“The mother of all Iftar dinners”: Affinity’s 2017 Friendship & Dialogue Iftar dinner returns to NSW Parliament House

On Wednesday 7 June, Affinity Intercultural Foundation held its ninth annual Friendship and Dialogue Iftar Dinner at NSW Parliament House, with over 330 guests in attendance. The evening began with a welcome speech from Dr Elizabeth Coombs, the NSW Privacy Commissioner as well as an Acknowledgement of Country from Stan Grant, renowned journalist and the ABC’s Indigenous Affairs editor. The night continued as MC Hugh Riminton graced the stage with his charismatic presence and set the night into full gear.

Ibrahim Karaisli from Amity College delivered the ‘adhan’ (call to prayer) and the fast was broken with dates followed by a sumptuous three-course dinner. The evening was enlivened by a special musical performance from the Amity College Choir and Indigenous performer Walangari Karntawarra. The choir was complemented by a range of instruments, including the didgeridoo, wood sticks, the ukulele, xylophones, shakers and violin.

After dinner, the program began with speeches from the event co-hosts: the Hon. Ray Williams MP, Minister for Disability Services and Multiculturalism and the Hon. Sophie Cotsis MLC, Shadow Minister for Women, Ageing, Disability Services and Multiculturalism, as well as Ahmet Polat, Executive Director of Affinity Intercultural Foundation.

After a Quran recitation from Ibrahim Karaisli, NSW Police Chief Commissioner Michael Fuller APM took to the stage to deliver the keynote speech. In his address, he outlined his vision to focus on the prevention of crime, reduction of domestic violence and tackling terrorism and gang crime. The audience was left with a renewed sense of hope that our state was in good hands under Commissioner Fuller’s direction.

The keynote address was followed by a Sufi musical performance from the Anatolian Music Group, consisting of lead singer Dr Gazi Erkisi, Omer Faruk and Salih Resitoglou, who arrived from Melbourne to deliver a stirring performance. To accompany their singing, the band used two popular Middle Eastern instruments, the ney and kanun as part of their performance.

The evening proceeded with a gift presentation ceremony, where special Turkish gifts, sourced from Ahmet Polat’s cousin’s shop in Newtown, were presented to event sponsors. The event was a success thanks to the generous contributions of our sponsors, which included community organisations, universities, local businesses and individual patrons.

Towards evening’s end, four high-profile guests came on stage to share their reflections of the night. They included Australian navy officer Captain Mona Shindy, lawyer Peter Doukas, politician Chris Puplick AM and senior lecturer from UTS, Dr Kathy Egea.

After Dr Egea gave her reflection, Ahmet Polat came on stage to present a special gift to her as a token of appreciation towards her late husband Alan Knight, who was a former Affinity advisory board member and supporter of the organisation.

“Over the course of three years, we developed a beautiful relationship, like that of uncle and nephew. Despite the difference in our cultural backgrounds, we both shared the same values of love and respect for humanity.” he said.

The Vote of Thanks was presented by the Hon. Chief Justice Allsop AO, who remarked that one of the great privileges of living in multicultural Australia was, “observing and experiencing the way in which each new group of Australians feeds the intellectual life of this country.”

The event was concluded by former NSW governor Barrie Unsworth, who presented the concluding remarks. He commented on the grand scale of Affinity’s annual signature event, which served to bridge the gaps between different communities within Australian society.

You can view videos of speeches from the night below.

Welcome Speech by Dr Elizabeth Coombs

Acknowledgement of Country by Stan Grant

Co-host speech by the Hon. Ray Williams MP

Co-host speech by the Hon. Sophie Cotsis MLC

Keynote speech by NSW Police Chief Commissioner Michael Fuller APM

Photos from the evening


Parliament House of NSW Ramadan Iftar Dinner (2016)

The 2016 NSW Parliament Friendship and Dialogue Iftar took place at the NSW Parliament House, Strangers Lounge. Co-hosted by Affinity and NSW parliamentarians the Hon. John George Ajaka, MLC and the Hon. Sophie Cotsis, MLC, the event was attended by over 200 guests including MP’s, consuls general and representatives from the community and government. Sandra Sully, Channel 10 Journalist and Senior Editor with TEN, was the Master of Ceremonies for the evening.

