Teachings on the Internet that promote “exclusivity and isolationist” inclinations are a “serious cause for worry” because they can go as far as to deny the rights of others to exist, said the Mufti of Singapore, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram.
It is not unfounded for some to be sceptical about the role of religion in enriching the “common space” in society, if religion preaches isolation, said Dr Fatris, who was delivering a speech at the SRP Distinguished Lecture and Symposium today (Jan 20) on Islam and developing the common space.
In extreme cases, Dr Fatris noted, isolationist tendencies with the potential to fragment societies are not limited to rejecting certain thoughts, cultural practices or beliefs, but go on to deny the right of others to exist. This has been the case with perpetrators of terrorist activities, who have “cloaked their crimes with twisted religious arguments”, he said, calling such beliefs “extremely dangerous and totally unacceptable.”
Despite the existence of clear and constructive religious resources and narratives on the “common space”, these will be rejected by those who spread isolationist teachings. As such, it will not help to increase the number of “pro-common-space narratives”, said Dr Fatris.
“We then end up with a meaningless debate and endlessly quibble over whose evidence is stronger, which will only lead to more confusion. The prejudicial approach of some groups will only bolster their resolve to reject the notion of a ‘common space’,” he said.
Dr Fatris was speaking a day after Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam, outlining the threats of terrorism and radicalisation Singapore faces, said community leaders have to help lead the “fight for hearts and minds” for a united Singapore.
A resource that could be tapped are religious institutions like mosques and madrasahs, which can promote deeper interfaith understanding and offering activities for others to participate in, said Dr Fatris.
“In our respective institutions, we ought to foster a sense of bonding with other communities, to nurture respect and love for humanity and fellow citizens, to deepen what one may refer to as, the “emotional common space” between us. This ought to be a key component of our religious curricula,” he said.
Speaking to the media after his speech, Dr Fatris noted interfaith dialogues have been going on for years, and while there is still some “sense of discomfort and lack of confidence among minorities” who question the need for interfaith dialogues, this attitude has changed over the years.
“If we do not start now with a serious and constructive interfaith dialogue, I think it will be a waste for Singapore as a nation. It is something that is, for me, crucial for the next 50 years, that we have a deeper understanding of racial differences and religious diversity,” he said.
He also said there must be eagerness and willingness to come together to discuss aspects of differences in faith, adding: “Socially, we are strong enough to embark on this.”
The symposium was organised by the S Rajaratnam School of International Studies.