6th Annual Abrahamic Conference : Our Nation – Can We Grow Together – 2007

The 6th Annual International Inter-religious Abraham Conference, held on the 19th of August 2007 at Sydney University was a clear indication of the need for our community members, religious leaders and academics to strive for a more harmonious and tolerant way of life to promote understanding and peace.

Over 120 people attended the conference organised by the Affinity Intercultural Foundation with partnering organisations Sydney Catholic Archdiocese, Uniting Church NSW Synod, NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations and the NSW Community RElations Commission had sponsored the event.

The theme for this years’ conference was, “Our Nation – Can We Grow Together?” with International keynote speaker Associate Professor Burhanettin Tatar from Ondokuz Mayis University in Turkey.

The conference addressed a variety of important issues for multi-cultural societies today and offered guests the unique opportunity of listening to interesting local and international perspectives of multi-faith communities.

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Speakers from the three Abrahamic faiths addressed the theme through their own experiences. Associate Professor Burhanettin Tatar spoke about the Muslim perspective and explained the philosophy of growing together. Professor Tatar focused on three main points; Philosophy of City as the Condition of Heterogeneity of Anonymity of a Society, Abrahamic Monotheism as an Infinite Space for Dialogue between One God and Human Individuals and the Dialogical Character of Social Ethics. He stated that “…the mystery of our living together and the possibility of our growing together in peace and harmony reveal themselves not in terms of constructing an overall picture of reality to be applied on a city; or interpreting Abrahamic monotheism and values as a unifying interpretive system… but in terms of providing human individuals the free space for having the freedom and responsibility before God and other human beings. This will help us preserve pluralistic nature of our modern cities as well as our awareness of dialogical character of social ethics”.

Dr Rev David Gill shared the importance of growing together from the Christian perceptive focusing on the benefits of a more tolerant, understanding and religiously educated society.

Rabbi Zalman Kastel talked from the Jewish perspective, giving us his own personal experience of trying to grow together with others.

Lunch followed an afternoon session of workshops where guests were invited to more streamlined sessions with workshop leaders exploring the many ways of growing together as a society, community and on a national and global level.

 

Workshop A covered the topic  ‘How might our common values contribute to building our nation? 

Workshop A included;

Vic Alhadeff – Jewish speaker

Prof Michael Horsburgh – Christian speaker

Eman Dandan – Muslim speaker

Chairperson was Revd Dr Jonathan Inkpin

 

Workshop B covered ‘What would you identify as the greatest challenges to growing together today? 

Workshop B included;

Rabbi Zalman Kastel – Jewish speaker

Irfan Yusuf – Muslim speaker

Dr Michael Casey – Christian speaker

Chairperson was Mr Osman Softic

 

Workshop C covered ‘In what sense are we on the cutting edge of achieving a socially cohesive society?’

Workshop C included;

Ms Lynda Ben-Menashe – Jewish speaker

Revd Mary Pearson – Christian speaker

Prof Ali Fuat Bilkan – Muslim speaker

Ms Susi Brieger was chairperson

 

All workshops had participants from a variety of people from the wider communities. Everyone had a chance to put in his or her inputs, experiences, and thoughts about the topic. From ideas of respect to difference, each workshop tried to answer its given questions. By cooperating with each other, our aims in each workshop was to get to the heart of the problem. So long as the hurdles were recognised, the next step naturally would obviously be to overcome them. Many questions and many interesting ideas were touched upon during the workshops and it was left up to us to go back to our respective Abrahamic communities to implement them.

After the very invigorating workshops, most of us were ‘all talked out’. We had a quick tea/coffee break before we were back in the main lecture hall to hear the summaries of the other workshops and to conclude the conference.

Many positive themes come out of the day and as CEO of Affinity, Mehmet Ozalp, gave his closing remarks on behalf of the Steering Committee, it was obvious that the only way forward for us now is to progress to the next step. It is always a great feeling to be part of the Abraham Conference; to be able to come together regardless of our backgrounds and discuss issues that face us. This can only lead to a positive outcome. It was very much felt after the 6th annual Abraham Conference came to an end, that we need to take what we have learnt from the day, back to our respective Abraham faith communities in order to help ‘Our nation grow together’.

National Social Cohesion Conference – 2007

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On Friday 29 June 2007, Affinity in partnership with Macquarie University; Centre for Social Inclusion, the University of Newcastle, Faculty of Education & Arts; and the University of Technology and the University of Western Sydney, College of Arts, held a panel to tackle the issues of ‘integration’ and ‘social cohesion’.

Held at Macquarie University and with over 200 attendees, The Honourable MP, Barbara Perry officially opened the event. Speakers on the night included Prof. Terence Lovat, Prof. Ghassan Hage, Prof. Greg Noble, Adjunct Prof. Peter Manning and Mr Mehmet Ozalp.

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First speaker Prof. Terence Lovat, said “Islam gave us an all time great model of social cohesion – with respect to the constitution of Medina back in the time of the Prophet Muhammad pbuh”.

Taking the audience through a personal journey, Adjunct Prof. Peter Manning, proposed an institutional study of racism, colonialism/imperialism in order to better understand the ‘demonisation of Muslims’. He further encouraged “active Muslim participation in particular with political and economic action”.

Affinity’s Mr Mehmet Ozalp, explored the migration wave of the Muslim community and highlighted five key phases that have given a natural character to integration of the Australian Muslim community.

SCP_Symposium_Audience.jpgThe chairperson, Mrs Silma Irham, then opened the panel to the audience who engaged with the panelists stimulating further discussion on the presentations..

On conclusion the new elect President of Affinity, Mr Mehmet Saral, gave an official vote of thanks. One of the organisers of the event, Dr Christina Ho, commented that “the timing of the event was noted because multiculturalism, social cohesion and integration are hot topics in the federal election”.

 

‘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.

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

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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