engagement needs to move beyond mere tolerance

Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir speaking about inter-faith engagement during the Abdul Aleem Sidddique Memorial Lecture at the Singapore Islamic Hub on Sept 16, 2016.
Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir speaking about inter-faith engagement during the Abdul Aleem Sidddique Memorial Lecture at the Singapore Islamic Hub on Sept 16, 2016.PHOTO: MUIS

SINGAPORE - Inter-religious engagement requires moving beyond tolerance to virtues of empathy, compassion and selflessness, said Dr Nazirudin Mohd Nasir, director of religious and policy development at the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.

"We know that we have heard a lot about the importance of tolerance but I think tolerance is the bare minimum," said Dr Nazirudin during a lecture last Friday (Sept 16) detailing the dynamics of inter-religious relations.

He urged the importance of deepening understanding of the different religions beyond mere tolerance.

Dr Nazirudin was delivering the lecture at The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) as part of the annual Abdul Aleem Siddique Memorial Lecture, a platform for leaders of the religious communities in Singapore to share their perspectives and insights into contemporary, national or global issues or trends affecting humanity.

Attending the lecture were 300 people comprising faith leaders of the 10 religions practised in Singapore and youths of various faiths.

Dr Nazirudin emphasised how different religions and the religious communities need to relate to one another and across differences in a deeper way.

"The empathy for the other is about walking the path of the other person, placing yourself in their shoes and experiencing what they experience and only then can you really understand why they do certain things and who they are," he said.

Dr Nazirudin brought up an example of how a group of non-Muslims and inter-faith activists joined hands with Muslims in preparing the breaking of fast meal earlier this year.

"I am encouraged and heartened," he said. " Some of them even fasted on some of those days as well. They had tried to fast to experience and to understand what it means for a Muslim to fast."

Attending the lecture was Ms Nazeera Mohamed, 24, a gallery docent at the Harmony Centre. She said that people need to start having inter-faith discussions among themselves, beyond formal events.

"Often, people allude to formal events when inter-faith is mentioned. But the direction that Singapore needs is having authentic discussions even when some things may appear confrontational and uncomfortable and providing spaces that facilitate that," she said.

Ms Nazeera hopes that more people will be "able to have intricate conversations about how our different belief systems may be".