President hopes pledge on religious harmony will have multiplier effect

Jordan's King Abdullah (centre) and President Halimah Yacob at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies on June 20, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

This week's commitment by more than 250 religious organisations in Singapore to safeguard religious harmony is an important document to reinforce social cohesion here, President Halimah Yacob has said.

And she hopes it will reinforce peace and harmony beyond religious settings, including in schools and workplaces.

"It is not just a general statement, but it is quite specific as to what they want to achieve with their own religious communities," she said.

"But it is not confined to just the religious communities. This is a commitment that can be used in different settings, such as community settings. It can be used to reinforce the values of cohesion, the need to preserve peace and harmony, used in schools, workplaces," she added. "There is a multiplier effect, and that is something that we want to see."

President Halimah was speaking to reporters at the start of the second day of the inaugural International Conference on Cohesive Societies, which she had mooted as a platform for faith and community leaders to exchange ideas on deepening bonds across communities.

At the opening dinner on Wednesday night, senior religious leaders in Singapore presented her with a copy of the commitment which pledges to continue building strong bonds across members of their different faiths.

It also includes an affirmation to uphold the freedom of religion, foster a culture of consideration and mutual understanding, and maintain solidarity in times of crisis.

Madam Halimah also shared her thoughts from speaking to participants of the conference, including those who attended the Young Leaders' Programme earlier this week.

She noted that race and religion are not easy topics to discuss "in an open and frank manner", but said such discussions are needed.

"Globally, it is even more challenging (to discuss). Yet, we need to have that conversation," she added.

Around 1,000 academics, government officials and members of religious and civil society groups from about 40 countries are attending the conference, which ends today.

President Halimah noted that delegates had stressed the need for cohesion as, at the end of the day, harmony and stability are key to ensuring sustainable development in their societies. They also called for strong rejection of all forms of hate, intolerance and misinformation, whether on religion or race.

Building cohesion and rejec-ting hatred is not just the job of government leaders or countries, but has to be done at the global level, she added.

"That includes individuals as well in ensuring that we contribute towards having cohesion, and therefore harmony and peace," she said.

Madam Halimah hoped the sharing of experiences would lead to participants embarking on initiatives in their own countries.

"The context may be different, but the values that we want to propagate and the principles are universal," she said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2019, with the headline President hopes pledge on religious harmony will have multiplier effect. Subscribe