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Solidarity, acceptance of diversity crucial in Asean, says former secretary-general Ong Keng Yong

The Straits Times | 21 Dec 2022

SINGAPORE - As Asean countries continue to deal with the threat of future Covid-19 variants, they must also work together to tackle other critical challenges such as rising inflation, climate change and food insecurity.

A sense of solidarity and acceptance of diversity are crucial, said ambassador Ong Keng Yong, a former Asean secretary-general.

Such harmony in a multi-ethnic and multicultural country like Singapore or region like Asean is no accident but rather, the result of hard work and constant effort over many years, said Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office Indranee Rajah.

The pair were speaking on Tuesday at the opening of a three-day programme known as Faithfully Asean at Furama Riverfront hotel in Havelock Road.

The fourth edition of the event – which is fully resuming after two years of disruptions caused by the pandemic – brings together 150 participants, including Asean delegates, diplomats, social workers, public servants and faith leaders for talks, discussions and activities on the theme of “Faith and Inclusivity”.

It is organised by Humanity Matters, a Singapore non-profit agency focusing on regional cooperation for humanitarian relief.

Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Finance and National Development, opened a virtual gallery documenting Asean delegates training together to combat future humanitarian crises in the region.

Known as the Faiths @ Work programme, the training sessions arm participants with skills in leadership, sustainability and humanitarian work.

Graduates of the programme have been involved in disaster relief after the Mindanao earthquakes in 2019, as well as the flooding in Pakistan and Paeng floods in the Philippines in 2022.

The gallery was put together by four student volunteers, all second-year applied chemistry students from Singapore Polytechnic.

The multi-faith team, comprising a Christian, two Taoists and a Muslim, populated the virtual gallery with pictures, videos and slide shows to raise awareness about disaster relief efforts, said their leader, Mr Zachary Khoo.

Mr Khoo, 19, a Taoist who also attended the programme in October, said: “I wanted to get involved in humanitarian work. This is just the beginning and I intend to get involved in more.”

Ms Indranee, in her opening speech as guest of honour, spoke of the similarities in the core values of most mainstream religions. “Religion also plays an important role for many people. Fundamentally, all religions look to the well-being of humankind,” she said.

She went on to compare the teachings of respect and care in various religious texts, including the Christian Bible and the Quran, as well as Sikh, Buddhist, Jain and Taoist teachings.

She said: “Through the understanding of the teachings of the different religions, we should find ourselves in these commonalities and find ways to strengthen bonds based on our common values.”

Ms Indranee, who met the first batch of Asean Faiths @ Work participants in the Philippines in 2019, added that programmes like it are important to continue to rally diverse communities on pertinent issues that affect social cohesion.

Tuesday’s event had an inter-faith dialogue session titled Inclusivity And Idealism, featuring faith leaders Lim K. Tham, Joginder Kaur, Mohammad Hannan Hassan and Raja Segar.

Dr Hannan, who is also the Deputy Mufti, said diversity – even in a religious sense – is not the will of man but of the divine. “It is very clear in the text of the Quran that we are not called on to standardise or unify... it is God’s will that religion is diverse,” he said.


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