Event Review: Forum ‘Religion in a Modern World’
Who: Assistant Prof Eugene Tan, Mr Bhajan Singh, Sister Theresa Seow & Imam Habib Hassan
Where: Furama Riverfront Hotel
When: Saturday, 15th October 2011
By: NUS InterFaith Group, NUS Buddhist Society, NUS Muslim Society, Sikh Sewaks Singapore, Buddhist Fellowship Singapore & Muslim Counselling Service.[/box_dark]
The following speakers are ordered according to “who speaks first”.
Assistant Professor Eugene Tan
Prof. Eugene Tan addressed the issue of religious diversity from an academic secular perspective. His presentation is titled “Religious Diversity – The Management of Religion”. He spoke about the need to move beyond tolerance to engagement. And how the Singapore government has been actively promoting religious harmony through its policies.
Find out more about his views here.
Mr Bhajan Singh (Sikhism)
“Sikh” can be translated as “student”.
“Guru” means “Teacher”.
The 2 words reflect the relationship between the Sikh spiritual masters and their disciples.
“Wara” means “School”.
Mr Bhajan asserts that the Sikhs do not have temples; rather, only schools where the “Guru” teaches.
He also shared with us an example to illustrate how Sikhism has always been embracing of other faiths. When Guru Arjan Dev wanted to build Golden Temple, he gave the honour of laying the foundation stone to a Muslim named Mian Mir, on account of his virtuous character.
“Singh” is a “surname” of male Sikhs. He highlighted that Sikhs see themselves as one big family because they all share the same surname.
Less commonly known, is a similar title “Khor”, meaning princess, which is given to female Sikhs.
On a lighter note, he shared how kids would ask “Is your head hurt?”, when he was seen wearing the Sikh turban while serving as a principal in a school.
Sikhs are also known to live all over the world despite originating from India. In this regard, Mr Bhajan shared with us a famous joke: When Neil Armstrong was landed on the moon, he was dismayed when a Sikh taxi driver – who was already on the moon – drove up to him and asked, “Where to, Sir?”
Lastly, he concluded with a brief introduction to the prominent tenets of Sikhism.
1) Marriage is sacred
2) All human beings are equal
3) Equality between man and woman
4) Racial and religious harmony
Sister Theresa Seow (Christianity)
Sister Theresa started off by clarifying the oft-repeated misconception that Catholics are not Christians. She reasserted, a bit cyptically, that “Not all Christians are Catholics but all Catholics are Christians”.
She lamented in general about the waning influence of religion among the younger generation. The unfortunate association: “religion = old people”. And the fast-paced world of technology where people are sending stuff from their iPhones without due deliberation and reflection.
She also mentioned an important point of not picking and choosing off scripture according to one’s desires or over-enthusiasm in convinving the other.
Lastly, she ended with an insightful quote,[quote]“Before you come to a new community or culture or faith, the first thing you do is take off your shoes, lest you forget that God has been there before you and you step on something holy”[/quote]
Imam Habib Hassan (Islam)
Imam Hassan started off with a delightful thought: Why is it that we say “ladies and gentlemen” instead of “gentleladies and men”? Afterall, ladies are afterall known to be more gentle than men!
After striking a chord with the audience, he went on to discuss more serious matters: the importance and relevance of religion especially in these modern times.[pullquote_left]Religion has been a prime contributor to the building of these “moral ties”, in which people not only care about themselves but for all humanity.[/pullquote_left]
He highlighted the increased statistics of suicide in industralised countries which is surely proof that material education alone is not enough. We also need “moral education”. It is these “moral ties” that bind people to each other in an age where selfish materialism and individualism prevail. Religion has been a prime contributor to the building of these “moral ties”, in which people not only care about themselves but for all humanity.
Additionally, it is religion that provides a firm basis on which to discern right and wrong. And a compelling reason to act on what is right beyond mere legal punitive measures.
