“We become neighbours when we are willing to cross the road for one another. There is so much separation and segregation: between black people and white people… between Muslims and Christians, Protestants and Catholics… There is a lot of road-crossing to do. We are all very busy in our own circles. We have our own people to go to and our own affairs to take care of. But if we could cross the road once in a while and pay attention to what is happening on the other side, we might indeed become neighbours.”
– Henri Nouwen
As founder of the Tony Blair Faith Foundation set up in 2008, the former British prime minister said: “I am a Christian and will remain so. This means that there are certain beliefs that I hold dear. But I can, without reducing my Christian commitment, surely accept that someone else, brought up in a different tradition, holds a different set of beliefs, holds them as strongly as I hold mine, and I can respect that person and his/her right to believe as he/she does.
”And as Mr Blair has aptly put it – the struggle in the world of Faith is often a struggle between the open-minded and the close-minded. Here in Singapore, initiatives like the Building Bridges Programme which was launched in 2012, are being rolled out towards building greater interfaith understanding and strengthening social cohesion.
As Christians, we must seek the welfare of our city (Jeremiah 29:7) and our fellow sojourners in the journey of life. We recognise that building interfaith bridges is essential to the well-being and stability of Singapore. We are living in a vulnerable world where religious bigotry, strife and conflicts are often manifested in violence. Irrational fear and prejudice are often created by ignorance because we fear the unknown.
I was blessed to have had the opportunity to attend the recent Building Bridges seminar organised by the Harmony Centre, the inter-faith arm of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) and the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) held at the Singapore Islamic Hub on April 6, 2013.
The theme for this inaugural Seminar was “Religious Tradition and Authority in a Post-Modern World”. The outcomes from three engagement sessions held last year were presented at the Seminar. Representatives from the Muslim and Christian faith groups had met at these engagement sessions to analyse the impact of modernity on their respective faith communities, and the corresponding role and response of religion in the context of an advanced industrial society.
The themes of these engagement sessions were: “Religious Tradition and Authority in Islam and Christianity”; “Religious Tradition and Authority and the Challenge of Post-Modernity”; and “Educating Youth about Religious Tradition and Authority in the Post-Modern World”.
We were enlightened and enriched by the depth of research, thinking and wisdom in all the presentations. We were inspired by the sincerity, honesty, graciousness and respect among the diverse faith and non-faith communities. We were touched by the gracious hospitality of our beloved Muslim friends.
The panel of distinguished speakers comprised Ustaz Alfian Yasrif Kuchit (President of the Syariah Court), Ustaz Mohd Hannan bin Hassan (Vice Dean of Islamic Learning and Development at Muis Academy), Ustaz Mohd Murat Bin Aris (Executive Director of Madrasah Aljunied Al-Islamiah), Dr Leow Theng Huat (Lecturer at Trinity Theological College), the Rev Dr Andrew Peh (Dean of Students at TTC) and the Rev Malcolm Tan (Pastor-in-Charge of Barker Road Methodist Church).
The session was skilfully moderated by Mr Mohamed Imran Bin Md Taib, the Programme Consultant at Muis Academy, with Dr Hoon Chang Yau, Assistant Professor of Asian Studies at the Singapore Management University, as the insightful commentator.
Guest-of-Honour at the seminar was Mr Lawrence Wong, the Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY). About 300 people, including leaders from 10 religions and members of the public, attended the seminar. The proceedings of the seminar will be published and made available for wider distribution.
Building interfaith bridges with integrity does not mean we are compromising our faith. We recognise and respect our mutual similarities and uniqueness in our theologies and beliefs. As Christians we worship God, only through the Christian way and there is no fear of syncretism with the other religions.
We do not mix our religions into a common melting pot. Instead, each religion maintains its own distinctive way of practicing its faith according to its respective faith traditions.
Interfaith dialogues enable us to understand, appreciate and respect one another. Christians should be bridge-builders and not wall-makers. As such, we can respond to the recurrent call by our nation’s leaders to build trust and friendship with people of other faiths. In this day and age, we can ill afford to huddle in our holy ghettos and be insulated and isolated from our pluralistic society and the world.
Together with other faith communities, we seek to live out our universal spiritual and human values of neighbourly love, compassion, justice, tolerance and peace. For we are all members of the same human family and we are all created in God’s image.
Jesus Christ said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9) Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with us.
Rev Gabriel Liew is a pastor of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
PRAY * for opportunities to make friends from other faiths n for sensitivity and wisdom in building inter-faith bridges.
Getting it right
IN THE MEDIA, they call it a “blooper”, and we’re sorry to say that the unthinkable happened in our last issue. We got the colours in our Methodist Church logo wrong – the blue was swopped with the red! In case you didn’t notice, here’s how it should be:
The cross of Calvary is in blue, and the flames should be in red. The cross represents the love and care of our Lord, and the flames represent the Holy Spirit or “tongues of fire”, and within this image is the letter “M” for Methodist.
We’re sorry and we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again!
– The Editor
Picture by Brian Jackson/Bigstock.com
By Gabriel Liew