Religious harmony as envisioned 65 years ago

Religious harmony as envisioned 65 years ago
Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam (third from right) holding up a version of the 1949 Inter-Religious Organisation publication, The Contribution Of Religion To Peace, while the original copy sits in a box. A 2014 reprint of the book is on the left (in blue). Also at the book’s relaunch are former Singapore president S R Nathan (far left), IRO president Noor Mohamed Marican (far right) and the leaders of various religions in Singapore.

A historic collection of speeches on religion and peace was relaunched last night - 65 years after it was first published.

The 1949 publication is a collection of speeches by the pioneer leaders of the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore (IRO) at its founding on March 18 that year.

The 40-page book had faded from memory in the decades that followed, only to be rediscovered six months ago by IRO council member Imam Habib Hassan.

While researching the organisation's history, he saw a reference to a book titled The Contribution Of Religion To Peace.

He was intrigued by the fact that its editors were founding IRO president H. B. Amstutz and Dr Ahmad Mohamed Ibrahim, Singapore's first Attorney-General.

After searching online, the imam found a London bookseller with a single copy of the book.

"I didn't realise the importance of the book at the time," he said.

It was only after the book arrived in Singapore by courier that its contents became clear: "We found that the religious leaders' words, complete, were there."

The reprint aims to remind IRO members of their founding purpose, he added.

To make for a more attractive read, the reprint is larger and includes photographs. It is not for sale, but 3,000 copies will be distributed to religious, community and government organisations, as well as secondary schools.

At its launch last night, IRO president Noor Mohamed Marican noted that religious harmony in Singapore faces challenges such as a diverse population, the rise of social media and globalisation.

"In order to rise to these challenges, the IRO will continue to follow the guidelines brought down upon us by our founders as contained in this book and reach out to the next generation of Singaporeans," he said.

Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs K. Shanmugam, who was guest of honour, stressed that religious harmony should not be taken for granted. Atrocities have been committed in the name of religion and there are many messages of hate online, he noted.

Organisations such as the IRO are important as they are "at the forefront of the war against religious extremism", he said.

By fostering good relations between faiths and educating Singaporeans about different religions, the IRO provides "a shield against the lies and hate propagated by extremists".

This article was first published on June 05, 2014.
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