Religious harmony needs continuous tending: Masagos

Singapore must continue tending to its religious harmony if it is to weather the threat of terrorism, Senior Minister of State for Home Affairs and Foreign Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said.

He noted that while members of various religious communities supported the Muslim community's efforts in denouncing terrorism since the first wave of Jemaah Islamiah (JI) arrests in 2001, the building of trust is a continuous process. In an interview with The Straits Times, he recalled how the discovery of a JI plot here shook the nation but also saw some Muslims feeling that they were being viewed with suspicion.

So it helped that as the Muslim community came forward to condemn the acts and denounce the extremists as un-Islamic, leaders of different faiths rallied around them, he said.

"They came together and said, 'We stand behind you, we embrace you as fellow brother citizens. This (JI) is a group of people who are lost and misunderstand their faith,'" Mr Masagos added.

Still, as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong noted at a dialogue with religious and community leaders last month, the threat of terrorism could cause doubts and sow divisions among communities.

Singapore, Mr Lee added, had "avoided this danger because our people are rational, they have looked at facts squarely and forthrightly condemned extremists".

Mr Masagos said a range of laws, from the Internal Security Act to the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, are in place to ensure racial and religious tensions are not stoked.

But laws alone are not enough, he added. "Harmony needs tending," Mr Masagos said, a point religious leaders interviewed agree with.

Reverend Isaac Raju, a pastor with Pasir Panjang Tamil Methodist Church, said he is confident Singapore would not be divided if a terror attack took place, as a strong foundation of trust had been built among the different communities.

Master Wei Yi, the administrator of the Singapore Taoist Federation, said religious groups hold joint events, like inter-faith youth camps, to strengthen their relationships.

"If an act of terrorism is committed in the name of a religion, we know it is done by people who are misguided and we will not doubt or be suspicious of our friends, colleagues or neighbours who are followers of that religion," he said.


This article was first published on Dec 15, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.

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