On Faith, Racial Harmony and X-Men: Nazhath Faheema

In celebration of MCCY’s 10th Anniversary, we speak to individuals who are leading the charge in the arts, heritage, community and youth, and sports sectors. In today’s spotlight, we have the founder of hash.peace and vice-chairperson of the Eunos Harmony Circle, Nazhath Faheema, who actively engages in interfaith and intercultural conversations to strengthen social cohesion in Singapore and the region. 

  • 28 Dec 2022

Nazhath with hash.peace ExCo team members - President Leonard Sim, General Secretary Didi Amzar and Treasurer Aathira Unnithan. Photo credit: Nazhath.

Rising To Her Calling

Nazhath is on a mission to empower youths and help build stronger community and intergenerational bonds, one conversation at a time. 

In 2015, after the 37-year-old was nominated as Singapore’s Muslim Youth Ambassador of Peace, Nazhath found herself deep-diving into the realm of racial and religious issues. “Prior to that, I was still quite naive to the threats to social harmony because growing up in Singapore and having such a diverse group of friends — there wasn’t anything that was upsetting the peace.” 

After becoming a youth ambassador, she started to see how easy it can be for young people to become radicalised. “I dived into it and studied it. You start to find that extremist narratives can be found all over the Internet and have an insidious way of affecting the mindsets of youths, who are more impressionable.”

She needed an outlet to document her thoughts and musings, and that was how hash.peace came to be. Today, it is a youth-led organisation that touches on tough topics like extremist and exclusivist ideologies, prejudice and negative stereotyping and hatred, and has successfully brought communities together to discuss issues and topics of the day. 

Connecting Communities Through Tough Conversations

As the world continues to evolve, it remains imperative that society evolves along with it — or faster. One crucial factor Nazhath has found is the need for more intergenerational dialogue. “The concerns and conversations of the past are so different from what the youth face today. But it’s also these differences that allow for dialogue and change to happen. The older generation has stories and lessons to share, while the younger generation can use this chance to adopt a more macro view of how society has evolved, and what more needs to be done.” 

Nazhath and hash.peace members and friends during an interpersonal dialogue on the Tudung issue in 2021. Photo credit:  Nazhath.

Tough conversations do not always have to be held in formal meeting rooms or conferences. As part of hash.peace’s efforts to encourage these conversations, Nazhath and her team launched hash Jalan Jalan, a monthly session where members would visit different communities in Singapore to help foster intercultural and inter-belief understanding. “Exposure to the different enclaves and communities in Singapore is so important to help foster social harmony. I make it a point to involve my kids whenever possible, and we even have members’ young children come along. They ask curious questions, allowing them to get the exposure they need to be the change-makers of tomorrow.” 

hash.peace youth interfaith visit to Tou Mu Kung Temple for the Nine Emperor Gods Festival hosted by Eunos Racial and Religious Harmony Circle (Harmony Circle) and Taoist Federation. Photo credit: Nazhath.

Engaging Youths On Social Media and Beyond

Thanks to social media, spatial and temporal boundaries have drastically reduced — making it easier to engage youths beyond our shores. Nazhath has acknowledged this, and actively uses her social platforms to educate youths across the globe. “I’ve received messages from individuals from many parts of Asia telling me that it’s so nice to see how we’re able to live harmoniously with people from different races and religions. They’d go on to share their not-too-nice experiences, as well as their hopes and dreams for their own countries. It gives them hope for better days ahead.” 

However, it’s never an easy feat kickstarting these conversations. “Sometimes, even I struggle to catalyse conversations, and I’ve been in this space for years. How do we expect others to do it as easily?” This came up during a recent Forward SG panel discussion, where Nazhath suggested creating a guide to help individuals start such conversations with ease. It eventually materialised into a toolkit, created in collaboration with the National Youth Council, education centre Bold@Work and digital literacy non-profit organisation The White Hatters. “I think the team has done a great job in bringing this to life! I managed to try out the conversation cards, and I liked that it was able to provide helpful conversation starters like relatable and localised case studies,” Nazhath shared. “It’s not just for the youth — companies and other civil society groups can use this toolkit to build conversations without needing a professional to facilitate them.”

Beneath the Surface is a civic conversation toolkit made up of question-based conversations cards to facilitate dialogues on race and religion. 

Building Bonds With MCCY And Beyond

hash.peace Conversation Series Closing Dialogue 2021 with Senior Minister of State (Health) Janil Puthucheary and Minister of State (MCCY) Alvin Tan. Photo credit: Nazhath.

Nazhath is grateful for the experience with MCCY so far. “I love the connection I have with the teams I work closely with. They’re so open to having tough conversations and discussions with me and my team,” she shares. 

For her, it’s about fostering a sense of community, even within her teams, and working towards the common goal of a better, more resilient Singapore. “It’s been heartening to receive overwhelming support from MCCY. They work with us to bring our initiatives to life and help us move the conversations along."

When asked about her favourite moments so far, Nazhath shares that her work with the IRCC Refresh Workgroup, a group that was recently formed to review and refresh existing IRCCs,  has been particularly engaging and fulfilling. “Our focus has been to push for youth leadership in the Harmony Circles, and our most recent IRCC unconference saw a youth-led turnout.” 

Eunos Harmony Circle members interfaith visit to Lord Buddha Temple. Photo credit: Nazhath. 

The Racial and Religious Harmony Circle, or Harmony Circle for short, is a platform that hopes to strengthen relationships amongst various religious and ethnic groups by educating the public about the different communities, while acting as a bridge for religious, ethnic, and community groups at the local level. 

“This helps to set the tone, and shows that we are moving in the right direction — we’re not just going out there and doing activities but rather, taking on a more research-driven approach when it comes to these dialogues."

Movies and Everything In Between

Growing up, Nazhath has spent a considerable amount of time reading Marvel comics, and in more recent years has been fascinated by how the X-Men series can be used to talk about diversity, prejudice, and acceptance. “If one were to observe the movie through a more critical lens, you’d notice how the X-Men mutations are often judged with prejudice. And yet, there are good and bad in them. That always strikes me even after watching it countless times. The movies are such a nice way of explaining to people about stereotyping and prejudice.”