Singapore can organise inter-faith forum along the lines of Shangri-La Dialogue, suggests President Halimah

SINGAPORE - Many religious organisations and institutions here do a good job in promoting religious harmony, but there is room to take these efforts up a notch, said President Halimah Yacob on Wednesday evening (May 23).

Drawing parallels to the annual Shangri-La Dialogue on security issues, she mooted the idea of a similar high-level dialogue focused on inter-faith harmony.

"We have, for example, the Shangri-La Dialogue for security. Perhaps we can even have an inter-faith dialogue... with that same prestige and status. I think that would be really wonderful," she said.

The Shangri-La Dialogue, launched here in 2002, is a regular pow-wow of government leaders, military chiefs and experts in the Asia-Pacific to discuss the latest security and defence matters.

Madam Halimah was speaking to the media on the sidelines of an iftar (break fast) event at the An-Nahdhah mosque in Bishan.

She said Singapore cannot assume that because there is religious harmony, "we don't have to continue to do work in order to enhance and strengthen the foundation".

"That would be the worst situation that we put ourselves in. We are always exposed to external forces, which is not friendly to diversity. We need to strengthen the foundation all the time."

The 200 congregants of the mosque were joined in the iftar by Madam Halimah and her husband Mohamed Abdullah Alhabshee, Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli, as well as leaders from neighbouring organisations such as the Zion Bishan Bible-Presbyterian Church.

In Singapore, the iftar is unique as it is a multiracial and multi-religious event, said Madam Halimah.

She said: "I hope we could also bring (the message of religious harmony) to different mosques, so it does not only reside here."

During the event, Madam Halimah also toured the Harmony Centre housed within the mosque. The centre showcases exhibits, artefacts and information on the Islamic lifestyle, and aims to promote a greater understanding of Islam and Muslims.

Madam Halimah lauded the centre for its work, saying it provides a neutral platform for people to discuss religious issues, and that it helps people of other faiths understand Islam better.

Reverend Alby Yip, a senior pastor at the Zion Bishan Bible-Presbytarian Church who was at the iftar event, welcomed Madam Halimah's suggestion for a regional discussion on inter-faith harmony.

He said that when it comes to co-existence with different races and religions, Singapore is one of the few success stories in the world. "If we can share with the regional community what we do, it could perhaps help others achieve the same.