Abraham Conference 2017

On Sunday 16 July, an excited audience gathered at Parramatta Mission to listen to our panel of Muslim, Christian and Jewish speakers discuss pertinent issues related to living in a multi-faith and multicultural society. The panel was moderated by MC Julie McCrossin.

Please find below photos and video recordings from the event.


A Lunchtime Lecture with Dr Kay Patterson, Age Discrimination Commissioner

About the speaker:

Appointed as the Age Discrimination Commissioner on 29th July, 2016 the Hon. Dr Kay Patterson AO came into this role with strong involvement in issues affecting older people.  Leaving school at 15, and then managing a small business, she returned to school and gained a BA (Hons) at the University of Sydney and a PhD in Psychology and a Dip Ed at Monash University.

Following her election to the Senate in 1987 she served on a number of Senate committees and held various shadow portfolios.  In 1988 she was appointed as a Parliamentary Secretary and in 2001 was appointed to Cabinet and served in the Health and Social Security portfolios. She retired from Cabinet in 2006 and from the Senate in 2008.

About the facilitator:


Gillian’s passion is working with inspired people to help them achieve worthwhile change. After a successful and fulfilling senior executive career mostly in health and aged care Gillian now combines busy consulting roles with Board work and governance.

Known for her capacity to galvanize people around great strategy, Gillian has mastered the art of finding innovative solutions to emerging trends and changes that help companies evolve their services and business models. Prior to establishing a busy portfolio career, Gillian was CEO and Director of UnitingCare Ageing one of Australia’s largest health and aged care providers. Gillian holds non-executive director positions with the boards of Basketball Australia Ltd and RSL Care Ltd.

She has held Senior Executive leadership roles in NSW Government Departments including Premier’s, Housing NSW, Ministry of Health & Community Services, Department of Community Services and the Department of Ageing Disability and Home Care.

Gillian is committed to life-long learning and has used this to hone the hard and soft skills of leadership. She is a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors with tertiary qualifications including an Executive MBA, post-graduate qualifications in urban studies and an honors degree in Social Work.

To attend this special event, please complete the RSVP form below by 5pm, Tuesday 12 September:


A recap of Professor Scott Alexander’s 2017 Sydney tour

On Monday 7 August, Professor Scott Alexander, from the Chicago Catholic Theological Union kicked off the Sydney leg of his Australia and New Zealand speaking tour with a presentation titled, Reforming Reform: Hizmet and the survival of ‘Civil Islam’ in contemporary Turkey.

Held at Western Sydney University’s new Peter Shergold Building, the event was a collaboration between Affinity Intercultural Foundation and Western Sydney University’s School of Social Sciences and Psychology.

The talk included a response from Professor Kevin Dunn, Dean of the School of Social Science and Psychology and Professor in Human Geography and Urban Studies from Western Sydney University (WSU). The conversation was moderated by Associate Professor Cristina Rocha, WSU’s Director of Religion and Society Research Cluster.

Professor Alexander began his talk with a brief historical perspective of Islamic renewal and reform, before highlighting the spectrum of contemporary renewal and reform, which includes Neo-Modernist, Neo-Traditionalist, Puritan and Shiite thought.

He provided a Turkish context by discussing Secular Nationalism and the seeds of “civil Islam” (a term coined by Professor Ihsan Yilmaz) in the Nurcu and Hizmet Movements. Professor Alexander highlighted the principal teachings of Fethullah Gulen, which are inspired by Said Nursi and the Nurcu Movement.

Gulen advocates a socio-spiritual approach to renewal, linking traditional, personal, spiritual and moral character and duty with family values and social reform. He emphasises “service” (hizmet) in the form of education (there are over 1000 Hizmet schools operating worldwide), social justice and intercultural and interreligious dialogue.

Professor Alexander presented a quote from Gulen to accentuate the links between democracy and Islam.

