Laws to ensure religious harmony have to be updated to counter new threats: PM Lee

SINGAPORE – Laws to safeguard religious harmony in Singapore must be updated in the face of new threats, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Wednesday (Nov 7).

He was speaking of the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act, which allows the Government to act against those sowing discord among religious groups.

“Fortunately, the Government has never had to invoke the powers it has under the Act,” Mr Lee said at the Future of Faith conference, which commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis). “Nevertheless, by its very existence the Act has made an important contribution to our religious harmony.”

He added: “We will have to keep the Act up to date, to deal with new threats to our religious harmony that may emerge.”

Mr Lee did not elaborate on these new threats, but Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said these new threats have arisen as a result of external influences that try to reshape the way Singaporean Muslims live their lives.

“For the longest time, I remember, we lived comfortably with our neighbours whatever race or faith they were,” Mr Masagos said. “And suddenly, there is a call to carve ourselves a niche; a particular identity that is very exclusive.”

In its most extreme form, this can lead to the call for Muslims to set up their own caliphate in Syria, he said on the sidelines of the conference, which discussed how religious traditions, values and institutions exist and adapt to the plural societies of the modern world.

Muis president Mohammad Alami Musa (second from right) presents PM Lee with a copy of the new book Thriving In A Plural World: Principles And Values Of The Singapore Muslim Community. Flanking them are Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli (left) and Muis Chief Executive Abdul Razak Hassan Maricar (right). ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

Muis chief executive, Mr Abdul Razak Hassan Maricar, said the future of faith must be about a common aspiration to do greater good.

“In an increasingly plural world, religions can be a powerful unifying force that bring people together,” he said.

In his speech, Mr Lee said that Singapore has established social norms of compromise and accommodation “through a long period of sustained effort and socialisation”.

But maintaining religious harmony in Singapore requires “unremitting conscious effort and attention”, he added.

It also requires religious leaders who understand the broader social context, support the Government’s efforts to build common ground, and guide their followers on the right path.

“Fostering good interfaith relations is critical for multi-religious societies like Singapore,” Mr Lee said.

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