Finding ASEAN’s Common Ground

With 640 million people in ASEAN, consisting of 300 million Muslims, 120 million Christians, 150 million Buddhist, Taoist and Confucianist — the 9% of world population is in our region trying to live in harmony despite with all our differences. It is not just the seas, rivers and mountains that divides each member states but also the religion of its citizens.

Early colonizers were equipped not just with the goal to discover new lands and spices but to also spread religion like Christianity and Islam to our pagan natives. From India and China invaders, we have learned teachings of Buddhism and Confucianism. These are the major religions in ASEAN that is continually shaping us to our best versions not as just as an individual but as a nation.

It is in the core teaching of Buddhism, the acceptance of conditions and understanding that can give momentum to the principles that govern peaceful resolution. Buddhism also respect the environment, all because we are all interconnected (Gallagher, 2017). Christianity promotes love by having personal relationship with Jesus Christ who is sent by God the Father to redeem the humanity from its sins. In Islam, there are known five pillars which are the main actions practiced by a Muslim and are considered fundamental to their faith. First is Testimony, Prayer, Fasting, Alms Giving and the Hajj (Mirza, et. al., 2010). Each major religions in ASEAN have its distinct differences and impacts the people in various ways. The influence of these different religious and cultural diversity in ASEAN creates a good and bad effect on our region’s economic, political and social relations.

ASEAN community in slow motion is two step forward, one step backward, one sideward, it is like a circle going round and round. And if we slice its history, decade by decade it keeps growing because ASEAN is flexible (Haslinda, 2020). Our region’s flexibility conquers the religion barriers we are facing today. Singapore is a perfect example of a member state where Christians, Muslims, Buddhist and other minor religions live together in harmony. It is because the protection and right to practice religion is within the country’s law which is The Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act (Kwang, 2019). Having this on the table, allows a peaceful environment for all its citizen. Moreover, through this, a member state can directs its economy toward its goal, separates religion from politics and maintains a healthy community despite of its citizen’s religious differences. Singapore’s pattern is a perfect example to achieve successful ASEAN community building.

Pray Perez Nadal is currently taking Master of ASEAN Studies at University of Philippines Open University (UPOU).