Jewel in the jungle of Asia

Last week, I forwarded a letter (see at the end of this post) purportedly sent by an Italian student-priest who visited Singapore. I had received the “letter” from a religious Christian friend who divides her time between Singapore and Tasmania.

After I hit the forward-button, I got a range of responses, that were largely similar — with the exception of three. I share the responses here: the nine similar ones and the three which stood out because they took the route less travelled.

Identities of respondents have been removed to protect the “guilty” ūüėõ

Those who agree with the letter’s sentiments:

  1. In fact there have been even more little known jewels in the past.  
    A friend I’ve known half a century told me of a British military family that attended her church, ¬†who took in their Malay driver’s ¬†children to help them in their studies. ¬†This was¬†just after the war.¬†¬†One boy did well in school, ¬†went on to university and became a professional…a fairly unusual thing in l950’s Singapore. ¬†As many colonial families did, ¬†this one stayed after the war ¬†and became Singaporeans. We see many ex-colonials to this day at the Tanglin Club. ¬†In time the wife passed away, ¬†and the Malay family “adopted” the dependent widower who moved in with them. ¬† He was well taken care of¬†till he died….and ¬†was given a Christian funeral. ¬†All paid for by the Muslim family.¬†¬†
  2. Thank you. Yup, we take religious tolerance for granted but it is hard won.
  3. Interesting indeed. To a large extent, very true
  4. As a devout Muslim I fervently believe there is ONE god and He has created us all … Muslims , Christians , Buddhists , Jews , Hindus etc . Therefore I can with ease embrace everyone …no matter what our beliefs . No matter what our differences . We should accept all and let God judge us at the end of our days …
  5. SID which does monitor closely religious harmony issues making sure that families of those arrested for jihadist activities are taken care of in terms of jobs etc, more sensitive approach than the US one of treating everyone as a combatant in Iraq wheureupon under Bremer they alienated the whole existing police force and army who could maintain law and order and lost the war.
  6. .. so nice to hear from you and with such a powerful story.¬† This sums up what I find to be phenomenal about Singapore‚Ķnot just co-existence, but integration.¬† Sure, there are differences of opinion and differences in behavior.¬† But, in the end these are overshadowed by the willingness of Singaporeans to work (not just tolerate) their ‚Äėopposites.‚Äô
  7. Authentic or conjured,¬†the visitor’s impression (visualized ideal?) does highlight what is achievable, given goodwill and the desire to engender¬†communal-social harmony, at least at the formal level.¬† This is not to say that racial-cultural prejudice,¬†bigotry and even¬†overt hatred against “others”¬†will disappear entirely in a multi-ethnic society.¬† There’s a lot to be said for maintaining “political correctness”¬†with political disapproval of¬†public speech and behaviour that would rile racial, cultural or religious feelings.¬† In Malaysia, the ultra rightwing Malay “Perkasa”¬†seems to have free rein in their public pronouncements which undermine the Government’s promotion of “1-Malaysia”.
  8. It‚Äôs amazing how others envied the government and the state of things in Singapore while many of us took things for granted.¬† I couldn‚Äôt image many Singaporeans waxing lyrical about how blessed we are…maybe it‚Äôs just the Asian mentality.¬†
  9. Yup, all those bloggers out there glibly condemning the govt for not being properly “democratic” like those in the west, and allowing anyone to say/do whatever they want, don’t have a clue as to how the religious harmony is obtained/maintained.

Those who are suspicious of the letter’s sentiments:

  1. It’s a very nice letter but I take exception to the phrase “Jungle of Asia”
    as if our neighbours were still living on trees. How can he be religiously
    tolerant when he doesn’t even appreciate the rich Buddhist and Hindu
    civilisations around us that have elevated Asia many notches above
    jungle-hood.  Know what I mean?
  2. An interesting read about religious acceptance, tolerance and cohesion that appears only possible in Singapore.The author has obviously failed to address the consequences of ‘non compliance’… ie scratch the surface and find a tartar?
  3. Yes indeed letter to the editor is a real compliment to Singapore.If there are more like-minded people like that with moderate views, my view is that the world is a better place. But cynical me would think, is Singapore all that rosy, is the view taken from rose coloured tinted glasses. He he !!! don’t laugh if I say the wrong thing.

 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 ‚Äď Italy

Dear Editor,I refer to your news item ‚ÄúBreaking the Fast Together‚ÄĚ 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 ‚ÄúJewel in the Jungle of Asia‚ÄĚ; 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 ‚Äúhumanity and meritocracy‚ÄĚ!! 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.

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