Singapore is a famously diverse nation with sizeable ethnic populations made up of Malays, Tamils from the Indian sub continent and Chinese. In addition it boasts a large number of Europeans and mixed raced households and the government actively promotes religious and cultural tolerance.
All major world faiths are represented in Singapore, where you will come across mosques, churches, Hindu temples and even synagogues.
There are no ethnic ‘ghettos’ in Singapore. Virtually every neighbourhood will have a wide mix of cultures following each of the main religions in Singapore.
There are even sites such as the Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple in the east of the island where followers of Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam come to worship under one roof.
Buddhism in Singapore
The largest of the main faiths is Buddhism, which is followed mainly by the ethnic Chinese and accounts for over 40 per cent of the population. You will encounter Chinese temples all over the city from tiny community shrines to the towering Buddha Tooth Relic Temple (Open: 07:00-19:00 (daily, including public holidays); Admission: Free; 288 South Bridge Road, Chinatown, tel: +65 6220 0220, fax: +65 6220 1261; email: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.btrts.org.sg).
In fact this very same street is also home the imposing 19th century Jemae Mosque and the exuberant Sri Mariamman Hindu temple. The majority of Singapore’s Buddhists are followers of the Mahayana school, but forms of Thai, Tibetan and Japanese Buddhism are practiced and have become ever more popular in recent years.
The Chinatown Heritage Centre (Open: 09:00-20:00 (daily); Admission: adult/SGD$10, children (3-12years)/SGD$6; 48 Pagoda Street, Chinatown, tel: +65 6221 9556, +65 6338 6877, (email: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.chinatownheritagecentre.sg) is a great place to learn a little of the history of ‘Peranakan’ culture and offers an insight into everyday religious life for Singapore’s Buddhist community. More on Chinatown.
Islam and Hinduism in Singapore
Virtually all of Singapore’s Malay community practice Islam and there is a significant number of Muslims of Indian descent. The main Malay ethnic districts are in Geylang Serai and Kampong Glam where you will find the important Sultan Mosque. Singapore Islam incorporates some elements from Buddhism and Hinduism and is a more relaxed form than that found in mainland Malaysia. More on Kampong Glam.
A vast number of Indian immigrants brought Hindu practices to Singapore in the 19th century and even in Chinatown and predominantly Malay districts, you will find exotic Hindu temples filled day and night with faithful devotees. Temples such as the Sri Veevama Kaliaman (Open: 05:30-21:30 (daily); 141 Serangoon Road, tel: +65 6295 4538, +65 6293 4634, fax: +65 6392 4249, email: email@example.com, website:www.sriveeramakaliamman.com) are open to practicing Hindus and visiting tourists are welcome outside major Hindu festival times.
Christianity in Singapore
Ever since early colonial times, Christianity has had a major influence on Singapore’s cultural history and still plays an important role due to a large expat population.
Many straits Chinese also follow protestant and catholic beliefs and Singapore is one of the few places in Southeast Asia to have welcomed the pope on an official state visit. There are numerous churches throughout the city centre and suburban districts, often rubbing shoulders with exotic Chinese temples. The finest example to be found in Singapore is the imposing Gothic cathedral of St Andrews, which was built during the very early days of British colonial rule. It is a beautifully preserved white stucco building with a towering steeple. An even older religious landmark is the attractive orthodox Armenian Church of Gregory the Illuminator.
Religious festivals in Singapore
With so many recognised religions of equal importance, there is no shortage of national holidays and festivals taking place throughout the city. Christmas and New Year festivities are as colourful as anywhere in the West and generally celebrated with great enthusiasm by all ethnic communities. The major religious festivals include Hari Raya Idul Fitri which marks the end of the month long fasting period for Muslims and the Hindu festival of lights known as Deepavali, best experienced with a visit to Little India in November.
The Chinese community boasts the most spectacular of all festivities, starting with Chinese New Year celebrations in a brightly illuminated Chinatown and a boisterous ‘Hungry Ghost’ festival in August which features a month of spirit worship, art, music and dance. Other minority religions are not ignored in Singapore. There is a growing population of Jews, served by two synagogues and a small community of Indian Sikhs.