The keynote speaker, His Excellency General the honourable David Hurley AC, DSC, Governor of New South Wales spoke about the importance of having a nation which is not feared but rather celebrates diversity and acceptance. His Excellency General emphasised that “nations aren’t built by bricks and waters, roads, bridges and so forth. It’s built through the positive efforts, the interactions, the synergies of people in pursuit of a peaceful, fair, tolerant, dynamic and diverse nation.” His Excellency Generals emphasis on a society which firmly believes and promotes plurality very much coincided with the purpose of the NSW Parliament Friendship and Dialogue dinner.

The Honourable John Ajaka identified through the example of the dinner just how harmonious the people that live in NSW are. He added that the coming together of the community and helping the vulnerable is part of the spirit of Ramadan.

The Honourable Sophie Cotsis described the Friendship and Dialogue Iftar Dinner to be a night of diversity within the peoples Parliament of NSW. She also emphasised that “our diversity is our strength” and the coming together of people from “different sectors, from across the political divide.”

Additional speakers included Dr Julian Droogan, senior lecturer at Macquarie University and Editor in Chief of the Journal of Policing, Intelligence and Counter Terrorism who opened the program, Ibrahim Karaisli from Amity College who recited the call to prayer and the verses from the Qur’an, Ahmet Polat, executive director of Affinity and Chief Justice James Allsop who concluded the program with a vote of thanks.

The evening included entertainment from the Amity College choir and enthralling performance from the Whirling Dervishes. The iftar promoted greater conversation and dialogue between different groups in wider society and increased awareness and appreciation of the diversity present in our community.

His Excellency General The Honorable David Hurley, NSW Governer

Ms Sandra Sully 

The Hon John Ajaka 

His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley’s speech at NSW Parliament House Iftar


His Excellency General The Honourable David Hurley AC DSC (Ret’d), Governor of New South Wales




Merhaba. [1]

Firstly, I would like to pay my respects to the traditional owners and custodians of this land on which we gather – the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation, and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have sustained and nurtured this land for tens of thousands of years. I acknowledge their living culture as the world’s oldest, and affirm my respect for their elders, ancestors and descendants.

There are a series of brass plaques on the concrete walkway between Circular Quay and the Opera House.

You may know the ones to which I refer.

When you get up close, you notice that each of the plaques refers to a famous writer and their works.

In my perambulations around the Opera House, one in particular grabbed my attention.

It was the one referring to David Malouf – Australian writer of such award-winning novels as Johnno, An Imaginary Life, Fly Away Peter and Remembering Babylon, and this year’s recipient of the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature.

On his plaque, was the following quotation, written in 1978:

Australia is still revealing itself to us.

We oughtn’t to close off possibilities by declaring too early what we have already become.’[2]

This paradox made me stop and think.

It also made me think because of what I know of this author’s background – born in Brisbane to a Lebanese father and an English-born mother of Portuguese descent.

In many ways, his story epitomises the Australian story of multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is inherent in the DNA of our nation which saw people from many countries undertake vast journeys to live in a land considered remote by many.

One of the messages of our nation’s story of migration is that however we identify culturally, we will build and share a common destiny.

What we share is stronger than what separates us.

This is also the message of our history, in which religious freedom has been embedded.

Among the First Fleet and subsequent arrivals to the colony of New South Wales from 1788, there was a mix of religious denominations.

Later, having observed the sectarian intolerance in Ireland, one of my predecessors, Sir Richard Bourke, the 8th Governor of New South Wales (1831-37) formally recognised the importance of – and the relationship between – religious freedom and peace and prosperity, through introducing The Church Act of 1836.

This Act diminished the power of the Anglican Church in the colony, while not going as far as the American principle of separation of Church and State.

