Abraham Conference 2016

21ST August 2016

Affinity Intercultural Foundation together with their partners the Jewish Board of Deputies, Uniting Church of Australia and Columban Mission Institute co-hosted the 2016 Abraham Conference: Hate Speech and Violence at the Parramatta Mission Fellowship Hall on Sunday 21 August 2016.

Affinity together with its partners was pleased to welcome over 100 guests from across the business sector, education sector and the wider community. Some notable attendees are MPs Jihad Dib and Julie Owen and the Grand Mufti of Australia Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed.

We were honoured to have Rabbi Dr Benjamin Elton deliver the keynote address on how hate speech and violence are intricately linked and the damages they can cause communities.

Following Dr Elton’s address, we were pleased to hear from our esteemed panellists Ari Lander, Dr Ghena Krayem, Fr Claude Mostowik, Julie Nathan, Rev. Tara Curlewis and Shk Haisam Farache on a range of topics including the effect of hate speech on their individual communities and the solutions presented to curb hate speech. At the conclusion of the program there was definitely a wider understanding of each other and the problems faced by all represented communities.

The proceedings were moderated seamlessly by David Knoll, A.M and it was a wonderful program enjoyed by all. Thank you to Kati, Briana and Manas for their efforts in organising the event and to everyone who attended.


10th Abraham Conference : Family in the 3 Abrahamic Faiths

10th Abraham Conference : Family in the 3 Abrahamic Faiths

abrahamconference1Affinity Intercultural Foundation, along with its partners; the Catholic Arch Diocese of Sydney, the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and ACT, the Columban Mission Institute and the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies held the 10th Abraham Conference in Sydney on the 3rd of June 2012. Since its inception, the Abraham Conference has facilitated the healthy discussion of a broad range of topics concerning the three faiths. Through these conferences, followers of each faith have been able to peer through a window and listen to the other traditions to benefit from their perspective.

The theme for this year was “Family in the Three Abrahamic Faiths”, which focussed on the sacredness and the importance of the family unit as the building block of a harmonious and progressive society. It also examined the challenges facing the modern family as a medium to relay faith traditions and values across generations.

The conference began with a warm welcome by Mr Vic Alhadeff from the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, followed by the Welcome to Country by the former Rugby Union star Mr Gary Ella. Mr Ella acknowledged the traditional owners of the land and stressed the importance of family in the Aboriginal traditions. He briefly talked about The Stolen Generation and how the shameful act devastated families in the Aboriginal communities across the country.

The guest moderator for the conference was Ms Angela Shanahan from The Australian newspaper. Ms Shanahan, who regularly writes about the family, population, human rights and religion, shared some of her experiences as a mother of nine and grandmother of three children. Ms Shanahan opened up and facilitated discussion amongst the speakers and the audience throughout the afternoon with her expertise in journalism.


The keynote presentation was given by Ms Maha Abdo AM, who is a widely respected Muslim woman activistand currently the Executive Officer of the United Muslim Women’s Association. Also being a mother and grandmother, Ms Abdo gave an overview of Islam’s perspective on the family addressing its sacredness, importance for society and the challenges facing it. She brought into the discussion her experience of three decades in the social welfare field and highlighted that love and respect are crucial in the family and need to be expressed especially through actions, particularly towards children and regardless of whether they are behaving or not. She went on to stress the point that a trouble-free family life, if any, is not normal and healthy, and that these troubles can lead to stronger filial bonds if handled with care and compassion but to disunity if handled incorrectly.

Ms Abdo stated that Islam refers to the family as the cornerstone of society and thus encourages marriage between males and females and puts firm principles in place to ensure the stability and continuity of the family. She pointed out that most of the problems society faces are due to dysfunctional or broken-down families and individuals who have tampered with the family model ordained by God. She added that Islam describes the male and the female spouse as garments for one another and subtly invited the audience to think about the deep meanings behind this analogy. Ms Abdo wrapped up her keynote address by stressing the fact that the home is the first school in the life of the child and asking the audience to question whether or not their home environments provide a good education to their children.
abrahamconference3The first respondent, Ms Claerwen Little, who has been working for UnitingCare for over 21 years and is currently the Acting Director of ‘UnitingCare Children, Young People and Families’, provided the Christian experience. Also being a mother and grandmother, Ms Little stressed that society and the state exist for the betterment of the family institution and not vice versa. She pointed to the relatively recent trend of having custom-made ‘my family’ stickers on the rear windows of cars and interpreted it as a hope-giving indication of a renewed emphasis on the family identity. Ms Little, who has had a strong family upbringing, emphasised that everyone belongs to a family and outlined some of the discrimination-free activities the Uniting Church does to remind children and parents about this and get them to be more responsible in their interactions. She re-iterated Ms Abdo’s point that love and respect in the family is essential and quoted from Catholic papal documents to indicate the necessity for adults to focus on the needs of children ahead of their own.


