21 June 2019
Friday, 21 June 2019
Raffles City Convention Centre, Singapore
Minister Grace Fu,
Ladies and gentlemen,
1. It is very heartening to see so many religious leaders and scholars gathered here, to share ideas to strengthen social cohesion.
2. Over the last two days, this conference has covered a wide range of issues on cohesive societies. As the international community becomes more diverse, both within each society and across societies, it is critical to recognise our shared humanity and uphold harmony.
a. Both President Halimah and His Majesty, King Abdullah II highlighted that everyone has a role in upholding interreligious harmony
i. We saw the religious leaders of Singapore re-affirm their commitment to safeguard religious harmony in Singapore.
ii. As King Abdullah II reminded us, we all have a role to play in reclaiming the moderate voice on the internet, on social media, and in the public space.
3. The conference also confronted difficult questions, like how we should balance the different identities that we all carry – whether religious, communal or national – and more importantly, how we can enable these identities to coexist in harmony.
4. These are important questions, because in order to draw strength from diversity, we must first live in harmony with people who have different beliefs, customs and practices.
a. Throughout human history, we have had diverse societies. Not all have been peaceful, but many of those that embraced their diversity thrived.
b. In this region, the Malacca Sultanate of the 15th Century stands out in the annals of history.
i. The Sultanate became Muslim when Parameswara, later known as Iskandar Shah, converted to Islam after he met Chinese admiral and diplomat Zheng He. Admiral Zheng He, a Muslim, was on his way to Africa. Islamic culture blended with the Hindu and Buddhist teachings of the archipelago.
ii. As a port city, Malacca was remarkably cosmopolitan. Malays, Chinese, Indians, Arabs, Turks, Siamese and Burmese, who were also Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians and Jews lived alongside each other. They also intermarried, and exchanged cultures. The rich culture of the Peranakan and the Chetti Melaka communities are the legacies of these unions.
Challenges to Cohesion-building
5. How we draw unity from diversity is more important than ever because we live in an era marked by unprecedented levels of global trade, technological advancement and human migration. These three forces have combined in a way that has not worked for some people, and this has fuelled tension and conflict.
a. In some developed economies, while global trade has benefited many, it has also sharpened the divide between the haves and the have-nots.
b. Industries and jobs are being disrupted by new technologies, creating much uncertainty.
c. Against this backdrop of anxiety, fault-lines have deepened between different segments of society.
6. This is exacerbated by the ease with which falsehoods, extremist and exclusive ideas proliferate through the internet.
a. This has been exploited by those who seek to spread misinformation and sow discord to further their own agenda.
7. Increasingly, nationalism and intolerance are displacing openness and harmony.
a. We have seen a resurgence of ultra-nationalist and supremacist hate groups,
b. and increasing hostility towards minority communities, breeding disenfranchisement, and generating a vicious cycle of conflict.
How We Build Cohesion
8. Every society will need to find its own path to cohesion, one that is shaped by its history, context, culture and demands of the time. But there is much we can learn from each other, and work with each other, in our effort to build cohesive societies.
9. Allow me to share Singapore’s experience.
a. Modern Singapore began as an entrêpot.
i. People from all over the world came here to trade, and many stayed. These traders brought their own religions and beliefs.
ii. The Pew Research Centre has named Singapore the most religiously diverse country in the world.
b. Today, we are fortunate to have peace and stability in our multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural society.
10. But Singapore was not always like this. We learnt how to build cohesion the hard way.
a. Like many other British colonies, Singapore was managed along racial and religious lines before our Independence in 1965. Communities were kept apart geographically. So we had Chinatown, Little India and Geylang Serai, where different ethnic groups were placed.
b. Racial tensions were not uncommon, and the 1950s and 1960s were turbulent times for Singapore. Over those two decades, several racially-motivated riots took place and a total of 58 people were killed while 835 were injured.
