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Affinity Friendship & Dialogue Iftar Dinner 2011

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Affinity Friendship & Dialogue Iftar Dinner 2011

image007On Wednesday, the 3rd of August, Affinity hosted its annual Friendship and Dialogue Iftar dinner and the Australian Affinity Awards in the Strangers Lounge at NSW Parliment House.

As befitting the venue, the event was co-hosted by The Hon. Victor Dominello MP, Minister for Citizenship & Communities and The Hon. Paul Lynch MP, Shadow Attorney General

The evening was officially opened by the MC, Affinity Vice President Ahmet Keskin. Within this unique and venerable venue, the Call to prayer was sounded, and dinner was served amidst the opening of fast with water and dates. After a recitation of the Holy Quran from Imam Ismail Cosar who is a visiting Imam from the largest mosque in Ankara, Turkey, were the welcome speeches.

Affinity President Mehmet Saral noted the significance of “breaking bread together” on this holy night of the sacred month Ramadan, generating dialogue and interaction. He went on to say, that such shared occasions fostered not only communication, but mutual respect and a shared experience in our humanity for the Creator’s sake. Finally, he expressed appreciation for being in Australia, where events such as the Iftar dinner exemplified the potential for social cohesion and harmony. The dinner was inclusive of a spectrum of different faiths, cultural organisations, academics, teaching staff in leadership positions and members of government.

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The co-host, Hon. Victor Dominello, Minister for Citizenship and Communities commented in his address that while Ramadan passed by as something unheeded in the broader community, Friendship and Dialogue was “a model for the rest of the world”. While “no religion supersedes commitment to Australia”, as Australians however, we cherish ideals of fair-go and mateship far from any attitude of anyone being forced to deny their religious faith in this beautiful land of ours. On the contrary, Minister Dominello pointed out diversity was an asset, providing contact, language, and culture.

The Hon. Paul Lynch, the other co-host, stated that harmony, and dialogue amidst great social and cultural diversity needs to be maintained and reiterated. He ended on a note, both archaic and contemporary, describing the attitudes of mainstream society towards migrants as “dirty, diseased, can’t trust their religion, or understand their language.” Is this 21st century, multi-cultural Australia?….this slur was made about the Irish in the 1800’s

As we were dwelling on Australia’s enviable status of social inclusiveness, Affinity Executive member Ms Safia Marabani presented a paper on “The Spirit of Ramadan”, the real reason that had brought us together on the night.

This was followed by the keynote address by Professor Kevin Dunn from UWS, with the “the ordinariness of Australian Muslims” lecture. This address was about research related to Muslims in western countries, assessing if Islam was seen as incompatible with western values. Australia is in unique position, Professor Dunn noted, without the level of intolerance and ‘parallel lives’ found in the UK and Europe.

The Iftar dinner also had the presentation of the Australian Affinity Awards, which recognise individuals in the community for their significant contribution. This is especially important in areas of improving understanding between Australians of diverse religious and cultural backgrounds.

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The 2011 recipients of the Australian Affinity awards were as follows:
Interfaith Dialogue: Rev Niall Reid, Moderator of Uniting Church Synod of NSW & ACT
Academic: Prof Gail Whiteford, Pro Vice Chancellor Macquarie University
Public Service: Det Superintendent John O’Reilly, NSW Police Community Contact Group
Media: Mr Hamish McDonald, SMH
Education: Mr Philip Worrad, Chaplain – Kinross Wolaroi High School
Community: Dr Ibrahim Abu Muhammed, Scholar & Quran Kareem Radio
Youth: Mr Benson Saulo, 2011 Australian Youth Representative to the United Nations

The Australian Tasawwuf Band brought to us the inner mystic dimension with its Nay (long flute played by Sufi’s) and central Asian sounds and chosen pieces. After a varied programme, feedback from the floor included feeling empowered through having had a ‘courageous conversation’ with other guests at their table.

Mr Peter Kerr, SMH Executive Editor, expressed how he was moved by the call to prayer and the Sufi music. These emotions were felt whenever he attended functions like this.
There was such positive interfaith feedback, Father Patrick McInerney describing everyone as ‘companions’, that is, people who have broken, and shared bread. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, this companionship becomes holy communion.

Ms Helen Clarke expressed the importance of educating ourselves and our youth.
Mr Jeremy Jones speaking as an Jewish Australian, mentioned that what Affinity does answers its own question of how can we better integrate in to mainstream society…. strengthen who you are through education, and know who you are encountering by personal engagement, not from books.
This was a night where multi-culture included multi-faiths. Interfaith harmony does include Yom Kippur, Christmas gatherings and Friendship and Dialogue Iftar Dinners, as we aspire to be ordinary, Australian-Muslims.

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