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Religion in Singapore

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Religion in Singapore

Religion in Singapore (2010)[1]

  Buddhism (33.3%)
  Islam (14.7%)
  Protestantism (11.3%)
  Taoism (10.9%)
  Catholicism (7.1%)
  Hinduism (5.1%)
  Other religions (0.7%)
  Not religious (17.0%)

Life in Singapore

Religion in Singapore is characterised by a diversity of religious beliefs and practices due to its diverse ethnic mix of peoples originating from various countries. Most major religious denominations are present in Singapore. An analysis by the Pew Research Center found Singapore to be the world's most religiously diverse nation.[2]

The most followed religion is Buddhism, with 33%[1] of the resident population declaring themselves as adherents at the most recent census.


The government of Singapore has attempted to transcend religious and racial boundaries. Some religions, especially those spearheaded by Chinese ethnic groups, have merged their places of worship with other religions such as Hinduism and Islam. A prominent example is that of Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple (situated in the eastern coastal line) wherein three religions, namely Taoism, Hinduism, and Islam are co-located.

Younger Singaporeans tend to combine traditional wisdom with religious beliefs introduced when the British colonised Singapore; for example, South Bridge Street, which was a major road through the old Chinatown, is home to the Sri Mariamman Temple (a south Indian Hindu temple that was declared a national historical site in the 1980s), as well as the Masjid Jamae Mosque that served Chulia Muslims from India's Coromandel Coast.

In schools, children are taught in social studies lessons about the Maria Hertogh riots and the 1964 Race Riots, as a reminder of the consequences of inter-religious conflict. Mixed-race classes, interaction between students of different races and the celebration of religious festivals also help inculcate religious tolerance and understanding from a young age.

Another religious landmark in Singapore is the Armenian Church of Gregory the Illuminator, the oldest church in Singapore, which was completed in 1836. It was also the first building in Singapore to have an electricity supply, when electric fans and lights were installed. Today, the church no longer holds Armenian services, as the last Armenian priest retired in the 1930s. Nonetheless, the church and its grounds have been carefully preserved and various Orthodox Church services are still held in it occasionally and Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria service on the first weekend of every month.

The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church are banned in Singapore.[3]

Religions of the main ethnic groups (2000)

Source: Census 2000.[4]


The Singapore census includes detailed data on religion and ethnicity, and is taken on a ten-year basis. Figures for religion for the past three decades are:[1]

Major Religions in Singapore
Religion Year Adherences Change
Buddhism 1990
42.5% +11.3%
33.3% -9.2%
Christianity 1990
14.6% +1.9%
18.3% +3.7%
Catholicism 1990
4.8% -
7.1% +2.3%
Protestantism 1990
9.8% -
11.3% +1.5%
Hinduism 1990
4.0% +0.3%
5.1% +1.1%
Islam 1990
14.9% -0.4%
14.7% -0.2%
Taoism 1990
8.5% -13.9%
10.9% +2.4%
Other religions 1990
0.6% +0.0%
0.7% +0.1%
No Religion 1990
14.8% +0.7%
17.0% +2.2%
Adherences amongst total resident population aged 15 years and above

The above figures refer to the resident population only, and do not include the non-resident population. (Singapore authorities do not release figures for the non-resident population which accounted for 18.33% of Singapore's population in 2005.)

Most Singaporeans celebrate the major festivals associated with their respective religions. The variety of religions is a direct reflection of the diversity of races living there. The Chinese are predominantly followers of Buddhism and Taoism with some exceptional agnostics. Malays are mostly Muslims and Indians are mostly Hindus but with significant numbers of Muslims and Sikhs from the Indian ethnic groups.

Religion is still an integral part of cosmopolitan Singapore. Many of its most interesting buildings are religious, be it old temples, modern churches, or exotic mosques. An understanding of these buildings do play a part in contributing to appreciation of their art.