The unique New South Wales compromise was one of equal treatment by the State for all religions.  Religious denominations could receive government funding for some of their activities, in return for cooperating with the State in building and establishing hospitals, schools, and other social services. This principle has ebbed and flowed in the strength of its application, but still remains at the core of our society where religious freedom and diversity are enshrined.

As 38th Governor of New South Wales, I have come to realise, as I learn more about the Governors that preceded me and the historical plans of the British Crown, that while New South Wales may have originated as a place to dump the unwanted convicts of Britain’s vast overflowing prisons, within a very short while, it came to be seen as a form of social experiment. Indeed, John Dunmore Lang, the first Scottish Presbyterian Minister of the colony, called it ‘a transcendently important experiment.’[3]

When the vastness and fertility of this continent was fully understood by a nation 20,000 kilometres away, the Governors of this State were given the licence to go out and build a nation – a nation that was free, diverse and prosperous and, within a very short period of time, where people could live as equals.

However, a nation is not built through bricks and mortar. It is built through the positive efforts, interactions and synergies of people in pursuit of a peaceful, fair, tolerant, dynamic and diverse nation.

This, I think, is that to which David Malouf alludes in his words – this work is ongoing and will never be completed.

But it is up to all of us to be involved in the creation of it. Together, we can achieve a State and nation that represents this brand of beautiful multiculturalism.

In the late 1980s, we lived in Malaysia. I was an advisor to a Malay infantry battalion. I was the only non-Muslim in the area of Sungai Petani. I learned a great deal about the practice of Islam during that time. The first time I heard the call to prayer was when it woke me very early in the morning after we had arrived.

For over 200,000 people in our State, the call to prayer also speaks to them.

Our nation has one of the world’s most diverse populations and a wonderful mix of cultures and religions.

We must never let our differences lead us to conflict. We must strive to build relationships, not create estrangement. We need to be a truly blended society, not simply one that seeks to have different cultures co-exist.

When we connect in a spirit of dynamic cooperation, respecting each other’s differences while recognising the commonalities that have drawn us together to live as one people, we are truly magnificent.

This I have experienced at many events, including the Bankstown Children’s Fair, the Multicultural Mawlid Concert and the Islamic Charity Project Association Ramadan Dinner.

And, indeed, in the coming together of the community at Martin Place following the Lindt Café crisis in December of the previous year, and in our response to bushfires and floods.

We saw it, last week, in the imagery and spirit of unity we witnessed at Muhammad Ali’s interfaith funeral service in Louisville.

One of my staff experienced it, quite recently, at the start of Ramadan.

While walking from Government House one glorious evening, one of those gorgeous sunsets embraced the stretch of grass leading down to Macquarie Street.

The Harbour Bridge right around to the west was framed by brilliant swathes of turquoise, pink and orange.

In front, a young man walked. He greeted her as their paths crossed and then, as he walked further on in front, he paused, lay down a mat on the grass and knelt facing the western sky in prayer.

Tonight, we also embrace the spirit of peace, unity, giving and prayer at this Iftar Dinner, as we also reflect on those who struggle amidst war in many parts of the world, and for food and shelter, here in Australia and around the globe.

Ramadan is known as a time for not just giving up food and drink during daylight hours but for giving generously and compassionately to those less fortunate and to the charitable organisations that help them.

There is no better way to celebrate friendship than through inviting people to break bread with you and this is a tradition that crosses all national, cultural and religious backgrounds.

Tonight we break the fast with dates, fruit of the date palm, symbolic of the tree of life and eternal life, and traditionally known as the fruit that the Prophet Muhammad ate when he broke from his fast.

This evening, we celebrate our community coming together at the common table to share food, friendship and reflection at the end of the day’s fast.

Iftar is a wonderful opportunity for members of different backgrounds and cultures and diverse belief and faith groups to come together and learn about each other and to build on the feelings of solidarity, inclusiveness and belonging in the community.

