Professor John L Esposito : International Affairs and Islamic Studies – Georgetown University, Washington D.C.

Topic : CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST: Where Do We Go From Here?

John L. Esposito | International Affairs and Islamic Studies – Georgetown University
JLE Primary Photo

Prof. John L. Esposito

University Professor as well as Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, John L. Esposito is Founding Director of the Alwaleed Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service. Previously, he was Loyola Professor of Middle East Studies, College of the Holy Cross.

Past President of the American Academy of Religion and Middle East Studies Association of North America, Esposito has served as consultant to the U.S. Department of State and other agencies, European and Asian governments, corporations, universities, and media worldwide and ambassador for the UN Alliance of Civilizations and was a member of the World Economic Forum’s Council of 100 Leaders and E. C. European Network of Experts on De-Radicalisation. He has received honorary doctorates from St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto, the University of Sarajevo, University of Florida and Immaculata University as well as the American Academy of Religion’s Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion, Pakistan’s Quaid-i-Azzam Award for Outstanding Contributions in Islamic Studies, Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service Outstanding Teacher Award and Georgetown’s Career Research Achievement Award.

His more than 45 books include: The Future of Islam, Islamophobia and the Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century, Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (with Dalia Mogahed), Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality?, Islam and Politics; Makers of Contemporary Islam and Islam and Democracy (with John O. Voll), What Everyone Needs to Know About Islam, Asian Islam in the 21st Century (John Voll & Osman Bakar), World Religions Today and Religion and Globalization (with D. Fasching & T. Lewis), Geography of Religion: Where God Lives, Where Pilgrims Walk (with S. Hitchcock), Islam: The Straight Path; Islam and Democracy and Makers of Contemporary Islam (with J. Voll); Modernizing Islam (with F. Burgat) Political Islam: Revolution, Radicalism or Reform?, Religion and Global Order (with M. Watson), Islam and Secularism in the Middle East (with A. Tamimi), Iran at the Crossroads (with R.K. Ramazani), Islam, Gender, and Social Change and Muslims on the Americanization Path and Daughters of Abraham (with Y. Haddad), and Women in Muslim Family Law. Esposito’s books and articles have been translated into more than 35 languages.

Editor-in-Chief of Oxford Islamic Studies Online and Series Editor of The Oxford Library of Islamic Studies, he served as Editor-in-Chief of The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World (6 vols.); The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Modern Islamic World (4 vols.), The Oxford History of Islam, The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, and The Islamic World: Past and Present (3 vols.).

Esposito’s interviews and articles with newspapers, magazines, and the media in the U.S., Europe, Asia, and the Middle East: The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Economist, The Guardian, The Times of London, CNN, ABC Nightline, CBS, NBC, and the BBC. A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., he currently resides in Washington, D.C. with his wife, Dr. Jeanette P. Esposito.

Response by – Prof Greg Barton | Chair In Global Islamic Politics – Deakin University
Prof Greg Barton

Prof Greg Barton

Greg Barton is the Chair In Global Islamic Politics in the Faculty of Arts & Education at Deakin University – Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship & Globalisation, Melbourne, Australia. He is based in the Politics stream in the School of Political and Social Inquiry. He is acting Director of the Centre for Islam and the Modern World (CIMOW), Deputy UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations – Asia Pacific, and is active in the Global Terrorism Research Centre (GTReC). For the past twenty years Greg has been active in inter-faith dialogue initiatives and has a deep commitment to building understanding of Islam and Muslim society. The central axis of his research interests is the way in which religious thought, individual believers and religious communities respond to modernity and to the modern nation state. He also has a strong general interest in comparative international politics. Over the past two decades Greg has undertaken extensive research on Indonesia politics and society, especially of the role of Islam as both a constructive and a disruptive force. Since 2004 he has made a comparative study of progressive Islamic thought in Turkey and Indonesia and is hoping to extend this comparative study to India.

