Parramatta Youth Encounters Open Forum

Parramatta Youth Encounters Open Forum | Saturday 28th April
The Parramatta Youth Encounters steering committee decided to have the last meeting open to an audience made up of Christian and Muslim youth. The theme for the night was “Spiritual Youth in a Secular Society”.
The anticipated purpose of this event was to expose the youth to a Muslim-Christian dialogue happening at the youth level in an informal environmentand to entice the youth to become part of future Youth Encounters programs. As you can see from the photos, the setting was designed in a way to convey that simplicity and intimacy.
The night kicked-off with a warm welcome and program briefing by the MC, Mr Luke Hackett, who was a Christian participant in the Encounters program. This was followed by presentations on the topic by members of each faith. This allowed questions to be raised in the minds of the audience with regards to the presentations or topic.
The discussion was very interesting and personal accounts were shared by some members. During the discussion, questions that were previously written by the audience, were voiced by Miss Makiz Ansari and some questions included:
  • Do you see secularism as an enemy or threat?
  • What are some of your challenges as a youth in keeping with your spirituality?
  • How should we – the youth- address the materialistic philosophy and atheism?
  • What could be some solutions to the problems of today?
Each member had a go at answering a question. After 45-minutes of discussion time Bishop Kevin Manning and Mr Mehmet Ozalp talked about their feelings and reflections on the night.

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

1st Legacy of Prophet Muhammad Conference – 2005

1st Legacy of Prophet Muhammad Conference 

The Novotel Hotel, Sydney Olympic Park, Homebush

September 17, 2005 

Conference Summary Report

Conference program

Affinity Intercultural Foundation presented the : ‘1 st Legacy of the Prophet Muhammad’ Conference on 17 th September, 2005 . It was held at Novotel Hotel, Olympic Park, Homebush and attended by a mix of people from different backgrounds and faiths.


Keynote Speaker: Dr Muhammad Al Habash 

Dr Al Habash joined us live from Syria via a video conference. He discussed: how Muslims can follow the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in their life; the relationship between Islam and citizenship in terms of whether Australia comes first or Islam; whether there is actually a conflict between these two and what Muslims can understand from the legacy of The Prophet (pbuh) in understanding these areas.

He began with three points that formed the foundation in his address. The first: that for a believer, there is the recognition that our life, the earth and all that is contained in it belongs to God. All things prostrate to God, he stated. Second, the implications of what Allah (swt) says in the Quran: ‘You have indeed in the Prophet a good example’. Thirdly, that the Prophet (pbuh) did in fact teach that loyalty to your land, nation and religion are all acceptable for a believer.

The Prophet’s (pbuh) statement proved this, said the Professor, when the Prophet (pbuh) said: ‘May Allah give us love to Medina as he gave us love to Mecca ‘. There were many things he did in his lifetime which stemmed from this hope. His teaching others to be good to the earth, his decision to clean the city of Medina when he arrived / immigrated there. Within a year the natural surroundings were transformed in Medina , the water and irrigation systems were improved. Medina became the first city, lightened by lamps and more. The first constitutional development occurred in Medina , between the Jews and Muslims, in addition to the establishment of the first civil society in the Arab peninsula and with that peace between the people in Medina .

The Prophet (pbuh) saw no contradiction between loyalty to one’s land and loyalty to your religion. In fact he taught how to balance between these two. In the first constitution, the Jews and Muslims were considered one nation, Islam giving them equal human rights, concluded Dr Al Habash.


1st Speaker: Dr Zachariah Mathews 

Mr. Zachariah Mathews speech focused on conflict resolution at the time of the Prophet (pbuh).

He began clarifying quite simply that diversity actually means to understand each other, referring to the Holy Quran: ‘He created you in nations and tribes so you may know each other’. The way to address diversity is by learning ethics and values to deal with it, at the same time acknowledging that methods of resolving conflicts differ from one context to another.