Gulen states that, “democracy has developed over time…it will continue to evolve and improve in the future…it will be shaped into a more humane and just system, one based on righteousness and reality. If human beings are considered whole, without disregarding the spiritual dimension of their existence and their spiritual needs, and without forgetting that human life is not limited to this mortal life and that all people have a great craving for eternity, democracy could reach the peak of perfection and bring even more happiness to humanity. Islamic principles of equality, tolerance, and justice can help it do just this.”

According to Professor Alexander, the survival and future of “civil Islam” in Turkey and other Muslim majority societies will depend on a “re-evaluation of the role of the state in post-colonial social renewal and reform; as well as the depth of popular commitment to an intersectional approach to building strong civil societies.”

Professor Alexander’s talk gave everyone in the audience a greater insight into the survival of civil Islam in contemporary Turkey as well as food for thought. The event wrapped up with gifts presented to the two speakers and facilitators as well as a Vote of Thanks from Ahmet Polat, Executive Director of Affinity Intercultural Foundation.

Professor Scott Alexander continued his tour on Tuesday 8 August with a Lunchtime Lecture at Affinity Intercultural Foundation’s offices. At his second Sydney event, Professor Alexander presented a talk on the topic of Difference in Dialogue: Promise or Peril? The talk included a response from Professor Neil Ormerod, Professor of Theology at the Australian Catholic University.  The conversation was moderated by retired ABC radio journalist, John Cleary.

Special guests in attendance included Leo Oaeke, Papua New Guinea Consul, Karl Hartleb, Austrian Consul-General and Anthony Long, Chief Inspector Commander of the Engagement and Intervention Unit, Anti-Terrorism and Security Group and Counter Terrorism and Special Tactics Command from the NSW Police Force.

Professor Alexander prefaced his talk with a positive affirmation. “Coming together for the fellowship of ideas is a sacred act…intercultural dialogue is like stepping into someone’s garden. You don’t know where the seeds are planted” he said.

In his talk, Professor Alexander interrogated what he refers to as the ‘sameness platitude’ and asks what inter-religious and other forms of dialogue would be like if they were founded on the alternative premise that we are often more different than we are alike.

“Gatherings like this one—gatherings which are intentional about celebrating difference—oftentimes are not celebrating difference at all, but rather attempting to lasso it, reign it in, domesticate it. We almost instinctively see the peril of difference and have a hard time perceiving its promise,” he said.

“How many times have you heard what I like to call the “sameness platitude”? That pragmatic and well-intentioned phrase: “We are all more alike than we are different from one another”? But are we really?

“As creatures who are relatively low on instinct and relatively high on cultural programming, one of the characteristics we homo sapiens have most in common with one another as a species is precisely the capacity to be so radically different from one another. One need only think of the stunning pluriformity of language and the elemental role language plays in continually shaping and giving life to culture to see his point.”

He proceeded to quote verse 13 from the Surat al-Hujurat from the Quran to highlight that human beings were created in and for difference, and that “human difference is not an accident of history, but instead an outcome of divine providence and design.”

According to Professor Alexander, our difference has been “primarily intended, not as some kind of sadistic obstacle course to make our lives more difficult, but rather as an opportunity for growth…a growth in knowledge and awareness of one another, self, and ultimately God through the process of relational encounter in difference.”

He questioned why in the present day, society is still afraid of difference. He offered that one reason is because we have “become so attached to the necessary but limited  sense of security we get from homogeneity and the familiar, that we erect it as a false idol and lose the capacity to see the inherent beauty and transformative power of the heterogeneous and the strange.”

He proposed that dialogue and education be viewed as “sources of hope” to counteract hostile views of difference.

“When executed with dedication, integrity and authenticity— [dialogue and education] do not attempt to paper over the differences that make us who we are and in which we root our dignity. Instead, dialogue and education give us the ability to understand our differences on a level deep enough that we can begin to see the ways in which they complement each other.
Professor Alexander concluded his talk with a hopeful message about looking inwards and self-reflecting to realise our potential and begin to take positive action in our daily lives.

