Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

Majority group must make special effort to reject majoritarian politics in multi-racial society: PM Lee

SINGAPORE — In a multi-racial society, the ethnic majority must make special efforts to reject majoritarian politics and realise that it is always harder to belong to a minority than majority group, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his keynote address at the inaugural International Conference on Communities of Success on Sept 9, 2022.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong delivering his keynote address at the inaugural International Conference on Communities of Success on Sept 9, 2022.

Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.
  • The majority ethnic group “has to go one step further” to ensure harmony in any multi-racial society, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said
  • In Singapore, minority groups such as the Muslim community have made pragmatic adjustments to ensure social cohesion in a diverse society, he added
  • Mr Lee was speaking at the inaugural International Conference on Communities of Success
  • He talked about how the Government deals with sensitive issues by recognising “different legitimate views” while maintaining a neutral position
  • In his lecture at the conference, the Mufti of Singapore said that allegiance to faith and nation can both go hand in hand

SINGAPORE — In a multi-racial society, the ethnic majority must make special efforts to reject majoritarian politics and realise that it is always harder to belong to a minority than majority group, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said.

At an international conference on Friday (Sept 9), he also spoke about how Muslim minorities around the world have to think about how to practise their faith — which is widely seen not just as a religion but an all-encompassing way of life — while being responsible and contributing citizens.

Mr Lee was delivering his keynote address at the inaugural International Conference on Communities of Success attended by 500 participants here and from overseas.

Organised by the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis), the conference aims to provide a platform for Muslim minority communities around the world to discuss how contextualised religious guidance and progressive religious leadership can empower Muslims to live as dignified and contributing citizens.

In his speech, Mr Lee also spoke about how countries with Muslim minorities around the world have to think about fostering the right attitudes and values to build a cohesive multi-religious society.

He gave examples of how, in Singapore, Muslims played their part in maintaining social cohesion with a spirit of mutual understanding and “pragmatic adjustments in accordance with their religious values”.

“There is no single approach, because every society is different. But there is much that we can learn from each other,” he said.

In spite of this, Mr Lee acknowledged that building a cohesive multi-racial, multi-religious society will be a continuous work in progress, and the wider community will have to address “new and spiky issues” from time to time.

For instance, a careful approach was taken in addressing two sensitive issues recently, namely allowing the wearing of Muslim headscarf in the healthcare sector, and the repeal of Section 377A of the Penal Code that criminalises sex between men.

REJECT MAJORITARIAN POLITICS

Mr Lee said that in order to live harmoniously in a diverse society, it is not only the minority groups who must make an effort, but the majority groups as well.

“In fact, in a multi-racial society, the majority group has to go one step further.”

This is by recognising and respecting the interests of the minorities, realising that “it is always harder” to belong to a minority than a majority group, and to be particularly mindful to not let minority groups feel left out.

He said that the bigger group must also reject majoritarian politics and adopt an attitude of compromise and accommodation.

Majoritarian politics refers to advocating the idea that the greatest number of people in a population — who may be categorised by ethnicity, religion or social class — should have the final say in matters or in deciding the outcome of decisions.

Chinese Singaporeans, as the majority racial group in Singapore, understand this attitude of compromise, even though it has not all been “sweetness and light”, Mr Lee added.

And when individuals or groups overstepped limits and offended other groups, the Government has had to stand firm.

“It has done so even at the risk of losing political support and votes. But this has been essential to uphold our fundamental value of multi-racialism, and to protect the delicate balance in our diverse society.”

MUSLIM COMMUNITY’S CONTRIBUTION TO COHESION

In Singapore, Mr Lee said, the minority communities including Muslims contribute to maintaining racial and religious harmony by approaching issues with a spirit of mutual understanding and accommodation.

“They understand that because of our multi-racial context, some things have to be done differently from elsewhere,” Mr Lee said, adding that Singapore has been fortunate to have had Muslim religious leaders who understood this.