However rather than conflict resolution being the goal, Mr. Mathews stressed that conflict management is what’s needed because its impossible to resolve all conflicts as this is the test that God has set out for us. With equality and freedom being the core values, the search for peace he stated must go via the process of 2 sources as follows.

The Prophet (pbuh) was a ‘Mercy to the worlds’ (Quran). When one examines his exalted character, tender heart, his persona being neither seeking rewards from people or for his own and someone whose sole duty was to confirm that which was brought by messengers before him, we can become aware of the foundation that gave him success in conflict management in his lifetime.

Various cultural and religious practices prevalent during his time gave him a range of experiences, but most importantly gave him informed perspective. Stories are abundant, a famous one, ‘the placing of the black stone on the Holy Kaba’, where the issues involved could have led to a tribal war, yet was averted by the way the Prophet (pbuh) strategically resolved it. His commitment to resolving conflicts peacefully and in promoting social order for all citizens was at the core of his success in conflict management.

The rise of Prophet Hood was a shock to pagans whose efforts to suppress Islam increased and led to the Prophet (pbuh) immigrating to Medina . With the new community in Medina , the Prophet (pbhu) was a leader of all, Jews, polytheists etc, all whom contributed to forming the Constitution of Medina – a Pact of friendship and co-operation that safeguarded all. Further, the change in political and social organization benefited minority groups. He was the supreme spiritual leader and law giver at the same time.

The Treaty of Hudaibeyah is another example, where though unfavorable towards the Muslims, he consolidated the community and although the polytheists violated the conditions, the Prophet (pbuh) negotiated with them and chose not to retaliate against those who had earlier persecuted them, why because he rose above hatred, pardoned and forgave them. These were the dimensions of his level of humanity that formed the success of his conflict management. Mr. Mathews ended his speech saying: today’s leaders should consider this Prophetic example.


2nd Speaker: Mrs. Fulia Celik

Mrs. Fulya Celik’s speech focused on how the Prophet (pbuh) transformed society. She began, stating: Islam gives great importance to knowledge; the first verses revealed of the Holy Quran were ‘Read….’ Offspring of this being that piety and worship are possible only via knowledge.

Before the light of Islam hit Mecca , it was a hopeless situation, the social climate, customs and civilization were lawless, persecutions against the weak were prevalent and more, she explained. The Prophet (pbuh) overturned these and other barbaric ways and transformed the people into leaders of the world, by becoming the ‘trainer of their hearts and minds’, inculcating qualities that became second nature to them.

In 23 yrs, he brought peace to the lands, living the principle, ‘All actions are done first and then translated/taught to others’. He produced the most just rulers in history. He spread literacy and knowledge and through this educational transformations in society (in pre-Islamic Arabia only a few people could read and write). Written materials and records increased (where there was absent afore). Islamic civilization was transformed into ‘roads full of students and scholars’. In addition, he also solved all the prevalent social and economic problems.

Learned persons were appointed to educate people in mosques. Suburban schools were established. Every opportunity to increase literacy was taken until the illiterate became the exception over time and this carried to produce the great civilization of Islam. With the obligation to ‘READ’ – at that time there were no books, but this implied – ‘Read the book of the universe…Humanity is to observe the universe and thereby know God’.


3rd Speaker: Sheikh Ahmad Ihsan Abou Sharaf

Sheikh Ahmad’s speech was of a spiritual nature and perspective, namely the practical application of the message of lslam and of devotion to humanity. The connection between humans and The Creator, he said is one of sustenance, life, guidance, all of which are in place so the system of life works perfectly.

How do we get connected to the Creator, he posed to the audience. Via constant striving. We have needs and this makes us look for the source of our needs. Whoever one calls, one is actually calling ‘The One’ regardless of the title one uses.

Is it the earth or the Controller of the earth that manages/sustains it, another significant question he asked. He (God) did not create it and leave, as is obvious in the continuous operations of the earth. Our connection with Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala is via our feelings, our conscience. Everywhere on earth our innate nature is guiding us to what’s right and wrong. If we realize via the attributes of Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala, then the self will turn to Him, via all our senses and our heart and when that moment happens this moment will change our hearts.

