S'pore can be a case study on harmony: Masagos

He outlines efforts to ensure peace in S'pore society at seminar on Muslim communities

Singapore can be a case study for racial and religious harmony as it is one of the world's most religiously diverse societies, and its citizens have all pledged to be one united people, said Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli.

He made this point yesterday as he emphasised the need to develop a body of knowledge - amid chaotic developments around the world - for Muslim-minority communities within multicultural and secular societies. Such knowledge can lay the foundations for communities to thrive and succeed in their respective contexts.

Mr Masagos was speaking at a virtual seminar on Muslim communities that was attended by Singaporeans and foreigners. It was organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore.

Many Muslim-minority communities live in open, modern and diverse societies in secular states, noted Mr Masagos. In Singapore, Muslims make up about 15.6 per cent of the population.

Emerging uncertainties and challenges of the contemporary world usually impact these Muslim communities first, and often, there is no precedence in Islamic history to guide them, said Mr Masagos, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development.

"These Muslim-minority communities must have the ability to contribute to nation-building while being able to live out their faith, like Muslims do in Singapore," he said.

Singapore's Constitution forms the foundation for its social compact, and he sketched out three pillars that allow the country to enjoy peace and stability.

First, there is justice and equality, and this guarantees that the Government will be impartial to all, enabling people through the building of strong families and creating a society of opportunities through affordable and quality education, housing and healthcare.

The second pillar is self-reliance, where individuals have a duty to take care of themselves. "This helps to engender trust between individuals in society because 'from each his best' and 'to each his due' would be for the common good," said Mr Masagos.

Third, Singapore is a cohesive and harmonious society, where it is important to engender trust between majority and minority communities by building respect, care and concern for fellow citizens.

But while the country has been fortunate to have racial and religious harmony, this is neither a given nor permanent, and Mr Masagos called on all groups in society to continue working to uphold this.

Under the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, those who cause ill will between different religious groups can be issued with a restraining order.

During his National Day Rally speech in August, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said that while the law has never been used since it came into effect in 1992, its existence has helped to restrain intolerance and promote religious harmony.

PM Lee also said during the speech that Singapore would be introducing a new law on racial harmony to encourage moderation and tolerance between different racial groups.

Mr Masagos yesterday acknowledged that in the past, Singapore's focus was directed internally, and was more on how its people could accommodate one another and not overly push for their own rights, and said that today's environment is different.

External events influence how people relate to one another, and this shapes racial and religious relations. Youth, in particular, are more exposed to information on social media, which challenges the transmission of values and can widen fractures in societies.

Singapore experienced its first case of right-wing extremism, when a 16-year-old Singaporean boy was detained last December after planning to attack Muslims in mosques. He was inspired by terrorist attacks overseas that he had observed online.

Mr Masagos gave the examples of the Black Lives Matter movement and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as issues that he said have shaped views and could affect relations with others within a multi-ethnic and multi-religious community.

"If we do not address this early, and effectively, it will slowly and silently erode the trust built over many generations," he added.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 07, 2021, with the headline S'pore can be a case study on harmony: Masagos. Subscribe