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Nasi Briyani Diplomacy

Nasi Briyai Diplomacy
Interfaith dialogue hosted by Covenant Presbyterian Church

“In times of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build walls.”

—King T’Challa, King of Wakanda.

On 27 Jan 2021, it was reported that a 16-year-old Christian had been detained for planning an attack on two mosques in Woodlands. It was intended as a copycat crime of the Christchurch mosque attacks, which killed 50 people, and planned for 15 March 2021, the second anniversary of the attacks.

On the sidelines of a press conference by religious and government leaders denouncing the attack, a few young Christians and Muslim leaders decided that it was time to build bridges from the ashes of this crisis. The first Interfaith Dialogue between young Christian and Muslim leaders was convened on the 27 March 2021, a day before Palm Sunday and the Muslim holy day of Nisfu Syaaban.

I was one of five young Methodist pastors from all three Annual Conferences to meet with Christian leaders of other denominations and our young Muslim counterparts in the event jointly sponsored by the National Council of Churches Singapore (NCCS) and Harmony Center, Masjid An-Nahdhah. The group of about 50 young leaders, sitting in groups of six or seven, were hosted by Covenant Presbyterian Church, located on the fringe of Little India.

It was my privilege to be at a table with a leader from Masjid Yusof Ishak, one of the mosques in Woodlands that was targeted by the radicalised teenager. We shared candidly our reactions to the incident. This started a conversation about how we could reach out to and educate the young people in our communities. Muslims and Christians alike struggle with interpreting hard teachings of our respective faiths and difficult passages in the Bible and Quran.

We had the opportunity to discuss topics ranging from how our faiths seek to live in peace with one another and how we view diversity and division. We also had the opportunity to pose questions to Bishop Terry Kee (Bishop of the Lutheran Church in Singapore and Vice-President of NCCS) and Ustaz Dr Md Hannan Hassan (Deputy Mufti, MUIS), the guests-of-honour of the event.

Difficult topics were discussed, including how to deal with a convert out of our respective faiths. A Christian convert from Islam asked Bishop Terry and Ustaz Hannan how faith leaders could help our faith communities relate to people who have converted out of our respective faiths in a loving and respectful way. While answers to these issues are difficult to find, the goal of interfaith dialogue is not to come up with answers but to build understanding and empathy, to live in harmony and stand together against conflict, and to show love and respect to one another.

No interfaith activity is ever complete without fellowship over a meal. The morning event came to a fitting end with most of the small groups continuing the dialogue at one of the many Little India eateries over nasi briyani and teh tarik kurang manis.

(From left to right) The Rev Joey Chen, the Rev Joshua Ong, the Rev Jeremy James, the Rev Glenn Tan and Pastor Jeremy Yap

Pastor Jeremy Yap is an Assistant Pastor at Aldersgate Methodist Church. / Photos courtesy of Ps Jeremy Yap