WHEN it came time to decide on secondary schools nearly four years ago, it was interests first for Ashyddiq Muhammad Rosali and Faris Toh.
Crazy over rugby, Ashyddiq, 15, had his heart set on St Andrew's Secondary School, which boasts a strong rugby tradition.
The all-boys school's rugged culture appealed to him and he thought he could excel in rugby there without distractions.
Faris, 16, chose Anglican High School as he was eager to get in touch with his Chinese roots.
His father Imran Toh, an engineer, is a Muslim convert.
The Higher Chinese student wanted to be better able to speak Mandarin, since he is half-Chinese, and to learn about Chinese history, of which he had little knowledge.
Neither of the boys was dissuaded for a moment by the school's Christian environment.
'I didn't think that mattered,' says Ashyddiq.
He recalls that his father fretted initially about the school's Christian teachings.
'But I told him that I'm going there to study and to play rugby, not to become a Christian. I told him let's just try, and he didn't say anything about the matter after that.'
Faris thought in much the same way.
Anglican High's reputation as a good school came from the fact that it was a mission and a Special Assistance Plan (SAP) school.
'I felt that most religions propagate the same moral values and since it is a mission school, my parents do not have to fret over my moral and social development,' he says.
And far from feeling out of place in the school, he thinks his presence has helped make a difference.
'Since I came to this school, some students have become more interested in Islam and they ask me questions about my background,' says Faris.
'But whenever they want to ask me about my religion, they do so very respectfully.
'I think that because everyone is fully aware that race and religion are sensitive issues here, they are very cautious with their words when they ask me questions.'
In one of his early encounters at the school, Faris was caught off guard when some Christian friends tried to propagate their beliefs to him.
But they stopped after a few weeks.
'As they got to know me better, they respected that I had my own faith...
'Some did ask me to go to church, but they didn't try to convert me.'
Ashyddiq, unlike Faris, never had his faith questioned at St Andrew's.
'I think everyone roughly knew about the different religions and races, so they didn't ask.
'They learnt about this in primary school. They know what adherents do, and who they worship,' he says.
During civics and moral education class, students learn about religious harmony, among other things.
They then pen their thoughts in a journal and hand these to the teacher.
'We don't usually ask questions,' Ashyddiq says.
When he speaks to friends about religion, or when he asks them about what they do as believers of their faith, he usually does it in one-on-one encounters.
By and large, religion does not feature much in his socialising at St Andrew's.
'We don't take note of each other's religion when we socialise,' he says.
At their schools, both boys do not opt out of activities such as going to listen to sermons in the chapel.
Before rugby matches at St Andrew's, players come together for a team prayer. Ashyddiq stands with the team, keeping quiet out of respect as they pray. Other non-Christian teammates do the same.
'They know that respect for another religion means not being disruptive.'
Faris agrees that the more the people know about the practices of another religion, the better.
'That way, you avoid offending others unknowingly,' he says.
'Singapore is a very peaceful society. Because of this, Singaporeans often don't take religious and racial issues very seriously.
'They often feel that such issues are solely the Government's responsibility. But I think that you'll know more and learn more only if there is more interaction with other races and religions.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times.