PM Lee Hsien Loong stresses importance of religious harmony at Taoist Federation's silver jubilee

SINGAPORE - Singapore enjoys racial and religious harmony today, but this "is a very unnatural state of affairs", Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Wednesday night.

Singapore was ranked as the most religious diverse country out of 232 countries studied in a report titled "Global Religious Diversity", published by the Pew Research Centre in February 2014, he noted.

"Yet we enjoy racial and religious harmony, and live peacefully and happily side by side," Mr Lee told 2,400 people at a dinner to commemorate the Taoist Federation's 25th anniversary.

Mr Lee noted that Singapore was founded upon the key ideal of a multiracial, multi-religious society, and cited first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew saying: "This is not a country that belongs to any single community - it belongs to all of us."

Singapore's society needs to be kept open and inclusive, he said.

"We can be any race and any religion, but we are also Singaporean at the same time."

Mr Lee, who was guest of honour at the dinner, also cited from the classical Taoist text known as the Dao De Jing to highlight how religious harmony needs to be nurtured and built up.

He highlighted its teaching that "to govern well, we need as big a store of virtue as possible", in the sense of capabilities, resources, good conduct, high standards of behaviour and government.

This is why Singaporeans should not think that "perhaps we have done enough, or saved enough, and can afford to ease off, do less, and enjoy more", he said.

Instead, their mindset should be to keep on building, saving and being good stewards of Singapore's resources and progress, to keep the country going for a long time.

"This is how we developed and built ourselves up steadily over the last 50 years, and this is how society should carry on," he added.

Speaking in Mandarin and English, Mr Lee also wished the Taoist Federation a happy silver jubilee, thanking it for its hard work in fostering good relations between different religions in Singapore.

Among the audience were more than 500 people from Singapore's various religious communities. These included all the 10 religious communities represented in the Inter-Religious Organisation: the Baha'i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism and Zoroastrianism.

Religious leaders such as the the Catholic Church's Archbishop William Goh, Singapore's top Muslim religious leader mufti Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, and Bishop Wee Boon Hup of the Methodist Church Singapore, who is the National Council of Churches' president, were at the dinner held at the Singapore Expo.

How religious leaders lead and counsel their congregations will shape religious relations in Singapore going forward, said Mr Lee.

"So I am glad that many of our religious leaders are committed to build trust and friendships with other communities."

charyong@sph.com.sg