Peace ambassadors to build bridges across faith communities

Ms Haziqah Shariman, 19, was taken aback when a woman on the other end of a call said "your English is very good for a Malay" during her internship at a call centre earlier this year.

"It's one thing to face casual discrimination in everyday life, but it was my first time facing this in a professional setting. It got me thinking if I will just be seen as a Malay for the rest of my life?" said Ms Haziqah.

The Institute of Technical Education graduate was one of the 21 peace ambassadors appointed by President Halimah Yacob yesterday at an event organised by youth-led interfaith initiative Roses of Peace (ROP) at the Amara Singapore.

The third batch of ambassadors, aged from 19 to 36, were appointed for a year to build bridges across various faith communities and champion ground-up peace-building initiatives.

Throughout the year, the ambassadors will also be trained in digital media advocacy and public speaking skills to better facilitate interfaith and intercultural discussions among young people.

Ms Haziqah said she will focus on facilitating discussions on casual discrimination in her capacity as a peace ambassador.

"I hope to break the norm of racial stereotyping because such comments, no matter how trivial, show a root of racism within us," she said.

Since it started in 2012, the ROP has engaged more than 3,000 youth volunteers from diverse faiths and distributed over 50,000 roses with messages of peace.

In the face of new threats and challenges arising from misinformation spread through social media platforms, Madam Halimah noted that more of these ground-up efforts are needed to complement Government-led programmes as they are "more agile, nimble and are able to quickly rally support."

While current efforts at building cohesion are commendable, she said there is room to deepen the conversations.

"There is also scope to engage more deeply and meaningfully, while being fully cognisant of the fact that there are some beliefs and principles which each faith holds so deeply that it will be simplistic to think that they can be overcome through open discourses alone," she said.

The newly appointed peace ambassadors attended an interfaith dialogue series, titled Faithfully Yours, held by senior faith leaders. It was led by Chief Rabbi of Singapore Mordechai Abergel, Habib Hassan Al-Attas of Ba'alawi Mosque and Bishop Terry Kee, vice-president of the National Council of Churches Singapore.

They highlighted the importance of respecting the different faiths and religions in Singapore, espousing that even if people are not 100 per cent in line in their beliefs, they can still be courteous and understanding of each other.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.