An interfaith gathering held at the NSW Parliament on Tuesday 27 November organised by the Indian Crescent Society of Australia and hosted by Mr Jihad Dib MP and Dr Geoff Lee MP has called for interfaith education and dialogue in schools.

“When mixed with fear, ignorance can quickly lead to hatred and to violence. Religious ignorance in Australia is not limited to ignorance of Islam but the media and others habitually ignore the diverse cultural and religious backgrounds of Australian Muslims”: Professor Michael Quinlan.

The ICSOA program on “Interfaith Perspective on Education” brought together local and state politicians, academics and interfaith leaders, many of them addressing the gathering from their faith perspective in an effort to develop understanding amongst all Australians.

The program was started off by Mr Fasihuddin Khan, ICSOA secretary welcoming the guests and invited Mr Michael West from Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council for Welcome to the country and Maulana Amjad Hussain from Imam Ali Centre for the recitation of Quran.

Mr Khan thanked the parliamentary hosts Mr Jihad Dib, Shadow Minister for Education and Dr Geoff Lee, Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier for Western Sydney and Multiculturism, for providing the venue in the people’s house.

ICSOA President, Mr Abbas Raza Alvi during his presidential address pointed out that Institute of Economics and Peace in their latest report indicated that the  Global Peace Index of 2018 shows the world is less peaceful today than at any time in the last decade.

While talking about the Australian landscape, he said, “the situation has deteriorated since 9/11. These days Islamophobia is on the rise and it is affecting our life pattern. When there is an incidence, many times, media projects comments of unthoughtful politicians and religious authorities which further fuel the situation.”

Mr Alvi further added, “interfaith dialogue is essential for cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions, faiths or spiritual beliefs at both the individual and institutional levels.

Father Russell Davies, an ordained Christian Minister said, “many of the problems and misunderstandings which plague our society would be avoided, or at least minimised by the teaching of the history and tenets of the major world religions, so that we can understand where the other person comes from, can learn from the many things we have in common, can discuss the real differences between the religions, not some twisted or unrepresentative misrepresentation designed to win a debating point.

Supporting interfaith education at schools, he further added, “how much more respectful and nuanced would our discussions be if from primary, through secondary to tertiary levels, we had been exposed to the wisdom and diverse practices followed by our neighbours, workmates and leaders from religious traditions different from our own.”

Representing the Jewish faith, Ms Donna Jacobs Sife, School Programs Director, Together for Humanity organisation talked of their award winning interfaith understanding programs in the schools that has been running for a number of years in public, private and religious schools.

Ms Madenia Abdur Rahman, an outstanding Muslim leader, educationist and currently a Director of Together for Humanity further highlighted its long track record and success story but at the same time criticised politicians, specifically the Prime Minister for using the unfortunate Bourke St Melbourne incident for politicising and creating division in the community in order to gain votes during the Victorian elections.

Pandit Jatin Bhat, a Hindu Priest from Sri Mandir related stories from his religious tradition for understanding between people of various faiths on the basis of their common humanity.

Professor Michael Quinlan from The University of Notre Dame Australia said that the Catholic Catechism recognises religious freedom as “a natural right of the human person to civil liberty, i.e. immunity, within just limits from external constraint in religious matters by political authorities.”

Talking about the Church’s relationship with Muslims, he said, “the place of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims: these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day.”

Councilor for Blacktown Council Dr Moninder Singh talked about key teachings of Sikhism being love, charity and hard work  for the benefit of the human society.

Ms Lucia Johns, President, NSW Federation of community Language School talked about the importance of imparting language skills amongst the younger generation to enrich their parental heritage and culture in Multicultural Australia.

Mr Jihad Dib during his address talked on his educational experience and his road to becoming a politician. Commenting on the recently held Victorian elections, he said that Australian voters were intelligent enough to see through fear-mongering and divisiveness and demonisation of a particular community and vote on the performance of political parties based on their track record.

“There are ways you can display leadership without resorting to dog whistling to appear tough on an issue. I feel there were better ways our Prime Minister could have responded to both, the Bourke Street incident and to the decision by some to boycott an invitation to a round table discussion, because very little is achieved when we make sweeping, generalised statements.”

“There is no doubt the attack in Bourke Street was a reprehensible act with tragic outcomes. But when you have legal experts, mental health professionals and law enforcement agencies saying simplistic comments on the matter haven’t actually stopped violence in Australia, then it’s very important we start listening to them.”

“People have a range of reasons for not attending the meeting, and whilst I may not necessarily agree in their approach, I recognise that rather than draw a line in the sand, this was another opportunity for the Prime Minister to show leadership, to rise above the rhetoric and to bring people together.”

Dr Geoff Lee talked of his paternal Chinese heritage and the difficulties his grandfather had to face during the White Australia policy where it took 40 years before he could get Australian citizenship.

Dr Lee distanced himself and the NSW Liberal Party from the Prime Minister’s recent comments regarding the Muslim Community  and reassured that he would be working with all faith and multicultural community groups on Western Sydney.

The gathering was also addressed by the Consul General of India in Sydney, Mr  B Vanlalvawna and the vote of thanks were given by Mr Abbas Chelat of ICSOA.

Certificates of appreciation were presented from Indian Crescent Society of Australia to Mr Jihad Dib and Dr Geoff Lee for their support and for hosting a most successful event at the Parliament of NSW.