Religious leaders from Indonesia, Singapore call for greater interaction to strengthen harmony

Reverend Gabriel Liew (second from right) organised an interfaith of events to encourage religious harmony in order to flourish religious leaders from Singapore and Indonesia. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - They worship differently, but share a love for durian. So churchgoers from Kampong Kapor Methodist Church and the Wat Ananda Metyarama Thai Buddhist temple regularly bond over delicious durian parties.

These interfaith events and other social visits to temples, mosques and synagogues are organised by Reverend Gabriel Liew, a pastor at the church.

His church also invites leaders of other religions to come and teach about their faiths.

"We seek to understand the religious teachings of other communities, because ignorance is not bliss. Ignorance breeds fear, and the root of war is fear," said Reverend Liew.

More such friendships and interactions between people of different faiths should be encouraged for religious harmony to flourish, religious leaders from Singapore and Indonesia said on Tuesday (July 11).

They were speaking at a dialogue organised by the interfaith community in Singapore and the Indonesian embassy.

The event was the start of a four-day interfaith exchange programme, during which Indonesia's religious leaders will visit the Inter-Religious Organisation.

They will also visit the Hindu Endowments Board, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), the Mahakaruna Buddhist Society and the Church of St Mary of the Angels.

The programme is part of a series of events to mark 50 years of ties between Singapore and Indonesia.

Yesterday, two ministers also gave speeches, in which they stressed that religions have much in common with each other.

Indonesia's Minister for Religious Affairs Lukman Hakim Saifuddin said that beyond differences in rituals, religions shared the same basic principles of upholding justice and the equality of all mankind.

Singapore Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin said peace and tolerance are in many ways central to all religions. But dialogue is needed for people of different religions to find common ground such as this, he said.

Said Mr Tan: "Religions or cultures don't enter into dialogue - people do.

"Governments can support dialogue, morally and financially, but in the end it's up to individuals to engage each other," he noted, adding that people who do not believe in any religion should be included, too.

Drawing on their experiences, religious leaders at the dialogue gave suggestions on how to encourage such dialogue.

Leaders also highlighted the crucial ability to agree to disagree, and a willingness to learn about other faiths.

The key is to respect differences and accept the existence of other religions, said Dr Abdul Mu'ti, a senior lecturer at Indonesia's Walisongo Islamic Public University.

Reverend Martin Lukito of the Protestant Church of Simalungun in Jakarta said there had been a lot of hate speech in online comments during the recent election for the city's governor. Incumbent governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, a Chinese-Christian popularly known as Ahok, had sought reelection but lost in what observers called a religiously-charged election.

Dr Lukito called on people to speak up in support of tolerance and harmony, saying: "If we keep silent, then discussions on religion may be dominated by hate speech."

National University of Singapore sociologist Syed Farid Alatas said: "The first line of defence against religious conflict is close relationships between religious leaders."

These friendships mean that if misunderstandings between Muslims and Christians arise, for example, an imam can ask his pastor friend to explain the misunderstanding at his mosque and clear the air, for example, said Dr Farid.

"In Singapore, this is something normal. But in other countries, an imam would never have stepped into a church. Imams in a mosque would never have received a priest in the fasting month to break their fast with them," he added.

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