Building bridges to greater interfaith understanding

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu announced that the ministry would inject more than $3 million into the Harmony Fund over the next three years, providing funding for activities under Bridge.
Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu announced that the ministry would inject more than $3 million into the Harmony Fund over the next three years, providing funding for activities under Bridge.PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - Despite friendships spanning decades, some Singaporeans still shy away from asking friends certain questions - such as those concerning race or religion.

So, in recent months, the Nanyang Confucian Association organised two forums for the Chinese community to better understand Islam.

The government hopes to encourage more of such sessions. On Friday (March 31), Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu launched an initiative called Broadening Religious or Racial Interaction through Dialogue and General Education (Bridge).

Bridge aims to partner the community to create content such as videos and publications that foster an understanding of different faiths in Singapore. It also hopes to provide safe spaces for discussions and questions. One of the main target groups is young people.

Ms Fu also announced that the ministry would inject more than $3 million into the Harmony Fund over the next three years, providing funding for activities under Bridge.

Launched in 2013, the fund has supported more than 70 projects. They include a forum on Confucianism and Islam, and dinner conversation sessions discussing race and racism. Non-profit organisations and ground-up movements can also tap on this fund for projects under Bridge.

Speaking at the launch at National Gallery Singapore, Ms Fu highlighted the unique local context, where it is not unusual to find a Hindu temple, a Chinese temple, a mosque and a church in close proximity to each other.

"Our public housing promotes multi-racial and thus multi-religious living, and places of worship follow to serve the needs of the residents," she said.

A 2013 study by the Institute of Policy Studies and OnePeople.sg found that more than nine in 10 households are comfortable living and working alongside people of different faiths.

"This did not happen by chance," said Ms Fu.

"We must be able to hold our differences not in opposition to each other, but in mutual respect to one another."

But Ms Fu also posed a rhetorical question to some 200 religious, community and youth leaders at the launch - does Singapore enjoy harmony due to tolerance, or genuine acceptance of each other?

After watching a screening of Jihad Selfie, a documentary by Mr Noor Huda Ismail, more than 10 audience members raised questions to the PhD candidate in the school of social sciences at Monash University in Australia.

The film explores the influence of parents, peers, social media, leaders and society on young people, especially those who moved to Syria.

Audience members asked what can trigger the desire to join such terror groups and whether families can help prevent it.

National University of Singapore undergraduate Neo Shu Qi, 23, who hosted a forum to promote understanding of religion and culture among youth last month, felt the society still needs change.

"Instead of condemning, we can open up and embrace different beliefs, while showing them that there are other ways of doing things."

Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim, who was also at the launch, said that the dialogue showed there is "no magic bullet", but Singapore is developing her own way to address a complex problem.

He said: "It is unique, it is contextual… it is something we cherish and we need to continue to safeguard this."