The role of the Prophets is of a higher level, they understood all this at a higher level, they taught us how to be accepted in the presence of God. Sunnah is the way to God, the practical application between you and your God. Messengers were enlightened to see the Truth, playing the role model for humanity, showing us in practical applications how to be with Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala as a slave, in sorrow and joy, in strength and weakness, to be a neighbor, husband, wife, child – all on the right way.

We can’t be perfect, he said, but striving to be good/better is like perfection. So sunnah is the way to God and denying other prophets, won’t get you to God, he ended.


4th Speaker: Mr. Mehmet Ozalp

Mr. Mehmet Ozalp spoke about the Universalisation of the message of God. He began by addressing the assumption some people have, that the Prophet (pbuh) created the religion of Islam from his observations of Jews and Christians. To address this accurately, he stated, raises three questions: Did he call only Arabs to Islam; was the content universal and did Muslims carry a universal message and represent it.

The evidence, he said, is the Holy Quran with its clarification of the ‘Seal of Prophets’ implying that if the message was going to be given one last time, it has to be acceptable to all. The Prophet (pbuh) ‘was sent as mercy to all the worlds’, he had a special mission to all. The Holy Quran terms: ‘Oh Humanity’, hence not only addressing Arabs but all humanity. His last sermon was addressed to all human beings, at the end imploring, ‘those who are here, should relay it to others’.

The Prophet (pbuh) was granted for the first time something that was never given to previous Prophets and that is that the whole earth was now a place of worship. After Mecca ‘s conquest, the Prophet (pbuh) sent letters to leaders of the world to consider the message of Islam. Hence he understood his mission as being for all human beings.

Addressing the second question regarding the content of his message, he began explaining how the Prophet (pbuh) had a spiritual, cosmic and social essence. He taught to love neighbors and fellow human beings, as you love self and to understand the universe with light of belief in One God. Monotheism is the fundamental message here and that all humans are equal.

To address the third question, he discussed the contribution of the Prophet (pbuh), whose most supreme message was to believe in One God and love him most, this was the message of mercy and grace of God– as it extends throughout the universe. Acknowledging that humans created in the fitrah of the All Merciful.

The way people related to God until Islam was in one of two ways: idolatry or incarnations of God. Islam introduced that one can do this via His attributes and qualities. The oneness of humanity is an essential quality, ‘Be merciful to those on earth and He in the heavens will be merciful to you’. And with this the equality of races, before the Prophet, no-one had expressed it as explicitly.

The Prophet (pbuh) had a detailed version of how God governs the universe, through his ascension to the Heavens on the night of Isra An Miraj, the significance of this being that he witnessed the glory of God. In conclusion, Mr. Ozalp said that the message from God for all human beings, resonates with previous revelations, but was reaffirmed in practice one last time for humans via the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).

3rd Annual Abrahamic Conference; What is our Future Together – Muslims, Christians & Jews

The 3rd International Interfaith Conference in Sydney Parramatta took place on 26th and 30th of May 2004 where seventeen thinkers, religious and community leaders gave papers and presentations to an audience of more than 400 people in total.

The conference theme “What is our Future Together: Muslims, Christians and Jews” was the question that organisers – Affinity Intercultural Foundation, the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, Community Relations Commission of NSW Government, the Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission of the Parramatta Diocese, the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, Al-Ghazali Centre (and supported by Muslim Women Association, Muslim Women National Network, Strathfield Uniting Church) – wanted to explore across three sessions covered over two days.

The conference made a significant contribution to the interfaith initiative not only in NSW but also in VIC with the conference being repeated in Melbourne . A first time attendee Masoda Ghiasy said ” I really enjoyed it and I feel so strongly that this is a great step towards a better society .” A sentiment that was reflected by Margaret Clark who remarked ” Important, balanced and diverse. I learnt a lot on each faith group. An excellent experience all round – both days! ”


Session-1 Abraham Lecture

The first session took place on Wednesday 26 th of May at the Riverside Theatre, Parramatta . Stefan Kerkyasharian, Chairman – Community Relations Commission, openned the conference with the first address. Stefan has highlighted the imperative need for the interfaith dialogue in the multifaith reality of our society not only in Sydney but also in Australia . Stressing the importance State Government gives to community harmony, he said “I am happy to state that the NSW is the only state in Australia, and arguably the world, which has a crisis management plan ready to be implemented if an event threathening community harmony occurs .”

