Dear Muslim friends,
May abundant blessings be upon you all as you celebrate ‘Id Al-Fitr! We rejoice with you that the holy month of Ramadan has come to an end, and that its spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer and charitable works have left you once again spiritually rejuvenated and renewed.
2019 is a very special year for both Muslims and Catholics. On the eighth centenary of the meeting between Saint Francis of Assisi and Sultan Al-Malik al-Kāmil, Pope Francis, at the invitation of Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, made an Apostolic Journey to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from 3-5 February.
At an interreligious Human Fraternity Meeting and conference held on 4 February attended by over 700 religious leaders and scholars, Pope Francis and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Tayyeb jointly signed the landmark Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together (the Document). The Document calls on all believers who “through faith in God, who has created the universe, creatures and all human beings equal on account of his mercy… to express this human fraternity by safeguarding creation and the entire universe and supporting all persons, especially the poorest and those most in need.” It declares “the adoption of a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”
The Document also unequivocally condemns terrorist attacks on places of worship as a “deviation” from the authentic teachings of religions which “invite [believers] to remain rooted in the values of peace; to defend the values of mutual understanding, human fraternity and harmonious coexistence; to re-establish wisdom, justice and love; and to re-awaken religious awareness among young people so that future generations may be protected from the realm of materialistic thinking and from dangerous policies of unbridled greed and indifference that are based on the law of force and not on the force of law.” The Pope and the Grand Imam in their concluding statements in the Document expressed their aspiration that the Document might be “a sign of the closeness between East and West, between North and South, and between all who believe that God has created us to understand one another, cooperate with one another and live as brothers and sisters who love one another.”
Not long after this historic event in the UAE, on 18 March 2019 in Singapore, the Inter-Religious Organization, Singapore (IRO) celebrated its 70th anniversary. At the launch of the IRO’s 70th anniversary exhibition, ESM Goh Chok Tong, patron of the IRO, cautioned that Singapore’s situation is “an exception rather than the norm in the world… The [recent] heinous acts committed at two mosques in Christchurch are a sad reminder that the peace we enjoy is both precious and fragile, and cannot be taken for granted… Generations of Singaporeans and Singaporean governments have worked hard to make religious diversity our strength, not our weakness. And future generations must continue to do so.” In light of the even more recent attacks on Catholic churches in Sri Lanka and synagogues in the USA, the relevance of the IRO today cannot be underestimated, for the words of His Eminence Maulana Abdul Aleem Siddiqui, who founded the IRO in 1949, still ring true: “If it was ever necessary to create harmony among leaders and followers of different religions, it is more necessary and more urgent today when the world is living in fear of a Third World War. With this very idea the Inter-Religious Organisation was founded.”
As leaders and followers of member religions in the IRO, let us continue to work hard together to promote peace, religious harmony and social cohesion in our nation for the sake of future generations. By upholding the values of peace, love, joy and human fraternity that our faiths hold dear, and strengthening our existing culture of dialogue, mutual cooperation and reciprocal understanding, we will ensure that religious diversity in Singapore remains our strength. And by so doing, we will be the powerful sign of closeness that the Pope and the Grand Imam have already modelled for us.
On behalf of the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, and with heartfelt gratitude for the many years of genuine friendship we have enjoyed, we extend our warmest wishes to all our Muslim sisters and brothers for a very blessed Hari Raya Aidilfitri.
Most Rev William Goh, D. D., STL
Archbishop of Singapore
Msgr Philip Heng, S. J.
Vicar General (Interreligious Relations)