He also highlighted an interesting verse in the Quran and how it closely corroborates recent archaelogical findings.
Pharaoh said: “O Chiefs! no god do I know for you but myself: therefore, O Haman! light me a (kiln to bake bricks) out of clay, and build me a lofty palace, that I may mount up to the god of Moses: but as far as I am concerned, I think (Moses) is a liar!”
For centuries, geologists thought that Egyptian pyramids were made of limestone blocks that were quarried by chiseling limestone. Workers then transported those blocks up the pyramids on ramps. Today, electron microscopes revealed that the blocks at the top have chemistries found nowhere in nature. Those blocks at the top must have been baked and then cast like modern cement (not chiseled from existing limestone).
For more information, you can click here.
Imam ended by rebutting the common accusation that religions are the main source of divisions and bloody wars. In fact, looking at the recent 2 world wars alone is enough to prove that non-religious idelogies are responsible for bloodier conflicts.
Venerable Master Chin Kung (Buddhism)
Master Chin wrote a full paper detailing his thoughts. This was then translated in English by his student and read on behalf of him.
Master believes that people can be taught to be good. This is corroborated by his experiences in projects involving small community villages where the villagers are given routine moral education. He also has live lecture broadcast via the internet where he educates people on moral values.
Towards the end of the speech, he calls for the establishment of “interfaith” schools, where future leaders well-versed in all of the religious traditions are trained.
The common concept of the “oneness of God”, which keeps appearing throughout all the speeches is noted. This underlines the divine/common origin of all true religions.[pullquote_right]”I don’t think God sent us down here to fight each other.” Mr Bhajan[/pullquote_right]
Are all religions equal in the sight of god?
Mr Bhajan gave an apt reply: I don’t think God sent us down here to fight each other.
Although we may not necessarily agree to all the views espoused by all the speakers, the point of interfaith is not to argue but to share perspectives in the spirit of mutual learning and understanding.
3 benefits of talking to “the other”:
1) Being on talking terms
Why do we need to talk?
In the event of any conflict, having established good relations is what will prevent a small quarrel from escalating into full-scale riots or bloody world wars.
Interfaith is one such opportunity that gives people from different faiths, a chance to sit in a room and talk.
Merely talking and meeting each other will help dispel misconceptions, which if unchecked, could easily stroke fires of hatred. Like the saying goes, “miscommunication is the most common cause of breakdowns in marriage”.
Any relationship will break down if one party pent up grievances and finally explodes. Sincere and open communication will help sooth any bumps in a relationship.
2) Learning from the experiences of other communities.
Both the good and the bad. Each community will tend to highlight a particular trait, often at the expense of others. Seeing extremes will help us balance it in our own communities. Its all about healthy competition in good works. And learning the best from each other.
3) Lastly, sharing our faith and what we believe is true.
I’ll end with some relevant verses from the Quran.
Allah has made plain for you the Religion with which He enjoined on Noah and that which We have revealed to you, and that with which We enjoined on Abraham, Moses and Jesus:
Namely, that you should remain steadfast in religion, and make no divisions therein: to those who worship other than Allah, hard is the (way) to which you call them. Allah brings close to Himself whom He wills, and guides to Him those who turn in repentance. (Ash-Shura 42:13)
Yet they became divided only after knowledge had reached them, through selfish envy between themselves. Had it not been for a Word that went forth before from your Lord, till a term appointed, the matter would have been settled between them: Truly, those who have inherited the Book after them are in suspicious (disquieting) doubt concerning it. (Ash-Shura 42:14)
So invite and stand steadfast as you are commanded, and do not follow their vain desires; but say: “I believe in the Book which Allah has sent down; and I am commanded to judge justly between you. Allah is our Lord and your Lord: for us (is the responsibility for) our deeds, and for you for your deeds. There is no contention between us and you. Allah will bring us together, and to Him is (our) Final Goal. (Ash-Shura 42:15)
Azri is currently studying Computer Science in NUS.