ST Jan 3, 2007
'Interaction among faiths crucial'
DPM Wong says increased religious fervour should not hinder open dialogue
By Zakir Hussain
SINGAPOREANS are becoming more religious but should continue to engage in frank and open dialogue about their faiths, Deputy Prime Minister Wong Kan Seng has said.
The message of tolerance, understanding and respect that comes through in such exchanges must also reach out to the grassroots, he said yesterday .
Mr Wong, who is Home Affairs Minister, was speaking at a forum at the National University of Singapore, organised by the University Scholars Programme, Ba'alwie Mosque and the Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO).
The forum on religions and peaceful co-existence saw three experts - Buddhist leader Chin Kung, Jesuit priest Thomas Michel and Muslim academic Ibrahim Abu Rabi - speak to 450 participants about common values that faiths share and the role religious leaders can play.
Underlining the value of dialogue among the various faiths at the forum's opening, Mr Wong said Singapore recognised that maintaining religious harmony required constant communication and contact.
He noted that increased religious fervour - a trend noted by studies and media reports - may hamper interaction on the part of some people here.
'While spirituality is important, as Singaporeans become religious, they must continue to engage in frank and open inter-faith discussion. They should not perceive interaction with other religions as a compromise of their beliefs,' he said.
And, despite examples of tension among followers of different religions abroad, he reminded his audience that world religions in fact 'share many common grounds that have, regrettably, not been given enough emphasis and attention'.
'Religious leaders should underline these shared values,' he said, citing compassion, charity, peace and respect for humanity as examples.
Once upon a time in Singapore, a particular group of people were involved in preaching, evangelistic and publishing activities. Their central theme was God's rule over the Earth, with Jesus Christ as king. They believed that this rule began with the Second Coming of Christ, which occurred invisibly either in 1874 or 1914.
These people also refrained from becoming involved in social, religious, or political conflicts. They were very conservative - among other things, they frowned on homosexuality, premarital sex, abortion and gambling (and they certainly wouldn't approved of the Sentosa casinos).
There are 6.5 million Jehovah's Witnesses in the world today. But in 1972, the Singapore government decided to stop thinking of them as a religion. So they ceased to be a religion in Singapore. They are no longer allowed to register themselves as a society, nor to publish any materials for public dissemination, nor to hold any public meetings etc.