Understand, connect, relate: This was the theme on Wednesday evening 5 April when the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) and the Alliance of Australian Muslims hosted almost 600 guests at the 2nd National Muslim Community Iftar 2023 on behalf of the Muslim community.
Held at the Waterview on the edges of Sydney’s Olympic Park, it was an impressive gathering with the Prime Minister Mr Anthony Albanese, the Governor of NSW Mrs Margaret Beazley and the newly elected Premier of NSW, Mr Chris Minns prioritising the evening in their diaries.
The calibre of the guests representing so many areas of Australian society at this second national event demonstrated a clear and shared acknowledgement and respect for the Muslim community, its religious practices and the contribution that the Muslim community makes to Australia’s social and economic life.
It was an evening marked by warmth, good humour and inclusivity in the context of which some serious issues were raised, comfortable in the knowledge that bridges and dialogue and understanding are established and flourishing.
In his welcome, the President of ANIC Imam Shadi Alsuleiman reflected on Australia’s status as the most multicultural and most multifaith country in the world, and called the event “A night of unity, diversity and great hope for a great future in this great country… a night of celebrating the rich and profound multicultural and multifaith Australia that we live in…. a night for the big Australian family.”
Noting that the event had emerged from the “ongoing resilience of the Muslim community” in the face of the many challenges it has faced, he said with quiet pride that “Defying all odds, the Australian Muslim community stayed resilient, persistent, and robust and continued to contribute to the growth and prosperity of the Muslim Community, Australia and the Australian people. As a result of this, we have learned how to work together constructively and productively, and how to work with others.”
“It is a good time,” he told assembled guests, “to engage with the Muslim community and the non-Muslim community, to celebrate our diversity, our respect and our connection, regardless of our faith, culture or ethnicity.”
It was a perfect headline for the evening in which the Prime Minister went off his prepared script to say that “We (Australia) can be a light on the hill for the rest of the world to show diversity is a great strength. That’s my mission. I am proud to lead a government that includes Australia’s first Muslim ministers and represents and celebrates the diversity of beliefs and experiences of modern Australia.”
The newly elected NSW Premier was reminded warmly on several occasions of his commitment to review and amend the Anti-Discrimination Act within 100 days of taking office, with the clock ticking: “Premier there is 89 days left!”
The Minns government was thanked for committing to establish a NSW Faith Affairs Council to provide a formal channel of feedback from faith organisations to the NSW Government, and the Albanese Government was urged to establish a similar body to connect faith communities to the leaders of the country so they could ‘be on a similar page for the greater good of the Australian people and people of faith.’
Prime Minister Albanese thanked ANIC for its support of the Voice to Parliament referendum and for encouraging young people to have pride in their faith, their identity and their history, saying “You are very much at the heart of the story of this great nation.”
The Australian Muslim community was acknowledged for its role in Australian history with strong links, trade, marriage and cross fertilisation between Aboriginal people, the Yolngu Clan from North East Arnhem Land and Macassan Muslim traders predating the arrival of the British on the continent.
The significant cultural and economic contributions to Australian society made by cameleers from Afghanistan and Pakistan between 1860-and the 1930s were similarly acknowledged as pioneers of inland Australia, opening lines of supply, transport and communication between isolated settlements and making the development of arid Australia possible.
There seemed to be mutual agreement that more should be done to share the rich history of how Muslims’ contributions to Australia are interwoven with the nation’s history; to increase community pride and more widespread appreciation of the place of the Muslim community in Australia, past, present and future.
A sneak preview of ‘Before 1770’, a film produced by Sheikh Wesam Charkawi and Fadl Harris, exploring the cross fertilisation between the Yolngu Clan and Macassan Muslim traders was shown with the announcement that the film would open in cinemas across Australia in August with screenings also planned in the US and UK and on one of the big streaming platforms.
Theological context for the evening was provided by the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, whose address really should be read in full. Speaking poetically in his native tongue of Arabic, the language of the Quran, Dr Ibrahim provided a Muslim perspective on diversity, inclusion and social responsibility, saying:
“Islam views the world as a forum for civilizations and multicultural backgrounds to co-exist in peace. A safe haven where love and tolerance is spread, and in which its inhabitants enjoy freedom and security.”
The English translation was delivered by Mona Abdulraheem.
The speeches were rounded off by Khalil Shahin AO to a still attentive audience. Just one of many Australian Muslim success stories, Mr Shahin was awarded Officer of the Order of Australia in 2017 for services to business and philanthropy.
Managing Director of Peregrine Corporation, Mr Shahin was born in Beirut where his father ran a refugee camp before moving to Australia in 1984 to escape Lebanon’s civil war. Unable to find a job, Mr Shahin Snr. bought a petrol station in suburban Adelaide, and that petrol station became the cornerstone of a business empire which is now the 7th largest private company in Australia, and the largest private company and largest employer in South Australia.
On Wednesday The AFR (Australian Finaincal Review reported that Peregrine’s On The Run petrol stations and convenience stores have been sold to Viva Energy for $1.15 billion.
Mr Shahin spoke of how “there is nothing contentious in saying I am a proud Muslim. And a proud Australian. The list of achieving Muslim families and individuals is endless and we’re good Aussies because of our beliefs, because of our faith.”
A great example of ‘understand, connect, relate’.
*Jane Jeffs is a producer and director and former head of ABC Religion & Ethics. A UK-Australian dual national she is based in Sydney, Australia.
Source- AMUST, 7 April, 2023.
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