“Oftentimes we find ourselves spending a great deal of time waiting for governments and the powerful to act in the face of injustice. We also spend a great deal of time asking how to activate the “grass roots” never pausing to realise that we are all part of the grass-roots. If we can turn our foci from waiting to doing, from the expectation that it is for others who are more powerful to act, we will never open ourselves to the miraculous ways in which God can act in and through us.” he said.

Overall, it was a wonderful event as many in the audience remarked on the well-delivered and thought-provoking event.

Morning Conversation with Professor Barney Glover


About the speaker:
Professor Barney Glover commenced as the Vice-Chancellor and President of Western Sydney University on 1 January 2014.

Professor Glover is an accomplished academic leader and experienced Vice-Chancellor. Previously Vice-Chancellor at Charles Darwin University from 2009 to 2013, he has a long record of success in university management and leadership, particularly in research, intellectual property management and major capital development projects.

Professor Glover also has significant business leadership credentials through membership on the boards of a range of corporate organisations and several state and national centres covering areas such as health and medical research, energy, mineral exploration and processing and telecommunications.

Before relocating to the Northern Territory in 2009 Professor Glover was the Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research at the University of Newcastle. Prior to this, he held several positions at Perth’s Curtin University of Technology including Pro Vice-Chancellor, Research and Development. He has a strong research publication record and has co-authored four texts in mathematics education. Before his appointment at Curtin Professor Glover held a number of positions at the University of Ballarat in Victoria.

Building research infrastructure, strategic partnerships and fostering a culture of research excellence were hallmarks of Professor Glover’s tenure in senior executive roles at CDU, the University of Newcastle and Curtin University of Technology.

He has demonstrated a deep commitment to widening participation and exploring innovative approaches to higher education access throughout his career. Professor Glover is a leader in the development of flexible, technology-based learning and in furthering Indigenous knowledge and education. He also has considerable experience in developing strong and mutually beneficial relationships with the vocational education sector.

Professor Glover holds a PhD in Applied Mathematics and has worked on both the east and west coasts of Australia.

About the facilitator:

Darren Mara is a cross-platform reporter, producer and presenter for SBS World News. He has worked across print, online, radio and television for the past 10 years, and most recently filled in as sports presenter for World News.

Darren has covered major domestic and international news events including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Australian federal elections, Olympics and Commonwealth Games, FIFA World Cups and the Tour de France.

Darren also spent four years in Europe as a reporter, editor and producer with German international broadcaster Deutsche Welle, as well as around one year in Indonesia working as a sub-editor with that country’s largest English-language newspaper, The Jakarta Post.

If you are interested in attending this event, please complete the RSVP form below by Monday 28 August.

2017 Home Iftar Dinners

Affinity’s Home Iftar initiative has been a growing tradition since its inception in 2006. This year was no exception, with 18 Australian-Muslim families across Western Sydney opening their homes to share an Iftar meal with non-Muslim guests, including representatives from  local councils, government, public service, media, academia and various faith and community groups.

These Iftar dinners, held during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, are a great opportunity for individuals to engage in intercultural exchange. Our aim is to foster the growth and development of a harmonious and inclusive community, accepting of the beautiful diversity within Australia and beyond.

The feedback we have received from previous participants confirms that such engagement not only facilitates understanding of the Islamic faith and the Muslim culture, but also enhances the Muslim community’s sense of belonging and consequently its contribution to Australian society.

Mikall Choong, chairman of the not-for-profit organisation, Advance Diversity Services had the following words of appreciation for the Home Iftar dinner he attended: “I’d like to thank Azmi and Gulse for so graciously opening their home to us and preparing such a delightful Iftar meal. The experience was memorable and most enjoyable!

Photos from this yea’rs Home Iftar Dinners