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» Speech by President Tony Tan at the Official Opening of the IRO Building, Tues, 10 July 2012
Speech by President Tony Tan at the Official Opening of the IRO Building, Tues, 10 July 2012
Date : 10 July 2012
Speech by President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Official Opening of the Inter-Religious Organisation Building at Palmer Road on Tuesday, 10 July 2012
President Tony Tan emphasised the need for Singapore to protect and expand the common space for all religions to interact with one another in good faith and mutual respect, and commended IRO's effort in achieving the mission.
President and Members of the Inter-Religious Organisation
Ladies and Gentlemen
I am happy to join you today at the official opening of the new Inter-Religious Organisation (IRO) Building to mark another milestone in IRO’s history.
Established in March 1949, IRO is perhaps the oldest inter-faith organisation in the world. It was launched at the Victoria Memorial Hall, where a multi-religious audience of 2,000 witnessed speakers from the Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Christian religions affirm their commitment to inter-faith endeavours. Reverend Dr. H. B. Amstutz, the first president of the IRO, said that through the organisation, we would be “no longer strangers and enemies but pilgrims on a common road seeking common goals.”
The IRO has since grown from strength to strength in keeping with its mandate of promoting inter-religious understanding, peace and harmony in our society. Over all the years, IRO has conducted activities and programs for its members and the public to propagate the knowledge of different religious customs and practices across faiths. These included inter-faith prayers, fellowships, dialogues and publications. It has also provided platforms for people from different religions to engage one another and interact face-to-face to promote inter-faith trust and understanding. IRO’s member inter-faith groups also participated in voluntary work in programmes to help the needy in our communities.
Many foreign visitors to Singapore have found it remarkable that our different religious communities live peacefully as one people. In many parts of Singapore, we can find churches, Chinese temples, Hindu temples and mosques located harmoniously in close proximity to one another. Many of us have almost taken this for granted but we must not forget that this ethnic harmony, which is the outcome of very intentional efforts, could easily be compromised if we let our guard down. In a multi-cultural, multi-religious nation like Singapore, we have to constantly guard against forces that divide our people and set us one against another through our religious differences.
Social media has allowed one to seek out like-minded people around the world beyond the confines of physical distances and national boundaries. This has unfortunately also made it possible to become isolated from people living among us - our neighbours, colleagues, and fellow countrymen - who have different cultural practices and religious beliefs. Insensitive remarks that hurt the religious feelings of fellow Singaporeans are increasingly being bandied about in social media. There have been a number of reports in recent months of Singaporeans making callous and disrespectful comments about other races and religions on the internet, which can over time undermine the social cohesion of our society.
With globalization, more people from a wider range of countries are working and living in Singapore. This is good for Singapore in terms of enhancing our cultural diversity and vibrancy. But we also have to increase our efforts to help Singaporeans learn about new cultures and religions introduced into our increasingly plural society. New migrants must also learn about our practices to promote inter-religious harmony. For example, while religion-based politics is acceptable in some countries, religion is kept separate from politics in Singapore. As a secular country, we cannot afford to mix religion and politics. In many countries, this has polarised and divided their people into irreconcilable camps, sometimes with violent outcomes.
The IRO would therefore have to look into developing new platforms and channels to reach out to new audiences with the message of inter-religious peace and harmony.
We need to protect and expand the common space for all religions to interact with one another in good faith and mutual respect. Our IRO has done this well and I believe it will continue to find new ways to achieve its mission.
Today, as I declare open the new premises for IRO, my prayers and good wishes are with IRO for continued success in meeting the new challenges ahead with a renewed sense of purpose.