Taoist, Confucianism, and Buddhist figures together with ancestral worship are combined into a versatile mix in Chinese tradition temples. In fact, these three religions had exerted their influences over Chinese cultures and traditions since ancient times. It is sometimes difficult to tell them apart when examining the Chinese heritage.


Thian Hock Keng, (built 1842) is the oldest Taoist temple in Singapore.

Followers of the Tao (The Way) adhere to the teachings of the ancient Chinese religious philosophy of Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism, also known as the Pure One, Celestial Worthy of the Way, or Tai Shang Lao Jun The Talismanic and Register Sect of mainstream Taoism is seen as the most influential through the numerous presence of spiritual mediums. They are concerned with life-after-death theory, the balance of the two cosmos energies of which are depicted through the Taoist Yin and Yang theory, and vitality, good-health, and longevity.

Feng Shui, literally translated as wind and water, also originated from the Taoist Yin and Yang theory and is deeply rooted in ancestral worshiping that seeks to harmonise the pnuemas between the living (yang) and the dead (yin). Ancestral worship is a common practice of the Chinese and the Qing Ming Festival during the second full moon is observed by the majority. This reflects that Chinese tradition remains extant in modern Singapore. They pray in memory of their bereaved love ones and the spirits of the dead are honoured with offerings including food, beverages, joss-paper, joss-sticks, and even paper houses, which are intrinsic practices of the Taoists.

Although Taoist temples and shrines are abundant in Singapore, the official number of followers has dwindled drastically over the years from 22.4% to 8.5% between the years 1990 to 2000. This, however, may be accounted for by the unclear delineation between Taoism and Buddhism in popular perception. For example, the difference between the two religions can be so negligible that when a Chinese says that he 'offers incense sticks' it is usually assumed that he is a Buddhist even though he may not actually be Buddhist.


The Sakya Muni Buddha Gaya Temple on Race Course Road is a widely visited Buddhist temple in Singapore.

One will be able to find monasteries and Dharma centres from all three major traditions of Buddhism in Singapore: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Most Buddhists in Singapore are Chinese and are of the Mahayana tradition. 33.3% of the population of Singapore is Buddhist.

Chinese Mahayana is the most predominant form of Buddhism in Singapore with missionaries from Taiwan and China for several decades. However, Thailand's Theravada Buddhism has seen growing popularity amongst the people (not confining to the Chinese) in the past decade. A vast majority of the Singapore charter of Soka Gakkai International are of Chinese descent, though there are some members from other ethnic groups as well. Tibetan Buddhism is also making a slow inroad into the country in recent years.

Bahá'í Faith

K. M. Fozdar (1898–1958) and Shirin Fozdar (1905–1992), were the first to introduce the Baha'i Faith to Singapore when they settled here in 1950. Shirin Fozdar was well known throughout Singapore and Asia for her work in the cause of women's emancipation. Her arrival in Singapore had been preceded by an article in The Straits Times on 15 September 1950 under the heading "A Woman with a Message". Through the efforts of Dr and Mrs Fozdar, by 1952 there were enough Baha'is in Singapore to form the first Local Spiritual Assembly. The community has since grown to over 2000 members and today there are five Local Spiritual Assemblies in Singapore.

They oversee a wide range of activities including the education of children, devotional services, study classes, discussion groups, social functions, observance of holy days, marriages and funeral services. Baha'i marriage is recognised under the laws of Singapore and the solemniser is appointed by the Registrar of Marriages. The Baha'is have been provided with a cemetery in Choa Chu Kang since 1957 and the nine Baha'i Holy Days have been gazetted since 1972. Members of the first Local Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Singapore, incorporated 28 July 1952. The five Local Spiritual Assemblies come under the jurisdiction of the Spiritual Assembly of the Baha'is of Singapore, the national governing council which was established in 1972.

The national governing council also appoints the executive members of the various offices which plan and carry out social service projects and collaborate with government and non-government organisations. The Baha'i teachings stress the importance of obedience to civil government and laws. While Baha'is may accept non-partisan government appointments, they do not engage in partisan political activity. The members firmly uphold the injunction of Baha'u’llah, that "they must behave towards the government with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness".


