Singapore is a Multi Religious Country

Singapore is a multi-religious country due to its diverse ethnic mix of peoples originating from various countries. Most of the key religious denominations are represented in Singapore and religious tolerance is promoted by the government.

The largest religion is Buddhism, with 42.5% of the resident population declaring themselves as adherents at the last census. Most, but not all, Malays are adherents of Islam with a substantial community of Indian Muslims.

Religious tolerance is essential in Singapore. From colonial times up to the independence of the island state, racial and religious harmony have been the top priority of the governing institutions.

The government has to some extent successfully transcended religions and racial boundaries. Some religions, especially those spearheaded by Chinese ethnic groups, have even merged their places of worship with other religions such as Hinduism and Islam. A prominent example is that of Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple (situated in the eastern coastal line) wherein three religions, namely Taoism, Hinduism, and Islam are housed under the same roof in a manifestation of religious harmony in this modern country. Younger Singaporeans tend to combine a little of the traditional wisdom of the older generations with the perceived realities of modern society.

Religious co-mingling has been strongly encouraged since the British colonised Singapore; for example, South Bridge Street, which was a major road through the old Chinatown, is home to the Sri Mariamman Temple (a south Indian Hindu temple that was declared a national historical site in the 1980s), as well as the Masjid Jamae Mosque that served Chulia Muslims from India’s Coromandel Coast. In schools, children are taught in social studies lessons about the Maria Hertogh riots and the 1964 Race Riots, as a grim reminder of the consequences of inter-religious conflict. Mixed-race classes, interaction between students of different races and the celebration of religious festivals also help inculcate religious tolerance and understanding from a young age.

Another religious landmark in Singapore is the Armenian Church of Gregory the Illuminator, the oldest church in Singapore, which was completed in 1836. It was also the first building in Singapore to have an electricity supply, when electric fans and lights were installed. Today, the church no longer holds Armenian services, as the last Armenian priest retired in the 1930s. Nonetheless, the church and its grounds have been carefully preserved and various Orthodox Church services are still held in it occasionally and Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria service on the first weekend of every month..

Followers of the Tao (The Way) adhere to the teachings of the ancient Chinese religious philosophy of Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, also known as the Pure One, Celestial Worthy of the Way, or Tai Shang Lao Jun. The Talismanic and Register Sect of mainstream Taoism is seen as the most influential through the numerous presence of spiritual mediums. They are concerned with life-after-death theory, the balance of the two cosmos energies of which are depicted through the Taoist Yin and Yang theory, and vitality, good-health, and longevity . Feng Shui, literally translated as wind and water, also originated from the Taoist Yin and Yang theory and is deeply rooted in ancestral worshiping that seeks to harmonize the pnuemas between the living (yang) and the dead (yin). Ancestral worship is a common practice of the Chinese and the Qing Ming Festival during the second full moon is observed by the majority. This reflects that Chinese tradition remains extant in modern Singapore. They pray in memory of their bereaved love ones and the spirits of the dead are honoured with offerings including food, beverages, joss-paper, joss-sticks, and even paper houses, which are intrinsic practices of the Taoists.

Although Taoist temples and shrines are abundant in Singapore, it has nevertheless not been officially included as a major religion for a number of reasons. It was argued that its numbers has dwindled drastically over the years from 22.4% to 8.5% between the years 1990 to 2000. This, however, may be accounted for by the fact of obscuring delineation between Taoism and Buddhism. Another major reason is that, politically, Taoism and Buddhism are viewed as Chinese religions and thus suffice having one of them – Buddhism of which has a higher official percentage representation, represents the Chinese population. Other reasons may include its refusal or failure to institutionalize for fear of losing its religious and traditional essence and risked being orchestrated and manipulated into a mouthpiece of some people with other ulterior agendas.

One will be able to find monasteries and Dharma centres from all three major traditions of Buddhism in Singapore: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Most Buddhists in Singapore are Chinese.

Chinese Mahayana is the most predominant form of Buddhism in Singapore with missionaries from Taiwan and China for several decades. However, Thailand’s Theravada Buddhism has seen growing popularity amongst the people (not confining to the Chinese) in the past decade. Tibet Buddhism is also making a slow inroad into the country in recent years.

The presence of Buddhism in Singapore was evident during the Srivijayan times. However, as Islam spread to the local Orang Laut population in the 14th and 15th century, the influence of Buddhism and Hinduism were severely hampered, but through the influxes of Chinese immigrants from southern China, mostly from the Fujian Province, Buddhism was revived and managed to survive and grow. With the passage of time, Buddhism in Singapore develops its own unique culture and rituals. Practices and rituals of Taoisim, Confucianism, and even Hinduism are absorbed and assimilated into a single faculty.This development may seem odd to some people but it is definitely a concrete reflection of a multi-racial and multi-culture society, which in turn depicts the grace of Buddhism.

Not all Malays in Singapore are Muslims. According to the Singapore Census of Population 2000, 99.5% of the Malay population are Muslims with a 0.4% embracing other religions and a reported 0.1% with no religion. Within the Muslim community are the Indian Muslims of which make up to 22.1% of the Indian population in Singapore. There are also a few Chinese Muslims, but their figures are not readily available.

When Indian immigrants migrated soon after the founding of Singapore in 1819, they brought with them Hinduism. The early temples are still the central points of rituals and festivals, which are held throughout the year.

One will be able to find Christian churches of all denominations in Singapore. They were actually established with the arrival of various missionaries after the coming of Sir Stamford Raffles. Together with Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism, Christianity is considered one of the four main religions today.

There are 15,000 Sikhs in Singapore. The Central Sikh Temple was built to commemorate the 518th anniversary of Guru Nanak, the first Sikh guru. The temple boasts a skilful blend of modern and traditional architecture. The Guru Granth Sahib, or holy book, is enshrined in a magnificent prayer hall which has a 13-metre wide dome.

There are about 300 Jews in Singapore.Their religious activities centre around two synagogues, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue and the Chesed-El Synagogue.

Publications and public discussions of religious issues are generally considered out of bounds, and negative or inflammatory portrayals of religion are subject to censorship. However, this is certainly not conclusive as there has recently been a local publication that incessantly attacked Taoism under the pretext of academic research and yet escaped the brunt of fire.

Nevertheless, the Singapore: International Religious Freedom Report 2006[1] and submitted to Congress by the Department of State in compliance with Section 102(b) of the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) of 1998 makes note of the fact that the Constitution of Singapore provides for freedom of Religion but the Government restricted this right in some circumstances.

The report also goes on to state that The constitution provides that every citizen or person in the country has a constitutional right to profess, practice, or propagate his or her religious belief so long as such activities do not breach any other laws relating to public order, public health, or morality. as well as that In 1972 the Government de-registered and banned the Singapore Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses on the grounds that its existence was prejudicial to public welfare and order because its members refused to perform military service (an obligatory conscription of all male citizens), salute the flag, or swear oaths of allegiance to the state. At the time, there were approximately 200 Jehovah’s Witnesses in the country; at the end of the period covered by this report there were approximately two thousand. Although the Court of Appeals in 1996 upheld the rights of members of Jehovah’s Witnesses to profess, practice, and propagate their religious belief, and the Government does not arrest members for being believers, the result of de-registration has been to make public meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses illegal. Nevertheless, since the 1996 ruling, no charges have been brought against persons attending or holding Jehovah’s Witness meetings in private homes.

The report also makes mention of the restrictions against the distribution of Jehovah Witness literature and the incarceration of members for not performing military service.

The Unification Church has also been banned in Singapore since 1982.

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