The Indian Crescent Society of Australia (ICSOA) organised an interfaith forum on Friday 15 November 2019 at the NSW Parliament House in Sydney with the theme “The place of Interfaith dialogue in a culturally diversified Australian context”.

The event was attended by a diverse group of people of faith and no faith with speakers representing Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs.

The gathering was also addressed by a number of politicians, diplomats and civil society organisations.

The program was started after refreshments at 3 pm by Mr Fasih Khan, ICSOA Secretary welcoming those present and acknowledging the presence of guests representing various faiths and organisations.

Mr Fasih Khan, ICSOA Secretary.

The program commenced with the recitation of Quran by Master Zohaib Khan and a brief outline of ICSOA by Mr Fasih Khan followed by a video promo of ICSOA showcasing its activities and achievements.

The president of ICSOA Mr Abbas Raza Alvi after acknowledging the presence of guests and elders commenced his address with a quotation from the Quran: “Our God and your God is the same (One).  To Him we peacefully surrender (Submit).” (Quran 29:46)

Mr Abbas Raza Alvi, ICSOA President.

Talking about global peace, he pointed out, “Institute of Economics and Peace in their 2018 report indicated that the world was less peaceful than at any time in the last decade and over the last 10 year, the average level of global peacefulness has deteriorated by 3.78.

Talking about the detrimental effects of violence, Mr Abbas said, “In 2017, the global impact of worldwide violence was $ 14.1 Trillion PPP ($14.96 trillion in 2018) equivalent to 11.2 % ( 12.4% in 2018 ) of global GDP or $ 1,853 ($1,988 in 2018 ) per person.

He said part of the solution to conflict is interfaith dialogue, “Interfaith dialogue refers to cooperative, constructive, and positive interaction between people of different religious traditions, faiths or spiritual beliefs at both the individual and institutional levels.

The forum was addressed by a number of speakers introduced by ICSOA members including Mr Abbas Chelat, Mr Siddiq Panwala, Mr Zia Ahmad, Mr Abbas Chelat and Mr Rayyan Khan (Please see profile of speakers towards the end of the article):

  • Mr Manish Gupta, Consul General of India in Sydney
  • Ms Trudi Mitchell, representing UNHCR
  • Ms Mary Patetsos, representing FECCA
  • Hon Lee Rhiannon, former Greens Senator
  • Hon Jihad Dib MP, NSW Labor
  • Hon Geoff Lee MP, NSW Liberals
  • Rev Russell Davies, Christianity
  • Pandit Jatin Kumar Bhatt, Hinduism,
  • Maulana Nazeerul Hasan Thanvi, Islam
  • Rabbi  Zalman Kastel, Judaism
  • Rev Dr Patrick J McInerney, Christianity

Rev Dr Patrick J McInerney from the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations was presented with the inaugural ICSOA Interfaith Peace Award 2019.

During his presentation Dr McInerney talked about diversity in Australia and the commonalities amongst people of various faiths. He said that all religions can learn and cooperate with each other and come together  to fulfil their particular divine calling of universal concern, inclusivity and connectivity.

Speaker Profiles:


Manish Gupta

Manish Gupta is a career diplomat and a member of the Indian Foreign Service since 1998. In the course of a diplomatic career spanning over 20 years, he  has held various positions in New Delhi and abroad. He has extensive experience in dealing with multilateral issues.

Prior to assuming his current responsibilities, he  served in the Ministry of External Affairs as Joint Secretary  for Overseas Indian Affairs. Earlier, he has served as Consul General of India in Istanbul, Turkey (2013-2016) and in Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations, New York (2009-2013). His other diplomatic assignments were in Dakar (2002-2005) and Brussels (2000-2002).”


Trudi Mitchell

Trudi Mitchell is the Deputy National Director of Australia for UNHCR. Trudi is passionate about protecting refugees and stateless people’s human rights. UNHCR raises funds and awareness for the global work of the UN Refugee Agency

Mary Patetsos

Mary is a professional non-Executive Board Director. Her extensive experience across the private, government and not for profit sectors has resulted in expertise in governance, strategy, stakeholder engagement and leadership. Mary’s leadership and skills in public policy and governance are linked with knowledge and experience in corporate and commercial enterprise.

