Universal Compassion of Divine Messengers

The Universal Compassion of Divine Messengers panel, organised by the Affinity Intercultural Foundation, on Tuesday April 11, at the Parramatta Riverside Theatre, coincided with three major events in the global religious calendar.

Muslims celebrated the birth of our beloved and treasured Prophet Muhammedpbuh; Christians celebrated Easter and members of the Jewish faith observed Passover.

This alignment of sacred and important religious events presented the ideal backdrop and atmosphere to discuss and commemorate the honourable work of three divine messengers; Muhammedpbuh, Jesuspbuh and Mosespbuh.

Through the knowledge and powerful words of Professor Mahmut Erol Kilic, Bishop Kevin Manning and Rabbi Gary Robuck, the audience heard inspirational stories of the hardships, courage and determination of the divine messengers to follow the command of God and deliver His message from a Muslim, Jewish and Christian perspective.

Rabbi Robuck spared time with his family on Passover to enlighten the audience on the character and nobility of Mosespbuh referring to him as “Judaism’s greatest prophet, law giver and teacher”.

The Rabbi continued to say that “even as a young man Mosespbuh had a refined conscious and that he puts an end to the violence that he witnessed. Mosespbuh was brave and courageous in front of the Pharaoh who was the most powerful man in the world and asks for his people to be freed”.

“Mosespbuh was religious and attentive and a role model to seek and uncover the divine even in the most dark and remote places and always lived life in the immediate presence of God”, the Rabbi said.

The compassionate words of Bishop Kevin Manning had a great impact on the audience as he shared the attributes of Jesuspbuh who instructed his disciples to convey and show mercy.

Bishop Manning explained that God speaks to man through the universe and His power and compassion are evident through His creations. Therefore God is visible through the mercy of Christ. The sacrifice of Jesuspbuh would restore the relationship between God and man as Jesuspbuh states “blessed is the man who does not lose faith in me”.

Bishop Manning went on to explain that “the suffering of Christ speaks in a special way to man and not just the believer. The message of Christ is culminated on the cross because Christ appeals for mercy when he suffers. Mercy is an indispensable dimension of love”.

International keynote speaker Professor Mahmut Erol Kilic, Head of Islamic Sufism, School of Theology, Marmara University, Istanbul, Turkey, presented insight into the life of the Muhammedpbuh and Islamic theology and spirituality.

 

Professor Kilic explained that verses in the Quran “emphasised the oneness of humanity as a family where everyone is equally eligible for basic human rights including choosing one’s religion without coercion”.

He continued to emphasise tolerance and acceptance of other religions as stated in the Qur’an, which has references to the Bible and the Torah and what was revealed to other Prophets.

The Qur’an encourages Muslims to have dialogue with others and have no distinctions between humans because we are all made by the Creator and will eventually return to Him”.

Professor Kilic also explained the compassion and tolerance of Prophet Muhammedpbuh who emphasised that hurting someone from the people of the book (Bible, Torah, Qur’an) would be like hurting him personally.

Islamic theology and spirituality promotes and encourages interfaith dialogue and Muslims were reading the Torah and knew the Gospel from the time of the early Sufi’s.

Professor Kilic explained that “in order to heal the world we have to nurture ourselves in the beauty and compassion of the Prophet Muhammedpbuh. Humans have divine guidance, which is currently lost in the jungle of this world where pain and suffering is caused by a separation from God”.

The Professor expressed a need to wake up to a higher level of consciousness. We should be able to perceive the truth and noble character of Prophet Muhammedpbuh more clearly, because through him, humanity has received a religion of mercy, heart and compassion. The coming of the Prophet changed everything-a higher standard of morality was sent”.

“The world has reached a state where unity, substance, grace, vision, love, and beauty are needed to sustain us. The bedrock of Islamic thought rests on the foundations of humanity, compassion, and learning where peace signifies an act of reconciliation to overcome violence”.

“The Prophet himself proclaimed that he was not sent for condemnation but as the Prophet of mercy and displayed this attribute when he asks for the forgiveness of those who have come to hurt him rather than ask for their punishment. The emphasis on Allah’s mercy is evident in the Quran where His name Ar-Rahman (the Merciful) appears more than any other name.

 

The event successfully highlighted the compassion of the divine messengers and their impact and contribution to the foundations of society and religion. Having listened to the speakers, one may ask “what did the panel achieve?” The panel achieved many things. Firstly, it showed that members of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths can come together to acknowledge the wonderful work of the divine messengers in harmony. It showed that as a community we can respect the values and beliefs of each faith and the willingness of the community to reach out and embrace each other in support. More importantly it is an influential demonstration of the tolerance, understanding and similarity of faiths existing and operating parallel to one another. Professor Kilic asked an important question; “If Prophet Muhammedpbuh, Jesuspbuh and Mosespbuh were alive at the same time, would they have been friends?” The answer is an obvious yes as expressed by the audience. This is because they all worked towards a common goal; to show mercy and compassion, to educate towards tolerance and acceptance and to spread the love and message of “the God” (Allah).