He recalled how, in 1949, a Muslim scholar named Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddique proposed the formation of the Inter-Religious Organisation, which has since actively fostered religious tolerance and harmony here.

At the community level, Mr Lee said that Muslim Singaporeans also make pragmatic adjustments in accordance with their religious values, such as by adjusting how they make the call to prayer or azan.

In some countries, the azan is made by mosques over loudspeakers, but this “would not have been tenable in Singapore in the long run” given the high urban-density context here, he added.

Therefore, the azan is broadcast over national radio instead while turning loudspeakers in mosques inwards to avoid inconveniencing nearby residents who are majority non-Muslims.

“Because Muslims took this pragmatic approach, we have been able to build mosques within dense public housing estates, and have them be accepted and welcomed by their neighbours of all faiths,” Mr Lee said.

On its part, the Government “fought with single-minded determination to uphold multi-racialism, to bring the different races and religions together, and to reject sectarian or majoritarian politics”, he added.

This is done by ensuring that its policies and legislation uphold such beliefs, safeguard the rights of minorities and expand common spaces in society.

In dealing with sensitive issues, the Government takes a neutral and secular approach, while recognising and respecting the “different legitimate views and aspirations among Singaporeans”, and balance them fairly to reach a political accommodation.

Mr Lee recapped how, when it came to changing uniform rules to allow the wearing of Muslim headscarf in the healthcare sector, years were spent “preparing the ground”.

“Finally, last year, we made the change, and I am happy that it has gone smoothly and been well-accepted.”

On the intended repeal of Section 377A, the Government recognise that Islam considers homosexual acts to be sinful, and many Christians think so as well.

“But what some religions consider a sin should not necessarily therefore be made a crime.

“Like every human society, Singapore also has gay people in our midst. And like other Singaporeans, gay people want to be respected and accepted, too.”

Thus, in moving to decriminalise sex between men, it will be carried out while ensuring that it does not trigger any drastic shift in societal norms, he said.

Mr Lee stressed that even though many countries start off with the ambition to build a tolerant and inclusive society, it is not an easy task.

“Along the way, with electoral politics and majoritarian instinct, the temptation to use race and religion to win votes is always there.”

If followed through, this would result in sectarian division and, in extreme cases, oppression and bloodshed.

“Once a society evolves in that direction, it is very difficult to turn back.”

ALLEGIANCE TO FAITH AND NATION

In his lecture on Friday, Mufti Naziruddin Mohd Nasir, the top religious leader for Muslims here, said that the world should not be viewed as a binary of the religious and secular realms.

“This challenge is even more acute today, as the gulf between religious norms and values and the liberal secular state seems to widen.”

Dr Naziruddin added that if the divide is not bridged, the world will end up with communities withdrawing from the nation state and not participating fully.

“Our identities and allegiances to faith and nation do not need to conflict.

"For us in Singapore, we can be good Muslims, good neighbours and good Singaporeans,” he said, citing examples in history of how early Muslims made adjustments and compromises to build successful communities.

MORE EXCHANGES WITH OTHER MINORITY COMMUNITIES

Earlier at Friday’s conference, Mr Masagos Zulkifli, Minister for Social and Family Development, announced the inclusion of non-governmental organisation Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation under the Singapore Cooperation Programme.

The programme is Singapore’s flagship technical assistance programme for other countries, which helps them to develop their human capital. 

Mr Masagos, who is also Minister-in-charge of Muslim Affairs, said: “Through the collaboration between Rahmatan Lil Alamin Foundation and the Singapore Cooperation Programme, the Singapore Government will support the efforts of our Muslim community to host exchanges between communities, to promote best practices and ideas with other countries with minority Muslim populations.

“We hope that such exchanges will foster cooperation among these countries, including Singapore, and build communities of success.”

Related topics

Muis Lee Hsien Loong Muslim religion race social cohesion diversity

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.