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Mr. Noor Mohd Marican, President of the Inter-Religious Organisation Singapore (IRO)


Religious Leaders


Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen


1.             It is a great pleasure to join everyone here to celebrate Singapore’s 58th National Day.


2.             I stand before you as a freethinker amongst esteemed religious leaders. I have been a firm believer of the kindness, forgiveness, peace and harmony that all major religions, and all 10 religions here, teach. My life is fortunately surrounded by loved ones and friends who are devoted to religion. I have accompanied them to temples, churches and mosques. I have received numerous blessings, as I also offered my own prayers and wishes.


3.             Since I joined the Ministry of Health, I have witnessed even more good work done by various religious organisations and your charitable arms in the community, helping many people on the ground. Your help always extends to anyone who needs it, regardless of their backgrounds, ethnicities or religions.


4.             So let me at the outset thank everyone for being a moral and spiritual force of our society, for your care and concern for all members of our society, and in doing so, creating a Singapore society that is compassionate, generous and inclusive. Throughout this month of August when we celebrate National Day, it is important to remember the key role religious harmony plays in fostering a cohesive society. I wish everyone a very happy National Day, and may our nation continue to be stable, peaceful and prosperous.


5.             The IRO was founded in 1949, shortly after the War, and way before Singapore achieved self-governance in 1959, and independence in 1965. The wise leaders who led the IRO then had the noble vision of working towards peaceful inter-religious engagement in Singapore. It was a very bold idea at that time, as most religions at that time operated in silos.


6.             The founding members worked quietly behind the scenes as guardians of peace in society. In the ensuing years, successive IRO leaders continued to carry that responsibility. Today, the 10 faiths in Singapore are all represented in the IRO. Congratulations.


7.             When disasters such as tsunamis, floods and earthquakes took place in various parts of the world, IRO has worked closely with the relevant non-governmental organisations, such as the Red Cross and Mercy Relief, to offer humanitarian assistance and your prayers.


8.             When contentious or tense inter-faith issues arise, IRO offers wise and calm words of counsel. You lead by example and guide our communities to treat one another with respect, and to uphold mutual trust.


9.             IRO plays an important role in our civic life. This includes conducting prayers and blessings at various events such as the Singapore Armed Forces passing out parade, Kranji memorial service, as well as charitable organisations giving assistance and solace to disadvantaged members of our society. I always find the image of all our religious leaders on stage, giving blessings and prayers based on their respective faiths, very poignant and meaningful.


10.          Through talks, seminars and workshops, to reach out to as many Singaporeans as possible to engage in dialogue, and bring about greater understanding and appreciation of different faiths.


11.          Therefore the IRO has become an important part of Singapore life, whether Singaporeans are conscious of it or not. The fact that IRO precedes Singapore’s self-governance and independence is not surprising at all, because relationships between faiths are age-old issues within societies. Societies can turn them into conflicts and tensions, or harness them for good, resilience, strength and unity.


12.          Religious harmony is relevant to Singapore not just as a country and our statehood, but also as a society and for our culture.


13.          Indeed, Southeast Asian societies have always experienced ethnic and religious tensions and conflicts. We are not spared. However, history has also profoundly shaped our perspective on religion. All regions in the world are diverse, but Southeast Asia is unique because it is probably the most religiously diverse.


14.          None of the major religions of the world – Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam etc – originated from Southeast Asia. Religions were introduced to our region through trade, migration and cultural exchanges. The expansion of various faiths intersects in Southeast Asia. The complex character of our region is fundamentally and historically the result of this interplay of diverse religions and cultures. Where other regions seek to adopt an expansionary and missionary outlook, Southeast Asia seeks to absorb and harmonise.  


15.          Singapore is in turn a microcosm of Southeast Asia – connected to the world, diverse and dynamic. On an ongoing basis, we deal with many issues – unemployment, economic competitiveness, education, healthcare, training of workers, housing etc. But I think the issue that is most critical and of fundamental importance to Singapore, is how we maintain internal harmony and synergise the differences of a diverse people to forge a sense of belonging and unity.


16.          Some years ago, at an international conference where I was giving a keynote speech and dialogue, an international participant who was quite a prominent former political leader, asked me, “If we take away all the skyscrapers and industries, entertainment and lifestyle in Singapore, what is left? What does Singapore really stand for?” It was a serious question.



17.          I replied quite instinctively that he was really asking about our DNA as a people, and that must be our character of embracing diversity. That amidst the rich tapestry of diverse beliefs and values, every community in Singapore can preserve their identity and be who they are, and yet contribute to a larger identity of being Singaporean. That is the big heartedness and ultimate character of being Singaporean.


18.          Beyond pandemics, economic downturns, bread and butter issues, international disputes, harnessing diversity into unity will be our important and permanent endeavour as a people. The many years of hard work done by the IRO, Racial and Religious Harmony Circles and many like-minded groups and agencies, have played a big part.


19.          We have come a long way. Every faith came on stage to offer your own prayers, but we all read the same National Pledge loudly. Unity in diversity is a great strength. Let us all continue to work hard to guard this precious legacy. On that note, may I again wish everybody a Happy National Day! Thank you.

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