 

Many members of the audience said they were impressed by the event because it showed the similarities between the three faiths and the messages conveyed by each of the divine messengers. Some even stated that the similarities far outweighed the differences and that the universal message of mercy and love was the foundation for all religions. Perhaps this is the marking of success – where community members can walk away with such a realisation which will have a positive impact on their interactions in the community. Additional performances by Musa Hodzic, Mohamed Cengic and Omer Sacan also made this a memorable and spiritual night with many positive messages for the benefit of our multicultural society.

Approaching Sacred Texts in Modern Times Panel

 

Imagine a courtyard, one taken right out of a snap shot of old Sydney Town, looking around you, you see the beautiful stone walls and you know there is history there. You walk about and the cobble stone pavement, its ups and downs making you feel like you are walking on large bits of the past.

And then you gaze up and you feel yourself being pulled out of the pages of history and back to reality, a few towering buildings, very corporate like make you realise you are in the heart of the city on a Friday in the year 2007 and you think, what a marvellous contrast!

The last day of November was so spent in St. Patrick’s Church Crypt amidst the hustle and bustle of the city and the wondrous peacefulness and unexpected quiet of the church itself. ‘Quran & the Gospels: Approaching Sacred Texts in Modern Times’, was the topic at hand and with around 150 or so people who came to hear the speakers, it was evident that the topic was one that resonated with many.

Sr Michelle Connolly was first to address the topic. She started by defining what the Gospel was, a narrative, a story about Jesus (as), a historical person and the historical events occurring around him. She said the principle aim of the Gospels is to take the memories of a community regarding Jesus’ traditions thus creating a portrait of him that is personal.

Mehmet Ozalp spoke about how we make relevant our texts, the Quran and how we connect to it. He stated that in three ways one could do so, one a general reader, a Muslim, or non-Muslim seeking to benefit from the Quran and finally, the content of the Quran itself, which helps us to understand it.

He talked of Gods light resonating in the universe and the mirrors, which reflect this light, the universe, the Quran, and the human heart. He acknowledged that we are all subjective beings and need to try and stay away from extremes. He gave two points; if you do not allow the Quran to transform you, you will transform it to which you are yourself, and again we are bias creatures based on our belief, life experience and events that occur around us one text could mean two different things. He then stated that Muslims have to be ‘coachable’ by the Quran. “The Qur’an’s teachings are from God therefore submit to it, become coachable, and let God be the Teacher.” He ended by saying that it is important we have a collective understanding of the Quran so we do not become narrow in our understanding.

Another highlight of the night was prayer where Muslims prayed Maghrib prayer and Christians focused on the word maranatha and both groups prayed together.

The evening ended with ‘different perspectives, but moving to the one point-God’.

Overall the atmosphere of the event, the feeling of spirituality and of sincerity, trying together to understand God and his words was overwhelming and delightful.

From the ‘Remembrance of One God’ Affinity Intercultural Foundation in collaboration with the Christian Meditation Group held this second panel, “Quran & the Gospels: Approaching Sacred Texts in Modern Times” on Friday, 30th November 2007.

2nd Annual Youth Panel 2007

On the 25th of August 2007, Affinity Intercultural Foundation held their 2nd annual Youth Panel. The topic of this year panel was ‘I am a Young Australian Muslim because…’

The event began about 7:30pm and Makiz Ansari opened up the panel with a welcoming note to all our guests. It was good to see that although the turn out was low, the 100 to 150 people that did com, were those among the youth, especially from the Muslim community.

All up there were 5 speakers in this panel and they included:

·         Assoc Prof Christine Inglis- from Sydney Uni

·         Zainab Alttahir-from Auburn Girls High (Yr 12)

·         Maher Yaghmour-from AIA (Yr 12)

·         Mahsheed Ansari-from UWS (President of UWS Affinity Club)

·         Ziya Sahin-from Sydney Uni (President of Sydney Uni Affinity Club)

All speakers added their own touch to the topic and especially the youth speakers who had prior to the event rehearsed rigorously to get their speech and timing perfect. And this they did.

The first speaker up was Christine Inglis who stated that her talk was on the research she had carried out on migrant young people. She basically touched on the fact the migrant youth can be great contributors to their society. That the cliché views that they are outsiders, they don’t fit in and more, are really concepts that stop the full impact the migrant youth can have on our society. She also touched on identity and how this is such an issue with migrant youth, an issue she says can be dealt with through education. It is through education she says, that we can help the youth and the public be aware of one another, and also use education as a tool to help build their sense of identity.

