Breaking the fast and building harmony
About 100 people joined together for the annual Building Harmony Iftar Dinner hosted by the Uniting Church in Australia and the Affinity Intercultural Foundation.
In its eighth year, for the first time the dinner was shared across two venues Eastwood Uniting Church and Uniting Westmead. Not only did this mean adequate social distancing could be adhered to, it also meant a greater diversity of people could attend.
For many it was their first experience of an Iftar meal which marks the breaking of the fast during Ramadan. Sharing together as people of different faiths, the Iftar is a symbol of friendship and an expression of our shared desire to build trust and understanding with one another.
Keynote speaker was SBS journalist, former Socceroo and human rights activist Craig Foster who delivered a stirring speech on how we must work to provide spaces where all people are welcome.
“The fact we are sitting here together and breaking bread and breaking fast is quite amazing,” said Craig.
“Many times, around the world religion can be one of those forces that divides us and puts up barriers. The beauty of Australia is that so many of us are committed to pulling those barriers down.”
Craig was the driving force behind the successful campaign to release footballer Hakeem al-Araibi, who was imprisoned in Thailand in 2018 and has since garnered support across Australia for fairer treatment of people seeking asylum and refuge in Australia. He lamented Australia’s longstanding policy of placing refugees in detention, some who have been trapped there for eight years.
“We’ve been doing this for too long. We can no longer turn a blind eye. Its time we all turn around and say enough is enough - we are going to have a minimum standard for the way we treat people, and it doesn’t matter who they are, it doesn’t matter what their religion is, it doesn’t matter what country they come from or the colour of their skin. They are people like you and I.”
In response to Craig’s address, Muslim AFL player Lael Kassem shared her story of discovering what it means to belong in Australia and challenged the audience to confront the barriers that divide us.
“On a day-to-day basis as a Lebanese Australia growing up in Australia, I experienced many instances of people assuming things about me that seemed so incomprehensible to me.”
“For many of my friends, I was the only Muslim they had ever met. Without these open dialogues and friendships, they would have continued to have those misunderstandings and I too would have a narrow perspective on reality.”
“The world is created with many different people and religions. Beauty is in diversity and only through difference do we get to know others, but most importantly to learn about ourselves.”
The second respondent was 15-year-old UCA member Latu Suli, who shared her passion for creating spaces of welcome, equality and inclusion for the girls at her school.
Latu, a school captain at Georges River College, spoke about her request to the school leaders to establish a prayer room for Muslim students to support their faith during Ramadan. Latu shared her joy when this request was accepted.
“When I received the news, I ran straight to my Muslim teacher and shared the good news and with tears flowing down her cheeks, she said to me, ‘Thank you Latu - I appreciate you’.”
“Through this process I have been reminded how important it is to continue to find ways where we can build harmony, nurture friendships, and focus on the common values that connect us all as human beings - because when we do this, it gives us life.”
Special guest the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, offered a reflection, shared by his translator Naser Alkhateb.
“We give praise to God that in this country mosques and churches co-exist side by side. The bells of the churches and the calls of Adhan, the call of prayer of the mosques, are intertwined in peace and harmony. Let us work together to maintain and strengthen this spirit of peace and harmony.”
The evening was jointly hosted by two MCs, Rev Dr Amelia Koh Butler, the Minister at Eastwood Uniting Church and Uniting NSW/ACT Executive Director Tracey Burton at Westmead.
In welcoming guests, Synod of NSW/ACT Moderator Rev Simon Hansford reminded us how relationships are built and our faith enriched in the simple act of sharing a meal.
“The hospitality of this meal, the gathered community together, the stories we share and the stories we create together are critically important. Our faith places us here, as does the need for us to grow and learn and share and celebrate together.”
As co-host, Affinity Intercultural Executive Director Ahmet Polat spoke about the strengthening of friendships between the Uniting Church and the Muslim community through the Iftar dinners and the spirit of peace, dialogue and mutual respect that unites us together.
In sharing a Vote of Thanks, UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer thanked all those who were part of the dinner which she described as “a powerful symbol of friendship and mutual understanding celebrating our common values of compassion, love and hope”.
Closing the event, Tracey Burton reflected on the richness of the evening, the hospitality shared, the celebration of diversity and conversation shared, new learnings and understandings.
“It is a privilege for Uniting and the Uniting Church in Australia to partner with Affinity in this successful goal of building relationships and breaking bread together.”
The Building Harmony Dinner is one of a number of Iftar gatherings hosted by Uniting Churches across the country during this month of Ramadan.
To continue to hear more about the interfaith relationships of the Uniting Church, you may like to join the Seeking Common Ground Circle.