A two-day seminar on "Harmony, Peace & Universal Values: Buddhism & Islamic Perspective", organized by the Jamiyah Singapore and Singapore Buddhist Lodge in co-operation with the International Islamic Forum for Dialogue, Saudi Arabia was held at Jamiyah Singapore recently. The seminar was attended, besides others, by His Excellency Mr. Zuhair Al Idrisi, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Royal Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Prof Dr, Hamid Bin Ahmad Al Rifaie, President of International Islamic Forum for Dialogue, Saudi Arabia, Mr. Lee Bock Guan, President of the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, Ven Dr Sik Chang Qing from the Singapore Buddhist Federation, Mr. V R Nathan, Chairman, Interfaith Committee of the Hindu Endowments Board, venerable Buddhist monks from Singapore and neighbouring countries, Islamic scholars from Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Ireland and Singapore and representatives of temples, mosques and voluntary welfare organizations.
The seminar deliberated on the importance of continuous dialogue between the religious leaders and followers of the two fastest growing faiths and acknowledged that unless and until both religious groupings focus more on the similarities and common values, the differences in opinions and ideologies will be good grounds for resentment and misunderstanding to erupt in the future. This must be avoided by understanding the beauty of the teachings of these two religions and embarking on educational and awareness programmes in a more organized way
While officially opening the seminar as Guest of Honour, Mr Hawazi Daipi, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Health and Manpower of Singapore, said "Issues, such as places of worship and cultural practices of communities and groups, are erupting as major issues affecting peace and good-will among people. These issues are causing the loss of lives and damage to properties and valuable historical monuments, in the process causing severe strains in relationships, confidence and trust among communities, groups and individuals."
Mr. Daipi mentioned the commonalities in Islamic and Buddhist teachings and said, "The Qur'anic concept of peace has several levels, namely, peace with oneself, peace with the members of the family, peace with the members of the society, peace with the members of the world community and peace with the rest of the created world. In general, mankind has been asked not to partake in any action which disturbs the overall peace and harmony of society. There is no denying the fact that one needs a philosophy of living that ensures peace with others."
Mr. Daipi also said, Islam forbids its followers from defaming the beliefs and faiths of other religions. The Holy Qur'an proclaims in Surah 6 Verse 108 And insult not on those whom they worship besides Allah, lest they insult Allah wrongfully without knowledge.
Speaking about Buddhism, Mr. Daipi said, "Buddhism is a way of life. According to the Buddhist analysis of human situations, although problems may have local, regional or global dimensions, they are fundamentally and basically human problems. Compassion is the hallmark of Buddhism. The doctrines of Buddhism emphasise the need to help all human beings. We can see Buddhist organisations in Singapore putting this into practice by having kind thoughts and performing kind actions through actively supporting various types of charity and welfare work, not only for the needy among the followers of their faith but also for every one in need, regardless of race or faith. These ideologies and practices are concurrent with those of Islam. In fact if we analyse them, we would realize that there is more convergence of ideas and thoughts in religions than divergence."
Mr. Daipi also observed, "Peace and harmony in human society are possible when different faiths show mutual respect and work together for the common good of humanity. If leaders of different religions visit various places of worship, participate in festivals of each other and do not misrepresent other faiths, the effect of these acts will leave a salutary impression on their followers. This will drive home the message that spiritual experiences are universal even if the path chosen may differ."
Mr. Daipi also mentioned, "There should also be greater love and compassion founded on human feelings regardless of race, language or religion. Poverty, illiteracy, hunger, and backwardness are colour blind. They can be the cause of resentment between religions or on the contrary be good reasons for common endeavours. Universal values which are present within all religions are a positive conduit for dialogue. Different peoples may have different emphases with regards to these universal values but they remain the basis of wholesome civilisation. It is when we deviate from the universal values that we become parochial or communalistic, which all religions deride."
Mr. Daipi also mentioned, "Daily interactions as neighbours, schoolmates and working colleagues among people of different ethnic and religious backgrounds make for better understanding, enhance tolerance and build acceptance in each other. In Singapore, this has been a formula of our racial and religious harmony. But we should always find new ways to strengthen further the cohesion among people of our multi-racial and multi-religious society. I am sure this is equally relevant to all other non-homogeneous societies. Apart from promoting inter-faith dialogues, wider and deeper interactions among people of different cultural and religious backgrounds, are critical if we are to achieve harmonious relationship."
President Jamiyah Singapore
Haji Abu Bakar Mohyiddn, President of Jamiyah Singapore, in his welcome address, said, "Buddhism and Islam are estimated to be among the fastest growing world religions in the world. Therefore, it is essential that Buddhists and Muslims must seize the opportunities for the moral and spiritual emancipation of mankind and enable millions to lead a life of mutual respect, harmony and loving-kindness."
