Over 250 faith groups pledge to safeguard religious harmony

The commitment 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.
The commitment 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.ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

More than 250 religious organisations in Singapore have made a commitment to safeguard religious harmony at a time of growing divisions along faith lines around the world.

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 last night at the opening dinner of the 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 despite different dietary requirements and extending greetings during others' festive celebrations.

The commitment, which comprises seven main points, is a ground-up initiative spearheaded by various religious groups. It 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 said terror attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March and the Easter bombings in Sri Lanka in April "have further underscored the need for a clear and common agreement among citizens to uphold religious 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.


President Halimah Yacob greeting Singapore Buddhist Federation president, the Venerable Kwang Phing, after religious leaders presented a framed copy of the pledge. With them are (from left) Archbishop William Goh of the Catholic Church; Singapore Mufti Fatris Bakaram; Hindu Advisory Board chairman Rajan Krishnan; Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye; Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu; Sikh Advisory Board chairman Surjit Singh; Inter-Religious Organisation president Ben J. Benjamin from the Jewish community; and National Council of Churches of Singapore president, Bishop Terry Kee. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

The commitment further covers the importance of propagating beliefs respectfully without denigrating 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 like the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles.

Singapore Buddhist Federation president, the Venerable Kwang Phing, said it is the responsibility of religious leaders to build trust across different faith groups here. "Around the world, increasing division along religious lines reminds us that social harmony in Singapore is not to be taken for granted."

 
 
 

Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu said the leaders are sending a "very important message". "In Singapore, we put multi-racial and multi-religious harmony really right up there as a national value that we all treasure," she said.

Other faith 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.

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 harmony.

Three years ago, they rolled out a programme to work together and offer tuition for secondary school students from their congregations and neighbourhood. Every two weeks, the students alternate between the church in Eunos and the mosque in Joo Chiat to attend classes run by tutors from both congregations.

Tutor Amirul Muttaqin Aduka, 24, said the arrangement has helped reduce stereotypes. Church pastor Garrett Lee, 35, added that both tutors and students come away from the sessions "making new friends beyond their usual walls".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 20, 2019, with the headline 'Over 250 faith groups pledge to safeguard religious harmony'. Print Edition | Subscribe