SINGAPORE: What does jihad really mean? What are the most Google-searched questions about religion? What do Singaporeans find acceptable and offensive when it comes to public statements that touch on Islam?
These are some of questions addressed in a documentary on religion in Singapore. Produced by Channel NewsAsia and hosted by Dr Janil Puthucheary, chairman of OnePeople.sg - a national body which works to promote racial and religious harmony - Regardless of Religion delves deep into the topic.
It's a sequel to last year's Regardless of Race, also hosted by Dr Puthucheary, which took an unprecedented look at what is often regarded as a taboo subject of racial prejudice and privilege in Singapore.
While racial harmony has been discussed widely in the country, religious harmony is separate and more sensitive, said Dr Puthucheary in the new documentary which will air on Monday (Aug 14), 8pm on Channel NewsAsia.
It features Dr Puthucheary speaking to the man on the street, students, academic experts and religious leaders to find out more about the perceptions and misconceptions about religion through candid conversations.
From the prejudices that students from madrasahs experience, to steps which can be taken to promote religious harmony, the documentary explores the realities of religious differences.
"People are very fearful about discussing religion, so we wanted to demonstrate that there is a need for it. People feel very sensitive about either causing offence or stepping into offence,” said Dr Puthucheary after a private screening of the documentary at Cathay Cineplex at Ang Mo Kio Hub on Monday.
Some of the questions put to him during a question-and-answer session after the screening were whether educating future generations is enough, whether there is a divide between how older and younger people view religion, and whether empathy is the way to go.
The documentary comes at a time when religiously-motivated hate crimes around the world are on the rise. For instance in the United Kingdom, at least one person every hour becomes a victim of religious hate crime, according to sobering statistics cited in the documentary.
The programme's producer Low Min Min said that she was surprised by what she learnt during the research process. She recounted an off-camera session she had with Muslim and Christian students, as well as those of other faiths.
“At the end of one interview, one of them was tearing up and she said she was really thankful that I brought them together because it’s the first time she felt listened to by a person of another religion. It’s quite surprising how we don't do this in our daily lives," she said.
USING VIRTUAL REALITY TO FURTHER DRIVE CONVERSATION ABOUT RELIGION
Other than the documentary, a virtual reality booth has been set up outside Ang Mo Kio Hub, just in front of McDonald's. The booth, which serves five or six people at a time, allows members of the public to experience two scenarios in which they are the target of bias.
In the first, a person gets suspicious stares in a public place, with people talking about him or moving away from him. In the second scenario, a person is at a coffee shop where customers choose to sit away from him, staring and looking at him suspiciously.
Ms Low said that the scenarios were created by putting together the information that her team got through their interviews over the four-month filming period.
Ms Suganthi Saravanan, 36, an associate trainer who went through the virtual reality experience, said that she felt sad while the scenarios played out.
"Being a minority in Singapore, there are issues I face with others' perception of my religion. I could empathise with the person in the scenario," she said.
The booth is open from Monday to Aug 20. Admission is free.