The Jewish respondent was Associate Professor Amanda Gordon, also a mother and grandmother. ProfessorGordon brought into the discussion her expertise as a clinical psychologist and focused on the importance of discussion and communication with children. She stated that parents have to strike a balance between freedom and discipline when it comes to raising their children and added that effective communication is the way to achieve this. She emphasised that children should be heard, given room to explore life on their own, allowed to make mistakes and given a chance to correct them but also that certain borderlines need to be drawn. Professor Gordon supported Ms Abdo’s point about the importance of stability and continuity in the family by providing research evidence, which indicates that children living with both parents are more stable than those living with one. She finished off her speech by touching on some of the challenges Jewish families face in the modern world, such as living in a secular society, and accepting intercultural marriages.

After the speeches, Ms Shanahan opened up discussions among the presenters about authority in the family and how to teach kids to think and act morally. This was followed shortly by roundtable discussions amongst the audience members and then questions to the speakers.

Mr Ahmet Keskin, Executive Director of Affinity, wrapped up the conference by thanking all those involved, highlighting how the speeches and discussions showed the importance of the family unit in the three faiths and stressing the need to work together to revive this vital institution.







3rd National Social Cohesion Conference 2011

3rd Bi-Annual National Social Cohesion Conference, addressing the issue of “Enrichment through a Socially Inclusive Society: Challenges and Solutions”

On Sunday the 9th October 2011, Affinity Intercultural Foundation, in conjunction with  the University of Western Sydney, Macquarie University and University of Sydney kick started it’s 3rd bi-annual National Social Cohesion Conference, addressing the issue “Enrichment through a Socially Inclusive Society: Challenges and Solutions”.


The conference was officially opened by the Hon Victor Dominello MP (Minister for Citizenship and Communities and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) who gave a motivating and insightful talk about the importance of attaining a socially inclusive society, emphasizing the importance of co existing peacefully within such a multicultural nation like Australia. He further went on to state, that multiculturalism within Australia is an envy of other nations, as our community is enriched due to such assets, therefore it should be celebrated and inclusive to all Australians, regardless of their cultural, religions or social backgrounds.


Professor Desmond Cahill (Global Studies, RMIT University) gave the Keynote Address for the night. Prof Cahill focused on the events of 9/11 and the positive outcomes that came from it. He looked at how Australia evolved through time to be such a multicultural and socially inclusive society. He also highlighted 11 challenges he sees facing Australia in terms of its multicultural landscape such intellectual challenges, digital challenges and interfaith challenges to name a few.

The first respondent, Professor Emeritus Gary Bouma (Monash University), demonstrated a strong and concise standpoint, on the importance of socially inclusive societies in Australia, stating, “A society that loses its cohesion loses its capacity to be itself”. He went on to further emphasis that, “Yes we as Australia are an envy of the world and for good reason; we have invested in building social cohesion never finishes”. He touched on the importance of community work such as Affinity Intercultural Foundation, praising its ability to “build bridges”, stating, “Social cohesion is a continuously building project, we will never finish”.


The final respondent, Mr. Mehmet Ozalp (Charles Sturt University), presented a thought provoking perspective on what it means to attain enrichment, through a socially inclusive society, stating that, “ enrichment, sometimes involves going down to the core and challenging some of our basic life assumptions and our life experiences”. He went on to address three key issues that impede on cohesion in Australia and particularly the Western World. Issues that he touched on were;

  • Western Civilization does not have a historical experience of having a large population of religiously and culturally different group living amongst society,
  • Western society has a duplicity.
  • Our lack of communication and understanding of other people.

