“I feel with you about Ramadan this year. It is different. It is difficult but I believe God has His purpose and He can make it a deep experience for all of you. Blessed Ramadan for you.”
These were the words of Bishop Terry Kee of Lutheran Church in Singapore, who reached out to me after seeing my “feeling sad” post on Facebook.
The woes of the COVID-19 did not hit me until 23rd of April 2020, the first evening of Ramadan this year. I realised that I could not visit my parents, who live a few blocks away from me, during the Circuit Breaker. The idea of passing Ramadan without having Iftar (breaking of fast) with my mother and siblings was dispiriting. I wondered why Allah destined us for such a situation.
The personal message from Bishop Terry, empathising with me, was consoling. Hearing a Christian say they “feel with me about Ramadan” moved me. Such words are assuring of the fellowship transcending beliefs; especially in a world where religion seemingly becomes exclusive. Of course, mutual respect and understanding with Bishop Terry heavily influenced my emotions here. It is because of the already established friendship that I feel comfortable talking to him about my faith.
Interfaith experiences, at a micro-level, achieve more than just creating co-existing communities. It forms a level of understanding between people. And, over time, such relationships develop trust that safeguards freedom of religion. If there was ever a social situation in which my faith is being tested, I know that brothers like Bishop Terry will resonate and stand with me.
I find that the COVID-19 crisis, amidst the pains, presents opportunities to build and strengthen friendships between people. It is for this reason that the Pledge to Strengthen Our Social Defence During the COVID-19 Pandemic, launched by Inter-Religious Organisation, Singapore (IRO) includes an undertaking to “remain connected with friends of different faiths communities using digital technologies”.
Upholding the promises in the pledge, I frequently engage in online interfaith conversations. I was involved in a joint Muslim-Catholic prayer organised by the Canossian Alumni Association, the first of its kind in the school’s history. And, recently, I joined a virtual interfaith iftar organised by IM.PROF, a group of Indian Muslim professionals In both these occasions of shared experiences, my understanding with Christian, Catholics, Jains, Sikhs and Buddhist members of society increased. The iftar also strengthened my relationship with my Muslim brothers and sisters.
The confusion and complications presented by COVID-19 continue. But, so do my interfaith experiences.
Nazhath Faheema, a mother of two children, prefers to be known as a social harmony advocate. She founded hash.peace - a volunteer movement catalysing conversations about race and religion. Her passion turned into profession, and now she works full-time in a NGO, focusing on inter-religious work. Aside to these, she also serves in various other community portfolios. She is the chairperson for Youth Group in Jamiyah Singapore (Muslim Missionary Society Singapore). She is an advisory member in Bisme Islamic Radio - a Tamil Muslim radio from Singapore, and a member of the Indian Programme Advisory Committee in Infocomm Media Development Authority.