SINGAPORE - 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 on Friday (April 13).
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 recently following alleged anti-Islamic comments made on March 13 by American preacher Lou Engle, who had been invited here 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 (MHA) said it was investigating the incident and would take "firm action" if it was found that Mr Engle had in fact made statements undermining religious harmony.
"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," Pastor Yang told reporters, adding that he did not know whether Mr Engle has agreed to the police's request to return to Singapore.
The meeting on Friday 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 Qu'rans and religious texts of other faiths, said:
"I am very honoured and very happy that the pastor and the group came to the mosque... 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 the National University of Singapore, said he initiated the lunch meeting in hope that such personal exchanges would allow religious disputes to be settled more amicably.
"It's not something we can avoid completely, these things will happen in future… The only guarantee is that when they do happen, there is enough goodwill among us. But goodwill starts from personal relationships," he said.
He added that religious communities should welcome those "who have made mistakes, with love, with care, as a brother".
"I think Singaporeans should be like that, and Muslims in Singapore are capable of that."