Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina urges integration


The importance of religious harmony in Australia was evident as key religious leaders, Members of Parliament and representatives of the media joined an audience of over 400 community members to listen to the message of Dr Mustafa Ceric, Grand Mufti of Bosnia and one of Europe’s leading Muslim figures.

Acceptance, understanding and communication were the underlying themes presented by Dr Ceric at a panel titled “Islam and the West: Integration or Isolation” organised by the Affinity Intercultural Foundation and MESIHAT, Bosnian Islamic Council of Australia, on Sunday 11 March 2007.

Community representatives including Ms Barbara Perry – Member for Auburn; Bishop Kevin Manning, Parramatta Catholic Diocese; Mr Jim Mein, NSW Moderator, Uniting Church; Mr Stepan Kerkyesharian, Chairman Community Relations Commission; Sheikh Taj Ad-din al Hilali; Sheikh Yahya Safi, Imam of Lakemba Mosque; Dr Ibrahim Abu Muhammad, Qur’an Qareem Radio; Keysar Trad, Muslim Friendship Association along with media organisations such as the ABC Radio, Parramatta Sun and SBS TV and other distinguished academics, community leaders and members of the community attended to listen to Dr Ceric explain the “need for mutual understanding, tolerance and cooperation.”

MuftiandBishop.jpg Dr Ceric emphasised the need for integration of the Muslim and Western worlds as he commented he was “afraid of the forces of isolation. It’s not good for Muslim or Western societies.”

“The majority of Muslims are for integration and cooperation but most are silent. That is my concern… as the small minority, in favour of isolation are speaking out. I encourage the majority to raise their voices, to be bold and speak up.”

He further explained that in order to achieve integration we need to extract the goodness from our communities and eliminate the confusion that different perceptions can cause. This will ultimately lead us to a better understanding of the relationship Islam has with the West and develop a dialogue between cultures and religions. He qualified that for him “integration” meant “engagement”.

Dr Ceric made a distinction that Muslims have been out of the mainstream history for the last two hundred years and they are trying to get back into it. Two models have been tried – secularisation and islamosisation, “I believe secularism model has failed because it did not deliver Muslims democracy, human rights and social justice. I think there is consensus now that islamosisation of Muslims is the way to go. But the key question is which way – with the West or without the West.”

His answer is that it should be with the West. Integration depends on the ability to actively initiate and encourage understanding of the different groups that make up a community at the local, national and global levels. This will then open up the channels of communication creating a healthy path for interfaith dialogue thus fostering integration and unity.

In turn this concept of unity does not mean the ability to enforce or implement religious conversion. Rather it is a healthy attempt to understand the differences of your neighbours, friends and colleagues to live harmoniously in the same community. Integration is therefore an ideal based on the foundations of accepting the values of your society and integrating into that society without losing your faith because “if you have your faith you will be strong wherever you go” he said.

Dr Ceric remarked, “There are differences in our worldviews. There are many issues we need to talk about and settle… but our problem is our similarities not differences. People who are similar tend to have more problems.”

He continued “Continuity or memory and identity are essential for any society. For this reason integration of the Muslim world and the West is vital if we are to create a positive image for Muslims globally. Isolation will only further enhance fear as Muslims will undoubtedly inherit the concept of the “other”. It is therefore our duty as Muslims to reach out and communicate with the West.”

Dr Ceric used the example of the work that Affinity is doing in the area of interfaith dialogue. “The work that Affinity does in fostering interfaith dialogue is a tangible example of the possibility of integration. It is a shining example of a positive Muslim identity helping non-Muslims in Australia to have face to face encounters with Muslims.”


Professor Wayne Mckenna from the University of Western Sydney shared his views on integration stating that “no community has ever learnt to live in ignorance of each other. Integration is important in society and you can enrich your identity through collaboration.”

“Engagement requires partnership, trust and understanding of what brings us together and what keeps us apart and it is for this reason that UWS is encouraging Islamic studies so we can better understand the Muslims in our communities.