Moderator – Ms Jane Jeffes | Executive producer, Religion & Ethics – ABC
Ms Jane Jeffes

Ms Jane Jeffes

Jane Jeffes is Executive Producer in charge of Religion & Ethics programming and content at ABC Radio. Jane joined the corporation in July 2013 and is responsible for nine hours of national programming each week on Radio National, Local Radio across the country, Radio Australia, Classic FM and NewsRadio. Her brief is to strengthen and extend the ABC’s coverage of religion and related topics. Prior to joining the ABC, she produced and directed television documentaries for ABC TV, SBS and Al Jazeera, including the highly acclaimed ‘Silma’s School’ taking the audience inside a Muslim school in Sydney’s suburbs. Before moving to Australia in 2000, Jane spent 11 years working in UK radio and television, most latterly as Head of Programmes at the UK’s largest independent radio production company developing, supervising and producing a wide range of programming for the BBC and commercial sectors. The weekly Sunday program ‘Something Understood’, which Jane created for BBC Radio 4, is now in its 21st year.

International Festival of Language and Culture

IFLC Australia Highlights – 2015 


On behalf of our sister organisation, the Australian Intercultural Society (AIS), Affinity Intercultural Foundation cordially invites you and your guest to the International Festival of Language and Culture.
Come and see students from over 17 countries including USA, Afghanistan, Iraq, South Africa, Indonesia, Tanzania, Thailand and Romania perform in their native language and English.
“This mosaic of colours is performing to show our common oneness in humanity”

Date: Sunday, 7 June 2015
Time: 7:00 pm (7:30 pm start) – 9:30 pm
Venue: Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Center
1 Convention Centre Place South Wharf Melbourne
Parking options available

staticmapPlease RSVP by Tuesday 2 June 2015 by clicking Register Now.

For more information please visit

Love Is A Verb …

Ashley Judd

Ashley Judd

Affinity Intercultural Foundation invites you to the premiere of the documentary Love is a Verb, directed by Terry Spencer Hesser & narrated by Ashley Judd. The event will take place at Dendy Cinemas Opera Quays on Thursday 11 December 2014.

Love Is A Verb is an examination of a social movement of Sufi inspired Sunni Muslims that began in Turkey in the 1960s and now reaches across the globe. The group is called Hizmet(the Turkish word for service) or the Gulen Movement after its inspiration, leader and beloved teacher Fethullah Gulen, a man that Time Magazine named as one of the most influential leaders in the world in 2013.

Here is how the filmmakers describe their work:

Terry Spencer Hesser

Terry Spencer Hesser

“Through co-operation with the people inspired by Gulen, we had unprecedented access to the ideas and actions of the movement around the world. We met teachers who crawled through a tunnel to open a school in Sarajevo during the war and the students whose lives they changed. We met a Sufi conductor whose orchestra is composed of children whose parents were once at war. We got a glimpse of the interfaith work the movement provides in Turkey, including a visit to Rumi’s exquisite shrine. We went to their schools in Turkey, in Somalia, in Iraq. We meet a Kurdish teacher in Iraq who credits everything she is to her former Turkish teachers who stayed during the bombings, and a Kurdish woman who had also gone to one of the Turkish schools in Iraq and is now working as an engineer to bring water to the desert. Finally, in Somalia we followed two Turkish doctors putting their lives at risk in a place that other relief organizations have deemed too dangerous, a place where they sleep under armed guard.”

Love is a Verb Web Page| A documentary movie…

Love is a Verb Booklet…



Pictures From The Night

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10ya_ladiesThe Affinity 10th Year Anniversary reception marked a decade of community service in the area of inter-faith and inter-cultural dialogue across Australia.

In attendance were Federal politicians in the likes of the Hon Philip Ruddock, State politicians such as the Hon Victor Dominello, Mr Charles Casuscelli, Mr Robert Furolo and the former Premier of NSW Hon Bob Carr. Affinity also hosted the Turkish & US Consulate General’s along with prominent members from a diverse range of sectors from Councillors, Police, Media, Academics, Educators, Religious & Community leaders.

