Speaking at the opening of the Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations in Beijing today (May 15), President Halimah Yacob stressed the value of Singaporean residents being good citizens as they practice their respective religions and added that religious harmony in Singapore continues to be a work in progress.
“It is important that our people are good citizens of Singapore, at the same time as they are good Buddhists, Taoists, Christians, Muslims, or Hindus,” said Mdm Halimah.
Expounding on the Singapore scenario, Mdm Halimah pointed out how the country implements an even-handed approach to all faiths and how the tiny state has worked hard to build and promote inter-religious understanding and tolerance. To give an example, she pointed out the country’s rigid laws against the denigration of other faiths, and the prohibition of mixing religion with politics.
“The different faiths make a cardinal virtue of tolerance and mutual accommodation… Each group maintains their own cultural and religious practices, and we do not allow any group to impose its practices and requirements on others.”
Mdm Halimah also made mention of how Singapore made it its founding principle to treat all citizens equally regardless of race, language or religion. More significantly, she cited that this is something Singapore’s founding fathers “fought tenaciously” for.
She pointed to various policies that have since been introduced to promote interaction and understanding – ranging from racially integrated schools, to public housing rules and national service.
“Singapore sees our diversity as our strength,” said Mdm Halimah.
“The different backgrounds and perspectives offered by the diverse composition of our society add depth to our understanding of a fast changing world.”
She proudly cited the country’s continuous initiatives in integrating different communities which made Singapore become more resilient and has served well in its external interactions saying that “Cultural and language similarities as well as familial ties do help Singaporeans make friends with other Asian countries, and to create a sense of affinity because we can understand one another well.”
However, Mdm Halimah explicitly underscored Singapore’s way of conducting relations with other countries “as a Singapore nation, and not as a Chinese nation, a Malay nation, or an Indian nation.”
Mdm Halimah said Singapore’s situation is a microcosm of a larger challenge faced by the world, in getting people of different religions, values and backgrounds to live together harmoniously.
“We are still a young country, and have to find our own path forward,” she added.
The Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilisations is a major event aiming to foster exchange between different civilisations and collaboration between countries.
Mdm Halimah will conclude her three-day visit to China on Thursday.