The University of Western Sydney supported by the Australian Government Department of Social Services is organizing a national conference from Wednesday 15 to Friday 17 July with the theme “Advancing Community Cohesion”.

The conference will be held at UWS Parramatta Campus and will bring together leading decision makers, thinkers and practitioners of multicultural affairs to discuss and debate key issues and national initiatives in place to advance community cohesion within Australia.

However the conference dates coincide with the last two days of Ramadan including the marking of Lailatul-Qadr (night of power) when Muslims devote themselves intensively in overnight spiritual devotion as well as Eid-ul-Fitr, the festive celebration at the end of Ramadan.

In response to AMUST’s concerns regarding the ill-advised setting of the conference dates, Dr Sev Ozdowski, the conference convenor said that “it was not an Islamic/Muslim conference but a multicultural conference” and “if Muslims wish to participate then they have to utilise ijtihad (individual reasoning) to determine whether they should take part or not”.

While it is understood that the conference is not exclusively for Muslims, many will argue that it is very much the Australian Muslim community which is the odd one out when it comes to social cohesion (akin to an elephant in the room) and participation of Muslims will be crucial to the completeness of the conference.

Professor Shahjahan Khan who had successfully applied for funding with the University of Southern Queensland to attend the conference had to cancel it when he realized that it clashed with Ramadan and Eid. He said that like him, not many Muslims will probably participate in the conference if the dates were not moved after 19 July.

The suggestion by Dr Ozdowski to utilize ijtihad in order to attend the ill-timed conference was considered insensitive and offensive. Professor Khan wrote to Dr Ozdowski “You may know very well that there is no room for ijtihad to change the Eid day. It is liking asking Christians to join a conference on a Christmas day”.

The confirmed speakers to the conference include some Muslims, however when one was contacted by AMUST, he said he was not consulted regarding the timing of the conference.

Moreover the registration fee of $350 for the conference covering lunch, morning and afternoon tea will not be good value for money for Muslim participants while they will be fasting during the conference.

In an email to AMUST, Dr Ozdowski has assured that “the conference organisers have taken care to provide for breaking fast and prayer facility and adequate provisions have been made for Muslims particularly for those who will be fasting on the conference days”.

For more information and to register for the conference or to submit a paper, please go to their website:

www.advancingcommunitycohesionconference2015.com.au

Zia Ahmad is the managing editor of AMUST and is based in Sydney.