Newshub - NUS' News Portal

Fresh graduates advocate interfaith cultivation

9 July 2013

USP graduates Shakura (left) and Wai Kit are passionate about promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding

Wai Kit (in red) and fellow participants at a “Faith Firsts” session with the Chief Rabbi of Singapore, Rabbi Mordechai Abergel

Shakura (centre) at Ban Kiu Kacham, Laos with Hmong villagers, where she and USP peers witnessed the village women union's inauguration ceremony
The importance of interfaith tolerance and understanding is especially significant for multiracial Singapore; and a growing population of NUS students is espousing this critical aspect of community, spreading the message as they go out into the world. Among them are two NUS University Scholars Programme (USP) graduates this year.

Ow Yeong Wai Kit, the Valedictorian at the first Commencement Ceremony for the Class of 2013, is passionate about promoting interfaith dialogue within youth circles in Singapore. “My interest in interfaith activities was triggered during my junior college years when I began reading the books of religious scholar Karen Armstrong, who campaigns actively for religious harmony,” he said. He dedicated himself to the cause and received the Distinguished Leadership Award at the 2012 NUS Student Achievement Award for his efforts.

Wai Kit, who read English Literature and Philosophy at the University, noted that his studies dovetail with his interest in interfaith work. Like interfaith dialogue, both USP and the humanities demand a deep engagement with the perspectives of others, coupled with sensitivity towards language, he explained.

“I’ve developed not only an abiding sense of respect for the differences between various faiths, but also a keen awareness of the commonalities in the teachings espoused, particularly concerning the value of kindness,” he stressed. “I think the most important aspect of interfaith activities is the need to build on universal and fundamental principles like compassion, in order to establish a platform for dialogue so as to combat ignorance and intolerance.”

The Singapore Ministry of Education scholar believes youths can form independent opinions about sensitive issues based on credible sources, and appreciate their societal obligations to express their views responsibly.

No less passionate about the interfaith cause is Shakura Nuha Bte Bashir. After a USP study programme on Inter-Civilisational Dialogue to Malaysia and Turkey, the Environmental Engineering graduate realised the challenges of interfaith dialogue with community practitioners and academics.

She shared her thoughts: “What I appreciate most about interfaith dialogue is that it helps build trust and relationships among various religious groups, both at the individual and institutional level. Personally, as I learn more about someone else's faith and practices, it allows me to re-examine the stereotypes and prejudices that are often portrayed in the media. I also believe that it is important to work towards a celebration of each other's differences. In my opinion, that is what true multiculturalism is, rather than just tolerance or acceptance of the differences.”

Shakura added that USP’s overseas programmes such as State Minority Relations in Southeast Asia study and voluntary work made her appreciate the value of communication, be it between different religious groups, state minorities and the government, or various stakeholders in a project.

“These programmes also made me more culturally sensitive and allowed me to see the bigger picture,” she said. By experiencing first-hand what she learnt in class and talking to people in the field, the impact was more powerful and meaningful to her.

Shakura is currently volunteering with non-profit organisation Nusantara Development Initiative, committing time to research and development of a low-cost water filtration system for the rural poor in Indonesia. She hopes to pursue a career in environmental management, pushing for renewable energy and clean technology.