Mr Robert Furolo the Shadow Minister for Citizenship & Communities; Shadow Minister for Roads and Ports from the NSW Labor Party provided the Welcoming Address. He commented on the important role Affinity has been playing in society by saying “…(Affinity) recognises the responsibility they have in playing a part in the partnership (with the government of the day) to promote tolerance, to promote dialogue and understanding amongst all faiths and communities in society”.

The Turkish Consulate General, Ms Gulseren Celik provided the first floor reflection. She talked about her association with Affinity since her appointment in Sydney by commenting on how “(Affinity) has become one of the leading and most inspiring social organisations that make a credible contribution to intercultural dialogue in Australia. I’d like to extend my sincere congratulations to Affinity for their hard work and contribution to the multicultural structure in Australia and for their success on reaching a decade of service”.


Mr Robin Margo SC, former President of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies commented about the resilient relationship he has had with Affinity, when he was the President. He said “…most importantly and valuable of all however, has been the respect, understanding and acceptance that has grown from the activities of Affinity. It enables people of different faiths and cultures to maintain strong community and personal relationships here in Australia. Especially in the more challenging times when there’s conflict and dispute overseas. We wish our friends in Affinity many more years of fruitful activity”.

Mr Jim Mein, former Moderator of the Uniting Church Synod of NSW and now the Director of the Schools Ministry (Uniting Church Board of Education) talked about his personal association with Affinity by saying “I very much liken the contribution of Affinity to Australian society over the last 10 years as an unbelievable and enriching journey that should never finish. There’s an expression that ‘life is a journey and not a destination’. Affinity has been a part of my journey….There’d be many things the Uniting Church would have been involved with Affinity from the school (programs), iftar dinners and (as it would be) with so many other occasions, it’s all to achieve a harmonious society….Thank you Affinity”.


Dr Stepan Kerkyasharian, Chairperson of the NSW Community Relations Commission (NSW CRC) was praiseworthy of Affinity’s efforts to breakdown misconceptions with the Iftar dinners. He said “The foundation was responsible for the genesis of the iftar dinner being held in the Parliament of NSW, being hosted by the Premier (Hon Bob Carr). An initiative, which sent a powerful uniting message to the whole Australian community. Iftar dinners are a norm around Australia with political, community and religious leaders coming together in a spirit of mutual respect for religious beliefs and underlying acceptance….Affinity is congratulated by the CRC for 10 years of service to the Australian community”.

Mr Khaled Sukkarieh, President of the Islamic Council of NSW expressed his appreciation for the tireless work of its members and offered the following words “Congratulations on such a great effort. I’m sure this is only the beginning of many years to come, years of building bridges amongst communities to remove bigotry and ignorance”.

10ya_trish-madiganDr Trish Madigan from the Broken Bay Catholic Diocese could boast on her long term association with the founding members of Affinity, before its incorporation. She remarked “It’s a privilege to go back a lot further than most people here. My association with the founders of Affinity goes back 14 years, well before it was incorporated as a foundation. I remember the first Christian – Muslim relations in 1997….after the first encounter, there have been many reciprocated visits and tonight we’re seeing the fruits of that relationship. I have also done some research in northern Iraq, where I saw the initiatives of the Gulen movement. Their work is truly remarkable….. The highlight for me has been the women activities such as the dinners, gatherings and interaction with many Muslim ladies….being able to hear their perspectives. I look forward to many more years of fruitful engagement here in Australia”.

10ya_jim-meinMr Peter Manning, former Producer of current affairs programs like Four Corners, Adjunct Lecturer, Writer, and Commentator summed up Affinity’s contribution to society with one word – ‘Democracy’. He said “My congratulations to Affinity is for being the leading organisation in the last 10 years to keep society together in Sydney, when it could have come apart. It’s a very big statement to make but I truly think it’s true….some people are includers, some people are excluders……happily, luckily for Australia and Sydney’s society, Affinity has been an includer. It has put its arms out to everyone in society. I take my hat off to all of the men and women of Affinity who have done so much for Australian society”.