Education is paramount to understanding the different groups that make up our Australian multi-cultural society and the work that Affinity is doing is important in fostering this dialogue and the road for progression,” Professor McKenna said.

The panel highlighted the need for integration and understanding with some members of the audience traveling from Wollongong and Gosford to be a part of the evening.

Ms Barbara Perry, State Member for Auburn, voiced her appreciation of the event. “It’s so important to see such a turnout. It shows that people are really willing to understand each other. This is why groups like Affinity are so important because they seek to foster interfaith dialogue and enrich the community by allowing them to get to know Muslims and work towards creating a harmonious environment.’

Noel James Debien, producer of the “Religion Report” at the ABC has been following Dr Ceric’s teachings via a series of documentaries produced about Bosnia and European Muslims. “I think Affinity is an effective organisation that expresses its message clearly through high profile speakers such as Dr Ceric. Events like this attract a lot of attention to this very important issue. The representation of Members of Parliament and Muslim and Christian community leaders is an example of the recognition of the community to move forward in the way of interfaith dialogue and reach a higher level of understanding.”

Dr Ceric’s visit to Australia also highlights the interest people have in cross-cultural dialogue and the issue of “integration” as reflected through the media interest in his arrival. A diverse range of people tuned in to ABC Radio National program “The Religion Report” and ABC Local Radio 702 “Sunday nights with John Cleary” to listen to Dr Ceric interviews.


Dr Mustafa Ceric Media Interviews
during Affinity Panel 14

Radio interview broadcast on ABC Radio National 576 (Religion Report)
Stephen Crittinden on Date: 14 March 2007 at 8:50am:
(100,000 listeners – mainly academic)

Radio interview broadcast on ABC Local Radio 702 (Sunday nights with John Cleary)
John Cleary on Date: 18 March 2007 at 10pm (Religion Report):
(500,000 listeners – Australia wide)


SBS TV News Interview on Tuesday, 13 March 2007 at 6:30pm (Not put up on their website)
Parramatta SUN on 14 March 2007 By Kylie Stevens

Neighbourhood Day (Ashura)

As part of the interfaith community Affinity has introduced several events of great significance to our social calendar. The International Abraham conference, Mosque/Church/Synagogue visits, seminars and Iftar dinners just to name a few. Each year, the interfaith community and government departments look forward to the aforementioned events with great enthusiasm.

We believe that the introduction of additional yearly events will further strengthen the already concrete relationships that have developed over the last few years. That’s why the Affinity Intercultural Foundation have  just last week included an additional event on to our yearly calendar that has been welcomed with open arms by the interfaith community.

Day of sharing & celebrating “the Neighbourhood Day” through NOAH’S PUDDING-Ashura

Observing a Middle Eastern tradition that celebrates the landing of Noah’s ark, members and supporters of Affinity from various faith communities proposed the preparation of a sweet dish called Noah’s Pudding to be served for guests and friends in the week January 27th to February 4th, 1007 (10th of Muharram in the Islamic Calendar).
Altogether 5 Neighbourhood Day events took place with a total of 255 Noah’s Pudding prepared for the attendees. The 5 events organised were as follows:
  1. Polynesian Day at the “Michael Wendon Leisure Centre” in Miller (near Liverpool) on Saturday, 27th of January. There were approximately 100 people at this function. It was a day when the Polynesian community of Sydney got together to have a BBQ and the community leaders were very pleased with our attendance.
  2. Thornleigh Uniting Church on Sunday, 28th of Jan. This day was during the Church Sunday Service and ~65 people attended.
  3. Parramatta Catholic-Muslim Youth Encounters on Sunday, 28th of January at the Parramatta Catholic Diocese Head office in Parramatta, where around 10 people attended.
  4. Auburn Uniting Church on Wednesday, 31st of January. This day was during the Church Wednesday Service and around 40 people attended.
  5. Jewish North Shore Temple Emanuel in Chatswood. Around 40 people attended.