The Sultan Mosque, built in 1826 in the Kampong Glam district, is the oldest and one of the largest mosque in Singapore.

According to the 2010 census, around 14.7% of the resident population in Singapore registered themselves as Muslims. Most mosques in Singapore cater to Sunni Muslims due to the vast majority of Singaporean Muslims adhering to the Sunni Shafi'i or Hanafi school of thought, although there are mosques that cater to the needs of the Shia community as well. There are approximately 200 Ahmadi Muslims.[5]

Whilst a majority of Muslims in Singapore are traditionally ethnic Malays, there is also a significant growing number of Muslims from other ethnic groups; in particular, there is a sizeable number of Muslims amongst ethnic Indians that statistically include Tamil Muslims and ethnic Pakistanis in Singapore as well. For this reason, a number of mosques (mostly Tamil-speaking) specifically cater to the needs of the Indian Muslim community. Additionally, under the direction of the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS), English is increasingly being used as the language of administration, religious instruction and sermons for Friday prayers[6] in mosques across Singapore to cater to Muslims who may not necessarily be Malay-speaking.[7]

The ethnic breakdown of Muslims according to the 2010 Singapore Census of Population are as follows:[8]

Ethnic Group Population of Resident Ethnic Group registered as Muslims Percentage Resident Ethnic Group registered as Muslims Percentage of Resident Population Total Resident Population of Ethnic Group
Chinese 11,176 0.4% 74.1% 2,793,980
Malays 497,318 98.7% 13.4% 503,868
Indians 75,541 21.7% 9.2% 348,119
Others 11,569 9.2% 3.3% 125,754
Overall 14.7%


Armenian Church (built 1835) is the oldest church in Singapore.

Christian churches of most denominations are present in Singapore. They were established with the arrival of various missionaries after the coming of Sir Stamford Raffles. Together with Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism, Christianity is considered one of the four main religions today. Christianity in Singapore is not tied to a particular ethnic or racial group.

In 1985, Mother Teresa spoke at a stadium describing her experiences in Calcutta. On 20 November 1986, Pope John Paul II visited Singapore.


Sri Mariamman Temple (built 1827) in the Chinatown district is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore.

The majority of Singapore's present Hindus are descendants of Indians who migrated soon after the founding of Singapore in 1819. The early temples are still the central points of rituals and festivals, which are held throughout the year.


Central Sikh Temple (founded 1912) is the oldest Sikh gurdwara in Singapore.

The first Sikhs to settle in Singapore came in 1849. As of 2011, there are 10,744 Sikhs in Singapore.[1]


Maghain Aboth Synagogue, (built 1878) is the oldest Jewish synagogue in Singapore.

The first Jews to settle in Singapore came from India in 1819. As of 2008, there are about 1000 Jews in Singapore.[9] Their religious activities centre around two synagogues, the Maghain Aboth Synagogue and the Chesed-El Synagogue.

There were over 1,500 Jewish inhabitants in 1939. Many were interned by the Japanese during World War II, and a number subsequently emigrated to Australia, England, the United States, and Israel. As a result, the community numbered approximately 450 in 1968. In 2005, the number reached 300. Because of a large Ashkenazi immigration rate to Singapore in recent years, the population is now between 800 and 1000 and comprises mostly foreign Ashkenazi Jews.



Singapore Jain Religious Society, in Jalan Yasin, Singapore.
The Jain community celebrated a presence of 100 years in Singapore marking the occasion by rededicating the "Stanak" and consecrating the idol of Mahavira. This brings together the two main sects of Jains – Svetambara and Digambara. The Singapore Jain Religious Society actively engages in keeping traditions and practices alive by transmitting Jain principles to the next generation. It also has a strong history of community involvement. The community has no temple, but the Singapore Jain Religious Society has a building at 18 Jalan Yasin.

