Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle
After the arrest of 15 Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) members in Singapore in December 2001, there were jitters in the community. The Malay-Muslim community was worried that they would be discriminated against, while non-Muslims grew suspicious of their Muslim neighbours.
This growing distrust threatened to disturb Singapore’s multiracial, multi-religious society, prompting then-PM Goh Chok Tong to promote open and public dialogue. He believed that the best way to address pockets of disquiet within society was for the community to take action.
Apart from encouraging every community to speak up against extremist voices, weed out deviant teachings and remove practices that reduce common space between the races, the government also formed Inter-Racial Confidence Circles, or IRCCs, in 2002.
They served as important bridges for leaders of the various racial and religious communities to interact through networking sessions and inter-faith dialogues and visits.
(Image: Ministry of Culture, Community, and Youth, Singapore)
Renamed Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circles in 2007, IRCCs continue to act as peacekeepers. Besides promoting inter-faith interaction and understanding, they also respond quickly to racial and religious tensions by addressing ground concerns, quashing rumours and preserving solidarity among members.
IRCCs have also had to arbitrate on the use of common spaces by religious organisations like mosques or temples. One example was when a fire-walking festival used the common area outside a Hindu temple. The IRCCs were involved during the planning stages to find ways to minimise disruption to residents and businesses.
(Image: National Archives of Singapore)
Kembangan-Chai Chee IRCC chairman Fazlur Rahman noted that religious leaders already have sufficient platforms to communicate with each other. He said “What we need now are more ground-up initiatives where members of the community from various religious groups, especially the youth, come forward.”
Indeed, 29-year-old librarian Joti Upadhya, who attended the National IRCC Convention 2018, said: “Usually we need to have events to discuss such issues (on race and religion). But we need to go beyond that. We should discuss them with our friends during lunches or gatherings.”