SINGAPORE - More than 250 religious organisations in Singapore have made a commitment to safeguard religious harmony in the wake of growing inter-ethnic tensions across the globe.
A framed copy of the pledge that among other things, highlights practical things Singaporeans can do on a daily basis to build inter-religious bridges, was presented by senior faith leaders to President Halimah Yacob at a dinner on Wednesday (June 19), the opening day of the three-day International Conference on Cohesive Societies at Raffles City Convention Centre.
It includes the promise to develop strong bonds across religions by, for instance, eating together in spite of different religious dietary requirements; extending greetings during other's festive celebrations; as well as attending each other's life events such as weddings and funerals housed in different worship venues.
The commitment, which comprises seven main points, is a ground-up initiative spearheaded by various religious groups. It was an idea that religious leaders surfaced about two years ago, and builds on the 2003 Declaration of Religious Harmony which is briefer and more philosophical in nature.
In her speech at the dinner, President Halimah said she was glad that the religious leaders had "come together to affirm a commitment to safeguard religious harmony, in which they encourage day-to-day positive interactions so that people continue to talk with one another, work together and live together as one united people".
The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) described the pledge as the articulation of shared values and way of life which forms the foundation for Singapore's religious harmony.
It said that the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March, and Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in April, "have further underscored the need for a clear and common agreement among citizens to uphold religious harmony, and in particular a shared understanding on how we should all live, work and interact in order to protect and further deepen such harmony".
The faith groups also pledged to uphold the freedom of religion and the right of every person to profess, practise and propagate beliefs different from their own, including not having any religious beliefs.
The commitment further covers the importance of sharing and propagating beliefs respectfully and sensitively without denigrating or insulting other religions, as well as the unequivocal rejection of any form of violence against anyone.
It ends with the promise to maintain solidarity in a crisis, and to support institutional efforts such as the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles.
President of the Singapore Buddhist Federation, Venerable Kwang Phing, whose organisation signed the commitment, said it is the responsibility of religious leaders to build friendship and trust across Singapore's different faith groups.
He said: "Around the world, increasing division along religious lines remind us that social harmony in Singapore is not to be taken for granted."
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said the religious and community leaders are sending a "very important message" to Singapore. "It is important for us to find commonalities despite our differences - that although we have different religions and are from different ethnicities, we are Singaporeans. And in Singapore, we put multiracial and multi-religious harmony really right up there as a national value that we all treasure."
Other religious leaders spoke about practical areas they will be working on to safeguard religious harmony. This includes tightening processes to ensure preachers, teachers and foreign speakers are aware of Singapore's unique multi-religious circumstances when they address their respective communities, and reminding congregants to be tactful and sensitive when sharing the goodness of their faiths.
The Heart of God Church and Khalid Mosque, both of which also signed the commitment, are among the groups playing an active role in safeguarding religious peace and harmony.
They rolled out an initiative three years ago to encourage inter-faith interaction and understanding. Both groups have been working together to provide tuition for secondary school students from their congregations and neighbourhood over the past three years.
Every two weeks, the students alternate between the church venue in Eunos or the mosque's Joo Chiat premises to attend English, maths and science classes run by 10 tutors from both congregations. The collaboration has benefited 20 students so far.
Tutor Amirul Muttaqin Aduka, 24, said the arrangement has been helpful in reducing stereotypes and promoting interfaith understanding.
Heart of God Church pastor Garrett Lee, 35, added that both the tutors and students involved in the programme found many commonalities. "The tutors on both sides learnt that they both had a heart for the next generation to succeed. The students, meanwhile, were working towards the same goal - to succeed in their O-level examinations.
"Ultimately, both tutors and students come away more than just neighbours - making new friends beyond their usual walls."
Organisations, beyond religious groups, interested in signing the commitment can do so at https://www.ircc.sg/commitment
The full commitment text is as follows:
COMMITMENT TO SAFEGUARD RELIGIOUS HARMONY
Singapore has enjoyed a high level of harmony and peace in our religiously diverse society. This is not by accident, and we must constantly work to protect, cherish and promote our religious harmony, as it is key to our peace, prosperity and progress. To this end, we reaffirm the following:
Upholding Freedom of Religion
1. We will uphold the constitutional guarantee of freedom of religion, and the right of every person to profess, practise, and propagate beliefs different from our own, including not having religious beliefs.
Building Stronger Bonds
2. Strong bonds across faiths are key to religious harmony. While our faiths may be different, we share common values, such as charity, love, respect and empathy. It is consistent with our values to encourage regular interaction, including the following:
a. Building and maintaining meaningful relationships with others of a different faith;
b. Offering help to others of a different faith, including in times of crisis;
c. Offering non-religious commercial services to all regardless of faith, and procuring the same from establishments where owners may have displayed symbols of their faith;
d. Allowing each other space to profess our faiths, and to do so in a respectful and sensitive manner;
e. Eating together with others, even if we have different religious dietary requirements and practices;
f. Expressing good wishes for and attending each other's festival celebrations; and
g. Attending the life events of others of a different faith, such as weddings and funerals, even if these are held in the place of worship of that faith.
Fostering a Culture of Consideration and Mutual Understanding
3. We will foster a culture of consideration and mutual understanding. When interacting with people of other beliefs, we will uphold social norms of compromise and accommodation. We recognise that while our society is multi-religious, the State is secular, and that in the common spaces, the expression of one's faith may give rise to misunderstandings. We accept that not all persons will be aware of religious sensitivities, and when misunderstandings or disputes arise, we will resolve them through respectful dialogue.
Sharing and Propagating Beliefs Respectfully and Sensitively
4. We will share and propagate our beliefs respectfully, paying attention to inter-faith and intra-faith sensitivities. We will ensure that our practices are also done in a respectful and sensitive manner. We will not denigrate or insult other faiths, or promote ill-will. We reject unequivocally and will never tolerate any form of violence against anyone, including because of his faith.
Maintaining Solidarity in Crisis
5. In times of crisis, we will express solidarity with each other, consult one another, help one another, and work together towards maintaining social cohesion as our overriding goal.
Supporting Institutional Efforts
6. We will support national institutions that aim to uphold and promote religious harmony, such as the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles, National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony and the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony. We will work towards organising and participating in activities for all to build friendship and trust, and jointly work on projects for the common good.
Safeguarding Religious Harmony for a Better Singapore for All
7. We embrace and will practise the affirmations in this Commitment. Through our words and actions, we can contribute to religious harmony in Singapore. Together, we ensure that our nation continues to progress and prosper in peace and harmony, and enable all to lead fulfilling lives in accordance with their beliefs.