New premises were opened for the Singapore Inter Religious Organisation.
SINGAPORE: President Tony Tan Keng Yam said Singaporeans should not take the ethnic and religious harmony in the country for granted.
Dr Tan was speaking at the official opening of the new Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) building at Palmer Road on Tuesday.
“As a secular country, we cannot afford to mix religion and politics. In many countries, this has polarised and divided their people into irreconcilable camps, sometimes with violent outcomes,” said Dr Tan.
Dr Tan further added that the IRO therefore has to “look into developing new platforms and channels to reach out to new audiences with the message of inter-religious peace and harmony”.
Other guests at the event included IRO’s Patron S R Nathan, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing.
Archbishop Nicholas Chia also received the IRO Award for his significant contribution to inter-faith understanding and harmony.
Small churches and Taoist groups are likely to benefit from new rules that allow religious organisations to worship in industrial buildings.
But others say the change will not help them as it limits them to using the sites twice a week.
“It’s good for maybe a church that wants to meet on Sundays,” said Singapore Jain Religious Society member Ashvin Desai, who also heads the Inter- Religious Organization.
But he said the arrangement would not work for other groups ‘where people pop in every day’.
Religious groups have traditionally had to use sites designated as places of worship by the Government. But three days ago, the Urban Redevelopment Authority announced it would allow them to use industrial buildings to help deal with a lack of space.
Sites earmarked for religious use can also be built upon more densely under the new rules.
Taoist Federation chairman Tan Thiam Lye said groups from his community currently meet in industrial buildings. He added that the new regulations are helpful because Taoists do not meet to worship every week, but mainly on the first and 15th days of the lunar month. Tan said the move may solve the long-standing problem of Taoist temples being run out of Housing Board flats.
“It’s good that they have temples in factories or warehouses, so when they pray and chant they won’t affect their neighbors,” he said.
The National Council of Churches in Singapore said the move was helpful and would give congregations “some flexibility in the space they need for worship”.
“But as to how much it helps, or whether more flexibility is needed, we’ll need some time to check,” said a spokesman.
Other groups said they would probably not be affected by the new rules because they tended to worship at established venues.
Manmohan Singh of the Central Sikh Temple said his community had never used industrial land.
“We have daily prayers and lunches and there are always people in the temples every day,” he said. “So we’ve always built on approved sites.”
The Singapore Buddhist Federation president, Venerable Kwang Sheng, said Buddhist groups rarely made use of industrial space and would be unlikely to start. “Usually Buddhist services are led by venerables, who are already based in the established temples,” he said.
However, all the groups welcomed the new provision allowing sites earmarked for religious use to be built upon more densely.
Singh said that when the Central Sikh Temple was carrying out upgrading, it could not get approval for extensions to its prayer hall.
“We will be trying again now to see if we can get it done under the new regulations,” he added.
Ven Kwang Sheng said: “It’s definitely a welcome move for every religious group.”
Source: Channelnews Asia