Religion in Singapore

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Religion in Singapore (census 2015)[1]

  Buddhism (33.2%)
  Christianity (18.7%)
  None (18.5%)
  Islam (14.0%)
  Taoism and folk religion (10.0%)
  Hinduism (5.0%)
  Sikhism or Other religion (0.6%)
Flag of Singapore.svg

Life in Singapore

Religion in Singapore is characterised by a wide variety of religious beliefs and practices due to its diverse ethnic mix of peoples originating from various countries. This means that Singapore is commonly termed as a "melting pot" of various religious practices originating from different religious denominations around the world. Most practised religious denominations are present in Singapore, with the Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore (IRO) recognising 10 major religions in the city state.[2] A 2014 analysis by the Pew Research Center found Singapore to be the world's most religiously diverse nation.[3]

The most followed religion in Singapore is Buddhism, with 33.2% of the resident population declaring themselves as adherents at the most recent census (2015). A large majority of Buddhists in Singapore are Chinese, with 42.29% of the ethnic Chinese population in Singapore declaring themselves as Buddhists at the most recent census (2015).[1] However, there are also sizeable numbers of non-Chinese ethnic groups in Singapore that practise Buddhism, such as the Sinhalese, Burmese and Thais.


The government of Singapore is officially tolerant of different religions and encourages religious harmony among the different religions found in Singapore. However, some religions or denominations are officially banned by the government, such as Jehovah's Witnesses and the Unification Church, although their followers do still practise in secrecy.[4][5][6] Some religions, especially those practised 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 Buddhism are co-located.

Younger Singaporeans tend to combine traditional philosophies with religious beliefs introduced when the British colonised Singapore. One prominent example is South Bridge Street, which was a major road through the old Chinatown, where it houses 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.

Statistics and demographics[edit]

The Singapore census includes detailed data on religion and ethnicity, and is taken on a ten or five-year basis. Figures for religion for the past three decades are:[7][8][1][9]

% 1980
% 1990
% 2000
% 2010
% 2015
Buddhism 26.7% 31.1% 42.5% 33.3% 33.2%
Taoism and folk religion 30.0% 22.4% 8.5% 10.9% 10.0%
Christianity 9.9% 12.5% 14.6% 18.4% 18.7%
Catholicism n/a n/a 4.8% 7.1% 6.7%
Protestantism and other non-Catholic n/a n/a 9.8% 11.3% 12.0%
Not religious 13.1% 14.3% 14.8% 17.0% 18.5%
Islam 16.2% 15.4% 14.9% 14.7% 14.0%
Hinduism 3.6% 3.7% 4.0% 5.1% 5.0%
Other religions 0.5% 0.6% 0.6% 0.7% 0.6%

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,Taoism and Christianity with many irreligious exceptions. 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 significant buildings are religious, be it temples, churches or mosques.An understanding of these buildings do play a part in contributing to appreciation of their art.

Taoist and Confucian doctrines and deities, together with ancestral worship, are combined in various ways in the Chinese folk religions and Chinese folk religious sects.

Universalising religions[edit]


Main Shrine Hall of Singapore Buddhist Lodge
The Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery is a widely visited Buddhist temple in Singapore.

A large plurality of Singaporeans declare themselves as Buddhist, with 33.3% of the Singaporean population being Buddhist.

Most missionaries can hail from China, Tibet, perhaps Taiwan), Thailand, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Japan[citation needed].

There are Buddhist monasteries and centres from the three major traditions of Buddhism in Singapore: Theravada, Mahayana and Vajrayana. Most Buddhists in Singapore are Chinese and are of the Mahayana tradition.

Whilst a majority of Buddhists in Singapore are traditionally ethnic Chinese, there is a significant number of Buddhists in Singapore that come from other ethnic groups such as the Sinhalese and the Myanmese. Due to the presence of these Buddhists from these ethnic groups, there are Buddhist centres and temples that serves these people, such as Sri Lankaramaya Buddhist Temple and Burmese Buddhist Temple.

Buddhism of every tradition is well represented in Singapore, such as Tibetan Buddhism, Thai Buddhism and Chinese Mahayana Buddhism. They were brought together over years of immigration to Singapore, brought by many foreign Buddhist monks. Due to the melting pot of Buddhist traditions here in Singapore, it is not uncommon to see Thai Buddhist Temples and Tibetan Buddhist Centres, besides the uncountable Chinese Buddhist Temples.

The sight of such temples gives Buddhists in Singapore a warm feeling in their hearts, as these are places where they spend their times with their loved ones the most, such as going to temples to offer incense and attend meditation and chanting services.

