People, Places, Perspectives
||by ICCS Team
||Wednesday, 14 June 2023
Participants taking a group photo at St Joseph’s Church (Victoria Street), one of the sites visited for Community Explorations - Educators’ Edition.
Learning through exploration—that was what teachers in Singapore did a fortnight ago to enhance their understanding and experience first-hand the country’s religious diversity and harmony.
In a spin-off of the Community Explorations series last seen at the International Conference on Cohesive Societies (ICCS) in September 2022 as well as in the ensuing months, an Educators’ Edition brought groups of enthusiastic educators on learning journeys to twelve places of worship in Singapore, representing six different religions.
This edition was organised by the Character and Citizenship Education Branch of the Ministry of Education (MOE), in partnership with OnePeople.sg and ICCS, as part of the Teachers’ Conference and ExCEL Fest 2023.
ICCS joined the teachers at four of these sites, namely Central Sikh Temple, Khadijah Mosque and Religious Rehabilitation Group, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, and St Joseph’s Church (Victoria Street).
Day 1 (30 May 2023): Central Sikh Temple
Facade of the Central Sikh Temple.
Donning headscarves and bandannas, a group of teachers went on their learning journey at Central Sikh Temple. They learnt about the five virtues of the Sikhism belief: Sat (Truth), Santokh (Contentment), Daya (Compassion), Nimrata (Humility) and Pyare (Love). On a tour around the temple, the teachers also witnessed how Sikhs in Singapore practise these virtues in their everyday lives and actions.
The kitchen of Central Sikh Temple. Sikhs believe in the spirit of “sewa” (“volunteering” in Punjabi), and the Central Sikh Temple operates a community kitchen that feeds 1,000 to 2,000 people daily, regardless of nationality or religion.
As the day’s programme drew to a close, participants sat down with representatives from the Sikh Centre for a Q&A session. Topics explored included the protection of religious rights, the breaking of racial and religious stereotypes, and the common values that connect all religions.
“From this exploration, I was able to draw connections between Sikhism and my religion, Islam,” remarked Natrah Binti Ibrahim (pictured, second from right), a Malay Language teacher from Riverside Secondary School. “Such learning journeys are a way for us to understand others better.”
Day 2 (31 May 2023): Khadijah Mosque & Religious Rehabilitation Group
Khadijah Mosque & Religious Rehabilitation Group.
The century-old Khadijah Mosque played host to another group of teachers on Day 2 of the Community Explorations. The teachers learnt about the mosque’s history, its conservation efforts and how it has helped shape interfaith harmony in the community.
This chandelier was donated to the mosque by a Chinese, non-Muslim man 23 years ago. It has since become the centrepiece of the prayer room as a symbol of interfaith harmony and the mosque’s commitment to social cohesion.
They were then led on a tour of the newly-minted Majulah Gallery, which showcased facts and common misconceptions about religious extremism and the efforts of the Religious Rehabilitation Group (RRG) to counsel self-radicalised individuals in Singapore since its inception in 2003.
Exhibits in the gallery emphasised the peace-seeking nature of Islamic teachings and the vulnerability of today’s youth to online extremist propaganda, which were themes that resonated deeply with the teachers.
“If we are not able to connect deeply, understand and dialogue meaningfully, the dialogues that shape our students’ identity, relationships and choices would get pushed underground and online,” said Faith Yeo, a Principles of Accounts teacher from Serangoon Secondary School.
“As educators, it is important to provide a safe space for our students to share, learn and discuss racial and religious issues…as well as to take appropriate action when they see threats.”
Religious extremism did not start with 9/11, and it can never end without the concerted effort of our educators to nurture discerning minds and responsible beings.
Day 2 (31 May 2023): Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum
Participants at the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum on 31 May 2023.
The reverberations of monks and devotees chanting mantras in the grand hall accompanied the envoy of teachers as they admired the relics of Buddhism and witnessed the life story of the Shakyamuni Buddha at the famous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum.
Buddha statues sourced from around the world on display in the museum.
Fun fact: The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum is just one of the seven places of worship (alongside other sites like the Sri Mariamman Temple and Jamae Mosque) located within the bustling Chinatown area. A Buddhist temple sharing a space with Hindu temples, Muslim mosques and Christian churches - an apt image of interfaith harmony in multiracial Singapore, indeed.
During the tour, the guide spoke of some of the challenges the temple faced over the years such as the falling number of Singaporeans entering monkhood. However, the efforts made by the temple to keep up with the times did not go unnoticed.
“The temple is keeping up with changing times by going digital with 360° virtual tours and augmented reality,” said Genevieve Lim, an eLearning Department staff member from Pathlight School, in reference to the virtual tours of the temple and museum that one can find on the temple’s website. “In schools, we can also use multiple platforms to engage our students.”
Day 3 (1 June 2023): St. Joseph’s Church (Victoria Street)
St Joseph’s Church.
The wet weather on the third day of the programme did nothing to dampen the spirits of the teachers who visited St Joseph’s Church (Victoria Street). After the introductory talk on the church, its history and its connections with the Portuguese Association, the participants were brought on a tour of the church, where they learnt more about the history of the church and its latest conservation project which concluded in 2022.
Participants listening to an explanation of the origins of a statue on the walls of the church.
Participants then discussed topics such as the dwindling number of devotees coming to the church over the past few decades due to urban-rural migration, as well as their personal histories and fond memories with the church.
Participants of this series of learning journeys walked away with deepened impressions of religion in Singapore, and gained a greater appreciation of the common ground between the religions. Through understanding the intricate tapestry of people, places and perspectives within the Singaporean community, teachers could then empower the youth to see strength in diversity and to build an open and inclusive Singapore.