Opportunities and hurdles for Interfaith Understanding

IRO Singapore

Opportunities and hurdles for Interfaith Understanding

SINGAPORE: Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing told that new technologies present opportunities and hurdles for larger interfaith understaind during Inter-Religious Organisation’s (IRO) 65th anniversary on Tuesday.

Minister Sing with IRO Members

Minister Chan Chung Sing said new technologies concede a younger era to entrance new ideas and material, that can foster improved understanding. While this information is neutral, it can poise new challenges. We present the speeck of Social and Family Development Minister Chan Chun Sing at the IRO-Day Celebration of 65 Years:

Religious leaders,

Distinguished guests,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Let me first congratulate the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) for 65 good years of promoting inter-faith and religious harmony in Singapore. Today is indeed a very significant milestone. Not many of us would have realised this, but 65 years ago, when this first started, very few of us would have envisaged what we are able to achieve today. Thus, I think we must pay tribute to the leadership displayed by all the religious leaders in the past and in the present. And we hope that going forward, the next generation of leaders will, too, emulate the examples displayed by our leaders in the past to promote inter-faith understanding and religious harmony.

Sixty-five years may not be a long time in the history of mankind, but 65 years is even longer than our nation’s history. We are marking our 49th birthday this year and next year, we will be celebrating our 50th anniversary. We hope that there will be many more years of peace and success for our country so that people can continue to enjoy the good and better life in the years ahead.

For that to happen, first and foremost, we need to have peace and stability. For many countries, religion is a source of tension and conflict. But we believe that Singapore can be different. In Singapore, every religion can be a source of strength and reason for us to come together. I think IRO has done exactly that over its many years of existence. Not only did it help to promote religious harmony across the entire nation, it has helped to reach an understanding between the different faiths and religions. We, as Singaporeans, may sometimes not fully appreciate the magnitude of what we have delivered. Often, foreigners and foreign guests come to visit us and see different religions coming together to share a meal, to share a firm and friendly discussion, to share a safe premise, and to share activities to care for each other. And when they remarked, “What a unique place this is”, to see temples, mosques and churches residing side by side; to see religious leaders having the courage and taking the leadership to sit down for a meal together so as to discuss things calmly; not only that, to help the next generation bridge any differences they may have in understanding between different faiths. These are all very unique characteristics that we have built up over the many years. And this is something that we should continue to cherish.

Members of the IRO at War Memorial, circa 1970

As we look forward to the future, there will be new challenges for the new generation, as it was like for the generations before. After many years of peace, sometimes it is easy for us to be complacent; sometimes it is easy for us to forget how much effort it requires to work quietly and seamlessly behind the scene to maintain, upkeep and continue to strengthen what we have in Singapore. So going forward, I would say that while we are living in times of peace, the challenges are no less difficult and challenging compared to the past. In fact, for everyday of peace that we enjoy, the challenges become even greater for us to consciously and conscientiously remind ourselves of the hard work that is required behind the scene, and the leadership that is displayed by all the religious leaders present.

Going forward, new technologies will also bring new challenges and opportunities. New technologies will enable many of our younger generation to have access to new ideas and new materials. This in itself is neutral and can be a source of strength for better understanding. But at the same time, this can also pose new challenges in helping to understand each other’s faith and religion.

In a new inter-connected world, it is also very easy for us to revert back to our own little silos if only to defend in what we firmly believe in. Defending and deepening our understanding of what we believe in is good. But at the same time, we must continue to enlarge the common space that we have all shared in this country. Only so, will we be able to continue from strength to strength.

There is no magic formula or easy answer to the challenges that we will face. But I am confident that with the leadership displayed by the current leadership, we will be able to overcome and even to achieve more than what we have been able to do in the past. It is incumbent upon us, the younger generation, to emulate the leadership so displayed by our leaders of the past and the leaders of the present to continue on this pilgrimage or journey that we are all in. We are all living in a small place that requires us to understand each other, to share with each other the different perspectives so that we can all continue to enlarge the common space that we share.

So on this note, I have every confidence that the religious leaders will set the example and establish the foundation for us to enjoy many more years of peace. But it is not easy. It will require us to continuously work on it and continuously not let our guard down so that different religions can be a source of strength or factor to unite us rather than divide us. On that note, I wish IRO many more good years to come and I hope that I will have the privilege to join you on many more celebrations. It is my pleasure to join you today and we will do what we can to continue to support the good work of IRO.

Thank you very much.

IRO Members at Mosque

Speech by IRO President, Mr Noor Mohamed Marican
at IRO’s 65th Anniversary Celebrations

The Honourable, Minister of Social and Family Development Mr Chan Chun Sing,

Your Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

IRO members,


I thank you for making time to be here today to celebrate IRO’s 65th Anniversary since its birth on 18th March 1949. It is our honour and priviledge that Minister Chan Chun Sing has taken the time to grace this historic occasion, and for always supporting our inter-religious activities all these years. Indeed, when the IRO opened its first office in 2012 at this very premises, Minister Chan Chun Sing was present to give his full support and had even requested to meet the IRO Council Members at a follow-up meeting to discuss inter-faith activities.

The IRO is a place for fellowship and goodwill. In the face of war and conflict back in 1949, our founders had tremendous foresight to set up the first inter-faith organization in the world to help inculcate the spirit of friendship and co-operation among the leaders and followers of different religions. During IRO’s first public meeting on 18th March 1949 to a large multi-religious audience, our first President, Rev. Dr. H. B Amstutz declared that “We through this organization are no longer strangers and enemies but pilgrims on a common road seeking common goals”. Despite the historical differences in all religions, our founders believed that there are overwhelming similarities in all our religious teachings such as sound moral virtues which can propel us above and beyond all our disagreements.

The IRO is here to serve the nation and to promote Singapore as a model for inter-religious harmony. We will tirelessly work in building fellowship amongst people from all walks of life regardless of religion, race, creed or nationality, and our activities are centred around the youths who are the future of Singapore. The Government has played a pivotal role in ensuring religious harmony in Singapore by recognizing religion as a constructive social force, separating religion from politics, enshrining religious freedom in our constitution and protecting the rights of religious minorities. We look forward to working hand-in-hand with the Government to promote inter-faith activities for the achievement of goodwill and understanding amongst citizens and residents.

To mark our 65th Anniversary, I am pleased to announce that the IRO will be launching its first Journal today called Inter-Faith with the theme “Peace, Harmony, Unity” which will be published quarterly. This will give us a platform to reach out to new audiences locally and internationally with the message of inter-religious peace and harmony. Looking to the future, the IRO will be looking to significantly expand our outreach programmes for the youth and to the new citizens in Singapore to promote good faith and mutual respect. We hope to move to bigger premises in the near future, so as to allow us to showcase all 10 religious faiths, have a comprehensive inter-faith library, and facilities to conduct courses for members of the public and receive visitors both locally and abroad.

Thank you once again for gracing this occasion, and I sincerely look forward to your continued support.

First Day Cover issued by Singapore Post on 50th Anniversary of IRO


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