The ‘Abraham’ lecture was delivered by the Deputy General of Foreign Affairs in Turkey , Professor Ibrahim Ozdemir. His theme was, “Cultural Diversity in an era of Globalisation”. Professor Ibrahim explained that this was the third international conference he had attended so far in 2004. The first was in Canada and the one before this was in France . He began by emphasizing the importance of dialogue and cooperation amongst cultures and the need to secure their co-existence. In order to illustrate how conflicts occur when we all mean the same thing, he nerrated a story from the Muslim tradition.

” Four persons, a Persian, an Arab, a Turk and a Greek were travelling together. They were given a set amount of money by a benefactor. The Persian said he would buy ‘angur’ with it. The Arab said he would buy ‘inab’. While the Turk and the Greek were for buying ‘uzum’ and ‘astaphil’ respectively. Now all these words mean one and the same thing – ‘grapes’. But owing to their ignorance of each other’s languages they fancied they each wanted to buy something different. Accordingly, a violent quarrel arose between them. At last a wise man who knew all their languages came up and explained to them that they were all wishing for the same thing. ”

The moral of the story, Professor Ibrahim pointed out, is that it is up to those who are involved in interfaith dialogue to teach the language of co-existence in the multicultural world of today. He noted from the start that Australia and Canada are ” treasures for the rest of the world in the handling of multiculturalism…members of the Council of Europe are still not certain how to deal with this new phenomenon .”

He gave an example of multi-cultural and multi-religious co-existence from his own tradition. Since the 14 th century the Ottoman nation has allowed different religious groups and minorities the right to establish their own educational, religious and judicial institutions. Non-Turkish and non-Muslim citizens ” were never regarded as strangers and never underestimated. They were always welcomed and valued for their humanity and talents. The best-known example of this reception is the traditionally related and very meaningful rumour that Sultan Selim III rose to his feet in respect whenever his tanbur teacher Izak, a Jewish musician who was considered at the time the greatest performer of the tanbur in its traditional style, came before his presence .”

Professor Ozdemir particularly singled out the role of education in the task of breaking down prejudices and promoting harmony. He pointed out that in Turkey , for example, ” we have been rewriting our text books and eliminating and erasing from them statements that may lead to misunderstanding and prejudices .” Finally, he warned against the dangers of equating fundamentalist lines in religions as the norm: ” It would be as grave a mistake to see Osama bin Laden as an authentic representative of Islam as to consider James Kopp, the alleged killer of an abortion provider in Buffalo, N.Y., a typical Christian or Baruch Goldstein, who shot 29 worshipers in the Hebron mosque in 1994 and died in the attack, a true martyr of Israel. ”

Reverend Professor James Haire, the Director of the Australian Centre for Spirituality and Culture, and former President of the Uniting Church , gave an impressive response to Prof Ozdemir’s address.

” I have never heard a bureaucrat and policy maker speak so well. It is hard to find a senior public servant make any sense and think outside of the square ” remarked Irfan Yusuf on reflection of Prof Ozdemir’s Abraham Lecture.

The Abraham Lecture evening was coloured by two performances, the first by the amazingly beautiful and haunting sounds of the Gazi Husrev Beg Choir who sang two Islamic songs and the other by the touching soprano voice of Ayse Goknur singing the Amazing Grace.


Session 2 – Exploration Workshops

The next part of the Conference took place on Sunday 30 th of May at North Parramatta Campus of the University of Western Sydney beginning with three Exploration Workshops running in parallel. The workshops explored the following subject matters.

