Parliament: Laws for social harmony needed, but personal efforts vital too, says Grace Fu

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu underscored the important role each Singaporean plays in protecting social harmony in the country. PHOTO: ST FILE

In Yuhua, three families epitomise what it means for people of different faiths to coexist in harmony.

Their story was recounted yesterday by their MP - Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu - as she underscored the important role each Singaporean plays in protecting social harmony.

She was speaking in Parliament about changes to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, when she cited the story a Chinese resident who is Christian told her.

The woman said her Muslim neighbour would help watch her young child when she had to bring her other child home from school, while her Hindu neighbour would share food with her family from time to time. The children from all three families also play together in each other's homes.

"The resident brought this to my attention because she truly appreciated the kindness and generosity of her neighbours. But, above all, she knows that this relationship transcending race and religion is not to be taken for granted," said Ms Fu. "Such trusting and warm relationships between neighbours of different faiths can be found all around Singapore. It is the beauty of Singapore and Singaporeans."

The minister was making the point that while updates to the law are needed to protect social harmony, legislation alone is not sufficient to maintain this state of affairs. "At a more fundamental level, we cannot legislate to remove irrational fears and stereotypes, nor to accept that a set of different beliefs can coexist with ours," she said.

While Singapore has a strong foundation of social cohesion, which allows people to discuss sensitive issues of race and religion seriously, candidly but respectfully, this state of affairs cannot be taken for granted, she added. She urged people to continue to work towards maintaining good relations among the different communities.

"It is through individual actions and efforts in our everyday lives to engage one other. We offer help to one another, do business together and attend one another's life events such as weddings and funerals," she added.

She cited how there have been more ground-up efforts to promote racial and religious harmony, like the Ask Me Anything series of conversations by the WhiteHatters, which gave people the chance to engage leaders of various religions.

The Government will continue to work with Singaporeans at all levels to safeguard racial and religious harmony, she pledged.

While Singapore's founding fathers had made a deliberate choice to build a society in which "everyone has the freedom to choose and practice his or her religion, provided the same freedom is afforded to others", this tolerance and accommodation have matured over time and multiculturalism has become an integral part of the Singapore identity, she said. "This social compact will allow us to broaden our common space, even as our society becomes more diverse," she added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 08, 2019, with the headline Laws for social harmony needed, but personal efforts vital too, says Grace Fu. Subscribe