Singaporeans of different races and religions should focus on what they have in common with one another, rather than their differences, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean yesterday.
"Singapore is a multiracial, multi- religious country and it's very important that we focus on the many common things we have together, rather than become obsessed with the differences between us," he told reporters after a guided tour of the Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol, in his constituency.
"In this way, we can build an open and united society," added Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.
His comments follow last Wednesday's announcement that 27 Bangladeshi workers were arrested here late last year in the largest security crackdown in 15 years, for planning terror attacks they wanted to carry out back home.
A day before, Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam had said at a symposium on religion that certain trends here pose threats to Singapore's social harmony. He cited as examples young Muslims here distancing themselves from mainstream society, and Islamophobia.
Asked about this yesterday, Mr Teo said Singapore maintained its social harmony because different communities chose to live side by side with one another.
He said Singapore was racially segmented 50 years ago, with different races living in different parts of the island.
"Over the course of 50 years, we began to live together and integrate. I came from an Edusave award ceremony this morning and, if you look around, the neighbours, the students - they come from all races and religions," he said.
Such integration was a conscious choice by Singapore, he added.
"Over the next 50 years, again, it is a choice that we make: whether as communities and individuals we decide that we live together and integrate, or we decide we want to be separate and live apart," he said.
"That will shape the Singapore of the future."
The spirit of give and take that is needed for such integration has been demonstrated by the Al-Islah Mosque, as well as residents from the nearby public housing estate, said Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC MP Sun Xueling, after a tour to the mosque organised by residents who live nearby.
When the mosque opened, some residents were concerned about traffic congestion and the volume of prayers.
In response, the mosque made an effort to direct congregants to alternative parking spaces nearby, and also used fewer speakers - from five to one - for prayers.
Said Ms Sun: "With interaction and communication, both sides can see how they're both trying to come up with common solutions."
She also pointed out that the rooftop and garden of the five-storey mosque, which opened last June, are open to residents.
Said mosque chairman Wan Rizal Wan Zakaria: "Mosque tours can be held, or residents can just come in and walk around. We're always happy to receive them."
Housewife Peria Nayakhi, 36, who went on yesterday's tour with her husband and children, said it was a good chance for them to learn about the practices of people of other races and religions.
Her 10-year-old daughter and sons, aged six and two, would ask her questions whenever they passed by the mosque and saw prayers being conducted inside, she said.
"This is a chance to talk to and understand those different from us."
This article was first published on Jan 24, 2016.
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