11. When Singapore became an independent nation in 1965, building a cohesive multi-cultural and multi-religious society was the Government’s top priority. To build cohesion in Singapore, over the years, we have approached this in three ways:
a. First, we expand common spaces and shared experiences, while preserving racial and religious diversity.
i. We established English as the working language of Singapore, so that people from different ethnic communities would have a common language to work and interact with one another, and with the world.
ii. We introduced the Ethnic Integration Policy in 1989 to make sure that our HDB or public housing estates have a balanced mix of ethnic groups to promote interactions and foster racial harmony.
iii. We regularly rejuvenate our common spaces such as hawker centres, community centres and civic spaces – sometimes all rolled into one, like in Our Tampines Hub in my constituency!
iv. We emphasise the importance of shared experiences through our national school system and National Service in the uniformed services. Through these, Singaporeans from all walks of life, regardless of race, language or religions, come together.
v. At the same time, we conserve our cultural and religious landmarks, and protect our heritage in precincts like Kampong Glam, Chinatown and Little India. We also observe and celebrate the festivals of the various ethnic and religious communities in Singapore.
vi. But like most other countries, our demography is evolving. Life experiences and needs are also more varied. So Singapore is more diverse today than before.
vii. Our increasing diversity means that our common spaces will be harder to maintain, and must be deliberately nurtured and expanded.
b. The second way that we use to build social cohesion in Singapore is to stay vigilant to guard against forces that can tear society apart.
i. We built and supported institutions to work together and foster understanding between different communities and groups.
a) We established the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, which scrutinises bills that pass through Parliament to ensure that they do not discriminate against any racial or religious community.
b) We formed the Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, which advises the Government on matters affecting the maintenance of religious harmony in Singapore.
c) We also set up the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony (NSC), whose membership comprises apex leaders from major faith and ethnic groups, to guide the Government’s engagement on racial and religious harmony.
d) At the constituency level, we have 89 Inter-Racial and Religious Circles (IRCCs) that act as platforms for community and religious organisations to network and collaborate. These IRCCs bring together people of different faiths – to interact, to perform charitable acts and community services together. Through this process, we deepen understanding and trust.
ii. Besides institutional structures, we have also put in place legislation to ensure that our fault-lines are less easily exploited by those who seek to do us harm.
a) To deal with hate speech and the spread of misinformation, we have in place laws such as the Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act and the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act, which allow us to intervene where necessary to protect our society.
b) This is an evolving threat, and we must continue to be vigilant.
iii. As our racial and religious demographics shift, so too, must our approach to building bridges and encouraging discourse.
a) For example, homogeneity of religion within ethnic groups is on the decline in Singapore. We have more interfaith families in Singapore now, where each generation may hold different religious beliefs. We should use this opportunity to deepen mutual understanding.
b) More people are also choosing not to affiliate themselves with traditional ethnic identities, or religion. Today, 22% of marriages in Singapore are between people of different ethnic groups, and nearly 20% of Singaporeans do not identify with a religion. We must learn to include their perspectives in our discourses.
c. The third way that we promote cohesion is to work hard to provide Singaporeans with better lives, and to ensure that all Singaporeans get to share in the fruits of our progress.
i. In growing our economy, we put a special focus on creating good jobs for all Singaporeans, regardless of which community they belong to. Our National Trades Union Congress, our labour movement, encapsulates this well with their tagline, ‘Every Worker Matters’.
a) Some workers have benefitted more from this growth than others; this is why we continue to work hard to address social inequality, to better distribute the fruits of growth. We have been doing more to help low-wage workers, better provide for seniors in their retirement years, and to give children from underprivileged backgrounds a good start in life.
12. Building an inclusive and cohesive society in Singapore is always a work in progress, and this is true for every other country.
a. This is why conferences like the ICCS are important, so that we can learn from each other, and exchange best practices.
13. This conference brings together people from government, academia, religious groups and the civic sector. Through the Young Leaders’ Programme (YLP), which is part of this conference, we reached out to the next generation of leaders. Everyone has a role to play in building cohesive societies.
a. To Singaporeans in this audience, the Government is committed to working in partnership with you, to build a future where everyone plays a part, and feels a sense of belonging.
i. I hope that we can build a democracy of deeds, where everyone chips in with our various strengths and passions to build a society we can all be proud of.
b. To those who have come from 40 countries around the world to take part in this conference, I thank you for the perspectives you have contributed to broaden our horizons. Countries around the world are all facing common challenges – be it global warming, global security, global economic growth, and sustainable development. These common challenges can only be tackled effectively if the global community work closely together. The foundation for this is mutual trust and respect, deeper understanding and harmony.
i. We must build this foundation not only in our own society, but across societies around the world. To combat extremist and intolerant views, we must work together to create an ever widening ripple of understanding, trust and respect.
ii. I commend the initiatives of The Amman Message, A Common Word, the UN World Interfaith Harmony Week, the Christchurch Call to Action, and other similar initiatives to deepen dialogues, and understanding.
iii. The many religious leaders gathered here have also called on all of us to distil the commonality across all religions, which teaches us to be good, and to do good for one another, so that humans can continue to progress.
iv. Just as each society achieves more together than as disparate individuals, the global community achieves more together when all societies can pursue common goals and tackle common challenges.
