How do you live well in Singapore
SingaporeOne city - all religions
A huge golden Buddha on a throne in front of a richly decorated wall with precious stones, brilliant red lacquered railings and galleries, warrior statues, golden flower reliefs and in the middle room the monks in yellow-red robes. Colorful rows of flags decorate the walls, on special occasions lion dancers under the fabric figures with plate-sized eyes honor the temple - the building next to the Chinatown complex, next to the construction site and social buildings, contains a relic: a tooth of Buddha. The visitors from all over the world are reverently silent - as long as they dress properly, if necessary with a loan scarf at the entrance - everyone is allowed to visit the temple.
Buddhist monks inside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum in Chinatown, Singapore. (Deutschlandradio / Lena Bodewein)
"A US research institute wanted to find out what religious diversity can be found in which country - Singapore is number one, we have the greatest religious diversity in the world!"
Says Mohammad Alami Musa, he leads a research program on interreligious relationships in plural societies. A good third of all Singaporeans are Buddhists, but if you go just a few steps further you will end up in front of a mosque and one of the oldest Hindu temples.
The Sultan Mosque in the Kampong Glam district of Singapore. (Deutschlandradio / Lena Bodewein)
"The mosque, the Hindu temple, the Chinese temple - they all coexist side by side. These places of worship were built by foreign merchants and traders who offered their thanks for a safe passage once they had docked in Singapore."
So money, trade, the harbor, which has been busy for centuries, has brought religions to Singapore, almost all religions in the world can be found here, from Armenian Christians to Indian Muslims, with all their internal and external characteristics. Temple Street, Pagoda Street, Mosque Street, they are all next to each other, the Hindu temple is right next to the magnificent entrance to the pedestrian zone of Chinatown, so that the giant glowing monkey of the current Chinese year can be seen right next to the many-armed gods, elephants and lions.
"Singapore has absorbed all of these different influences and the houses of worship reflect many different places from overseas in their architecture and design."
The Armenian church, for example, stands on a piece of lawn, hidden between hedges and spreads an idea of peacefulness in the bustling city. Built in British neoclassicism, with its white columns it heralds its early colonial origins - again it was merchants who wanted a place of worship.
Almost everything is celebrated in Singapore - in August there are huge bins in many corners of the city, in which a kind of religious play money is burned in heaps - for the festival of the Hungry Ghost. For the Indian festival of lights, Deepavali, the streets are colorfully illuminated, five-meter-high glittering peacock statues guard the entrance to Little India, and for the Chinese New Year festival, lions and dragons dance under round red lantern chains.
Between temples and dance studios
This mixture, this juxtaposition of faiths, the intermingling of yesterday and today is particularly easy to see in Telok Ayer Street. Chinese shophouses stand on one side, directly behind them the skyscrapers of the banks tower up glittering and densely packed, a dance studio for pole dance and lap dance greets you across the street, where a temple stands between a mosque and a shrine for Indian Muslims - one of the oldest and most important for the Hokkien Chinese, the Thien Hock Keng temple, the stern-looking seafarer goddess is enthroned here.
The Thian Hock Keng Temple in Chinatown, Singapore. (Deutschlandradio / Lena Bodewein)
"This urban landscape in which we are now, it is so modern - and yet there are so many places of faith and prayer in this city center, here are mosques, synagogues, temples and churches - religion is the heart of our lives."
We are in the old city center - if anything in Singapore can be considered old at all, in a city that is just two centuries under its belt. Between Chinatown, the financial district and the old red light district. Here, on the green of Telok Ayer, is one of the most beautiful squares in Singapore, between the shrine with its south Indian architecture and dHere they burn paper money for the spirits, there monks sing, on the next corner Hindu believers run their laps around their temple. A stroll through Singapore stumbles from pagoda to temple, from mosque to church. No other city in the world has more faiths than Singapore. How does it work? Em Taoist center at the Chinese temple, a small park, more like a passage, with palm trees, fountains and statues of earlier street scenes of the Malay population of that time, with fishermen and water sellers. Peace and quiet come over you, even when the high-rise commercial buildings and shopping centers flash over there - trade and religion in harmony.
This road used to be right on the coast of Singapore, Telok means bay and Ayer means water. The travelers, traders, merchants and fortune seekers who arrived on the ships saw the places of worship that had been erected here from afar, they came ashore to rest, to take water and provisions - and to pray.
"This street is iconic for the social landscape of Singapore. Singapore is the point between east and west, all travelers have their cultures and religions settled here, and today 83 percent of Singaporeans belong to a creed, the rest at least have religious feelings."
"Coexist and Integrate"
Singapore is neutral towards the religions, it is a secular country. But they cultivate the coexistence of the religions: All are represented in a council that tries to settle interreligious problems peacefully. Radical Muslim aspirations are nipped in the bud and Islamist preachers arrested, says Musa: "Coexist and integrate!" That's the mantra.
Singapore's prosperity is one of the most important things for the city, but social unity is needed to guarantee that. "Diversity has strengthened our social structure and contributed to our economic success." As is so often the case in Singapore, the most important thing can be traced back to one thing: there it is again, the money.
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