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Religious harmony is an integral part of Singapore, and has to be cultivated constantly. This year, the Inter-Religious Organisation, which promotes inter-religious understanding, peace and goodwill among people in Singapore, celebrates its 50th anniversary. It has organised inter-faith prayer services, seminars, conferences and published several books and in-house bulletins. The Rev Dr (later Bishop) H.B. Amstutz gives an account of the inaugural meeting.
Inter-Religious Organisation's
inaugural meeting

Mr Malcolm MacDonald addressing the inaugural meeting of the Inter-Faith Organisation. Seated behind him is Dr Amstutz, and the Maulana is seated second from left. - Methodist Church Archives picture.
'THE first public meeting of the Inter-Religious Organisation for Singapore and Johore Bahru in the Victoria Memorial Hall (which) took place at the Victorial Memorial Hall on Friday, March 18th (1949) was a truly wonderful experience.

More than 2,000 people of many different races and creeds packed the hall filling every available standing space inside and outside. Long before 5.30 every seat in the hall had been occupied. Representatives of the Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Christian religions were on the platform and spoke.

The Right Hon. Mr Malcolm MacDonald, the Commissioner-General, was the honorary chairman. In his opening remarks, he said:
"This meeting is in some ways the most remarkable held in Singapore. Perhaps it is also the most hopeful. What is needed more than anything else is a spiritual revival in man, an arousing of conscience, a submission not only to the rule of law but also the rule of God. We need a new spiritual awareness and awakening. That is one reason why ordinary laymen like you and me are sometimes baffled and worried when we see leaders of the world's great religions falling out with one another, and disagreeing rather than agreeing.

"Of course, this is all very natural and understandable. Truth is a jewel with many shining facets, which men view from different and sometimes contrasting angles. Moreover, we laymen quarrel on all sorts of subjects among ourselves, and the heads of churches, mosques, temples and religious associations are - most of them - ordinary mortals like the rest of us, with their fair share of human failings. But it would be wonderful if their sense of the Spirit enabled them to see above and beyond our disagreements, and to help us to find the way in which we can unite as one great human brotherhood leading a beautiful and truthful and good life."

Wishing success to the "bold movement of religious leaders in Singapore and Johore," Mr MacDonald said: "We feel thankful for their sincerity and their courage, their tolerance and vision."

The Muslim Divine, Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui, a visitor to Malaya from Pakistan, said that he was sure the churches and temples of the world could achieve success in uprooting evils and raising moral conditions if they were to make a combined and united effort. The Maulana, dressed in a heavy turban and ceremonial robes, was the most striking personality on the platform. He spoke, first of all, on the conception of the organisation and then secondly, as a Muslim on the Muslim contribution to peace.

Among other things he made the following statements:
"As far as the common evils and accepted moral principles were concerned, no religion could have any difference, and in the spirit of tolerance and sympathy and the desire to establish peace, all of them were as one. The task of the religious leaders was to let the followers of each and every religion know the teachings of other religions, so that a spirit of fellowship could work together to spread the accepted moral principles and to fight the common evils."

Dr H.B. Amstutz, the first president of the organisation, gave a brief account of its history, relating the circumstances under which the various groups were brought together, and then speaking later on the programme on behalf of the Christians, he said:
"Christians believe that the true Christian is a new man, a man who somehow in his life by his willingness to suffer for others, by his sincerity and fellowship could reconcile others to God, thereby bringing hostility to an end we, through this organisation, are no longer strangers and enemies but pilgrims on a common road seeking common goals. May not this well be the time, when man humbled by his failure to produce peace and goodwill, will turn again to the City of God? May this meeting not be an indication that the peoples of this great city, harried, baffled, desperate - will turn homeward to the City of God?"

Other speakers who outlined the principles of a united religious front against evil were Sri Kartar Singh (Sikh), Swami Namadevananda (Hindu), the Rev Sek Hong Choong (Buddhist) and Inche Sardon bin Haji Jubir (Muslim), who spoke in Malay.

Members of the Jewish religion were also present but they had no spokesman, as no Rabbi is at present resident in Singapore.
The new inter-religious organisation and last night's meeting grew out of meetings of religious leaders held at the homes of Mr S.I.O. Alsagoff, Dr D.S. Marshall and Mr V. Pakirisamy and also at Bukit Serene (the Commissioner-General's residence in Johore Bahru).'


'What is needed more than anything else is a spiritual revival in man, an arousing of conscience, a submission not only to the rule of law but also the rule of God. We need a new spiritual awareness and awakening.'

-- Mr Malcolm MacDonald.