You could tell that the youth speakers were NERVOUS! But as the first youth speaker, Zainab took to the stage, it all changed. Her topic was titled ‘The Collision of My Two Worlds?’. Her speech was based her personal experiencing of being a migrant who grew up in Australia and her struggles to try and balance her ‘2 worlds’. She stated that developing ones identity is very much needed within the youth and that this is not something that can easily be achieved. She however said that it was the struggle of finding her identity in Australia that actually helped her find her place, and her faith, Islam. Her idea was that her two worlds do not conflict with each other, but rather compliment one another. This is concept that was touched by many of the youth that night.

Maher Yaghmour was the second youth speaker for the night, and he certainly delivered! His topic was on ‘To be or not to be’. He basically talked about the rip in the ocean, stating that you either try to fight the rip or you go along with it. Maher said that he sees this ‘ripe’ as the peer pressure that many youth face today. He gave a personal example of how he was conflicted about fighting someone at school, because on one side his friends were telling him to fight and on the other hand he had his conscious which was reminding him chapters from the Quran about patients and forgiveness. In the end he chose not to fight….! He stated that friends play an important role in your life, especially he said in his and that we always think before we re-act.

The third youth speaker was Mahsheed Ansari. Her topic was on ‘Spirituality in Generation Y’. Mahsheed talked about the yearning that the youth have of wanting spirituality. She stated that just because it might not be something that we see often, it does not mean its not there. She went on to say that society should look more to youth and the spirituality that they have to offer, that we should nurture them and give them faith the makes seme to them. All humans she states ask these 3 questions (1) who am I? (2) What is my purpose? And (3) where am I going? Once these questions are satisfactorily answered youth are able to discover their spirituality within the society. She ended her talk by stating that all living begins need to full 2 things in order to be alive, Growth and Contribution. Without either humans are not truly living. It is for this reason that the youth of today need to be nurtured, so that they may grow and contribute to their society.

The final speaker for the night was Ziya Sahin. His topic was ‘Maturing Shoots Bearing Fruits’. Ziya started of talking about his early years in Australia in which he hated to be called an ‘aussie, because he felt a strong tie to his Turkish background’. And how this perception changed as he grew up in Australia and realised how much he was attached to it, i.e. his home, studies and friends. He calls himself a hybrid of the two backgrounds, in that he takes the good from both and fuses’ it together. Ziya also touched on the importance of his faith in his life and how much it has helped him be where he is today. He touched also on the idea of helping our society, especially as youth through education and other venues.

After tea and coffee everyone gathered back for a little entertainment provided by comedian Nazeem Hussain, who by the end of the night had us all in stiches. May God reward the brother who flied from Melbourne purely for this event and ended up missing his flight! God willing he has now safely reached home.

Question and answer time followed and many people in the audience were keen to ask questions. Some of the ones that were read out included, ‘what is the key challenges facing the Muslim youth today’? and ‘do you think universities should give classes on interfaith in order to learn or spread tolerance’? Another question was ‘can Australia except migrants from a different faith background, as they do of migrant who are of the same faith background i.e. Christians?’

The great thing about this panel for me was the fact that each speaker brought their own flare to the topic. I felt as if I was at 5 different panels, all in one…!

Overall the panel was both entertaining and enlightening. In his vote of thanks Mehmet Ozalp summed the night up well when he stated that we need to listen to our youth, we need to give them more attention, and that our society at the moment is not doing so. He stated that the speakers of the night are the emerging Muslim youth of Australia, and that they need to be listened to.

‘My Faith, Our Australia’ Panel at Sydney Uni

Sydney University Affinity club held a panel on the 10th of May on ‘My Faith, Our Australia’. The panel was all about how ones faith makes them a better Australian.

Miss Mahsheed Ansari spoke from the Muslim perspective, Rabbi Eli Feldman from the Jewish and Stuart Thomson from the Christian.

The event started at 1pm with about 30 to 35 people attending. All the speakers spoke well and focused on the topic at hand. The main themes that seemed to have come out of the talks included the fact that Australian society and its values allows for the religious values of different groups to flourish, rather than dampening them. Also each faith talked about how their respective faiths allow its followers to integrate into any society with ease.

Another topic that was touched on was the fact that religion and the secular Australian society did not clash, that faith in fact could actually enlighten it.

Grand Mufti of Bosnia and Herzegovina urges integration

G_Mufti_Bosnia1a.jpg

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.”

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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:

http://www.abc.net.au/rn/religionreport/stories/2007/1871059.htm
(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):

http://www.abc.net.au/sundaynights/
(500,000 listeners – Australia wide)

BOSNIAN ISLAMIC NEWSPAPER ‘PREPOROD’ (REAWAKENING) IN SARAJEVO BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

http://www.preporod.com/index.php?

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

http://www.parramattasun.com.au/2007/03/mufti_urges_unity.php