14. To conclude, humans have a deep spiritual impulse, to seek the meaning of life and the profundity of existence. For thousands of years, religious beliefs in different parts of the world have guided and nourished people. But sometimes, differences have led to wars.
15. So it is very meaningful to bring together leaders, thinkers and activists of all major faiths, across different continents, to engage in dialogues, learn new perspectives, and unite in a fellowship of respect and trust. I applaud you for your commitment to building cohesion as well as deepening understanding and trust. Thank you for joining us in this conference. I look forward to continuing the discussion with you during the dialogue.
 Sum of recorded casualties in the 1950 Maria Hertogh Riots, 1954 National Service Riots, 1964 Race Riots, and the 1969 Race Riots.
- 30 June 2019
- Unwinding the Biggest Enemies of Religion: A Conversation with Karen Armstrong, Channel NewsAsia, 30 June 2019
- 25 June 2019
- Working to Expand Space for Cohesion, The Straits Times, 25 June 2019
- 24 June 2019
- From Catholic Nun to Respected Author on the World’s Religions, The Straits Times, 24 June 2019
- Heng Swee Keat Mentioned Rajaratnam’s “Democracy of Deeds” in 2 Different Speeches in a Week, Mothership, 24 June 2019
- 23 June 2019
- 18 Years and Counting: A Family’s Hari Raya Welcome for All, The Straits Times, 23 June 2019
- Non-Sikhs Get Crash Course on Community’s Culture and Religion, The Straits Times, 23 June 2019
- From a Neo-Nazi to an Advocate for Peace: The Story of a Former White Supremacist, TODAY, 23 June 2019
- What More could be Done for Social Cohesion, Singapore Tonight (CNA), 23 June 2019
- 22 June 2019
- Need to Nurture, Expand Our Common Spaces: DPM Heng Swee Keat, The Straits Times, 22 June 2019
- Inter-faith Studies can Boost Cohesion, Say Experts, The Straits Times, 22 June 2019
- Ex-white Supremacist and Anti-terror Activist Share Tales of Extremism, The Straits Times, 22 June 2019
- Learning Journeys to Places of Worship for Singaporeans to Know More about Religion and Culture, The Straits Times, 22 June 2019
- 王瑞杰：应对全球性挑战 社会应建立互信尊重, Lianhe Zaobao, 22 June 2019
- 王瑞杰：抗衡极端主义搭建互信桥梁 打造和谐社会年轻人扮演关键角色, Lianhe Zaobao, 22 June 2019
- 分享国家繁荣果实有助促进社会凝聚力, Lianhe Zaobao, 22 June 2019
- Tangani Cabaran Bersama Dengan Saling Percaya, Hormat, Berita Harian, 22 June 2019
- Masyarakat Islam Komited Lindungi Masyarakat Kohesif: Masagos, Berita Harian, 22 June 2019
- Soal Keimanan, Kemanusiaan Tema Ceramah Muis, Berita Harian, 22 June 2019
- Presiden Halimah: Negara Kecil Perlu Terus Sedia Tangani Cabaran Luar, Berita Harian, 22 June 2019
- 21 June 2019
- Countries Must Tackle Common Challenges with Mutual Trust and Respect: Heng Swee Keat, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Religious and Worldview Studies in Schools can Help Strengthen Social Cohesion, Say Experts, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Issues Affecting Inter-Religious Ties Can No Longer be Dealt with in Isolation, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- President Hopes Pledge on Religious Harmony will have Multiplier Effect, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Draw on Religious Teachings to Help Promote Peace: Panel, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Singapore, Jordan Look Forward to Deepening Cooperation in New Fields, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- Jordan’s King Calls for Joint Effort to Tackle Attack on Harmony, The Straits Times, 21 June 2019
- 王瑞杰：建立和谐社会 寻共性更为重要, Lianhe Zaobao, 21 June 2019
- 认同约旦国王观点 哈莉玛总统吁国人 团结抗衡网络极端言论, Lianhe Zaobao, 21 June 2019
- Cohesive Society Calls for Everyone to Build a “Democracy of Deeds”: Heng Swee Keat, TODAY, 21 June 2019
- Growing Diversity Means Common Spaces Must be Deliberately Nurtured: Heng Swee Keat, Channel NewsAsia, 21 June 2019
- Building Cohesiveness is a Work in Progress and Everyone has a Part to Play (2:10 to 3:37), News Tonight (Channel 8), 21 June 2019
- Anti-fake News Law Needed to Help Preserve Social Cohesion: Heng Swee Keat, Yahoo News, 21 June 2019
- Religious Leaders in S’pore Prayed for Heng Swee Keat’s Recovery After His May 2016 Stroke, Mothership, 21 June 2019