As of 2006, there are 1,000 Jains in Singapore.[10]

No religious affiliation

As of 2010, 17.0% of Singaporeans had no religious affiliation. Non-religious Singaporeans are found in various ethnic groups and all walks of life in the diverse, multicultural city state. The Singapore non-religious community itself is very diverse, with many calling themselves atheists, agnostics, humanists, theists or sceptics. In addition, there some people who decline religious labels but still practice traditional rituals like ancestor worship. The number of non-religious people in Singapore has risen gradually over the decades. Census reports show that those who said they have no religion rose from 13.0% in 1980 to 17.0% in 2010. In recent years, social gatherings of non-religious people are getting popular in Singapore.[11] The Singapore Humanism Meetup is a major network of 400 over secular Humanists, freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics. In October 2010, the Humanist Society (Singapore) became the first humanist group to be gazetted as a society.[12]


The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, other laws and policies restricted this right in some circumstances.[3] Publications and public discussions of religious issues are generally censored, along with negative or inflammatory portrayals of religion. The Government does not tolerate speech or actions that it deems could adversely affect racial or religious harmony.

In 1972 the Singapore government de-registered and banned the activities of Jehovah's Witnesses in Singapore on the grounds that its members refuse to perform military service (which is obligatory for all male citizens), salute the flag, or swear oaths of allegiance to the state.[13][14] Singapore has banned all written materials published by the International Bible Students Association and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, both publishing arms of the Jehovah's Witnesses. A person who possesses a prohibited publication can be fined up to $1500 (Singapore Dollars $2,000) and jailed up to 12 months for a first conviction.[3]

The Unification Church has also been banned in Singapore since 1982 as they were deemed to be a potential cult and thus disruptive to public welfare.

In 2011, Wikileaks published diplomatic cables which attributed controversial comments regarding Islam to Lee Kuan Yew, the "Mentor" Minister of Singapore's government. Wikileaks quoted Lee as having described Islam as a "venomous religion". Lee later denied making the comments.[15]

The incident followed Lee's controversial book release "Lee Kuan Yew: Hard Truths to Keep Singapore Going". In the book, Lee claimed that Singaporean Muslims faced difficulties in integrating because of their religion, and urged them to "be less strict on Islamic observances"[16] – an assertion that is seemingly contrary to statistics and studies on the levels of social acceptance, tolerance and interracial marriages practised by Singaporean Muslim.[17]

The speakers for broadcasting the Islamic call to prayer were turned inwards to broadcast towards the interior of the mosques as part of a noise abatement campaign in 1974.[18] Limits were also placed on "racial" groups inhabiting Singapore's HDB buildings.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d "Demographic Characteristics, Education, Language and Religion", Singapore Census 2010, Statistical Release 1: 11, retrieved 17 November 2014 
  2. ^ "Global Religious Diversity". Pew Research. Retrieved 15 April 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c "2010 International Religious Freedom Report 2010: Singapore", U. S. State Department, 17 November 2010, As Retrieved 15 January 2011
  4. ^ "Census 2000 – Chapter 5: Religion" (PDF). Retrieved 29 August 2011. 
  5. ^ James L. Peacock. Muslim Puritans: Reformist Psychology in Southeast Asian Islam. p. 147. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Runyan, Tamar (6 March 2008). "Singapore's Jews Experience Cultural Rebirth".  
  10. ^ "Jainism Joins National Inter-Faith Organization (Singapore)". Retrieved 13 January 2011. 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ "Singapore", International Religious Freedom Report 2004, U. S. Department of State, As Retrieved 11 March 2010
  15. ^ "Lee Kuan Yew Denies Branding Islam as ‘Venomous Religion’" Jakarta globe, 5 September 2011.
  16. ^ "Singapore's Lee backtracks on Muslim comments’" Channel News Asia, 28 January 2011.
  17. ^
  18. ^ Lysloff, René T. A. Music and technoculture. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press (2003), pg. 113.
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