Occasionally, Buddhist monks from the west such as Ajahn Brahm, who is an Australian monk, comes to Singapore to give Buddhist Talks to the public. Additionally, the recent revival of Buddhist societies in Singapore such as Singapore Polytechnic Buddhist Society has helped youths in Singapore gain a better insight into Buddhism.

Recently, there are many Buddhist temples in Singapore that are undergoing major renovations, to have a fresh new building facade and to cater to the younger crowd. Singapore Buddhist Lodge has recently renovated their Main Shrine Hall and since it has open its doors to the public, it has been drawing hundreds of people from all over Singapore to visit.

In addition, Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery has also opened the Buddhist College of Singapore to provide a centre for Buddhist education to Singaporeans.

Such additions and renovations to these temples have improved their visitor count greatly.

As time goes by, a sizeable number of Buddhist temples in Singapore have decided to use English over Mandarin as their main language of communication during their temple services to cater to the growing English-Speaking Buddhist congregation.

Indirectly, many young Chinese Singaporeans are now spending time with their family to rediscover their Buddhist roots.

Population of resident ethnic group registered as Buddhism 2015.[10]

Ethnic Group Population of Resident Ethnic Group registered as Buddhism Percentage Resident Ethnic Group registered as Buddhism Percentage of Resident Population Total Resident Population of Ethnic Group
Chinese 1,064,685 42.29 % 76.84% 2,517,580
Malays 200 0.05% 11.88% 389,090
Indians 1,810 0.67% 8.25% 270,220
Others 21,300 21.45% 3.03% 99,300
Overall 1,087,995 33.21% 100% 3,276,190


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

Christian churches can be found across Singapore.

Both Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II visited Singapore.

Population of resident ethnic group registered as Christianity 2015.[11]

Ethnic Group Population of Resident Ethnic Group registered as Christianity Percentage Resident Ethnic Group registered as Christianity Percentage of Resident Population Total Resident Population of Ethnic Group
Chinese 526,170 20.90 % 76.84% 2,517,580
Malays 1,590 0.41% 11.88% 389,090
Indians 32,720 12.11% 8.25% 270,220
Others 55,600 66.58% 3.03% 99,300
Overall 616,080 18.80% 100% 3,276,190


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 2015 census, around 14% 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.[12] Singapore also contains the oldest Muslim women's organization in the world: Young Women Muslim Association of Singapore.

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[13] in mosques across Singapore to cater to Muslims who may not necessarily be Malay-speaking.[14]

The ethnic breakdown of Muslims according to the 2010 Singapore Census of Population are as follows:[15]

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 8,680 0.34% 76.84% 2,517,580
Malays 385,890 99.18% 11.88% 389,090
Indians 57,520 21.28% 8.25% 270,220
Others 7,800 7.85% 3.03% 99,300
Overall 459,890 14.03% 100% 3,276,190


K. M. Fozdar (1898–1958) and Shirin Fozdar (1905–1992), were the first to introduce the Bahá'í 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 Bahá'ís 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. Bahá'í marriage is recognised under the laws of Singapore and the solemniser is appointed by the Registrar of Marriages. The Bahá'ís have been provided with a cemetery in Choa Chu Kang since 1957 and the nine Bahá'í 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 Bahá'ís 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 Bahá'í teachings stress the importance of obedience to civil government and laws. While Bahá'ís may accept non-partisan government appointments, they do not engage in partisan political activity. The members firmly uphold the injunction of Bahá'u'lláh, that 'they must behave towards the government with loyalty, honesty and truthfulness'.[citation needed]


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.[7]

Ethnic religions[edit]


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

Followers of Taoism ("The Way") adhere to the teachings of the ancient Chinese religious philosophy of Laozi, the founder of Taoism, also known as the Pure Celestial Worthy of the Way. Besides codified Taoism—which in some places, like Taiwan, is mostly represented by the Zhengyi order—Taoism in Singapore also comprehends a wide variety of Chinese folk religions.[1]

Feng shui, literally "wind and water", originated from the school of yin and yang 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 Qingming Festival during the second full moon is observed by the majority. This reflects that Chinese tradition remains extant in modern Singapore. They pray in tribute to their bereaved ancestors, where their spirits are honoured with offerings including food, beverages, joss paper, incense sticks, and even paper houses, which are intrinsic practices for 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 negligible enough that when a Chinese says that they "offer incense sticks" it is usually assumed that they are Buddhist even though they may not actually be Buddhist. The 2010 and 2015 censuses have shown that Taoist identity has declined again to represent about 10% of Singapore's population.


