Singapore

Heng Swee Keat: Singapore can turn religious diversity into strength

He says country can share how it built the peace with the world

Singapore can turn its racial and religious diversity into a source of strength and advantage on the world stage, Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat said yesterday.

The Republic, he said, can share its experiences and efforts at building peace and harmony in a diverse society with others around the world, especially in a time of increased polarisation and differences.

"I don't think we should be arrogant and say, well, we are a model. Every country is different - different culture, history and tradition. But we can join hands with people around the world, to share the lessons we have learnt, to share our experiences," he added.

Mr Heng also stressed Singapore's racial harmony should not be taken for granted and is something that should be taken "very seriously".

"Every day when you open the newspaper, you'll find conflict of one form or another in at least one of the pages, which is linked to either race, language, or religion," he said.

"So for us to maintain harmony in a society that is so multiracial, multicultural and multireligious, is always an act in progress."

Mr Heng, who is also Minister for Finance, was speaking to over 60 residents from the South East District at a dialogue in conjunction with the launch of Temasek Foundation's Faithful Footprints programme which celebrates Singapore's interfaith heritage.

The half-day activity includes a 1.7km heritage trail that takes participants past eight places of worship which have coexisted in the historic Bencoolen area, before a visit to the Harmony in Diversity Gallery in Maxwell Road, where they learn about the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s, which saw racial riots, and how different groups found common ground.

Mr Heng said it is important for a small country like Singapore to understand how the world operates and how it can play a part, adding that Singapore can tap on its diversity to its advantage.

He recalled how, as managing director of the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS), one subject of growing interest was Islamic finance, and he visited several Middle Eastern countries to learn more about it.

"And what was most helpful to me was that I have in MAS, officers who were Muslim, who went along with me. They were teaching me all the dos and don'ts," said Mr Heng.

COME A LONG WAY

South East District Mayor Maliki Osman, who moderated the dialogue, said Singaporeans have to continue to build on what their forefathers have done.

"We have come a long way, but a modern, prosperous country also brings with it new challenges of complexity," he said.

Participants in yesterday's session found the programme to be a great opportunity to discover the significance of the Bencoolen area and how people of various faiths got along.

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