Changing society one Iftar at a time …

Over a hundred people attended a special Iftar dinner co-hosted by the Uniting Church in Australia and Affinity Intercultural Foundation on 5 June at Parramatta Mission.

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk, breaking the fast at sunset with what is known as an Iftar meal.

As Amity College teacher, Bilal Kilic, call to prayer (or Adhan) resonated through the room indicating the beginning of Iftar, faith leaders, police representatives, members of Parliament, and people of different cultures broke the fast together.

Addressing the guests, Executive Director of Affinity, Ahmet Polet, expressed how Ramadan presents an opportunity for Muslims to share their most positive values through the, “commitment to faith, days of discipline and nights of great gratitude.”

“[Ramadan] is a time of spiritual renewal and a reminder of ones duty to our fellow human beings. To serve one another and lift up those less fortunate,” said Mr Polet.

Mr Polet also pointed to the significance of gathering together as people of faith during Ramadan.

“Muslims, Christians, Buddhists, Jews and more seated at the same table, breaking bread and bonding over the things that connect us rather than divide us.

“In south Asia people often say the best way to overcome polarisation is to share three cups of tea. Listen, respect and connect,” said Mr Polet.

Growing in understanding and through relationship

The Uniting Church in Australia President, Stuart McMillan, thanked Affinity and Parramatta Mission for their hospitality and how they are “changing society one Iftar at a time.”

“This meal we’re sharing tonight is an opportunity for us to grow in understanding and in relationships and to be witnesses to this year’s theme that we are friends in faith.

“In a world that is so easily divided, it’s so important that people of faith build bridges together,” said Mr McMillan.

The night was modelled on the hope that sharing a meal and knowledge can help build bridges of love, harmony and peace.

Someone who knows how this simple act can break down barriers, was keynote speaker of the night Lina Jebeile. A food stylist, professional photographer and former secondary school teacher, Lina spoke about being an Australian born Muslim and feeling caught between two cultures.

“Go back to where you come from,” is a common phrase that would be directed towards Lina. She explained that even though she had never been to Lebanon, she decided to do just that. Yet once she got there, she was clearly out of place and was called a foreigner by locals.

She feared that if this how she felt, how detached her children, who were also born in Australia, would feel from their Lebanese background.

“So was it fair that my own kids who have parents who were born in this country and they were also born in this country that they then need to grow up with that constant push to prove that they belong?”

“The most important light bulb moment here was recognising that there were still pockets of people here in Australia who had never actually met an Australian Muslim,” said Lina.

So she started the movement #spreadhummusnothate that despite its large online presence created a space offline where people were able to connect face-to-face and find common ground through sharing a meal.

Common ground

“As much as I think these events are wonderful I would also like to argue that it does not need to be such a big or formal event,” said Lina. “We could get the same results from a small group or just two people sharing a plate of food, a cup of coffee or better yet a plate of hummus.”

The Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT Moderator, Rev Simon Hansford, who MC’d the night reiterated this by stating that there was a “reserve of hope, justice and relationships that will last longer than a meal.”

“That will last into the future through hope and great strength and great possibility,” said Rev. Hansford.

Guests were also treated to a musical performance by Amity College Choir, with the first song I am the Earth commemorating World Environment Day. The second song was Sesere eeye, a traditional song from the Torress Strait Island, followed by the final song titled Universal Peace.

The Minister of Parramatta Mission, Rev. Dr Manas Ghosh, gave the concluding remarks capturing the essence of Ramadan and Iftar as a time of restoration in not only our relationship with God but each other.

“This gathering itself is a statement to the world, that we can live together in love, harmony and peace with one another and does make real God’s dream of a peaceful and harmonious world for all,” said Rev. Dr Ghosh.

Find out how your congregation is able to host an Iftar event with your local Muslim community, here. Ramadan ends on 14 June.

Visit the Facebook Gallery for photos of the event.

Melissa Stewart




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