Making Friends out of Strangers - Wednesday, 29th May

3 Jun 2019 by Janise Wood in: Latest UCA News

In the spirit of building friendship, about 150 people from diverse faith and cultural backgrounds came together for the Iftar Dinner co-hosted by the Uniting Church and the Affinity Intercultural Foundation on 24 May.

It was the sixth Building Harmony Iftar dinner to be co-hosted by Affinity and the Uniting Church, with the Assembly, the Synod of NSW/ACT and Uniting NSW/ACT acting as joint hosts and organisers.

This year Western Sydney University provided the venue for the dinner at their Parramatta campus.

Across the country, there have been a number of Iftar Dinners hosted by Uniting Church Synods, Presbyteries and Congregations during the month of Ramadan which ends on 5 June.

The Iftar is the breaking of the fast for Muslims during Ramadan and sharing this meal together, as Muslims and Christians aims to foster understanding and respect amid a diversity of faith and cultures in our communities.

At the Building Harmony Dinner, Keynote speaker was Race Discrimination Commissioner for the Australian Human Rights Commission Mr Chin Tan. He described Ramadan as one of the many beautiful faces of modern Australia.

“Events such as Iftar dinners are powerful moments for building bridges across communities. They make friends out of strangers and foster understanding over ignorance and fear.”

Mr Tan spoke about the work of the Commission to overcome rising discrimination targeted at religious minorities, including the Muslim community, in Australia today.

“In the last year we have, sadly, witnessed incidents and events that seem designed to sow fear and distrust in sections of our community,” he said.

“We have been exposed to far too many divisive speeches and public rhetoric which seek to tear into the fabric of our cohesive and inclusive society.”

“But, out of these desponding and distressing incidents we have witnessed the emergence of seeds of conversations - important, nation-building conversation about who we are as a nation, what values we hold dear and what we want a future Australia to be.”

In a formal response to Mr Tan, UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said that all Australians should feel safe to express their faith without fear of discrimination.

“Ramadan reminds us that as Christians and Muslims, as people of different faiths, and people of goodwill, there are core values we all share,” Dr Palmer said.

“Together we seek peace and reconciliation for our world. We strive our best to be kind to one another, to welcome the stranger and to love one another as ourselves.”

Read Dr Palmer's remarks in full.

Dr Derya Iner, Islamic Studies Lecturer at Charles Sturt University, and editor of the Islamophobia Report, echoed the call for a kinder, more inclusive society where all religions were free from discrimination and hate.

“Religion and spirituality lead people to love all creation, this is inner peace and once you have inner peace I don’t think your heart can hold anger and hate,” she said.

“Like we are doing here tonight, in celebrating and eating together, we need to normalise Islam as one of the religions of peace, and to normalise Muslims as people striving to be good and fulfil their human capacity.”

Gadigal Elder Uncle Greg Simms provided an Acknowledgement of Country and a reminder that respect and welcome must be afforded to all cultural groups in Australia.

Sri Lankan Consul General Mr Lal Raj Wickrematunga spoke about the horror of the recent terrorist attack and how in its wake people of different faiths had stood together in solidarity.  

The program included a musical performance by students from Muslim school Amity College, who then combined with young people from Parramatta Mission to lead the whole room in singing the song Peace, Salaam, Shalom.

Uniting Deputy Executive Director Doug Taylor, Aisha Amjad, Director of South Asia Labor and the Liberal State Member for Parramatta Dr Geoff Lee offered floor reflections at the end of the program.

The Chairs of 12 of the Uniting Church’s National Conferences attended the dinner for the first time.

Chinese National Conference Chair Rev. Anna Zhang said she was moved by the warm welcome of the Muslims she met on the night.

“From age 0-5, I lived among a Muslim community in the northern part of China, (so) the Iftar dinner certainly sent me on a trip down the memory lane.”

“The three tight and loving hugs I received from my Muslim sister Derya touched me deeply.

"We are all God’s people and as God loves my Muslim brothers and sisters, so do I too love them with all my heart,” said Rev. Zhang.

It was the first Iftar Dinner for Siosi Tangi, Seeking Common Ground Panel Member and NSW/ACT Pulse Officer.

“It was such a wonderful event to be part of," said Ms Tangi. 

"We strengthened our common values through our diversity, and we were reminded of the importance of when we stand together, we embrace our differences and seek the common good.” 

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