SINGAPORE - Mothers can do their part to build racial and religious harmony in Singapore, said Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob on Saturday (July 29).
They are huge influences on their children and "powerful storytellers", and can teach their young about respecting people of other faiths, she said at an interfaith post-Hari Raya celebration organised by the Singapore Muslim Women's Association (PPIS).
She cited a Channel NewsAsia-Institute of Policy Studies survey on race issues last year, which found that more than 90 per cent of respondents think that parents should educate their children on a wide range of racial matters.
This can include informing their children about the practices of other communities, what might cause offense to a particular race or group, and why racism is bad.
Such teachings are important as many among the young think that Singapore's racial harmony is a natural state of affairs- but it is not, said Madam Halimah, who lived through the 1964 race riots.
She added that values of mutual respect and empathy are needed to laws and institutions that underpin and help enshrine racial harmony.
By the time laws need to be invoked to maintain harmony, it will be too late, she said, adding that it is better to rely on "natural barriers and inhibitions" that stem from values of mutual respect.
Added PPIS president Rahayu Mohamad: "As mothers, wives, daughters, community workers, women play a key role in shaping the minds of our young and those around us towards social cohesion."
She encouraged Muslims to make the effort to reach out and allay any concerns that non-Muslims might have about them, adding that they too wished to have non-Muslims feel comfortable enough to approach them if they wanted to ask any questions.
She added that she was heartened by how the National Council of Churches stood by the Muslim community when news broke in June that a 22-year-old infant care assistant had been detained under the Internal Security Act for radicalism.
The council had said then that the actions of a misguided few "must never be seen as representing that of the majority of Muslims here", and added that the Muslim community had contributed significantly to Singapore, and done much to strengthen its multiracial and multi-religious harmony.
At Saturday's event, held at the Harmony Centre adjoining An-Nahdhah Mosque in Bishan, some 30 representatives from several religious groups and social service organisations learnt about Islam, the Malay culture, and how Hari Raya Aidilfitri is celebrated in Singapore.