Mr Ozalp addresses these issues and put forward soultions to try to overcome them, all of which were based on dialogue, understanding and reconciliation.

The Australian Tasawwuf Ensemble entertained the audience with their soft, melodic sounds of Sufi Music, closing the night with an enlightening cultural experience.

Mr. Mehmet Saral, President of Affinity Intercultural Foundation and Organising Committee Chair of the Conference, gave the Vote of thanks. He acknowledged all the organisers and speakers who took part in the conference and presented the three speakers with a gift as a token of appreciation.

Following on the Keynote Lecture on Sunday night was the two workshop days. Paricipants came over the two day period to explore the issue of “Enrichment through a socially inclusive society: challenges and solutions” with more depth and discussion. The topics that the workshops addressed are as follows;




– Education in Social Cohesion

– How shall the refugee issue be handled from a Humanitarian perspective

– Islamic Law and social cohesion

– Citizenship in a pluralistic society


– Diversity in Australian social landscape

– How does Media affect social cohesion?

– Importance of Interfaith Dialogue in creating social cohesion

– Multiculturalism and social inclusion: Similarities and Differences


Overall, the conference was informative and eye opening, giving audiences a lot to reflect upon and implement into their lives, in order to continue to build a socially inclusive society.

The following testimonials were received from the participants:

University student/ public figure “Fantastic event, it addressed a very important concept of social inclusion. Plenty of food for thought”.

Audience Member: “Wonderful event, I found several new ways of looking at issues, took down many notes, this is relevant for me as I was brought up catholic and it made me realize how another ethnic group would feel if we imposed our traditions on them”, This is a good point to use as we can apply it to other groups, other religions, other beliefs, it truly touched on the issue of what it means to be an Australian”


9th Annual Abraham Conference: Abraham for the 21st Century


Nearly 150 people from the three Abrahamic faiths got together on 10th of July to benefit from the guests speakers and discuss how Abraham can speak to us today.

This year Rev Dr Daniel Madigan SJ was the keynote speaker who addressed the audience on the following topic of “Abraham, His Family and the Baggage We Make Them Carry”. The Jewish respondent was the impressible Rabbi Paul Jacobson and the Muslim respondent was Prof Zeki Saritoprak who heads the Nursi Chair from John Carroll University, USA.

Rev Dr Madigan is an Australian Jesuit priest who is now Director of Graduate Studies at Georgetown University’s Department of Theology in the U.S. In his address he focussed on the patriarchal role Abraham plays for the 3 respective traditions by adding “We live in hope that this figure in faith, who holds an important place in each of our traditions, will provide us with a way forward in mutual understanding and honest dialogue with one another,” he said. “Abraham is the cornerstone of our strategy for leaving behind past polemics and moving ahead in mutual respect. We like to say that he is the father of all those who believe in one God.” He encouraged the audience members to continue their pursuit of understanding each other’s traditions.

Rabbi Paul Jacobson, commented on Abraham’s life as a representative of ideals based on belief in God, however consented he had his strengths and also his shortcomings. “And perhaps, through all these episodes, we might learn to become more cognisant of our own strengths and shortcomings, the ways in which our respective faiths encourage us to interact peacefully and harmoniously with one another…..We must unearth the best of what our traditions have to offer, both ourselves, and others for friendship and for mutual, respectful coexistence.”

Professor Zeki Saritoprak, the Muslim respondent gave a comprehensive account of Abraham in the Qu’ran, as he is regarded as one of the elite figures in Islamic teaching. Professor Zeki is also founder and former President of the Rumi Forum for Interfaith Dialogue in Washinghton, D.C. and currently heads the Nursi Chair in Islamic Studies at John Carroll University.

“What can we learn from Abraham today?” Prof Zeki asked.

“I would say it is the spiritual strength that Abraham had. I think if we are spiritual, and we become a way of that aspect of Abraham, we will be able to share with our neighbours regardless of their religion, regardless of their ethnicity, we will be able to share with our fellow human beings regardless of anything and I think our planet will be a credible brotherhood.”

Following the speakers, the audience had the opportunity to discuss the various talks before submitting some comments. This was followed by a round of Q&A with some thought provoking questions. Overall another successful program with a view of repeating for next year.