Welcome Remarks by Chief Executive of Muis, Mr Esa Masood at Harmony Centre Virtual Hari Raya with Interfaith Network


Greetings to all our interfaith leaders and friends.

Thank you for joining us this afternoon on this joyous occasion as we come together for this Hari Raya celebration.

2 Hari Raya Aidilfitri marks the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan. It is anoccasion to celebrate after a month of fasting, abstinence and charity.

3 This year's Ramadan and Hari Raya have certainly been exceptional due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As with all other faith communities in Singapore, Muslims have had to make various adjustments to our religious life. Just like how we are meeting today, we have used technology to remain connected within our communities. Because of the closure of mosques, Muis developed a special YouTube Channel to provide religious content to our community. We learnt that in such a crisis, if we are able to adjust, there are also opportunities. For instance, when Mufti delivered his Hari Raya Sermon online, we received more than 100,000 views via Facebook and YouTube. Some of these views might represent a household joining in the service, that would allow us to connect directly with a few hundred thousand in the community at one time.

4 Just as we moved online for our religious observations, so too have we kept our bonds close, not just within our communities but across our faith communities. We were able to exchange well wishes across communities for the important celebrations we still continued despite the pandemic. We recognised the challenges we all faced as we keep our faith alive. We have discovered creative ways to stay connected with our family and friends through digital means.

5 For the very first time, the Harmony Centre (HA) is hosting a live digital Hari Raya celebration with our interfaith leaders and friends via Zoom. While it is not the same as being able to celebrate Hari Raya physically together at HA, this online celebration will definitely help to bridge the distance and allow us to keep our spirit of social cohesion alive.

6 As we gather here today, I would also like to take this opportunity to mark the symbolic handover of Harmony Centre from the incumbent Head of Harmony Centre, Ustaz Mohamed Ali Atan to the new Head of Harmony Centre, Ustazah Liyana Rosli Asmara form 1 July this year.

7 I’m sure everybody here is extremely familiar with Ustaz Ali, who has built such a good rapport with fellow faith leaders and activists throughout the years. He has not only developed many collaborative signature programmes such as the Harmony Games and the Scriptural Reasoning series, but also played host to so many visitors at so many levels for our learning journeys, from school children to civil servants to Prince Charles himself. At Muis, when we need to reach out to you for something, I just have to speak to Ustaz Ali, and he is able to reach you with just a touch of a button on his phone. This does not come about by accident, but through years of relationship and trust building.

8 It is significant to note that his successor, Ustazah Liyana is the first woman to be leading Harmony Centre since its opening in 2006. Certainly, Ustazah Liyana is a very familiar face to all of you and with the guidance of Ustaz Ali and the continued strong support from all our faith leaders, we are confident that the new she will be able to build on the good work of Ustaz Ali and continue the good work that Harmony Centre has been doing.

9 Although Ustaz Ali will be stepping down from his position as Head of Harmony Centre, I am glad to share that he will still be contributing to Harmony Centre as part of the newly appointed Panel of Muslim Interfaith Leaders. Our Mufti, Dr Nazirudin will be sharing briefly on this later.

10 Thank you Ustaz Ali for your invaluable contributions to Harmony Centre all these years. My congratulations and best wishes to both you and Ustazah Liyana in your new appointments.

11 Ustazah Liyana’s appointment comes at an opportune time, as Harmony Centre has, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, been re-examining itself and the role it has and will be playing in the social cohesion landscape in Singapore. Things will not be the same for the Centre, nor will it be quite the same for all religious organisations in Singapore. I hope that you will continue to give the new team, led by Ustazah Liyana, your full support.

12 Even as we move to Phase 2, we do not expect, for example, that the learning journeys we have been conducting may resume so soon. Neither can we resume our signature programmes such as the Building Bridges Programme or the Abdul Aleem Siddique Memorial Lecture, in the way we used to. Instead, new norms will have to be built, and new modalities of programmes developed. The online space will be our new frontier, the place that can breed divisive ideas, but even more so where we must actively win the hearts and minds of our communities and bring them together in mutual understanding.

13 I am glad the Harmony Centre team has already made some tentative steps in this direction. Two Saturdays ago the team held a Zoom Raya Celebr-Eid with the Interfaith Youth Circle. They are also collaborating with OnePeople.Sg for online tours, to take the traditional concept of learning journeys online. We are also exploring webinars to bring people together to discuss issues close to the heart.

14 Dear friends, allow me to conclude. We are now indeed in trying and unprecedented times. The current generation is facing probably the biggest challenge it has ever faced, with both lives and livelihoods at stake. But in such difficult and challenging times, there are still opportunities, particularly find ways to allow acts of kindness to flourish. Singapore will be defined by how we respond to this crisis, and I pray that the peaceful coexistence and strong friendship among religious groups – something that is so precious to all of us - will continue to strengthen through this test.

15 Thank you for making time to be here with all of us today. Let me end by wishing everyone here a “Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri!”.