Ms Helen Clarke, Head of Department for Christian Studies and Social Justice (Knox Grammar School) talked about her partnership with Affinity in educating her students and fellow teachers across NSW in the Studies of Religion Conference. She talked about her co-incidental meeting with Affinity by stating “I almost found Affinity by accident. I say this cautiously because I’ve been on a personal search since 2001, (thinking) there must be some way of connecting with this community that’s been so badly represented. There’s some truth and justice that’s needed to be served. That’s where I met Mehmet. I have since had a strong connection with Affinity…..I have also had the privilege of attending a Tour of Turkey. Although we knew a lot about the work of Affinity, it wasn’t until we went to Turkey to see what the Gulen movement had done that had filled our heart with a deeper connection, that made Affinity an important part of our lives….I think we share a great vision, a great hope with the people of Affinity and in their work, their inspiring intellect, their warmth and openness and now 10 years on, you’re a wonderful organisation. Every one of you needs to be congratulated”.

10ya_mehmet-ozalpMr Mehmet Ozalp, one of the co-founders of Affinity and now President of Islamic Sciences and Research Academy (ISRA) commented on his great pride in how Affinity has come a long way since its inception. He reflected on the past decade by saying “It makes me personally happy to have been a part of something important like Affinity”.

Mr Mehmet Saral, Co-founder and President talked about the importance of interfaith and intercultural dialogue and how Affinity have been inspired by contemporary Muslim scholar Fethullah Gulen.  He said, “We have come a long way since our inception in 2001, well before 9/11. This shows we are a pro-active organisation, not re-active. At Affinity, our motto is to embrace and love humanity with the value and dignity it deserves.” He then went on to say, “… as inspired by his eminence Fethullah Gulen, Affinity executive members feel passionate about serving humanity, they feel passionate about showing the true colours of their faith and most of all they want to win the pleasure of God as humans are the seeds and fruits of the universe.”

10ya_mehmet-yavuzlarThe NSW Minister for Citizenship and Communities, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs the Hon Victor Dominello was the award presenter for the night.

He presented each of the current Affinity members a plate for their tireless work in serving society.

Most of the Affinity members are young volunteers from diverse backgrounds who dedicate time outside of their business hours to help pursue the message of love, mutual respect, understanding, acceptance and appreciation.

The Minister reflected on this during his speech when he said “NSW is one of the most multicultural states in the world…..We have over 200 cultural groups in NSW…..We need community leadership to keep those groups together. Affinity, after 10 years of service has established itself as a community leader. True leadership is the capacity to build bridges so we could generate a common goal…..the more bridges you build the greater leadership. As Affinity grows from year to year, we find its leadership going from strength to strength. The common goal is to bring people together through an affinity and respect, which is absolutely critical for a culturally diverse state like NSW.  Thank you for your 10 years of hard work”.

At the conclusion of the speeches, the guests mingled with each other before making their way to the main hall to witness the mystical Whirling Dervishes concert.














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wdcbeginningAffinity hosted the Whirling Dervishes at the Sydney Town Hall on Sunday 20 November 2011.

Stepping through the doorway into the Centennial Hall of Sydney’s Town Hall for the first time can be an overwhelming experience. For one, the main hall houses the world’s biggest pipe organ. Filling an entire wall of one side of the massive hall, the organ is an imposing sight. To have to then sit through an ancient ritual passed down since the 13th century, the cumulative feeling that cut a line through the beginning to the end of my evening was one of awe.

