Regular, informal talks can help solve issues: Religious leaders

Ba'alwie Mosque's Imam Habib Hassan Al-Attas embracing Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong. Other guests at the meeting included Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee (centre), the husband of President Halimah Yacob, and Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Zulkifli
Ba'alwie Mosque's Imam Habib Hassan Al-Attas embracing Pastor Yang Tuck Yoong. Other guests at the meeting included Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee (centre), the husband of President Halimah Yacob, and Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore Zulkifli Adnan (far right).ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Regular informal meetings between representatives of Muslim and Christian communities can help resolve controversies or incidents easily, leaders from the two groups said after a gathering yesterday.

Former Nominated MP Zulkifli Baharudin organised a lunch and discussion between leaders of the Cornerstone Community Church, including its founder-pastor Yang Tuck Yoong, and members of the Ba'alwie Mosque, among others.

The church was in the news following alleged anti-Islamic comments made on March 13 by American preacher Lou Engle, who was invited to speak at a Christian conference organised by Cornerstone.

A report published on March 25 by online media outfit Rice Media quoted Mr Engle as telling the conference that "Muslims are taking over the south of Spain" and that he had dreamt he would "raise up the church all over Spain to push back a new modern Muslim movement".

The Ministry of Home Affairs said it was probing the matter and would take "firm action" if it was found that Mr Engle had made statements undermining religious harmony.

Pastor Yang told reporters, "These sorts of things can be easily resolved. Even the members, leaders of the Muslim community have said to me that we could have easily resolved (the issue) by meeting together." He added that he did not know whether Mr Engle has agreed to the police's request to return here.

The meeting yesterday followed an April 4 gathering with Muslim community leaders and Singapore's Mufti, Dr Fatris Bakaram, during which Pastor Yang issued a written and personal apology for the remarks made by Mr Engle.

Ba'alwie Mosque's Imam Habib Hassan Al-Attas, who hosted the lunch and gave the church leaders a tour of the mosque and its collection of old Qurans and religious texts of other faiths, said: "This is Singapore. We are multiracial and it is open to all walks of life. (It is) very important for us to always be together, because together we can be strong."

The gathering was also attended by Mr Zulkifli Adnan, the Malaysian High Commissioner to Singapore; Mr Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, the husband of President Halimah Yacob; and former senior parliamentary secretary Hawazi Daipi.

Mr Zulkifli Baharudin, a friend of Pastor Yang since their days at university, said he initiated the meeting in the hope that such exchanges would allow religious disputes to be settled more amicably.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 14, 2018, with the headline 'Regular, informal talks can help solve issues: Religious leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe