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Khatim Hamidon I dont like toleration, confessed religious commentator and historian Karen Armstrong at her recent Singapore

visit on June 18, 2007. But dont misunderstand her just yet. Its too grudging a word, she continued, suggesting that there should instead be a move towards appreciation of faiths. Armstrong, 63, was talking from her lecture entitled The Role of Religion in the New Millennium at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia, under the invitation of the Muslim Converts Association of Singapore, in collaboration with the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS). Approximately 800 people attended the talk chaired by Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Yaacob Ibrahim, which included several VIPs, like the Mufti, Syed Isa Semait and Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sport, Vivian Balakrishnan. Looking unlike a stuffy English academic, Armstrong was clad in a black formal dress, adorned with chunky jewellery. Due to her hectic schedule here, she had come straight to the talk from a dinner event with several VIPs. She explained that there is much to benefit from the pooling of insights by learning and appreciating each others traditions. This is because to survive in the new millennium, religion has an essential role, she said. In her speech, she advocated the Golden Rule, do not do unto others what you do not want others do unto you, which is found in the teachings of major world religions, including Confucianism, Judaism and Christianity. The rule, she opines, should be a driving force in politics and religion, instead of how the world is now run by short term economic goals. However, she insists that compassion, by following the Golden Rule, has got nothing to do with sudden good-hearted tenderness. It is a fundamental respect for all human beings, Armstrong said, noting that the term love in loving a stranger as actually a technical and judicial term used historically in treatises, portraying dedicated support and loyalty to one another. But being compassionate can be the most difficult thing to do, she admitted. People dont want to be compassionate, she said, attributing laziness and selfishness as the reason behind it. Religion in truth should encourage the loss of ego, she maintained, but now people want religion to enhance them instead. Her speech and the Question-and-Answer section, which spanned over 1 hours, covered a wide range of topics. Apart from preaching the overarching theme of compassion, Armstrong talked about the origins of terrorism, saying that it is a religiously articulated form of nationalism. Since all world religions were established as a reaction against violence, she said, terrorists have gone astray with their plots.

Armstrong also talked about how fundamentalism in Muslim countries like Iran and Turkey sprang about. She said that secularism was imposed on them so abruptly and harshly that it was thought as an attack on the peoples beliefs, rather than as a liberating force. Better known as the runaway nun, Armstrongs claim to fame was her popularly embraced biography of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), written at the midst of the Salman Rushdie affair. A self-confessed freelance monotheist, she has published more than 20 books on world religions, including the three Abrahamic faiths and Buddhism, and is currently a fellow at the Jesus Seminar. Page 1 of 2