After a first act and an interlude, the Whirling Dervishes concert began with a beautiful poetry recitation, in the original Farsi, by Bilal Waheed from an extract of one of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī-Rūmī’s (known as Rumi in the west) poems. The extract, which posed existential questions such as, “Why was I created?” served as the thematic pivot for the concert as a whole. The audience then applauded as the participants of the main event of the evening took to the stage. The Sema ritual (or ceremony) of the Whirling Dervishes was about to commence.

wdcmiddle3As each of the eighteen semazens entered, their black cloaks (hırkas, symbolising the grave) and tall light brown hats (kûlah or sikke, symbolising the tomb stone) created an imposing effect that drowned out the applause from the audience. It was hard to ignore the fact that these men were dressed in over seven centuries of tradition, that they carried on their backs and in their hearts seven centuries of gravitas. It is an image I am not likely to forget.

Ten of the semazens sat down to play music – this is a musical ceremony, after all – on an elevated platform, while those that remained sat in a praying position, their hands on their laps and their heads cocked to a side, as the sheikh among the group initiates the first of four parts of the ceremony: the Naat and Taksim. The next part, the Devr-i Veled, begins as the semazens (the ones not playing instruments) stand up to form a line for a circular procession that requires each to bow, one by one and in turn, to the performer behind him. The procession rotates slowly in a circle, the rotation depending entirely on each semazen’s disciplined timing of bows and forward steps. The circle eventually breaks and widens into a horseshoe, still maintaining the movement. The semazens stand in a new line, heads cocked once again. The second part ends when the semazens, except for the postnishin (semazen leader), remove their hırkas to reveal the brilliant white gowns underneath.

wdcmiddle1Thus begins the third part, the Four Salams. Each semazen crosses his arms on his chest, turns to his right, and moves into the actual whirling from which the concert derives its name. Six of them form an outer circle, one stands in the middle and as they all spin on their right foot, the postnishin, in what appears to be an instructive style, negotiates himself between each semazen. The semazens whirl with their arms outstretched and askew, their right palms facing the sky (heaven), left palms facing the ground (the earth, perhaps symbolising humility). They whirl with the unbroken grace of a ballerina in a music box. It is a performance that demands utmost physical endurance and fealty to precision. The whirling dervishes move into a circle, stop; begin, move into a circle, stop again; it is a pattern repeated a few times in the Four Salams before it ends. The final part of the Sema ritual is the concluding prayer, where the semazens return to their original seated positions, dressed in their hırkas as before, the cycle complete.

The Four Salams essentially fall under what Arnold van Gennep described in his 1909 book Rites de Passage as the liminal stage of rituals. Liminality is a concept invented by Gennep, and expanded upon by Victor Turner in the 1960s, which explores the transformational phase between two states of individuals, groups, communities, societies and even whole civilisations. For individuals, the liminal stage can exist between the shifts one makes from a non-spiritual outlook on life to a spiritual one. For the Sema ritual, it is the Four Salams, the seemingly chaotic (but in actuality disciplined and precise) movement between the other three parts which, when taken together, represent the spiritual journey of a believer. The whirling in the Four Salams is the search for truth; the spectacle of it and the emphasis on it shows that the most essential component of a spiritual journey is the search itself.

wdcmiddle2It is appropriate, then, for Affinity Intercultural Foundation to host a performance of the Whirling Dervishes in Sydney. Their mission statement, “To create and sustain enduring affinity and relationships with people through intercultural and interfaith dialogue and understanding,” is a social manifestation of the Mevlevi Sema ritual. As many of the speakers at the organisation’s 10th Year Anniversary Reception before the concert had mentioned, the purpose of Affinity is to dispel pervading ideas of Islam and to integrate Muslims into Australian society by working from both sides – the Islamic community and the wider Australian public. More broadly, it is a search for a communal spirituality that bridges the gaps that necessarily exist in a society as diverse as ours.

In his speech at the reception, the president of the organisation, Mehmet Saral said he believes that the next generation will complete Affinity’s project. It is both a realistic and optimistic hope, but one which tacitly acknowledges that there is yet work to be done. Just as the Whirling Dervishes’ performance of the Four Salams is the liminal phase of the Sema ceremony, so is Affinity in its liminal state, building towards the realisation of its mission statement.