SINGAPORE: Religious leaders in Singapore must understand how their followers interpret what they teach or it could lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding, Environment and Water Resources Minister Masagos Zulkifli said on Sunday (Feb 11). 

He also said that the words and actions of religious leaders matter, as their followers take guidance from them.

“You must take pains to understand how your followers interpret and practise what you preach, because misinterpretation and misunderstanding occur when we speak to another person,” Mr Masagos told a gathering of religious leaders across the different faiths at the Furama Riverfront Hotel.

“In the extreme, Singapore will never condone or accommodate religious leaders who speak or preach values that are contrary to peace, harmony and tolerance,” he added.  

Mr Masagos said that Singapore must take active steps to safeguard its peace and harmony. This starts when like-minded and honest religious leaders come together to forge mutual understanding, he added.

Representatives from Ba’alwie Mosque, Central Sikh Temple, Mahakaruna Buddhist Society, Taoist Mission and Lutheran Church in Singapore attended the gathering. They discussed the challenges they face, including the use of social media and how religious messages can be interpreted online.

Such interfaith gatherings help to clear up any misconceptions of religions, Mr Masagos noted. 

He added that Singaporeans must ensure that there are always common spaces where people can interact and invite others when celebrating cultural or religious festivals.

The interfaith session at the Furama Riverfront Hotel. (Photo: Cheryl Goh) 

Religious leaders Channel NewsAsia spoke to said they were well aware of the role they play to foster understanding.

“I think in the multi-cultural and religious city like Singapore, it is very important for the religious leaders firstly to model, and secondly to educate the people, that you can have different religions, but we can be friends,” said Bishop Terry Kee of the Lutheran Church in Singapore.

“We can have different religions but we can work together for a common good.”

Imam Habib Hassan Al-Attas from Ba’alwie Mosque added that leaders need to know what’s happening in the world and what to emphasise in their teachings.

“At present, we find a lot of misconceptions in every religion that destroy the religion itself and give a bad impression of many religions. So because of this, we have to be very careful, we have understand very well the true teaching of each religion.”

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