SINGAPORE — Reiterating that Singapore’s social cohesion did not “simply happen on its own”, the Mufti of Singapore on Wednesday (Feb 14) sent Chinese New Year greetings on behalf of the Muslim community — the first time the Republic’s top Muslim leader has done so publicly.
In a media statement, Dr Mohamed Fatris Bakaram said: “It gives me great pleasure to take this opportunity to wish the Chinese community in Singapore a happy and prosperous Lunar New Year. We are truly blessed with the gift of peace, prosperity and strong friendship bonds between people of all faith communities and ethnic groups in Singapore.”
Responding to TODAY’s queries, the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said the Mufti of Singapore usually sends out private greetings to other inter-faith leaders, and this is the first time he has publicly done so. “This is in the spirit of the recent World Interfaith Harmony Week 2018 and also in the spirit of this year’s Muis50 theme,” said a Muis spokesperson, referring to the theme of the council’s 50th anniversary celebrations which is “striving with confidence, serving with compassion”.
In recent years, national leaders such as Law and Home Affairs Minister K Shanmugam and Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli have spoken out against the “divisive teachings” of some foreign preachers such as Mufti Menk of Zimbabwe. “(Mufti Menk) preached that it is the biggest sin and crime for a Muslim to wish a non-Muslim Merry Christmas or Happy Deepavali, and I suppose the same goes for Happy Chinese New Year,” Mr Shanmugam said in Parliament last October. “This is dangerous. Divisive. Our common spaces will shrink and different segments of the community will drift apart.”
Mufti Menk used to come to Singapore regularly to preach before he was banned in 2015, said Mr Shanmugam, who reiterated that preaching such as Mufti Menk’s cannot be allowed to take hold in Singapore because it can have “very serious consequences”, taken to the extreme.
Across the Causeway, an activist from a conservative Muslim group in Malaysia argued in 2014 that greeting others with “Merry Christmas” was considered by Islamic texts to be haram, or forbidden. But Dr Zulkifli Mohamad Al-Bakri, who is the Mufti of the Federal Territories, had said this interpretation is flawed.
In his statement on Wednesday, Dr Fatris noted the efforts by community leaders in Singapore over the decades that resulted in the “state of good social cohesion and relations”.
Younger leaders and activists within the community are slowly building upon the legacy of the pioneers, he said. “Many innovative programmes and activities have been organised to bring youths from diverse cultures together, to engage and interact as well as to appreciate the diversity and commonalities among them,” he added. For example, he cited a gathering of youths from different faith groups which took place earlier this month.
He said: “Just last week, our Harmony Centre gathered youths from different faith groups to come together and share stories of the Andalusian experience. This active exchange between faith groups heightens the awareness of the rich cultural commonalities between the diverse communities.”
The youths were also brought on a tour to Buddhist, Christian and Islamic places of worship, in conjunction with the United Nations’ World Interfaith Harmony Week. The tours were “organised to deepen understanding and break down walls of misunderstanding that may exists,” said Dr Fatris. Stressing that good racial relations should not be taken for granted, he added: “As part of the larger Singapore family, we stand united with all other communities to continue to build a cohesive and thriving Singapore for future generations.”