Heinous acts in Christchurch a reminder to protect inter-faith harmony: ESM Goh

(From left) Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is patron of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore with religious leaders, Imam Habib Hassan Al-Attas, Mr Ben J. Benjamin and Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, at the launch yesterday of an exhi
(From left) Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is patron of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore with religious leaders, Imam Habib Hassan Al-Attas, Mr Ben J. Benjamin and Venerable Seck Kwang Phing, at the launch yesterday of an exhibition at Far East Plaza marking the 70th anniversary of the organisation's founding.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

He urges Inter-Religious Organisation to continue to show how this can be done

To celebrate 70 years of work to build religious harmony, the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore (IRO) had planned the launch of an exhibition at Far East Plaza yesterday.

But last Friday's terror attack on two mosques in Christchurch which killed 50 cast a pall on the gathering.

However, the group's patron and president both resolved to redouble efforts to deepen inter-faith harmony so that Singapore remains united and peaceful.

"The heinous acts... are a sad reminder that the peace we enjoy is both precious and fragile, and cannot be taken for granted," said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who is the IRO's patron.

IRO president Ben J. Benjamin said "events of the past week remind us to constantly address hate and divisiveness wherever we may find it".

He added: "It is in precisely these difficult moments that we fill ourselves with a sense of renewed resolve to continue to build inter-faith understanding and knowledge in Singapore, and that we stand in even greater unity to send a clear message that senseless acts of terror and intolerance only serve to galvanise and unite us as one people." Mr Goh noted that the IRO has contributed substantively to Singapore's religious harmony. But acts of terror and other hate crimes can turn communities against one another and split societies.

"Singapore's multi-religious harmony is an exception rather than a norm in the world," he said, adding: "Our work to keep Singapore united and peaceful is never done.

TACKLING ISSUES THAT SEEK TO DIVIDE

While we planned for today to be a celebration, events of the past week remind us to constantly address hate and divisiveness wherever we may find it... The IRO wishes to dedicate today's gathering to the victims of religiously motivated attacks around the world, and, to further offer our prayers and condolences to the victims and families of the Christchurch mosque shootings. May their souls rest in peace.

IRO PRESIDENT BEN J. BENJAMIN


RELIGIOUS LEADERS WHO WORK TO BOOST HARMONY

That the IRO has survived and thrived till today is a testament to its past and present leaders who have worked steadfastly to strengthen religious harmony in a diverse society... I wish more religious leaders will join IRO to enhance its reach and spread its influence.

EMERITUS SENIOR MINISTER GOH CHOK TONG


RELIGIOUS HARMONY PRECIOUS AND FRAGILE

Singapore's multi-religious harmony is an exception rather than a norm in the world. The heinous acts committed at two mosques in Christchurch are a sad reminder that the peace we enjoy is both precious and fragile, and cannot be taken for granted. Generations of Singaporeans and Singaporean governments have worked hard to make religious diversity our strength, not our weakness. And future generations must continue to do so.

ESM GOH

Mr Goh noted that rising religiosity has led to concerns that some groups could seek to impose their beliefs on others. Segregationist practices imported through foreign preachers and social media also threaten to reduce the common space in society.

"Regardless of our own beliefs, we must always protect the freedom to interact with one another as friends, neighbours and fellow Singaporeans," he said.

Mr Goh urged religious leaders and Singaporeans to work on four priorities: preserve and grow the common space; guard against extremism, segregationist practices, hate speech, online falsehoods and condemn acts of terror or violence; enhance interactions between different communities; and strengthen Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCCs).

IRCCs were set up in every constituency after the Sept 11, 2001, terror attacks on America to deepen trust among communities.

Mr Goh also called on the IRO to continue to lead by example.

Founded in 1949 to bring people of different faiths together, the group faced a major challenge a year later when it had to restore calm during the Maria Hertogh riots in 1950.

During the 1964 race riots, IRO members visited the injured and their families to console them. The IRO also issued statements to call on people to maintain harmony.

Today, it has members from 10 faiths: the Baha'i faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Sikhism, Taoism and Zoroastrianism. Its activities, including interfaith prayers and dialogues, are highlighted at the exhibition titled "Harmony of Faiths".

Mr Goh urged the IRO to continue to show everyone that religious leaders from different faiths can sit and eat together, celebrate and wish one another well during religious festivals, and visit weddings and wakes of friends and colleagues of different religions. "These are simple actions, but they carry deep significance because they demonstrate understanding, support and respect of each other," he said.

Mr Benjamin said that from May, the group will grow its online presence with content on inter-faith topics aimed at youth. This includes a digital effort "to arm Singapore youths with inter-religious knowledge and to explore commonalities between the faiths while debunking half-truths, common misperceptions and tropes using light-hearted themes and humour".

It will also collaborate with the National Library Board to organise gatherings focused on building inter-faith knowledge, he added.

The exhibition at the concourse of Far East Plaza is open to all from 11am to 8pm daily until March 31. Free guided tours are available.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 19, 2019, with the headline 'Attacks a reminder to protect inter-faith harmony: ESM Goh'. Print Edition | Subscribe