What is Ashura?

A fast-day among the Muslims observed on the tenth day of the month Muharram, and derived from the Jewish Day of Atonement, celebrated on the tenth of Tishri (Lev. xvi. 29, xxiii. 27).

The name is an Aramaic form of the Hebrew word “‘Asor” (the tenth), still to be found in a liturgical poem for the Day of Atonement

History of pudding

It was thousands of years ago, a thousand years after Adam that a community was again on the threshold of a catastrophe.

For 950 years Noah called his people to the truth of belief in one God. One day God sent the Angel Gabriel to order Noah to build a ship. Inspired by God, he built it. God ordered him to take two of each creature, all of the believers, and his family, with the exception of his wife who had become a non-believer.

Supplies were loaded and the believers and animals boarded the ship. The water began to rise. As all of the none-believers were drowning along with their vices, a long and hard journey was awaiting Noah and the believers – a long, tumultuous journey. Days and days passed by, food became scarce, and they were facing starvation. No food by itself was sufficient to make a decent meal, so Noah gathered all of the food and mixed it together, producing a delicious meal.

As a result, the believers survived the famine. The very next day, the flood receded. Today we call the meal Noah prepared “Noah’s Pudding” or “Ashura.”

Ever since that day, Muslims prepare Noah’s Pudding every year in the month of Muharram, according to the Islamic calendar. In remembrance of what Noah and his people went through, this pudding is made by mixing dry beans and wheat together, and is then shared with neighbours and friends.

Ashura prepared at home is shared with neighbours. Generally people who prepare Ashura send a bowl to each of the neighbours in their building. As tradition goes the residents of forty houses to your east, west, north and south are considered neighbours. One has the responsibility of maintaining good relations with their neighbours regardless of what their religion or beliefs may be.

Noah’s Pudding with Polynesian Community

On Saturday 26 January, Affinity executive members Mehmet Saral and Saban Izgun attended a Polynesian Day BBQ as a part of Neighbourhood Day in order to distribute Ashura (Noah’s Pudding). There were approximately100 people, most who were Saban Izgun’s Guardian colleagues from Silverwater and Long Bay Detention Centre along with their families.

There were a couple of Muslim families at the BBQ who knew what Ashura was and quickly snapped up servings of Ashura for all members of their family.

The Polynesians, who did not know what the dish was, were more precautious in trying the Ashura. However, some Polynesians who did try it loved it, whilst others decided to take it home. The day was great success in promoting neighbourhood day

Violence will not prevail in Auburn

Ash Wednesday was particularly significant for Auburn Uniting Church in 2006. Its charred hall is a sombre reminder of December 14 last year, when the building was burnt down in the early hours of the morning.]

The fire occurred during the aftermath of the Cronulla Riots, making front page news as many associated the incident with the religious and racial tension at the time.

A special Ash Wednesday service was held on March 1 at Auburn Uniting Church to reflect on the past few months and celebrate the first day of the Lenten season.

To show solidarity, members of the local Muslim community attended, including a group of girls from the Gallipoli Mosque youth discussion group who donated $500 that they had raised to help rebuild the church hall.

“When Auburn Uniting Church hall burnt down we were all so saddened,” said Nazli Akyil, one of the fundraisers. “Islam teaches ‘be good to your neighbour’. We thought we must put this into action.”

In return, members from the Auburn parish presented the girls with traditional Tongan mats.

Also in attendance was Mehmet Saral, Secretary/Director of the Affinity Intercultural Foundation.

Affinity’s main aim is to build bridges between faith traditions through inter-faith dialogue and education. The organisation, begun by young Australian Muslims in 2001, holds seminars to inform the general public about the Muslim community, its religion and culture.

Mr Saral said that it was a fitting time to come as the service fell within the Islamic month of Muharram, a time for visiting neighbours and building community.

