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Religious leaders 'must build trust among faiths'

Pearl Lee, The Sunday Times

19 June 2016

Community and religious leaders in Singapore should be ready to condemn acts of violence perpetrated in the name of any religion, and reject ideologies that incite hatred.


Making the point yesterday at an interfaith event, Senior Minister of State for Defence and Foreign Affairs Maliki Osman also noted that these leaders have the responsibility to go beyond tolerance to build understanding and trust among people of different races and religions.


"It is also important for our religious leaders to provide the moral compass and guidance for followers in practising religion within the context of multi-religious Singapore," he said.


Dr Maliki was speaking at the first of three interfaith dialogues titled "Common Senses for Common Spaces", organised by the Corporate Citizen Foundation, a private-sector initiative that focuses on fostering inter-religious harmony here.


It is crucial for Singaporeans to come together to "narrow our differences and expand our common spaces" especially as the security environment that the country is in has become increasingly complex, he said.


He cited external factors such as territorial disputes in the South China Sea and, closer to home, threats of terrorism, viruses and cyber attacks.


Terrorism, in particular, will "remain a scourge for many years to come" as Singapore is an "attractive target" for those who disagree with its multiracial and multi-religious way of life, said Dr Maliki, citing the arrest of more than 30 radicalised Bangladeshis here, and the recent US shooting at a gay club in Orlando, which killed 49 people.

"These terrorists have the single aim of dividing us and breaking the religious harmony in Singapore."


But common ground and an open dialogue among those of different faiths and races will "act as a bulwark against those seeking to exploit the fault lines in our communities", he added.


At the dialogue, Bishop Terry Kee of the Lutheran Church, Imam Habib Hassan al-Attas of the Ba'Alwie Mosque and Venerable Master Chin Kung, founder of the Pure Land Learning College, spoke of what fasting signifies in their faiths.


They said a common thread in the practice of fasting is that it helps individuals attain purity in their hearts and minds, and strengthens their resolve to fight against temptations.


Imam Habib Hassan cited the health benefits of fasting, including stronger resistance towards illnesses such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, at the event attended by about 200 people of various faiths, as well as free thinkers.


Bishop Kee drew laughter when he said that while fasting helps one lose weight, it should not be the reason for doing so.


The religious leaders also encouraged people to fast correctly and prepare their bodies before fasting.


Dr Maliki said a key takeaway of the dialogue was that in each of the three religions, the practice of fasting "emphasises the importance of values such as self-discipline, humility and compassion for others".

The next interfaith dialogues will be held next month and in August, and will focus on dietary requirements and pilgrimages.

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