A Jewel in the Jungle of Asia.
Reflections of a Foreign Student on Religious Harmony in Singapore. by Rev. Fr. Athanasius Atta Barkindo. Priest-Student of the Pontifical Institute for Arabic and Islamic Studies 89, Viale Trastevere, 00153, Rome – Italy Dear Editor, I refer to your news item “Breaking the Fast Together” in the Strait Times of 13th August 2010 which clearly portrayed the invitation extended by the Muslim Kidney Action Association to all other religious faiths to join them and participate in the Muslim breaking of the fast. I have attended so many conferences on religious harmony, visited different institutes for peace studies, attended seminars and participated in workshops for community and religious leaders to help rebuild the lives of families shattered by religious bigots in Nigeria, Egypt, Italy, UK, etc. While attending all these programmes, reference was always made to Singapore as the “Jewel in the Jungle of Asia”; evidently a gift from God to the entire Asian region. I made up my mind to visit Singapore; to see for myself the gift God has given to Asia. From my seat on the Singapore airlines flight, to the warm reception of the air hostesses, the beauty of the Changi Airport, the skyscrapers, the well fed trees to the sea of humanity eating away in different locations. The orderliness is amazing. I whispered to myself, this is called political stability, economic success. No question was directed to me about my religion, my faith and my creed. No one seems to care if I worshipped the mountain or the emperor. All that matter was I am human and I was treated as such, with dignity and courtesy. My amazement was complete when I was invited on the 13th August 2010, by the Muslim Kidney Action Association of Singapore to participate in the breaking of the fast at the premises of the association in Telok Kurau Road. It was absolutely magnificent to see all the representatives of different religious faiths including government officials, seated together in harmony and sharing together with our Muslim brothers and sisters in this most important month of Ramadan. There was no distinction based on religion, creed or race. There was no prejudice, sentiments or fear. Religious arrogance and superiority was completely absent. The most important thing was being a Singaporean. Singapore has indeed understood the advantage of pluralism whose core value is “humanity and meritocracy”!! I watched the President of the Muslim Kidney association as he passed the dates from the Catholic Archbishop to the Taoist Master, the Buddhist Venerable etc. The sincerity of the atmosphere made a tear tickle down my smiling cheeks (cheeks shining and smiling from the two weeks of hospitality rolled around the mixture of the satay, chicken rice and roti prata all tasted in Singapore). I told myself, this is the real Singapore. This is the real Jewel in the jungle of Asia. For once I thanked God for giving us such a beautiful gift as Singapore. I thanked the Singapore government for its cooperation with religious leaders to educate Singaporeans on the importance of religious harmony and pluralism in the world today. I even stole a thought of envy at Singaporeans yet proud that I am a Singaporean by association. I wondered how many Singaporeans appreciate what their government is doing in promoting religious harmony. It is a hardworking government, a sincere government, a government committed to the physical and spiritual welfare of its citizens; it is indeed Majulah Singapura and not Malulah Singapura!!! I hope some African governments and Africa at large is learning from Singapore; a country tolerant in nature, progressive and religious in outlook, where all peoples, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhist, Atheists, Secularists, and Traditionalists coexist in mutual respect and harmony, and contribute selflessly to the development of their country. Africa, the Middle East, Europe, America and indeed the entire world has no choice than to learn from Singaporeans and their government. Singapore is indeed a gift from the God not only to Asia but to the entire world. Congratulations to the Muslims Kidney Action Association, Congratulations to the Inter-Religious Dialogue council of Singapore, Congratulations to the Government of Singapore, Congratulations to Singaporeans. Long live Singapore, the Jewel in the Jungle of Asia. I just have to repost this to remind ourselves that we have done many things right.