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.


There is also a sizeable population of 4,500 Zoroastrians living in Singapore. In 1985, non-Parsi members can join a community but have no voting rights. Unlike India and Iran, the Parsi community is growing faster due to the significant toleration of their religion as in India.


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 1,000 Jews in Singapore.[16] 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 during the Japanese occupation of Singapore in 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 1,000, mostly foreign Ashkenazi Jews.


Singapore Jain Religious Society on 18 Jalan Yasin, Singapore.

The Jain community celebrated 100 years in Singapore by rededicating the "Stanak" and consecrating the idol of Mahavira. This brought together the two main sects of Jains, the Śvētāmbara 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 Jains have no temple, but the Singapore Jain Religious Society has a building on 18 Jalan Yasin.

As of 2006, there were 1,000 Jains in Singapore.[17]

No religious affiliation[edit]

As of 2015, 18.5% 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, free thinkers, humanists, secularist, 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. 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.[18]


The constitution provides for freedom of religion; however, other laws and policies restricted this right in some circumstances.[5] 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.

Nontrinitarian Christianity[edit]

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.[19][20] 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.[5]

Since 1982, the Unification Church has also been banned in Singapore, 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 Minister Mentor of Singapore's government. Wikileaks quoted Lee as having described Islam as a "venomous religion". Lee later denied making the comments.[21]

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"[22] – an assertion that is seemingly contrary to statistics and studies on the levels of social acceptance, tolerance and interracial marriages practised by Singaporean Muslims.[23]

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.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Statistics Singapore: 2015 General Household Survey Archived 5 May 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Religion data Archived 9 April 2016 at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ "Introducing Singapore's IRO – Inter-Religious Organisation". Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  3. ^ "Global Religious Diversity". Pew Research. Retrieved 15 April 2014.
  4. ^ "Just Like Us: Inside the Lives of Singapore's Jehovah's Witnesses". RICE. 24 June 2017. Retrieved 14 September 2019.
  5. ^ a b c "2010 International Religious Freedom Report 2010: Singapore", U. S. State Department, 17 November 2010, As Retrieved 15 January 2011
  6. ^ "International Religious Freedom Report for 2013: Singapore". U.S. State Department. Retrieved 28 June 2015.
  7. ^ a b "Demographic Characteristics, Education, Language and Religion" (PDF), Singapore Census 2010, Statistical Release 1, p. 11, archived from the original (PDF) on 16 May 2017, retrieved 1 April 2015
  8. ^ "Census of Population 2010 Statistical Release 1" (PDF). Department of Statistics. Archived from the original (PDF) on 13 November 2013. Retrieved 2 February 2014.
  9. ^ Saw Swee-Hock. The Population of Singapore (Third Edition). Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2012. ISBN 9814380989. Percentage of religious groups from the censuses of 1980, 1990, 2000 and 2010 at page 42.
  10. ^ ""Religion by Ethnic in Singapore 2015"". Archived from the original on 13 August 2017. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  11. ^ ""Religion by Ethnic in Singapore 2015"". Archived from the original on 13 August 2017. Retrieved 13 August 2017.
  12. ^ James L. Peacock. Muslim Puritans: Reformist Psychology in Southeast Asian Islam. p. 147. Retrieved 2 April 2014.
  13. ^ "Muis: Office of the Mufti".
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 14 January 2014. Retrieved 14 January 2014.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  15. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 5 May 2017. Retrieved 26 March 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  16. ^ Runyan, Tamar (6 March 2008). "Singapore's Jews Experience Cultural Rebirth".
  17. ^ "Jainism Joins National Inter-Faith Organization (Singapore)". Retrieved 13 January 2011.
  18. ^
  19. ^ "Singapore".
  20. ^ "Singapore", International Religious Freedom Report 2004, U. S. Department of State, As Retrieved 11 March 2010
  21. ^ "Lee Kuan Yew Denies Branding Islam as ‘Venomous Religion’" Jakarta globe, 5 September 2011.
  22. ^ "Singapore's Lee backtracks on Muslim comments’" Channel News Asia, 28 January 2011.
  23. ^ Chin, Yolanda; Vasu, Norman (31 December 2012). The Ties that Bind and Blind: A Report on Inter-Racial and Inter-Religious Relations in Singapore. Centre of Excellence for National Security, Nanyang Technological University. Retrieved 9 October 2016.
  24. ^ Lysloff, René T. A. Music and technoculture. Middleton, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press (2003), pg. 113.