Singapore did well in social integration, says UK minister

There is much Britain and Republic can learn from each other, she says

Ms Warsi, who was here on the last leg of a three-nation South-east Asia trip, discussed issues such as freedom of religion and belief during her visit.
Ms Warsi, who was here on the last leg of a three-nation South-east Asia trip, discussed issues such as freedom of religion and belief during her visit. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Singapore has a great record of integrating its communities and allowing them to co-exist harmoniously, while still retaining their unique religious, ethnic identities, Britain's Minister for Faith and Communities Sayeeda Warsi said.

Britain, too, has a long history of integrating religious communities, "but there are things we can learn from each other", Baroness Warsi told The Straits Times.

She met Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli to find out about "some of the forward planning or table top exercises Singapore does in the event of potential community tensions".

"That is something we can look up and learn from," added Ms Warsi, who is also Senior Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

Ms Warsi, who arrived in Singapore on Wednesday on the last leg of her three-nation South-east Asia trip, also called on Madam Halimah Yacob, Speaker of Parliament, and Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, Minister for Communications and Information and Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs.

She also visited the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis). She left for Britain last night.

Discussions on freedom of religion and belief were one of the elements of her visit. The other was Islamic finance.

Ms Warsi said Prime Minister David Cameron laid out at last year's World Islamic Economic Forum a vision for further British involvement in Islamic finance, including plans to issue a sovereign Islamic finance bond - a sukuk - in the current financial year.

"We are looking at ways to work with Singapore to increase that market," said Ms Warsi, who had discussions at the Monetary Authority of Singapore yesterday.

Her week-long visit took her first to Brunei, and then to Sabah and Kuala Lumpur.

Brunei's plans to impose syariah law, which have been postponed, and the Allah issue in Malaysia were part of discussions she had with Brunei Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah and Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"It is important that we seek clarity about the thought process behind these issues to ensure international laws on human rights are protected," she said.

In Malaysia, states that have Islamic enactments ban non-Muslims from using the word "Allah" in worship, an issue that has stoked tensions in the country. These restrictions do not apply to Sabah, Sarawak and the federal territories - Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Labuan.

Ms Warsi said she had the opportunity to speak to Christian communities and the Council of Churches in Sabah and to hear some of their concerns, which she raised in Kuala Lumpur.

"I was given assurances by the government that the ban was not in place in Sabah and Sarawak and the federal territory of Kuala Lumpur, but it is still worrying, because once these matters come to the fore, they come to be interpreted in ways that can cause harassment," she said.

Ms Warsi said she made a moral and economic case for tolerance during her trip.

"A phrase I have used on many occasions is 'persecution is bad for business'. Ultimately, that is why we need to make not just the moral case... but also the economic case as to how these issues impact on all people in those countries," she said.

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