Around our nation – and in many other nations of the world – millions of families are also coming together at Iftar, and have invited friends and neighbours to their table.

In Sydney, at night markets in Lakemba; at restaurants in Auburn and Bankstown; and at family tables at Parramatta, in Dee Why and Hurstville, and right across our City and our State, families and friends are gathering to do the same.

I congratulate the Islamic community and the Affinity Intercultural Foundation on your organisation of both this Dinner and the 30 and more home Iftar Dinners you have organised across Sydney this month to bring all people together, regardless of background.

Linda and I are also looking forward to attending as guests at a home Iftar Dinner arranged by Affinity in July.

On behalf of the people of New South Wales, I wish you all the best as you observe the holy month of Ramadan.

This evening’s Dinner is a wonderful occasion highlighting inclusiveness, friendship and dialogue as key contributors to social harmony.

I am honoured to support this event and convey my warm wishes as we come together at the Iftar table to celebrate our community of many faiths and cultures.

Linda and I look forward to meeting you this evening.

Assalamu alaykum[4]

Ramadan kareem[5]


[1]Arabic and Turkish phrase that translates to “Hello” and “Welcome.”

[2]Lugarno Postscript: Notes and Furphies (1979)

[3] JD Lang – Historical and Statistical Account of the Colony of New South Wales, page 231

[4]Arabic greeting that translates to “May peace be upon you.”

[5]Arabic phrase that translates to “May your Ramadan be blessed/generous.”


Governer of NSW link: https://www.governor.nsw.gov.au/governor/selected-speeches-and-messages/nsw-parliament-friendship-and-dialogue-ramadan-iftar-dinner/







University of Wollongong Iftar Dinner 2016

The University of Wollongong (UOW) together with the Affinity Intercultural Foundation Wollongong (AIFW) co-hosted their fourth annual Iftar dinner, at the Terrace Restaurant, Wollongong campus on Thursday 16 June 2016.


UOW and AIFW were pleased to welcome many distinguished guests from across the community, business, education and religious organisations to share a meal and the spirit of the occasion.


Associate Professor SalihYucel, course Director and Lecturer at the Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, Charles Sturt University delivered a thought provoking and humorous keynote address. Associate Professor Yucel reflected on his varied international career providing insights and sharing one of his favourite quotes “hospitality comes before hostility”.


The musical performances of the evening provided a sample of the rich cultural diversity of our community. Ivan Morris provided an amazing digeridoo performance and TufanCamurtay, Art Teacher, Amity College shared the hypnotising sound of the Ney (Turkish Flute).


Dr Melissa Thompson, UOW’s Community Engagement Manager said that UOW are proud to continue to host an annual on campus Iftar dinner to together with AIFW. “This is an important opportunity to celebrate diversity, encourage social harmony, create joint understanding, extend hospitality and strengthen friendships.” Dr Thompson said.



Student Leaders Iftar 2016

On Monday 27th June, Amity College in partnership with Affinity Intercultural Foundation hosted its inaugural Student Leaders’ Iftar Dinner


This year’s theme “Sharing experiences and celebrating diverse cultures” brought twelve diverse schools across Sydney and over ninety guests together. Each participating school and their student leaders reflected over the importance of such dialogue initiatives and the great and attainable hope such platforms occasions for our future young leaders. Both Amity’s BHS & GHS’s SRC leadership collaborated their efforts in this program.


Amity’s Executive Principal, Mr Deniz Erdogan explained the objective of this initiative “to instill in our leading students – the future young men and women of a cohesive and harmonious multicultural Australia – an authentic understanding of the “other” in their frame of reference – platforms like these are essential”.


Similar sentiments were echoed across the floor reflections like Ms Lara Cysnok from Brigidine College in St Ives who mentioned that “such an incredible opportunity would mean a wonderful world we will be starting off with” whilst Amity’s Adna Mahmutovic echoed “our similarities – founding blocks; our differences that edge & spark” – a hopeful visionary leadership quality in both these young ladies.
This set the benchmark for more similar programs here onwards.