Haji Mohyiddin also said, "Our faith in our respective religions should lead us to love, care and mindfulness of the needs of fellow human beings. When we get to know one another in an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect we will realize the similarities in the thoughts and ideals of different faiths and such understanding will lead us to greater co-operation for the benefit of humanity. For Muslims, religion is a vehicle of love, peace and understanding not only with regard to co-existence of other religions but also for those without any religion. It is incumbent upon us to work in an orderly and sagacious manner to portray to the world the right path that will profoundly inspire human beings to become peace loving people, reconciliatory and forgiving."
While speaking about the situation of Singapore, Haji Mohyiddin said, "Singapore practices a benign form of secularism. Propagation is allowed provided it is not defamatory, and does not create antagonism, ill-feelings or disharmony. The Penal Code has provisions with regard to this. The Constitution provides that legislation passed by Parliament must be scrutinized by a Presidential Council for Minority Rights to ensure that there are no measures which discriminate against a minority community. Arising from the parliamentary Act for the Maintenance of Religious Harmony, a Presidential Council for Religious Harmony exists to look into this important issue. It consists of representatives from the government and interfaith organizations. Over and above such safeguards, Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles (IRCC) were established in 2002 .IRCCs are intended to be informal bodies that can formulate strategies and initiatives to promote greater knowledge and understanding among different races and religions. They also assist in the formation of Harmony Circles and provide them with guidance and information on inter-racial and inter-religious confidence building. They complement the work of interfaith organizations such as the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore and Jamiyah Singapore."
President of the Jamiyah Singapore also mentioned, "In Singapore the establishment of the Inter Religious Organization of Singapore, under the visionary guidance and leadership of eminent persons like Jamiyah’s founder Moulana Abdul Aleem Siddique was an important milestone which would not have become a reality without the co-operation of the non - Muslim leaders such as the late venerable Seck Hong Choon of Kong Meng San Temple. Today representatives of ten (10) different religions come together quite often to promote multi-faith harmony, educational and welfare services and address topical issues."
"Jamiyah Singapore, for example, has been doing its part in promoting inter faith harmony through its multifarious programmes and services. It’s educational and welfare programmes and services are open to all regardless of race or faith. The Touch of Harmony programme initiated by Jamiyah in 2004 in cooperation with the Singapore Buddhist Lodge, Hindu Endowments Board and the Singapore Catholic Archdiocese. This programme has given opportunity for students from New York University to visit Singapore and experience themselves, through an experiential learning process, the harmonious relations that prevail in our multi racial society of Singapore. This programme also gave opportunity to multi-racial Singaporean students at the University level to visit New York to get to know the vibrant culturally diverse American society, especially the youth with the primary objective of promoting peace and harmony," Haji Mohyiddin mentioned.
The gathering noted that the differences should not be the reasons for followers of both faith, and for that matter, other faiths not to respect one another. In fact on the contrary the followers must endeavor to correct any misperception that may prevail or any distortion of facts about other religions that may arise.
The seminar passed the following resolutions: "The Muslims and Buddhists have many overlapping noble values and traditions that complement the beliefs of each other. These common values should be profoundly explained to the respective followers so that there will be greater appreciation and understanding. Better still if these could result in initiatives that strengthen the trust between these two religions
"To the Muslims Islam is a way of life and likewise to the Buddhists. Both religions emphasize that they reinforce the truth and nothing but noble truth. Despite this fundamental point the matter can be distorted by unscrupulous individuals who may want to exert their own views and thoughts. The two religions must be safeguarded against this by embarking on more planned and orderly programs to promote religious tolerance and forbearance. The programs should have three phases i.e. immediate, short-term and long-term range.
"According to Islamic and Buddhist’s analysis of human situations, although problems may have local or global dimensions, they are fundamentally and basically human problems. Muslims also acknowledge that human beings are the servants of God; they therefore need to be treated with respect and there should not exist at all any ill treatment or unfairness whatsoever. In fact Islam emphasizes that all human beings are brothers from "Adam". Therefore, we must be free from practicing extremism, fanaticism, violence, hatred and suspicion towards one another. We should always focus on better inter-faith cooperation based on common values shared by all."
The seminar also noted the need to use the advanced technological communications and information dissemination approach to counter any attempt by any irresponsible parties at distorting information and misleading people for reasons they know best.
It was also resolved to make such a seminar a regular event so as to work towards inter-cultural, interfaith and harmony in the interest of promoting durable and lasting peace.
The seminar also resolved, "The participants would also like to express their appreciation and support to the initiative of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdel Aziz regarding the dialogue and understanding among the followers of different religions and cultures. True to the spirit of religion, this was a watershed seminar that is hoped to set the pace and pave the way to more such initiatives in the future in the interest of the entire mankind!"