Historically, Singapore’s influences have been broadly consistent with those found on the Malay Peninsula, variously ruled over by the Buddhist Srivijaya Empire and falling successively to the Tamil Hindu Chola empire of Sri Lanka, Buddhist Siam, the Hindu-Buddhist Majapahit Empire and the subsequent Islamisation of the territory before the arrival of the European powers and their Christian traditions.

Singapore achieved something of an independent character under the British, who developed the port into the prototype of the modern major conurbation we see today, and through their influence brought in many of the culturally diverse elements, largely through the import of migrant workers.

After the final settlement which restored independence to Malaysia, Singapore was merged with the Malaysian Federation in 1963, but amid widespread unrest was finally expelled in 1965, and forced to forge its own nationhood, at which, despite considerable obstacles, it has since excelled.

At the heart of Singapore’s efforts to institute stable government, careful management of the potentially thorny issue of religion has been paramount in its success.

For this reason, the vast housing projects instituted by the government are allocated quotas of residency based upon the overall mix of religions to provide not only balanced representation, but avoid the potential problems of the ghettoization of cultures. 

Likewise public holidays in the country are a carefully selected concoction derived from the various religious sensitivities, aimed at the harmonious integration of diverse communities, and the education system instils an understanding of all faiths and ethnicities, with social harmony being the overarching principal.

To this end the Singapore constitution promotes freedom of belief and tolerance to all religions, but has also has acted against the proselytization of certain groups deemed to be of threat to this cherished stability, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Korean Unification Church.

Buddhism is the most widely practiced of all the major religions in Singapore, observed by around a third of the population, which also reflects the majority Chinese ethnic component of the country, and Theravada, Vajrayana are practiced alongside the majority Mahayana forms. Other religions practiced among the ethnic Chinese include Taoism and Chinese folk traditions, including ancestor worship.

Perhaps because of Singapore’s modernity and tolerance, the second largest of the widely held beliefs in modern Singapore is that of Atheism, with some twenty percent espousing no particular faith, and preferring humanist ideals.

Due to the significant Malay population residing in Singapore, totalling around fifteen percent, the protection of Islam is, as in Malaysia, reinforced by the application of Sharia law, outside the jurisprudence of the civil courts, and measures to prevent the attempted conversion of Muslims by other faiths are in place.

The main form of Islam in Singapore is that of the Sunni tradition, though Shia mosques are also present. Most Muslims are of Malay origin, though there are some Indian, Pakistani and Tamil Muslims present. Interestingly, in Singapore, the speaker systems commonly deployed elsewhere as a call to prayer, are turned inwards to the mosques to avoid their presence predominating.

Christianity, largely introduced under the auspices of the colonial period, also has a significant thriving following in Singapore, with most major denominations having a presence here, and adherence to Protestant faiths the strongest.

Despite its long association with the religion during its early times, with the fourteenth century domination of the Islamic Sultanates, Hinduism declined and disappeared, and is nowadays only practiced among the descendants of British era Indians, brought over as migrant workers, who comprise around five percent of the modern population, with the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore dating to 1863.

Along with the Hindu labour brought in by the British Empire, a smaller number of Sikhs were employed as a police force, mainly heralding from the Punjab. The island was also used as prison for Sikh militants in India, whose free descendants have found a home here.

A scattering of other minority faiths are also found on the island, including Jainism, Judaism and the Baha’I faith.