Saturday, March 15, 2008

Faithways Walk

March 15th – a summery bright day, saw approximately 100 Muslims and Christians gather for the first Faithways walk in Sydney and possibly in Australia. Starting at Auburn Gallipolli mosque, and supported by local politicians and community organisations, there was a wonderful feeling of expectation and friendliness between the participants. After viewing the beautiful interior of the mosque and pairing up with someone new from another faith, the spiritual neighbours walked about 3 kilometres to St. Joachim’s – a vast cathedral of a church for another spiritual tour followed by a traditional Aussie barbeque. The attitude of all involved – particularly Father David Vaughan with his volunteer helpers and the Affinity troupe along with FAIR (Forum for Australian Islamic Relations) representing the Muslim crew – was open, willing and helpful. Teaming up to cook the sausages, cut the bread and hand out the drinks, Muslims and Christians who had never talked to each before, discovered the commonality of their humanity. The only fly in the ointment was a slightly parochial attitude of the mosque and its lack of hospitality and compassion to their visitors. The mosque – as with most houses of worship – should be a trust held on behalf of the community, not property that is owned and which the community should feel privileged to access.

An ethical lecture and an ethical retirement

Friday night witnessed the retirement dinner for Medinia Abdur Rahman, who has been serving as the Principal of Arkana for the past 18 years. As Principal of Arkana which is a small but effective school, Medinia has contributed substantially to the Muslim community through her work with Muslim Aid, MEFF and her numerous committee presences for the Association of Independent Schools. She has maintained an excellent relationship with her professional colleagues in the AIS who spoke strongly of her contribution to independent schooling and their personal respect for her. There are few Muslims who have been able to maintain such a professional status with their Australian peers, let alone the respect and admiration of the Muslim community she so admirably served for so many years. Arkana was the second Muslim school to be established in NSW after Al Noori, and the fourth to be opened in Australia. Insha Allah (God willing) the new breed of Principals who will be taking on the easier role of maintenance from their earlier pioneering forebears, will contribute as effectively and maintain a healthy respect for the work of those before them.
Kamran Homid
On Friday I was privileged to be invited to a business lunch with Dr. Kamran Mofid. An economics professor and long time lecturer, Dr. Kamran is passionate about the ethical responsibility of economists and the need for an ethical economy. His personal endeavour is to bring about a change of attitude in economists today, while recognising that the economy cannot be dismantled or substantially altered, his cry for a spiritual resurgence and a turning away from wealth and consumerism for its own sake found a surprisingly good response amongst the businessmen and lawyers who attended. Our society is struggling with growing poverty in the advanced as well as the developing world, high levels of depression, child abuse, wife battering, suicide, drug taking and overall unhappiness. Record numbers of adults let alone children are now being prescribed anti-depressants on a daily basis. For all of our wealth, our greed has not made us happy, and Dr. Kamran carried a vital message about the importance of balancing our love of this world with a spirituality that makes us less materialistic and more capable of finding happiness.

Dangerous Minds

Dangerous Minds:
The recent SBC program of Dangerous Minds was a dangerous escalation of rhetoric about minor problems that can be controlled with good leadership. Fadi Rahman – until recently the leader of a youth centre providing fitness and sport facilities for young Muslims in Lidcombe – has a history of talking up the problems of his youthful charges.
What is more imperative is that he gives them guidance on how to solve their problems, raise their self-esteem and earn the respect of their community. Unfortunately, while his intentions are genuine, he appears to be role modelling marginalisation in a vocal form, and does little to dispel perceptions of a sexist community. Heightening concerns about potential radical tendencies amongst marginalised youth may win more grants, but it does little to prevent and a lot to encourage the very radicalisation that he wishes to control.

Australian Democrats still alive and kicking

The Australian Democrats had its long awaited Annual General Meeting on Saturday 1st March. Despite a small attendance, a lack of recent accounts and a paucity of new nominees for leading positions in the party, the Australian Democrats is still alive. With the assistance of the Young Democrats and the promise that new leadership will begin to resuscitate the membership and the vision, the Australian Democrats has about 4 years to recover and become relevant once again to the wider political scene.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Brisbane Conference

At the beginning of the month I was fortunate to attend an excellent conference in Brisbane at Griffith University. Attendees included prominent Christian and Muslim academics and a variety of community workers from various fields. Prof Tariq Ramadan opened the conference with a strong appeal for active citizenship from the Muslim community living in the West. He urged all parties to remember and to celebrate their history – the Islamic contribution to the civilisation in the West, and the Christian contribution during Muslim rule in earlier centuries. He also stressed the need for Muslim specialists in various fields to help apply Islam to the many dilemmas of society today.
There were two presentations on the early history of the Aborigines and the excellent relations that they had with the Muslim community over the centuries through intermarriage and trade. Some elders in North Western Australian continue to have immediate family amongst the Muslim community in the nearby islands.
Waleed Aly as a closing speaker talked about the do-it-yourself terrorism that currently operates in our globalised community. He described the deculturalised and deterritorialised Muslim community that has the potential of reacting to marginalisation through radicalisation. He urged for a change of discourse within the community and active civic engagement.
I was impressed by the honesty of all of the participants, and their willingness to address these problems realistically. With the guidance of these academics and mentoring of a new generation, I believe it is possible for newer younger leaders to take the community into a different direction - a more constructive and compassionate one.