|Besides being a Design and Technology instructor in Manjusri Secondary School, Mr Azman Bin Kassim also serves as the advisor of the school's alumni association. PHOTO: Matthew Wong|
Meet Mr Azman Bin Kassim.
As Chairman of Masjid Al-Huda, a mosque along Jalan Haji Alias, and Chairman of Ulu Pandan’s Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC) Constituency, Mr Azman is no stranger to the subject of strengthening community ties through fostering increased understanding. He is, in fact, a champion of the Community Engagement Programme (CEP).
As an educator at Manjusri Secondary School, Mr Azman has also been featured in Hearts of Resilience, a book written by Asad-ul Iqbal Latif and published in 2011.
In it, Mr Azman shares how he has been able to leverage his Malay and Islamic background to enrich the social experiences and religious and racial understanding of his largely Chinese and Buddhist students.
The Design and Technology instructor brings refreshing inputs by sharing his talents in playing the kompang (a Malay drum), performing the dikir barat (a choreographed Malay group performance), and making ketupat.
He shares knowledge on Islam and the Malay culture through his daily interactions with his students and by organising talks conducted by invited speakers from the Muslim community.
When he first joined the school, Mr Azman was one of the few Malay teachers and there were no Malay students.
Teaching in a school that is mainly Chinese populated “gave him an active role as a Community Engagement Programme (CEP) coordinator indirectly, long before CEP was launched in 2006”.
He recalled an incident when his student offered him alcoholic beer at the end of the school year.
Mr Azman seized the chance to share about his race and religion.
“I told the student, ‘Thank you very much, but very sorry I cannot accept. As a Muslim, I only drink two types of beer- ginger beer and root beer’ and the student was shocked,” shared Mr Azman.
“That is when I started to explain to the students why he must understand what the Malay culture is. The students were initially confused and I had to explain that Malay is a race, while Islam is a religion.”
|Mr Azman, having a chat with his students about race and religion. PHOTO: Matthew Wong|
Mr Azman, having a chat with his students about race and religion. PHOTO: Matthew Wong
Now that the school has more Malay staff and students, Mr Azman helps to allay any concerns these Malay colleagues and students, or their parents, have about working or studying there, such as the food served at events.
“I explain to them that Manjusri Secondary School is a Buddhist school and the food served for the monks at school functions are purely vegetarian, so it is purely Halal,” Mr Azman said.
Even after the students leave school, he still serves as their “go to” person for matters Malay and Muslim and has attended many of their weddings, including Chinese wedding dinners—with Halal food catered especially for him.
“That is how I know that although I’m the minority in school, they value me. If you care for people, people will care for you,” shared Mr Azman.
Mr Azman believes that if youths are able to learn more about other races and “practice understanding”, they will be able to show more respect and tolerance among themselves.
He also believes that educating them through programmes like Racial Harmony Day should be continuously practiced in school.
“CEP is an ongoing process; to develop, to nurture and to educate the community,” Mr Azman emphasised.
His work and commitment to the CEP are not confined within the school grounds.
He discusses community engagement issues with leaders and worshippers of Masjid Al-Huda, and has made possible an annual IRCC Educational Talk-cum-Iftar held at the mosque to mark the breaking of fast during Ramadan.
In October 2010, joint Lantern Festival and Hari Raya celebrations organised by Masjid Al-Huda and the Farrer/Holland Neighbourhood Committee had participants reveling in the spirit of openness and friendly cultural exchanges, in the event's bid to bring residents of various races together to promote racial and religious harmony.
“If you have the heart and you love the country, we should engage one another. For me, it’s in my heart already. I think I have got to do something for the nation,” concluded Mr Azman.
The CEP, started in 2006, aims to bring Singaporeans closer, maintain strong and enduring community ties, and ensures the nation stays united when faced with threats.
To read more about how CEP strengthens the understanding and trust between people of different races and religions, and better equips us to cope with probable national crises and emergencies, look out for Hearts of Resilience that is published by the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).
Both hard-copies and e-books are on sale at ISEAS’ online bookstore: http://bookshop.iseas.edu.sg/bookmarks/BM448/