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Singapore is a multi-racial, multi-ethnic and multi-religious country in which one does not have to look very hard to find active engagement with religion among many of its residents. There are numerous churches, mosques, temples and the like that operate in the country as well as religiously-linked charitable and other civil society organisations. While the government of Singapore is formally religiously uncommitted, it does not promote atheism and there is no formal separation of state and religion. Indeed, references to the diverse religious commitments of the peoples of Singapore are made in public speeches and debates, including in Parliament, and, for example, by the recognition of public holidays linked to Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist and Christian traditions. The special status of the Malay Muslim community in Singapore is also recognised in the Constitution of Singapore and in legislation that establishes Sharia (local spelling ‘Syariah’) courts in the country
Singapore is, however, concerned about maintaining ‘religious harmony’ and there are frequent, and recent, references to the need not to take racial and religious harmony for granted. As such, the state has equipped itself with strong legislative powers to manage religious harmony. While these powers are not actually exercised often, they make it clear that the state can step in to secure religious harmony if it feels it necessary to do so. While this model may raise concerns in the eyes of some, one should consider it in response to local demographic and other conditions and ask if it fits the context. More generally, perhaps a model of robust management of religious harmony might be salutary for other highly plural environments as well. In addition to outlining the scene in Singapore, this chapter also raises these questions.
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- Managing Religion Through “Religious Harmony”: The Case of Singapore
Arif A. Jamal
- Chapter 20
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