- Heng Swee Keat: S’pore Learnt to Built Cohesiveness & Diversity the Hard Way But still a Work in Progress, Mothership, 21 June 2019
- Raja Abdullah: Konflik Israel-Palestina Kobarkan Radikalisme, Republika, 21 June 2019
- 20 June 2019
- Religion Should be Part of the Solution for Peace, And Not the Problem: Interfaith Conference, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- Commitment to Safeguard Religious Harmony Can be Applied in Schools, Workplaces: President Halimah, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- President Halimah Stresses Key Ingredients for Social Harmony, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- International Conference on Cohesive Societies: Making Sure Nobody is Left Out of the Dialogue, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- King Abdullah of Jordan on Two-Day State Visit to S’pore, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- Attack on Interfaith Harmony, Mutual Respect and Trust is Single Biggest Threat, Says Jordan’s King Abdullah II, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- Photo from President Halimah’s Fireside Chat with YLP Participants, Today in Pictures, June 20, 2019 (The Straits Times), 20 June 2019
- 逾250组织加入《承诺》 誓维护宗教和谐, Lianhe Zaobao, 20 June 2019
- Nilai Saling Percaya Perkukuh Perpaduan: Presiden Halimah, Berita Harian, 20 June 2019
- British Religious Thinker at Singapore Forum Challenges People to Embrace the “Discomfort of Religion”, TODAY, 20 June 2019
- Risk to Inter-Faith Harmony “Single Most Important Threat” to the World Now: Jordan King, Channel NewsAsia, 20 June 2019
- Draw from Diversity as Source of Strength: President Halimah, The New Paper, 20 June 2019
- Palestinian State Living in Peace with Israel Crucial to Addressing Radicalism: King Abdullah II of Jordan, Mothership, 20 June 2019
- Attack on Inter-Faith Harmony is Greatest Threat in the World Today: King Abdullah of Jordan, Malaysia Today, 20 June 2019
- Singapore’s Strict Laws Alone Cannot Ensure Racial Cohesion: President Halimah Yacob, South China Morning Post, 20 June 2019
- Religious Leaders Make Commitment to Safeguard Harmony in Singapore, Yahoo News, 20 June 2019
- Attack on Inter-Faith Harmony is Greatest Threat in the World Today: King Abdullah of Jordan, Yahoo News, 20 June 2019
- President Halimah Underlines Need to Engage with Diversity, Strengthen Social Cohesion in Singapore, Asia News Network, 20 June 2019
- King Visits Singapore Armed Forces Commandos, The Jordan Times, 20 June 2019
- Singapore Meeting Calls for Defense of Social Cohesion, Anadolu Agency, 20 June 2019
- “Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Inflames Global Extremism”: Jordan’s King Abdullah, The New Arab, 20 June 2019
- Attack on Interfaith Harmony, Mutual Respect, and Trust Single Biggest Threat, Says Jordan’s King Abdullah II, The World News, 20 June 2019
- King Abdullah of Jordan Slams “Hate-filled Outlaws of Islam”, Arab News, 20 June 2019
- King Delivers Keynote Address at International Conference on Cohesive Societies in Singapore, Roya News, 20 June 2019
- “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict Has Fuelled Global Discord and Radicalism”— King, The Jordan Times, 20 June 2019
- Jordan King: Palestinians Must Have Their State, Al-Bawaba, 20 June 2019
- King Delivers Keynote Address at International Conference on Cohesive Societies in Singapore, MENAFN, 20 June 2019
- 19 June 2019
- International Conference on Cohesive Societies to Discuss Issues Surrounding Faith, Identity and Cohesion, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- President Halimah Underlines Need to Engage with Diversity, Strengthen Social Cohesion, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- “Everyone Has a Role”: President Halimah Meets Young Leaders to Discuss Social Cohesion, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- More than 250 Religious Organisations Commit to Safeguard Religious Harmony, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- Free Art Exhibition Showcases Singapore’s Religious Harmony, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- Jordanian King Abdullah II in Singapore for His Third State Visit, The Straits Times, 19 June 2019