•  Workshop A: Overcoming Misunderstandings: Crusades, Jihad and Zionism

•  Workshop B: Is the Clash of Civilisations Inevitable or Preventable?

•  Workshop C: Sacred and Secular – The Role of Religions in the Public Space.

These workshops were chaired by Christian, Muslim and Jewish scholars respectively. Recommendations were made which were presented to the afternoon assembly in the auditorium.

The chairperson for Workshop A was Patty Fawkner sgs, director Uniya Jusiut Social Justice Centre. Peta Pellach from Shalom Institute gave a historical perspective of Zionism and what it means to Jewish people. She said that she is a Zionist herself as most Jews are, however for her zionism means ” the right to have a safe country for the Jewish people.”

Giovanni Farquer, executive director for the Commission of Ecumenical and Interfaith Relations for the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, covered the Crusades from a Christian perspective. Sr Farquer explained the rationale of the Crusades to liberate Jerrusalem and mentioned that they are part of the history and are over from a Christian perspective. ” Crusades should not define our relationships now ” she remarked.

Afroz Ali, the President of Al-Ghazali Centre for Islamic Sciences and Human Development gave a through coverage of Jihad from the perspective of the Qur’an and how Muslims understood the concept throughout history. He remarked ” the word jihad appears in more than thirty times in the Qur’an with certain derivatives of the word and only four times in relations to warfare .” He also gave a broad definition of Jihad as “the endeavour of striving for goodness ” supporting his argument from the verses of the Qur’an.

The chairperson for Workshop B was Faikah Behardien, the Vice-President of Muslim Women’s National Network of Australia, quoted from Edward Said and opened the discussion by asking whether the issue we face is a ” clash of ignorance ” or a ” clash of civilisations “.

Stephen Rothman, the President of NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, was the first speaker. Mr Rothman focused on the view that all mankind ultimately comes from the same roots – Adam and Eve. He remarked ” the three monotheistic faiths have existed side by side for at least 1400 years and that in fact the greatest Jewish philosophers flourished when Jews were under the Islamic rule. A time known in Jewish circles as the Golden Age of Judaism .”

Mr Rothman however underlined that “man has the capacity to do good or bad. ” So even though the answer for the question in his perspective was that ” the clash of civilisations is not inevitable “, it was however probable from his view. And as he commented it was this answer that worried him ” for destruction is easier done than construction .”

The second speaker was Rev Patrick McInerny from Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations. Rev McInerny admitted that ” conflicts have occurred and are occurring. ” However he strongly put forward that ” authentic religion is not and will not be the cause of such incidences, though people have unfortunately used it for their own personal interests and gains. ” Rev McInerny instead brought to attention the transition the whole world is going through due to globalisation. He stated ” transition is never easy and that the world is not really witnessing a clash of civilisations but rather the labour pains of giving birth to a new world civilisation .”

As the final speaker of Workshop B, Professor Ibrahim Ozdemir, the Deputy General Director for Foreign Affairs of Turkey couldn’t help commenting that he ” would have not made a twenty-six hour journey if he thought the clash of civilsations was inevitable.” As a response to Rev Mcinerny he wanted people to focus on what creative approaches religion can provide for man during this period of great transition the world is living. He emphasised that ” good intentions, optimism and hard work is required to discover common grounds and live together as fellow human beings. ” Ozdemir finished his talk by recalling that ” even though Abel has always been the one to be acclaimed by people, many are instead following Cain and his actions. ”

Workshop C was chaired by Ilona Lee, President Shalom Institute, and focused on the role or religion in public space. This workshop was particularly relevant today as the question of religion vs state is often raised. The three speakers tried to answer this question as representors of their faith traditions.

The Judaic view was presented by Dr Debbie Weissmen, Director Kerem Institute Jerusalem . She remarked ” any state whether secular or otherwise should not by pass the important role of religion within the public domain. Religious opinions should be voiced out in the public sphere and secular communities. ” She talked about keeping the prophetic traditions and claimed that many religious personalities like Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, mother Theresa Nelson Mandela and many more dedicated their public and private lives and were true advocates of peace and justice.

