Congratulations to the Indian Crescent Society of Australia on establishing your newsletter with the goal of fostering community and religious harmony. I am grateful to your president and my friend Abbas Raza Alvi for inviting me to contribute to this issue.
Jews, Christians and Muslims all look back to Abraham as the father of the People of the Book. Isaac and Ishmael were brothers, and so should their spiritual descendants be. We have so much in common, and yet we concentrate on the things on which we disagree rather than the things on which we are in harmony.
When Sarah persuaded Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael away from the camp to fend for themselves in the desert, it was clearly a cruel injustice which has seen their descendants in bitter conflict ever since. However, that was 4,000 years ago. I note that when Abraham died, both Isaac and Ishmael were present at his funeral, so there was obviously some degree of reconciliation. I would hope that in our present climate in Australia we would be ready to honestly acknowledge past mistakes (and past wicked actions), listen more sensitively to each other’s beliefs and culture, and forge relationships of trust in which we can genuinely learn from one another. I am happy to report a couple of hopeful signs in my own local area.
When a Muslim Association applied to council for permission to build a prayer hall in local area, the inevitable Islamophobic groups began a nasty and noisy protest. My local church lobbied Council in support of the application, and reason finally prevailed. This also brought us into a fruitful relationship with Muslims, which we hope will blossom further through the years.
We are now members of a multifaith group sponsored by local Council, in which we have representatives of several Christian churches, Islamic groups, Buddhists, Sikhs, Hindus and Jews. We are holding discussion groups to try to break down misunderstandings and to accept the areas in which we still honestly disagree.
On 22 March, Harmony Day, we are organising a multicultural and multifaith march through the streets, and on the following Sunday, 26 March, my congregation is hosting a gathering with the Noble Mission, an Islamic group from Pakistan. We will worship together, then share a barbecue, then see a presentation by Noble Mission, explaining the basics of Islam. I am convinced that the more we hold honest encounters like this, the more we will grow in understanding of each other, and even in deeper understanding of our own faith.
Russell Davies was born in the UK, he migrated to Australia as a teenager in 1956, so relates strongly to newer migrants who arrived here by boat. Russell Davies is a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia, who recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination. Although he retired in 2004, he is still heavily involved in church and community activities, including multicultural and multi faith action groups.