The Straits Times | 8 August 2021
SINGAPORE - Finding common threads among different religious practices is key to maintaining harmony and sharing common spaces, said religious practitioners and leaders.
They were speaking at the third edition of the inter-religious dialogue Common Senses for Common Spaces held at the Furama RiverFront hotel on Sunday (Aug 8).
The topic of the dialogue was "Holy Smoke", as the event coincided with the burning of offerings for the first day of the lunar seventh month.
The sessions "encourage more interaction for a deeper interfaith and intercultural understanding through the exchanges on key and common religious precepts and practices", said Ambassador-at-Large Ong Keng Yong and chairman of local non-governmental organisation Humanity Matters, which organised Sunday's session.
The hope is that such engagement would help foster greater social cohesion, confidence, trust and resilience, he added.
Mr Ong cited an Institute of Policy Studies survey, which in 2019 found that four in 10 Singaporeans get upset by their neighbours burning incense and joss sticks.
Sunday's panel comprised practitioners of different faiths who explained the significance of incense in their religions to about 50 participants, who included religious leaders, academics and public servants.
The speakers, Mr Liu Peihua, a Taoist; Ms Losheini Ravindran, a Hindu, and Mr Alfi Sofian, 38, a Muslim, discussed how religious practices, such as the burning of incense and bell ringing, should be practised in a considerate way to be mindful of neighbours who might not appreciate the smell or noise.
Mr Liu, 35, said: "In the three treasures of what a Taoist should have, there is compassion, to care about one another; frugality, which means simplicity and to avoid wastefulness. And lastly, humility - living harmoniously with one another without the need to outshine one another."
Similarly, Ms Losheini, 25, noted that in Hinduism, incense, which burns for a short while and gives fragrance to others, is a reminder of how believers should use their lives to benefit the people around them in the short period of time.
"Sri Krishna (the deity for protection, compassion, tenderness and love) actually mentions that whenever we are doing a certain action, no matter what action it is, as long as it is done without thinking of the consequences it would have for others, then it is nothing but an ignorant effort," she said, stressing the importance of being considerate when practising rituals at home.
The guest of honour at the dialogue, Minister of State for Home Affairs and Sustainability and the Environment Desmond Tan said that it takes a multi-pronged approach to maintain harmony in Singapore.
While the Government had a role to play in having firm legislation and policies, dialogue and action among individuals were also crucial, he added.
He recalled an incident in 2019 when a post by a social media influencer drew flak online after she called two men wearing turbans "huge obstructions" to her view at the Singapore Grand Prix.
The Young Sikh Association then invited her to an informal tour of a gurdwara, a Sikh temple, so that she could learn more about their traditions.
"They took the opportunity to engage her, to bring her on board, to educate her, and to raise her awareness and understanding of their religion and practices," said Mr Tan, who added that the influencer then apologised and said she learnt a lot more about Sikh practices.
"There is really a lot we can learn from this one incident, on how individually we can play our part to respond when we encounter or experience certain acts," he said.
Mr Tan added that beyond dialogue, members of the public can also take action.
He said: "Reaching out to each other, communicating, participating in community activities in your neighbourhood, I think these are personal efforts that can help... us to foster stronger racial harmony."