- 约旦国王到我国进行两天国事访问, Lianhe Zaobao, 19 June 2019
- Singapore’s Key Religious Organisations Affirm Commitment to Religious Harmony, Channel NewsAsia, 19 June 2019
- 100 Pemimpin Muda Antarabangsa Bincang Isu-Isu Perpaduan, Keagamaan, Berita Mediacorp, 19 June 2019
- King to Address Singapore Int’l Conference on Cohesive Societies, The Jordan Times, 19 June 2019
- King Visits Singapore Armed Forces Commandos, MENAFN, 19 June 2019
- King Departs on Singapore Visit, Roya News, 19 June 2019
- Jordanian King Abdullah II in Singapore for His Third State Visit, World Times News, 19 June 2019
- 18 June 2019
- From Debate to Dialogue: Two Religions, One Friendship and a Common Interfaith Cause, TODAY, 18 June 2019
- Amb Ong Keng Yong on the Importance of Interfaith Harmony and Dialogue (19:01 to 25:53), Singapore Tonight (CNA), 18 June 2019
- Amb Mohammad Alami Musa on the Ground-up Efforts by Muslims to Strengthen Interreligious Understanding (7:40 to 10:20), Berita (Suria), 18 June 2019
- 13 June 2019
- Minister Grace Fu on the Reason Singapore is Hosting the ICCS (23:00 to 35:00), Hello Singapore (Channel 8), 13 June 2019
Speeches and News Releases
- Keynote Speech by His Majesty King Abdullah II Ibn Al Hussein of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan at ICCS, 20 June 2019
- Opening Remarks by Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS, at ICCS, 20 June 2019
- Opening Address by President Halimah Yacob at ICCS, 19 June 2019
- Welcome Remarks By Ambassador Ong Keng Yong, Executive Deputy Chairman of RSIS, at the Opening Dinner of ICCS, 19 June 2019
- News Release on Global Leaders in Interfaith Harmony and Social Cohesion Gather in Singapore for International Conference on Cohesive Societies
- News Release on International Conference on Cohesive Societies Announces Line-up of Speakers
- News Release on Singapore Hosting the International Conference on Cohesive Societies
- Speakers’ Biographies
- After the ICCS – Building Social Cohesion: Committing to a Participatory Approach, RSIS Commentary, 24 July 2019
- Let’s Talk Openly about Religion – Yours and Mine, The Straits Times, 7 July 2019
- Forging Community Ties, One Friendly Gesture At a Time, The Straits Times, 30 June 2019
- International Conference on Cohesive Societies – Appreciating Diversity: What Has The ICCS Achieved?, RSIS Commentary, 28 June 2019
- The Challenge is How We Make the Most of Diversity, The Straits Times, 27 June 2019
- International Conference on Cohesive Societies – Tolerance and its Enemies: Three Observations, RSIS Commentary, 27 June 2019
- The International Conference on Cohesive Societies – How to Build Cohesive Societies, RSIS Commentary, 25 June 2019
- What’s Needed to Harness the Strengths of Social Diversity, The Straits Times, 20 June 2019
- Forging Cohesive Societies – Living With Religious Diversity, RSIS Commentary, 14 June 2019
- This Hari Raya Puasa and Dragon Boat Festival, Open Homes to Friends of Other Religions and Cultures, Channel NewsAsia, 5 June 2019
- Terror Attacks and the Confusing Role of Religion, The Straits Times, 23 May 2019
- Forging Cohesive Societies – Harmonious Co-Existence: What Can Governments Do?, RSIS Commentary, 17 May 2019
- Singapore is Ready to Facilitate Universal Dialogue to Promote Religious Harmony, Berita Harian, 13 May 2019
- Sri Lankan Attacks and Inter-Communal Relations, RSIS Commentary, 13 May 2019
- Interreligious Dialogue in a World of Conflict and Violence: A Critical Exploration of Confucianism, Interreligious Relations, 1 May 2019
- Forging Cohesive Societies – Singapore’s Multiracialism: A Matter of Identity, RSIS Commentary, 24 April 2019
- Islam and Secularism in Singapore: Between Embracement and Belief, Interreligious Relations, 1 April 2019
- Living in a Religiously Plural Society: A Muslim Perspective on Being Inclusive Today, Interreligious Relations, 1 March 2019
- Interreligious Marriage: Perspectives from the Singaporean Context in Relation to Interreligious Dialogue, Interreligious Relations, 1 February 2019
- Plural Traditions in Plural Societies: Inclusivity in Inter-Religious Dialogue, RSIS Commentary, 2 January 2019
Last updated on 12/09/2022