Interracial & interfaith experiences vital for trust & cohesive society in S’pore: DPM Wong


Singapore’s social cohesion does not come about by chance, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong reminded guests at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS) this Sep 8.

Rather, the Government consistently fosters efforts for Singapore’s diverse social sectors to understand one another, to accommodate one another, and to flourish together.

“It is achieved only through a deliberate and consistent effort to understand one another, to accommodate one another, and to flourish together.”

Social cohesion begins with a fundamental idea of contact and interaction between people of different backgrounds.

“For example, our public housing policy ensures that people of different races live in the same block, in the same neighbourhood, so they have opportunities to interact with each other in their daily lives. Their children will play together in the same playground, and they grow up together, fostering that sense of common identity,” he explained.

DPM Wong noted too that eating at the same hawker centres, taking part in National Service, and attending school help Singaporeans “see that they have more in common than they might have first imagined”.

Regular interfaith dialogues at the thought leadership level bolster the cross-sector trust that these everyday experiences generate.

“We put much effort into promoting dialogue amongst community, religious, and Government leaders. One way we do this is through the multi-racial and multi-religious Harmony Circles,” said DPM Wong.

“This brings together local leaders and their communities. They visit one another’s places of worship, they learn about other communities’ histories and cultures, and even participate in each other’s religious and ethnic celebrations,” DPM Wong continued.

“Through such platforms, Singaporeans of different faiths and different races interact with one another, understand one another’s perspectives – and hopefully establish friendship and trust with each other.”

And these shared experiences and dialogues help build trust. They help people resolve disagreements, compromising when their fundamentally different worldviews clash because the Government has a track record of showing that life in Singapore means accommodating different sectors of society such that they all flourish and advance together.

A thanksgiving Mass and a temple dinner

Case in point: this week saw Party leaders present at a Catholic Mass and a Chinese temple.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong attended a Thanksgiving Solemn Mass at St Joseph’s Church on Sep 8 celebrating the appointment of the new Cardinal William Goh.

“Cardinal Goh was officially appointed by Pope Francis in the Vatican City two weeks ago. He is the first Singaporean Cardinal. In his homily during the mass, he said Singapore is an icon for religious harmony in the world, where religious leaders and government work hand in hand for the good of society, instead of being at odds with one another. He wants to spread such peace and unity similarly to the rest of Asia by fostering dialogue between different religions,” posted PM Lee on Facebook.

“I wish Cardinal Goh all the best in his new appointment, and am confident he will continue working with fellow religious leaders in our multi-religious landscape, to maintain our unity and harmony, especially as we build a new social compact for the country.”

Two days prior, Minister for Home Affairs and Law K Shanmugam joined devotees at a Hock Huat Keng Temple dinner observing the Seventh Lunar Month — the first in two years.

“Good that we’re coming back,” said Minister Shanmugam at the well-attended dinner. “Singapore is coming back. I go around, I see everybody looking happy, We’re getting back to normal; we’ve stayed together. Stayed healthy. It’s been a few years; I missed all of you!”

The Hock Huat Keng Temple is notable for sharing its building with the Hindu Sree Veeramuthu Muneeswarar Temple. This interfaith friendship dates back over a century. Indian and Chinese devotees around Hup Choon Kek village (present-day Yio Chu Kang) started in the 1900s cross-worshipping the guardian deity of each other’s pantheon, Sreemuneeswaran and Tua Pek Kong respectively and both temples have been linked ever since.

Social cohesion is the way forward

Where Cardinal Goh’s Mass homily as well as the Hock Huat Keng and Sree Veeramuthu Muneeswarar temples are leaders for social and religious harmony, other Singaporeans can step up too.

“Each of us is involved in the project of social cohesion in different ways, in our respective communities and societies,” said DPM Wong at the ICCS.

“For if we do, if we deepen, tighten, and strengthen the societies we belong to, we will also do our part to make this world better, and perhaps a little brighter and that is certainly a project well worth our while to pursue,” he concluded.

Cover photo credit: DPM Wong Facebook