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

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).