This year, Affinity hosted its 13th annual Friendship and Dialogue Iftar Dinner with parliamentarian co-hosts The Hon Victor Dominello MP and Mr Guy Zangari MP (representing regular co-host The Hon Paul Lynch MP). Held at the NSW Parliament House, the Iftar welcomed a diverse cross-section of Sydney society.

The flagship program commenced with the traditional recitation of a short passage from the Holy Qur’an, followed by the Adhan (Muslim call to prayer) and breaking of the fast.

The co-hosts then gave their official welcomes. Minister Dominello started the welcome proceedings by describing the annual program as “a much anticipated event” and urging the guests, who are leading in their communities in different capacities, to spread its message to their respective networks. Stressing the importance of such grassroots work for social harmony, the Minister said, “You can have a profound impact on where we are travelling as a nation. Governments cannot make a harmonious society happen on their own. Governments can set the vision but the implementation happens at the grassroots.”

Mr Guy Zangari followed and commented that Affinity “epitomises the true notion of an Aussie ‘fair go’”. The Member for Fairfield commended the Muslim community for sharing its sacred time with its “brothers and sisters in humanity” and urged other faith communities to begin offering the same gesture.

Before dinner was served, Affinity’s Executive Director Mr Ahmet Keskin gave the final welcome of the night. Mr Keskin highlighted the importance of sharing and uniting under already-shared attributes saying, “Through dinners like this, we realise the obvious but profound fact that in the end we are all human beings and thus we have a lot to share.” Outlining how one should view differences in religious beliefs and practices, cultural practices, languages and skin colours, Mr Keskin said, “They are not signs of division; they are signs of diversity. They are not reasons for segregation and isolation; they are complementary ingredients for unison and collaboration, which in turn lead to our growth and prosperity.”

After dinner, Dr Jeff McMullen AM truly captivated his audience with an eloquent and thought-provoking keynote address. Titled “Diversity: Australia’s greatest strength”, the address explored some of the many factors that unite us as Australians, the beauty of our diversity, the need to confront the fear of difference and some of the issues that still exist on our path to becoming “the most hopeful human society on Earth”. Dr McMullen emphasised the Indigenous Australian concept of being “of this land” and thus sharing the responsibility of custodianship as the starting point for what unites us. He stressed the importance of “seeing in a multicultural society the many fine distinctions in people and yet at the same time appreciating the common humanity we share”. Calling for caution against manipulation by individuals who try to sow seeds of mistrust, hysteria, hate and ultimately division between the different members of our society, he highlighted that our diversity is something to draw strength from; not something to fear. The widely respected activist called for a new constitution that ensures there is no discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, colour, religion, age or gender, especially Indigenous Australians. He also called for settlement on a “united, lawful, human approach here in Australia” to the asylum seeker issue. Dr McMullen concluded by emphasising that we need to build bridges of understanding, share the hard work still to be done, fight against stereotyping and focus on our common ground.

(You can follow the link here for an edited version of Dr McMullen’s full address published on the Sydney Morning Herald’s website)

Following the keynote, guests were treated to an operatic performance of well-known Ottoman poem, “Uyan Ey Gozlerim!” (Wake Up, O My Eyes!) by Ms Ayse Goknur Sanal.

Afterwards, reflections were provided by the Chief Justice of the Federal Court, The Hon James Allsop AO; Consul and Head of Post at the Malaysian Consulate in Sydney, Dr Jumiati Ismail; Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Indigenous Strategy and Services) at Sydney University, Professor Shane Houston; and, acting NSW Director of DFAT, Ms Danielle Morris. Mr Ahmet Keskin gave the vote of thanks to conclude the evening…

This program was sponsored by the UAE Red Crescent (Diamond) and NSW Community Relations Commission (Platinum).