THE one-year-old Al-Islah Mosque in Punggol, which has already built close ties with neighbouring institutions and residents, embodies ways in which places of worship can help create a more resilient society in these trying times. While the primary purpose of a religious institution is to serve followers, reaching out to the wider community shows the value it places on face-to-face relations. Al-Islah demonstrates this by partnering nearby schools to distribute food to poor families in the neighbourhood. It also opens its doors to others for free guided tours of its premises. Steps like these help to dispel misconceptions of what mainstream Islam stands for. This is especially important given the way some extremist organisations have taken the religion’s name in vain to cloak their dastardly attacks in a semblance of piety.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore notes that the mosque stands as “an important bulwark of Muslim identity and community integrity” in Singapore, where Muslims constitute a minority living in a society undergoing far-reaching changes. Community-friendly initiatives that benefit both Muslims and non-Muslims, such as blood donation drives and assistance to low-income families, help to integrate mosques into the wider life of the nation.
Masjid Al-Islah, Kampong Punjol, Singapore
Mosques are not just the focus of religious activities – although that is an essential function – but must act as centres of social development, too. It is in that spirit that they embrace their social calling in a secular state. Muslims, like followers of other religions in Singapore, are reassured that their religious obligations are respected. Simultaneously, they must acknowledge that no community of believers exists in a vacuum, but as part of a larger whole.
This is where Singapore’s model of religious harmony differs from practices in countries that dichotomise religion and public life to the extent that one becomes an affront to the other. Here, religion is accepted as a legitimate influence on social outcomes so long as no faith claims the right to influence these exclusively. Overlapping spheres of belief are anchored in a national centre. A national consensus has emerged on this policy, which treats all religious communities equally. It will be tested from time to time. Insistent foreign influences, travelling via the Internet, do and will make their way into Singapore. Having no stake in Singapore’s common religious and racial future, these groups have no qualms in dividing people. So that they do not lead impressionable minds astray, it is essential for Singapore to curb such influences with its local resources.
In their very co-existence, mosques and other places of worship show that Singaporeans are capable of not just living with religious diversity but also of thriving on it.
The Straits Times
Wednesday, 6 July 2016
Muslims performing prayer and reading al-Quran at Masjid Al-islah in Kampung Punjol, Singapore.