Actions of individuals key to religious harmony

The city skyline along Marina Bay.
The city skyline along Marina Bay. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

I am very happy to learn of the over 250 faith groups' pledge, the more so as it includes specific mention of those, like myself, who do not have any religious belief (Over 250 faith groups pledge to safeguard religious harmony, June 20).

I hope many other faith groups will follow suit. I can see no solution to problems of religious intolerance than the approach this pledge reflects, and I hope it will serve as an example internationally and not just locally.

However, making a reality of such pledges also depends on the actual actions of individuals, and I am reminded of an incident many years ago which shows what I mean.

About 25 years ago, I collected an old Bible - dated 1583 - from the lost/found office at Changi Airport.

My mother had checked it in and the airline had temporarily misplaced it.

The hall was deserted and I walked alone with this large 11kg book, which had its own little suitcase, towards the exit. A Sikh immigration officer on duty stopped me and asked what the suitcase contained, and asked to see its contents. I opened it and the old battered leather cover was revealed; I explained it was a 400-year-old Bible.

The officer said: "My captain is a Christian. I think he would like to see this book", and asked if I would oblige. Naturally, I agreed.

The captain, a Chinese, duly arrived, the book was displayed, and we stood around chatting. I explained that I was not a Christian, though brought up as a Quaker, but that this book had belonged to my late father.

In the course of the conversation, it emerged that all three of us had attended the same school in Singapore (Anglo-Chinese School).

Since then, I have quietly treasured the memory of that conversation. Three men, of different ethnicity and guided in their lives by quite different belief systems, but nevertheless with shared values, education and common citizenship, enjoying a cheerful conversation as Singaporeans.

And all because one officer had the consideration to call across his colleague from a different faith.

John Elliott (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 27, 2019, with the headline 'Actions of individuals key to religious harmony'. Print Edition | Subscribe