Growing up in Queenstown in the 1970s, Mr Mohamed Nasim Abdul Rahim was barely conscious of race.
The son of Indian Muslim immigrants from Kerala was "a minority in a minority", and raised among Chinese, Malay, Sikh and Eurasian neighbours. His childhood was more about watching Ultraman on television at friends' homes than asking about their cultural and religious practices.
That changed when he started national service. "I realised, oh, I have to go to the Muslim cookhouse," said Mr Nasim, a 48-year-old educator.
And the teenage teetotaller declined to give non-Muslim friends his ration of beer. "To my friends, I was too 'goody-goody', but they understood my religious beliefs and that I did not drink alcohol."
After the Sept 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, the long-time mosque volunteer found himself explaining his faith to friends. "I realised just being a member of the passive, silent majority was not good enough," he said.
Around the same time, he became a councillor with the Central Singapore Community Development Council and started outreach programmes such as visits to places of worship, and getting people of different races and faiths to open their homes for visits and cultural demonstrations.
At Serangoon North, where he is chairman of the Jalan Kayu Zone 3 residents' committee, he has started a similar programme. He is also on the board of OnePeople.sg, a national body to boost racial ties.
Mr Nasim is disappointed with online racist and xenophobic sentiments. So he never tires of getting asked the same questions about his faith.
"To foster racial harmony, one must always be open to questions because questions are asked more often to clarify," he said. "One misconception cleared can go a long way in developing healthy relationships."
He and his wife, housewife Noorunnisa Ibrahim Kutty, 45, have three children: two sons, aged 16 and nine, and a 13-year-old daughter.
He counts many from other races among his close friends.
"The message I always have for my children is, make more friends - make many friends from all races and religions.
"We don't use the word 'tolerance', which suggests there's a limit that can burst one day, but we use the word 'trust'," he added. Recently, his elder son did a fine job of explaining to friends why Muslims pray five times a day, said the proud father.
"Harmony is not about preaching," he stressed. "It's all about building trust."
This article was first published on July 13, 2014.
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