SINGAPORE - Having spaces and opportunities for people of diverse backgrounds to interact is key to unity in Singapore, said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu on Sunday (March 18) at the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) celebration of its 69th founding anniversary.
Ten religions are represented in the IRO which was founded in 1949 to promote inter-religious harmony between the different faiths in Singapore.
Ms Fu, who was guest-of-honour at the event, reminded the 500-strong crowd that such harmony was more precious than ever now.
"We are living in an era where religious and communal extremism, nativism and nationalism are on the rise. Segregational beliefs and practices shrink our common spaces," she said.
Ms Fu highlighted initiatives by the IRO and called on them to follow the government initiatives - such as Bridge, meant to foster conversation between different religious groups, and the SG Cares Movement which encourages volunteering in the community.
She said these projects can facilitate harmony by "emphasising the similarities, the sameness despite the differences, and that together we have a common goal of doing good".
At the event, the IRO Award - given to those who have demonstrated leadership in inter-faith activities - was also presented to Mr Rustom M. Ghadiali.
Mr Ghadiali, 82, is an Ervad, which is a priest of the Zoroastrian faith. He has served in IRO for over 30 years and was appointed its president three times. Presidency rotates around the ten different faiths every year to ensure that each faith gets a voice in IRO.
Speaking on the challenges the IRO faces, he said: "There is no guarantee that we can keep religious extremism at bay but we can try. The most important thing is that we remain sensitive to each other and do not misunderstand one another."
The IRO also received its largest ever donation of $265,000 from Venerable Master Dr Chin Kung from the corporate body of the Buddha Educational Foundation at the celebration.
Master Chin is a China-born Australian monk who has strong ties to the IRO through his friendship with IRO member Mr Syed Hassan Al-attas, who has known him for over ten years.
Speaking of him, Mr Hassan said: "He believes that every religion has something good and has something to contribute."
The money will go towards IRO outreach and inter-faith activities.