Similarly Rev John Henderson, General Secretary National Council of Churches, addressed the issue of religion through an Australian lens and context. He stated ” just as any non- religious individuals have rights to chose not be religious, so should a religious person have similar rights to practise their personal faith and belief .” He commended the government and showed appreciation of our current system claiming they are ‘vicegerents’ of God who keep the law and order in society, but stressed the never ending need of society for religious peoples and religion.

” Human beings are naturally religious deeply linked with human understanding of the natural ” Rev Henderson maintained. He stressed that religion is emerging as a potent force which preaches moral lessons and guidance. He recognised that religion is now a ‘suspect’ in the public space and it was not only Islam that was under ‘suspect’ but also Christianity and Judaism.

Maha Abdo, Manager United Muslim Women Association, presented the Islamic perspective on the issue. She raised the obvious debate that the topic was particularly applicable and relevant to the Muslims who are constantly plunged into this debate of the Sacred and the Secular. She remarked ” the public through the media discourse constantly view Muslims and Islam as ‘terrorising religion'” . She spoke of the examples where the public realm or secular governments have outlawed certain religious practices siting the example of France . ” Within our libertarian democracy the secular government of Australia and the Australians should allow for and accept the private individual choice to practise religion in the public sphere ” she concluded.

When the panel was opened to the audience for comments and questions, most agreed that religion should play a continuing role in society and that practical measures and initiatives should be taken to maintain the peaceful tolerance between our diverse communities.

The Question & Answer session was quite rigorous, the highlight of which was an impassioned plea from a Christian woman for followers of all religions to realise and accept that at the core of all faiths is love. She said ” there is no point going out thinking you say and believe the right thing when you have never bothered to show and act out your love for fellow human beings .”


Session 3 – Interfaith in Action

The recommendations from the morning workshops were presented to the afternoon assembly in the auditorium. It was at this stage that Bishop Kevin Manning, Parramatta Diocese, presented a paper entitled, ” How we move forward in Interfaith Dialogue.” Bishop Manning said ” In moving forward in inter-faith dialogue, I believe that those who are committed to it must foster within themselves three dispositions, each beginning with the letter ‘P’. I refer to patience, preparation and prayer…that is understanding takes time and patience…I mean preparedness for setbacks!.. Nothing of what we desire will come solely from our own efforts but is a gift from God.. .”

Bishop Manning then spoke of the challenges we face in inter-faith dialogue: ” I believe that inter-faith dialogue will stagnate if it does not become community based…We must work very hard to ensure that extremists, whether they be Christian, Muslim or Jewish, do not hijack religion in order to legitimise a political or ideological agenda…The third challenge is for us to cooperate in the diminishment and removal of injustice everywhere in the world.The fourth challenge is to collaborate in shaping public policy in our country. ”

Bishop Manning concluded his address with a prayer: ” We, according to our distinctive traditions, may follow the example of Abraham, as seekers of God’s will, living lives of faith, hoping in the promises made to us by God and, in this time of pilgrimage, may we grow in friendship, learn in dialogue, work together generously, and live in peace together and with all men and women. ”

The Conference then offered some Real-Life Interfaith Experiences from two projects that have been in operation over the past twelve months. The first of the two projects was the Encounters Project, where six groups composed of Christians and Muslims with four Muslims and four Christians in each group met for a period of six months on a monthly basis. A video presentation of the meetings was played which was followed by short descriptions of personal experiences from Margaret Roberts and Nursen Ozger. A member of the audience remarked ” Panel of Encounters Project sounds especially appealing. Young people like this represent hope for the future – an excellent day. Thank you”

The second project was the Journey of Promise Project, where ten Muslims, ten Christians and ten Jews lived and shared the religious experiences of one another for a period of one week. A video presentation was followed by short reflections by Kirrily McDermott, Gary Samowitz and Usman Badar on the fraternal bonding and transformation that took place during the Project.

