Racial and religious harmony has always been an important fundamental for Singapore’s long-term social stability. As Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in July 2017, Singapore is a “rare and precious example of a multi-racial, multi-lingual and multi-religious society where people live harmoniously together… This is not by chance. The Government and the different communities worked hard together to make this happen”.
There are constant reminders that the harmonious inter-religious relations in Singapore, the world’s most religiously diverse country, are not a given. Religious tensions have been rising worldwide and in the region. Singapore’s openness and the pervasiveness of the Internet have contributed to an increasingly complex religious landscape, where religious practices can be easily influenced by foreign ones. Social media enables the importation of offensive material of foreign origin and amplifies the inflammatory potential of online messages that threaten social harmony. An emerging threat is the rise of segregationist practices and beliefs which reduce common space.
Maintaining religious harmony in Singapore has always been a shared responsibility between the government and religious communities. Government efforts to facilitate inter-religious understanding and discourse, and to put in place legislative safeguards, have highlighted the role of the state in managing religious issues. It has been 27 years since the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (MRHA), the most prominent of such safeguards, was legislated. At the same time, religious leaders also play a role in efforts to promote mutual respect and trust between communities.
The half-day IPS forum will be a platform to discuss the roles of religious leaders and the State in relation to these issues. The event will bring together scholars, policy makers, religious leaders, and other key stakeholders. We expect about 200 people at this conference, which will be open for media coverage.
Former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Home Affairs Wong Kan Seng has agreed to participate in the closing dialogue for the forum.