Singapore is set to host its first international conference on social cohesion and interfaith harmony next year, President Halimah Yacob confirmed yesterday, as 40 interfaith practitioners and activists from around the region gathered here for an exchange programme.
“Constructive dialogue is fundamental to forging mutual understanding, respect and trust,” she said at the launch of the regional interfaith exchange programme, Faithfully Asean, at the National Library Building. “These are the building blocks of any cohesive society, as well as a united Asean.”
Madam Halimah noted that “there are forces which tear at the fabric of our societies”, such as the dangerous ideology of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which continues to influence people around the world. “We need to guard against their divisive narratives, which seed prejudice within our societies,” she added. “It is through diversity that we generate ideas and practices which are more resilient to external changes.”
She urged those taking part in the programme to work together and help those in need.
“Through finding common ground, we can deepen mutual trust and understanding so that we can navigate through an increasingly complex world together,” she said.
Yesterday, the 40 participants joined their counterparts from Singapore’s faith institutions and the Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle at the start of Faithfully Asean, a four-day programme supported by the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
The exchange includes a lecture by and a dialogue with Dr Noor Huda Ismail, visiting fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, and dialogues on food and pilgrimages.
The participants will also visit the Mahakaruna Buddhist Society, the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore’s Harmony Centre, as well as the Church of St Mary of the Angels.
Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman called Faithfully Asean a “timely initiative and reminder that we need to step up our engagement… given the increasing menace of radicalism, extremism and exclusivism that has penetrated our region”.
Despite the benefits of diversity, he said it has to be properly managed. Otherwise, it could turn ugly or bloody.
Mr Ahmad Fahmi Adzha Mohd Nasarudin, secretary-general of the National Union of Malaysian Muslim Students, hopes such conferences can get countries working together to resolve interfaith issues.
On next year’s event, he added: “I think Singapore can be a good role model to start doing such interfaith work on a mega scale. Malaysia has interfaith groups as well, but some may not be as mainstream yet. We hope people can accept each other and not just show tolerance, which is what I can see Singapore moving towards.”