The Conference drew to a close with a Round-Table Discussion reflecting on the theme: ” What is our future together: Muslims, Christians, and Jews? ” The chairperson, author Paul Collins, posed many challenging questions to a panel of six – Prof Ibrahim Ozdemir, Mehmet Ozalp, Prof Michael Horsburgh, Giovanni Farquer rsj, Stephen Rothman and Ilona Lee. T he overall response was that together we must address the issues of our age in a spirit of openness to one another and have the courage to challenge the difficulties we will inevitably face. Only in this way will we be a source of inspiration to the rest of the community and ultimately to the global village.

The sentiment of the audience towards the two days of conference was reflected by Jan Babington, ” I just say thank you for a great day on Sunday. I enjoyed every minute of it and did appreciate meeting so many interesting people. Thank you for providing this opportunity ”

Lunch time: Hearty Sandwiches served by members of the Affinity Intercultural Foundation

Coffee break: It was a great opportunity for participants to mingle, meet new people, and discuss the conference proceedings.

1st Annual Abrahamic Conference; Travelling Together – 2002

The biggest achievement of Affinity Intercultural Foundation to date (2002) has been the international Muslim-Christian Dialogue Conference , which was held in Sydney on April the 27th. Although the conference was an all day event, it was attended by about 500 Muslims and Christians combined and was featured on SBS 6:30 pm news on the same day.

One of the most significant aspect of the conference was that it was funded and organised by four organisations – Affinity Intercultural Foundation, Australian Intercultural Society, Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations and Catholic Commission for Ecumenical & Interfaith Relations with former two being Muslim and the latter two being Christian organisations. The theme of the conference was “Travelling Together” and the main topic was “Peace & Dialogue in a Plural Society; common values & responsibilities.” The conference day started at 10:00 am with a short official ceremony followed by performances from Christian and Muslim spiritual choirs. This was followed by the morning panel, which was chaired by Mr Chris Hartney and the afternoon panel, which was chaired by Mrs Zubeda Raihman.

The conference featured 5 Muslim and 5 Christian speakers from a number academic institutions and various organisations from around the world and those based locally in Australia. Among distinguished speakers, guests of honour were Prof Thomas Michel SJ, who is the Secretary of the Jesuit, Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue in Rome, Italy, and Ecumenical Secretary for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences and Prof Hayrettin Karaman, Professor (Emeritus) Islamic Studies and Law Marmara University, Istanbul Turkey.

The conference was successfully concluded at 5:00 pm.

A 5 hour (2 video tapes) version of the conference is available at $25 + $5 postage and handling. A 20 minute version of the conference is available at $15 + $5 postage and handling.


International Speakers

Prof. Thomas Michel S.J. Secretary of the Jesuit, Secretariat for Interreligious Dialogue in Rome, Italy, and Ecumenical Secretary for the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences

Sr Catherine Jones Lecturer at Catholic Education Centre, Wellington New Zealand

Prof. Umit Meric Prof (Retired) Former Head Of faculty of Sociology, Marmara University Istanbul Turkey

Eminent M. Ali Sengul Journalist/Thinker, Educational Activitist Turkey, Germany

Prof. Hayrettin Karaman Prof (Retired) Islamic Studies and Law Marmara University, Istanbul Turkey

Mr. Cemal Ussak Journalist/Theologist, Head of Inter-cultural dialogue Vice President of Foundation of Writers & Journalists Istanbul Turkey


Local (Australian) Speakers

Rev Helen Richmond National Director Multicultural Ministry for the Uniting Church

Read entire speech

Prof. Anthony H. Johns Emeritus Professor Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies, former Professor of Arabic and Islamic History, Australian National University

Rev Patrick McInerney Parish Minister, Pakistan. Member of the Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations

Hind Kourouche Director – Islamic esource anagement

Panel Chair-persons

Chris Hartney Chairman of Religion, Education Outreach, Department of Studies in Religion, University of Sydney

Zubeda Raihman Executive – Muslim Women Network, Bursar, Macquarie University