The 2015 Abraham Conference was convened on Wednesday 26 August in Parramatta with 100 guests from three of the main religious groups: Christians, Muslims and Jews.
The evening had unique seating arrangements – at each table were coloured serviettes, red, green and blue, to ensure people sat according to their colour coding: red for Christians; green for Muslims; and blue for Jewish people.
Tamana Daqiq, MC for the night, spoke of past successes of the conferences since commencing in 2002.
“From 2003 these conferences have led to many other interfaith initiatives including important Christian, Muslim and Jewish activities” she said. “Australia is becoming a more cohesive community”, she said.
Tamana then introduced the keynote speaker for the evening, Maha Abdo.
Maha spoke of the importance to interact with people of other faiths, or different ‘humankinds’, as she put it. “It is OK to sometimes disagree – it can even be healthy as long we are aware of our approach”, she said.
She reminisced about her arrival in Australia in June 1970 saying “I had no idea about differences between Muslims, Christians or Jews until then, but growing up with friends of different religions taught me that we could all get along.
We ought to respect each other, not just tolerate them. And then it becomes a journey with other people and a journey with respect – this becomes a catalyst for us to accept each others narratives.” Maha concluded: “We are all always evolving in life and that transition can be positive.”
The heart of the evening then got underway . . . .
At every table there were two printed questions:
1: What do you understand by the expression “respecting the other’s narrative and values”? and
2: What can we, as a community, do to increase respective for the other’s narrative?
Everyone at each table got to express their feelings, with table leaders then reporting back to the full audience.
The following points were made:
From question 1: We need to . . . . recognise commonalities; have more respect for each other; learn to walk in other’s shoes; overcome fears of each other; learn from others experiences; become more accepting; make new friendships; interact with others; break away from negativity; respect all religions; bring faiths together; respect different cultures; and to “Australianate”.
From question 2: We need to . . . . interact more frequently; invest in youth; get communities to meet with other faiths; be open to inter-marriage; initiate new directions; come out of our comfort zones; affirm that ‘God within me is my power’; learn to walk in harmony; and become more educated about each other and the different faiths.
After the table leaders summarised their points, the two panelists Alice Priest and Rabbi Gad Krebs, plus Maha, added their constructive ideas.
The evening concluded with Rev Dr Manas Ghosh then reminding us that next year’s event will be bigger and better.
Everyone left with a strong bond for uniting all of Australia’s cultures, faiths and religions.
Philip Feinstein is a Sydney based writer, musician and activist working for MUSIC FOR REFUGEES www.musicforrefugees.org
Photographs by Samet Erku