The need to build strong ties among Singapore's different communities is critical, especially with racial and religious tensions boiling over around the world, President Halimah Yacob said yesterday.
For this reason, it is important to promote understanding among people of different faiths, she added, saying she was pleased to hear that the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) plans to start a formal youth arm for this purpose.
"What is happening around us shows that religious and racial issues can become potential flashpoints," she told reporters after a meeting with IRO members.
She met about 25 of them over a buffet brunch at the Istana's Reception Room, where she expressed her support for their work. The IRO presented her with a crystal plaque as a token of appreciation.
Madam Halimah highlighted young people as a group that needs extra attention, saying that their use of social media exposes them to material of various persuasions.
Elaborating on the IRO's plans, its president K. Kesavapany said it currently engages young people through ad-hoc activities, but plans to start a youth arm.
Its honorary secretary Ameerali Abdeali finds it encouraging to see young people taking an interest in interfaith activities.
It shows that the next generation is aware of the importance of respecting and treating one another with consideration, he added. "They know not to ridicule, minimise or mock other people's beliefs."
Besides a youth arm, the IRO also wants to expand its women's wing, which is called Women of Faith.
Madam Halimah said the two branches would be useful in the continuing effort to preserve racial and religious harmony.
"Women discuss a lot of such issues at home with their children, their family, so they play a very important role in the maintenance of harmony," she said.
"With access to social media, the young also need a safe place where they can talk and discuss different faiths and their own faith as well."
Citing a recent Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) propaganda video featuring Singaporean Megat Shahdan Abdul Samad, Madam Halimah said it brings the terror threat closer to home. She also said that in the event of an attack, religious leaders and the IRO Council play an important role in maintaining peace and calm in Singapore.
Efforts to promote harmony among different racial and religious groups need to be enhanced as well "so that everyone understands it as a value, and that we need to uphold it for the benefit of our society".
The IRO is of the same mind, and has plans to do more in the heartland, like tying up with religious institutions across the island to organise talks or events involving multiple religious organisations.
It will also work with the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles committees in various constituencies to raise awareness of terrorism, so that people are prepared and know how to respond to an attack, said Mr Ameerali.
Meanwhile, the Federation of Indian Muslims, in a response to the ISIS video, said that it will continue to educate its affiliates and members about the dangers of extremism.
"Accurate religious knowledge must be acquired to mitigate the threat of radicalisation," its president Mohamed Ghouse said in a statement sent yesterday.
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