A CHRISTIAN student group at the National University of Singapore (NUS) apologised yesterday for making insensitive remarks about Buddhists and Muslims.
The NUS Campus Crusade for Christ, made up of 80 to 100 students, posted an apology on its Facebook page for remarks made on its website and on posters it put up on campus benches on Wednesday.
The university also apologised yesterday.
The Ministry of Home Affairs, which is looking into the incident, said that while people are free to propagate their religion, it should not be done by insulting or denigrating other religions.
The Christian group's posters promoting a mission trip to Thailand said that the country, known as The Land of Smiles, was actually 'a place of little true joy'.
This, it said, was because Buddhism was so much a part of the Thai national identity and few believed in Jesus Christ. It urged students to help take Christianity to the Thais.
Its website promoted a mission trip to Turkey and said the country needed 'much prayer and work' because 'much of the population is M', referring to Muslims.
The online posts and posters have since been removed, but not before copies spread quickly online, prompting a wave of angry comments from netizens.
Some told the Christian group's members to stop imposing their beliefs on others, while others accused the group of making Christians look bad.
NUS student Miran Ng wrote on the group's Facebook page: 'Bigotry has no place in NUS, no place in Singapore.'
Leaders of the NUS group could not be contacted for comment but its Facebook post said it apologised for the distress caused.
The Ministry of Home Affairs urged the public to stop adding comments that could 'further inflame the situation'.
In a statement to The Straits Times, it reminded the public that 'mutual respect, tolerance and restraint' are critical in maintaining communal peace and harmony in Singapore.
'While each of us is free to propagate our religious beliefs, it must never be by way of insulting or denigrating the religious beliefs of others,' said its spokesman.
NUS was alerted to the posters and website on Wednesday evening.
Apologising for the 'disrespectful comments and insensitive actions' of its student group, a university spokesman said that students and faculty were expected to be respectful about the religious customs, beliefs and sensitivities of others.
The posters in question, he said, were not sent to the NUS Office of Student Affairs for approval, as is required by the university.
He added that NUS had counselled the students involved and sent a circular to all students yesterday to remind them to be respectful towards the religious customs, beliefs and sensitivities of others.
The NUS group is part of the Singapore Campus Crusade for Christ (SCCC), an inter-denominational Christian student outreach ministry that oversees similar groups in other tertiary institutions here.
Its website yesterday displayed only an apology and users were not able to access information such as its current leaders.
It is not the first time that Buddhists have been offended by remarks made by Christians.
Two years ago, video clips on YouTube showed the founder of a megachurch making fun of Buddhist and Taoist practices. His remarks led to a warning from the Internal Security Department (ISD). He later met Buddhist and Taoist leaders and apologised.
Yesterday, the SCCC told The Straits Times: 'We will spend more time guiding the students to help them to be more sensitive towards individuals who do not share the same faith.'
Venerable Sek Yen Pei, the Singapore Buddhist Federation's secretary-general, yesterday called on people to start paying more attention to their actions.
'People should ask themselves if what they are doing will cause hurt to others,' he said. 'An apology is good, but they need to know where they went wrong.'
He also invited the NUS student group and members of the SCCC to attend Buddhist lessons at any of the federation's 134 Buddhist temples to learn more about the religion.
The vice-president of the Thai Sangha Council, an organisation that oversees the 26 Thai Buddhist temples in Singapore, Venerable Seck Kong Hian, said: 'Religion is something very personal. Singapore is a small country and we cannot afford this kind of discord. We hope the authorities will look into the matter.'
Mr Abdul Mutalif Hashim, chairman of the Chua Chu Kang Inter-Racial and Religious Confidence Circle (IRCC) and chairman of Darussalam Mosque in Clementi, said that this incident meant one thing: The IRCCs had their work cut out for them.
He said: 'Every religion wants to do good things, but we need to tell youth that when they do this they have to be more careful about the feelings of others.
'We need to create more platforms for youth from different faiths to intermingle.'
Some NUS students were shocked when they learnt of the incident.
'I understand that religious groups introduce their faith to others, but I'm disturbed that it is done in such a blatant manner,' said Mr Koh Wyhow, 22, a third-year mathematics student.