Interfaith gathering builds harmony

Interfaith gathering builds harmony

On the 23 June, people of different faiths gathered at the annual Iftar Dinner (Breaking of the Fast), hosted by Uniting Church Synod of NSW and the ACT with Affinity Intercultural Foundation.

It was a special occasion with tradition, ceremony and food shared among friends from many faiths. As is the Muslim tradition during the month of Ramadan, the daily fast was broken at sunset. Guests were called to prayer by Ibrahim Karaisli, head of Amity College’s Religion and Values department. Brothers and sisters in interfaith shared a beautifully prepared halal food banquet.

Jim Mein AM was MC for the evening. He is recognised for his role in facilitating ongoing discussion and collaboration between Muslims involved with the Affinity Intercultural Foundation, and representatives from the Catholic, Anglican and Uniting Churches in NSW.

Moderator Rev. Myung Hwa Park welcomed guests, saying “the Uniting Church has a special spirit; we are a Church that is open and seeks the spirit. We affirm the spirit in all other people because God created all in God’s image and, in that, we are here to learn to relate, love and share God’s goodness.”

The keynote speak was and human rights and social justice advocate Maha Abdo OAM, head of the Muslim Women’s association. She gave a moving speech about interfaith dialogue and engaging heart-to-heart with each other. Maha asked guests to reflect on what is in their heart in the final days of Ramadan and their purpose of “being here tonight, breaking their fast.”

Maha has worked in interfaith dialogue for the past 30 years. Such dialogue began as women of all faiths came together to understand more about each other’s faith. They sought not to “change one another, but to respect each other”. Maha spoke in the moment and engaged from the heart. “Unless I know who I am,” Maha said, “I can’t understand who you are. I hold my faith in my heart.”

Reflecting on her response to the recent horrific Orlando mass shooting that touched our hearts, she said, “We need to respect our differences, but I don’t need to compromise my principles. My faith and tradition has its principles intact. It doesn’t mean if I respect and love you it is going to damage or undermine my principles; rather, it will enrich them.”

Reflecting on how much has happened since the siege in Martin Place and the Parramatta shooting, she said, “As Muslims, we are not given the chance to mourn; we can’t, because we own it. We are forced to own something that we don’t even have anything to do with.”

At about the same time as the Orlando shooting, the world was mourning the death and celebrating the life of Muhammad Ali. This brought Islam to a different level. Muhammad Ali was celebrated as the peaceful face of Islam, “a faith of power and peace and not violence,” said Maha.

“How do we build a balance to do things for love not out of fear?”

As the Orlando shooting occurred in the month of Ramadan, Maha spoke openly about the division it caused. A media statement had been released by the Muslim community against the violence that happened and “in support of walking with our brothers and sisters from the LGBTQI community.” Significantly, the LGBTQI community last week responded with a statement in support of the Muslim statement.

Maha works with children and women escaping domestic violence. She seeks to provide them with social services, regardless of faith.

Muslim women are providing services to Christian women and are breaking down barriers.

Maha believes with more laws for anti-racism, the social fabric of our society is actually deteriorating. “People are fearful of speaking to one another because we need to be politically correct. We need to be respectful and mindful of what we say, but we cannot surpress what we need to say — and people of faith have lost their voice. What we are being pushed to is that you are either with us or against us.”

“We have done ourselves an injustice as people of various faiths. We have created a gap between one another but now we are building bridges to overcome it. We need to come closer to each other. We need to respect our differences.

“We need to open the dialogue and create a safe space.

“It is not about all the different faiths; it is about the purpose and the way we live our lives.”

Maha asked guests “to allow our actions to be the best they can be, producing the best for the common good for all of us together, as Australians that come from different paths and different parts of the world.”

“I hope sincerely we are able to come together and allow this relationship to continue and to take it with us wherever we go and that we begin the process of changing what can be changed.

“That’s the first step.”

(Pictured) Maha Abdo OAM, head of the Muslim Women’s Association, The Moderator Rev. Myung Hwa Park and guest Gael Kennedy, Community Relations Acting Chair, Jewish Board of Deputies.

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