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Tough questions posed at dialogue

Yuen Sim, The Straits Times


January 27, 2018

Why do Taoists have a practice of burning joss paper? What is the Christian stance on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) issues? Is Buddhism a religion or a philosophy?


Such questions were posed during a one-hour dialogue at the first National Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle Convention at the Suntec Convention Centre yesterday, titled "Inconvenient Questions on Race and Religion".


Asked about the Christian stance on LGBT issues, Reverend Malcolm Tan of Covenant Community Methodist Church explained that traditional biblical sexual morality teaches faithfulness in marriage and celibacy outside of marriage, and defines marriage as something that should always be between a man and a woman.


"However, this does not mean that we become adversarial with people who are different or disagree with us," he said.


In response to the question on the Taoist practice of burning joss paper, the Taoist Federation's Master Chung Kwang Tong explained that the practice is more a result of Chinese tradition rather than religious beliefs.


When Taoism became an organised religion in the late Han dynasty, the Chinese had already been offering and burning paper effigies, and the religion later adopted some of its ritualistic elements. He also said that some temples have started adopting more eco-friendly measures for such rituals, such as using eco-burners, and that one of Taoism's basic principles is to be respectful to nature.


President Halimah Yacob met Indonesian teen Teuku Akbar Maulana, 19, at the convention, who shared with her his experience in high school, when he almost crossed the border from Turkey into Syria to join the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria group in June 2014, after being recruited online via social media.



A chance encounter with a fellow countryman, counter-terrorism expert Noor Huda Ismail, 45, was one of the factors that later prompted him to change his mind. His story was featured in Mr Noor Huda's first film, Jihad Selfie, which was shown at one of the breakout sessions.


Mr Noor Huda said that more nuanced discussions can pave the way for understanding what gives way to radicalised thoughts among people, particularly young men. "It is not just religious ideologies that are used, but they may also be drawn to the glorification of masculinity in the idea of fighting jihad."

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