Religious leaders stress need for national unity
Celebrating the 53rd birthday of the Inter-Religious Organisation of S'pore, they call for cooperation
By Krist Boo
So the representatives of nine faiths are marking the Inter-Religious Organisation of Singapore's 53rd birthday by emphasising national unity at a time when religious fault lines here have become more pronounced.
Its observance ceremony scheduled for Sunday will take as its theme 'Towards One Nation'.
Even the ushers will be drawn from the nine faiths, whereas last year, each religious group took up specific tasks.
The choir of more than 30 will also be an integrated one and will sing a repertoire of songs celebrating peace and nation-building in English.
Nine speakers will all speak on patriotism in relation to religion. Each represents one of the member faiths - Hinduism, Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism and Baha'i.
Following the speeches, there will be a question and answer session and the organisation's leaders said they expect to field questions on terrorism and international religious conflicts.
The goal of the event is to enlighten followers of the different religions on what their leaders already understand - that people need to be tolerant and to cooperate.
These details emerged yesterday at a press conference on the event, which is to be held at Suntec City. About 600 Singaporeans, including members of grassroots bodies, have been invited.
President S.R. Nathan will be the guest of honour, and incoming Muslim Affairs Minister, Dr Yaacob Ibrahim, will give the keynote address.
Asked if the detention of the Jemaah Islamiah members and the tudung controversy over the wearing of headscarves by Muslim schoolgirls had influenced the choice of theme, the organisation's leaders said they were aware of current events and had received feedback concerning religious sensitivities.
Its president, Venerable Ming Yi, abbot of the Foo Hai Ch'an monastery, said: 'First, before going a step further towards world peace, we have to look at our nation. The nation comes first, we have to show the world around us that Singaporeans, despite having many religions, can work together.'
Mr Zainuddin Ismail, the organisation's assistant secretary, said of the theme: 'It's very, very opportune. There are big social issues, societies collapsing around the world because of great turmoil. We must appreciate the stability in Singapore, and learn to appreciate one another.'
The message of religious cooperation will also be delivered in practical ways.
The organisation is studying if a welfare group of believers from different faiths should be set up to help needy people, said Venerable Ming Yi.
THE SEMINAR: About 200 seats to the seminar are available. To register, call 6358-0777.
©Copyright 2002, Straits Times (Singapore)