SINGAPORE - Deepening understanding between religions through dialogue is increasingly critical today, said Minister of State for Culture, Community and Youth, Mr Sam Tan Chin Siong, on Saturday morning.
Speaking at the Building Bridges seminar at the Singapore Islamic Hub, Mr Tan said that Singapore "has been a trailblazer in fostering religious harmony," but added that that harmony was "hard-won."
Organised by the Harmony Centre of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) and the Singapore Buddhist Federation (SBF), the seminar is a platform for faith representatives to find common points between Islam and Buddhism.
Saturday's session was also attended by the Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, and the president of SBF, the Venerable Seck Kwang Phing.
Mr Tan said that Singapore is "a place where we can house a Jewish synagogue, a Hindu temple and a Buddhist temple on the same street.
"This may seem very normal to all of us. However, when I travel to other countries for government work, my counterparts often tell me how amazed they are at this, and that this isn't even imaginable in their own community."
He recalled his childhood experience of the racial riots of 1964, when his family lived in a small Chinese kampong in Jurong. They feared that fights might break out with the neighbouring Malay kampong, but the latter's leader came over to personally assure the Chinese that his kampong would defend theirs in event of danger.
"But in other parts of Singapore, people did not have the good fortune of encountering an enlightened man like him, and some had lost their lives in the riots," he said.
He stressed the importance of involving more young people in interfaith dialogue, and noted that over 200 youth ambassadors attended the Ignite Faiths Youth Camp, an inter-faith retreat for youth leaders, in March this year.
Begun in 2012 by the Harmony Centre, the Building Bridges Programme invites representatives from each faith to present papers on a common theme, which this year was "human suffering, spiritual renewal and common action".