Internal religious harmony has been difficult to attain for most nations, as wars and riots have been fought in the past over religion. The prevailing belief of a particular system of beliefs being “the one true religion” is often repeated among each of them, all backed with indisputable proof that members would parrot to each other. Confronted with diversity and different beliefs, most people would resort to trying to convert their neighbours, indoctrinating them until the other person either succumbs to their witnessing or shuns them.
However, the city-state of Singapore is proof that religious harmony can be attainable if all would participate and wish for it. The diversity of religions is not only tolerated, but also widely accepted. Just off Geylang East Ave 3 sits Foo Hai Chan Monastery, a Buddhist temple, and beside it is Sri Sivan Temple, a Hindu temple. Muslims are given flexibility to participate in their Friday prayers during classes as their Muslim Pro app reminds them of the time. Catholic priests would talk to the visitors and guests after every mass. All Singaporeans—regardless of their race or religion—are free to mingle with others, learn about the different cultures, and respect them.
Yet this religious harmony did not happen overnight. Singapore had a long history of religious leaders working hand-in-hand to find compromises and ways to work with each other.
As Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong wrote on Facebook on the eve of 2017 Racial Harmony Day, this multiracial, multireligious, and multilingual society that Singapore is today did not happen by chance. It was the conscious decision of leaders who worked hard to make things as they are today.
Here are some of the things that made Singapore the paragon of religious harmony that it is known as today:
In response, the government set up national programmes that ensured a balanced representation of Singapore’s unique ethnic makeup. The result is a government filled with people from different ethnicities, working together to find the perfect balance for all.
For example, the Housing and Development Board’s Ethnic Integration Policy assigns the number of each major ethnic group who may own units in a neighbourhood or apartment block. This ensures that HBD’s public housing estates would have people from different ethnicities and religions who would live alongside each other, sharing amenities and learning about each other. This is the complete opposite of how it was before.
Aside from the constitution, the Ministry of Home Affairs takes the mandate to maintain the country’s race and religious harmony seriously by pre-empting anything that may compromise this harmony.
For instance, the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA) and Penal Code strengthen the call for religious freedom. The MRHA places safeguards against foreign influence and donors who may be taking advantage of any religion by regulating donations and key administrative leadership positions. It also issues restraining orders (ROs) to any religious organizations that do not meet these requirements. The ROs are also applicable to offensive online content that may cause religious disharmony.
The MRHA also introduced the Community Remedial Initiative which steps in if a Singaporean hurts the feelings of another religious community. The CRI strives to allow the offender to learn more about the other religions within the society and mend ties with the group.
All these are supported by the penal code, which also enables the courts to sentence an offender if the person is convicted of a racially or religiously motivated offence.
These reasons and more help strengthen the bonds of religious harmony within Singapore. There is room for all religions to grow and to co-exist with each other. For instance, Muslim Pro, a popular comprehensive Islamic lifestyle app, also highlights this unity by offering intuitive features that unites users to Muslims worldwide. It provides timely accurate prayer times and Adhan and offers multiple versions of the Quran to busy Singaporean Muslims.