During Muharram, Ashura Pudding (also known as Noah’s Pudding) is distributed as part of the process of visitation.

Those attending the service were offered Ashura Pudding on their way out of the church.

It was not the first time that the community had come together in the name of peace.

On December 16, representatives from the Uniting Church in Australia (including the Moderator of the New South Wales Synod, Jim Mein, and the national President, Dean Drayton) stood alongside Muslim leaders and parish members at the site of the fire to pray together and condemn violence. After the fire, the congregation had been in shock, but the December 16 meeting did much to restore community morale.

“A lot of people were very quiet and didn’t talk too much,” said Auburn parish secretary Taiosisi Sikuea. “The message was very clear that day that violence was not going to prevail; we have to retaliate with peace. And then we have to stick together and work this out together.”

That sentiment was echoed by Affinity.

“We want to show the Australian public that Muslims are not destroyers; we are builders of peace,” said Mr Saral.

“We want to show that we embrace our local members `from the Uniting Church who have gone through a tough Nazil Akyil presents the Rev. Mele Fakahua-Ratcliffe with a period. We want to help them, just as they would help us if something bad happened to us. This is how the religious community should be working.” A committee has been formed to begin work on rebuilding the hall, but it will be at least 18 months before the building process begins.

“This is like a blessing in disguise for us in some ways,” said Ms Taiosisi. “It’ll be a lot of hard work to get the hall going, but it’s probably a chance for us to get a new hall. We try to look at it positively that way”.
Lyndal Irons

Smithfield Mosque opens its doors to Affinity

smithfield-mosqueopenday2On 9th April, Affinity Intercultural Foundation and the Smithfield Mosque held the Smithfield Mosque Open Day between 10 am and 2 pm. From Affinity, present were Ahmet Keskin, Omar Ouiek, Muhamed Cengic, Rifat Cakir, Adil Bayazitli and Musa Hodzic.

From the Bosnian community present were Bosnian community Mufti Shk Salih Mujala, Imam Jasmin Bekric, who was the organiser from the Bosnian community, Mr Osman Softic and the President of the Bosnian Islamic Society. There were also a few youths present but mainly the first generation Bosnian Australians.

They were curious on how this event would unfold. At the same time, they themselves have experienced something different for the first time in their life. Although, they have contributed greatly in helping out on the day, they were amazed that such an event could be organised by people younger than them.

There were 2 seminars and a traditional Bosnian lunch. The seminars covered the features of the mosque, make up of congregation and basic information on Islam.

During the first seminar, present were the Fairfield Police Chief Commander Ray King and another of his colleagues, Wetherill Park Police Ethnic Community Liaison Officer Uttara Khchao, Buddhist monk from Fairfield temple and mainly the first generation Bosnian Australians. A journalist from the local newspaper “Champion” was also present and the event was covered in the newspaper this week (19/04/06).

After that, we had the Noon prayer and a few verses were read out from the Holy Qur’an by Imam Jasmin Bekric. The guests witnessed the prayer in a very intimate fashion. They sat leaning on the side walls where the rows end. The Buddhist monk was taking pictures and was filming the prayer to what he said, “I’ve never experienced something like this. This is amazing.” We also had positive feedback from the police superintendent. Uttara Khchao said that he never knew that Islam was so beautiful and that these things should be done on a much wider scale. They hold conferences on various community issues within their network and said that he specifically wants to talk about the Smithfield Mosque Open Day. A question on apostasy was raised by the monk during the question time and he was satisfied by the answer.

The second seminar had about 20 non-Muslims. There was 1 family from the neighbourhood. They’ve also gave a positive feedback and some of them even attended our Panel on compassion. The neighbour said, “This was an eye-opener for me.” He also said that the people are starting to realise that the media is always trying to make Muslims look bad so they turn the people away from them.

All together, there were approximately 100 people of which were around 25 non-Muslims.

You may also want to read the Smithfield Open Day short article in the Champion local paper:

smithfield open day article