Despite friendships spanning decades, some Singaporeans still shy away from asking friends questions 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. Last Friday, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu launched an initiative called Broadening Religious or Racial Interaction through Dialogue and General Education (Bridge).
The idea is that it can help facilitate the creation of videos and publications that foster an understanding of different faiths in Singapore. It also hopes to provide safe spaces for discussions and questions. One main target group is young people.
Support will come from the Harmony Fund launched in 2013; Ms Fu announced that her ministry would inject over $3 million in the next three years for Bridge activities. Non-profit organisations and ground-up groups can tap it.
A BETTER WAY
Instead of condemning, we can open up and embrace different beliefs, while showing them that there are other ways of doing things.
NATIONAL UNIVERSITY OF SINGAPORE UNDERGRADUATE NEO SHU QI, 23, on her feeling that society still needs change
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 one another."Our public housing promotes multiracial 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 she also posed a rhetorical question to about 200 religious, community and youth leaders at the launch - do Singaporeans enjoy harmony due to tolerance, or genuine acceptance of each other?
There were no easy answers but participants asked frank questions following a screening of Jihad Selfie, a documentary about the influence of parents, peers, social media, leaders and society on young people, especially those who moved to Syria. Audience members quizzed its director Noor Huda Ismail, a PhD candidate at Monash University, asking what can trigger the desire to join such terror groups and if families can help prevent it.
National University of Singapore undergraduate Neo Shu Qi, 23, felt that 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."