Mary holds a range of Chair and board positions including Chair of FECCA (Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia), University of South Australia Council member, Chair of the private sector Aged Care provider ACH, Chair of the SA Local Government Grants Commission, Deputy Chair, Health Performance Council and member of the National Aged Care Alliance. She is also a Chair and Company Director of Power Community Limited and is a member of AICD.”

Lee Rhiannon

Lee Rhiannon, a former federal Senator and NSW state MP, currently works with a range of communities on campaigns for peace with justice in their counties of origin.

Lee has also been a member of the NSW government’s Women’s Advisory Council, Secretary of the NSW Branch of the Union of Australian Women, Founding Director of AID/WATCH, Director of the Rainforest Information Centre and Director of Gun Control Australia.

Jihad Dib MP, Member for Lakemba

Jihad Dib is the Labor Member for Lakemba. In July 2019 he was made the Shadow Minister for Skills and TAFE, Shadow Minister for Youth, Shadow Minister for Juvenile Justice, and Shadow Minister Assisting on Multiculturalism after previously serving as the Shadow Minister for Education.

He is the state’s first lower house Muslim MP in the NSW Parliament and his stated purpose is to ‘make a difference’ in anything he does.

Prior to entering Parliament, Jihad was appointed as the Principal of Punchbowl Boys’ High School at the age of 33; a school that had been on the verge of closure but undertook an internationally recognised transformation under his leadership.

Jihad is a former: Australia Day Ambassador; Commissioner on the Community Relations Commission for a Multicultural NSW; and, board member of the Together for Humanity Foundation.

Jihad was recognised as the 2011 Principal of the Year, received the Director NSW Public Schools Principal Award and was awarded the NSW Pride of Australia Medal in the inspiration category.

Jihad holds a Bachelor of Arts (1994) Graduate Diploma in Education (1995) and was conferred an honorary Doctorate from the University of NSW in 2014.

Dr Geoff Lee

Dr Geoff Lee was elected to Parliament as the State Member for Parramatta in 2011. Dr Lee served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Premier, Western Sydney and Multiculturalism, before receiving his Ministerial appointment as Minister for Skills and Tertiary Education in April 2019.

Dr Lee has both Australian and Chinese ancestry. His paternal grandfather originated from the providence of Zhongshan, Southern China and moved to Australia in the 1920’s. His maternal ancestors are of English and Scottish descent arriving in Australia early in the 1800’s.

Prior to entering politics, Geoff was an award winning business owner, then TAFE teacher, lecturer and later the Associate Dean at the Western Sydney University. His research and publications cover small business, online learning and adult education.

As a past business owner, Dr Lee continues to champion small business as a key driver of innovation, economic growth and local jobs. His academic career has also reinforced his passion and strong advocacy for lifelong learning.

Dr Lee holds a holds a Bachelor of Applied Science (Horticulture) from Hawkesbury Agricultural College, a Master of Business Administration and a Doctor of Business Administration from the Macquarie Graduate School of Management.

Russell Davies


Russell is a retired Uniting Church minister who recently celebrated the golden jubilee of his ordination. He served several parishes in NSW, edited the Methodist and later Uniting Church State newspapers, represented the UCA on the Council of Churches in NSW, and is currently on Penrith Council’s Interfaith and Multicultural committees.

Pundit Jatinkumar Bhatt

Pdt Jatinkumar Bhatt, Priest of Sri Mandir, The First Hindu Temple in Australia and New Zealand has been performing his duties at the temple since 2004.

Panditji  is a highly qualified priest for performing Hindu Rituals and to share his knowledge on scripts to the community for a respectable and peaceful society. Pdt. Jatinkumar bhatt   also attains degree of Jyotish Alankar, Jyotish Bhaskar, Jyotish Ratnakar & Jyotish Ratnam. In addition he is Marriage celebrant to solemnise marriages and also a Justice of Peace NSW. In his academic background, he is a graduate in science.

He has held an excellent image in the community as a priest with his extensive knowledge, patience, & his performance of rituals and prayers and Serving the community

It is a great privilege for Sri Mandir and Australia to have Pdt. Jatinkumar Bhatt performing his services for the community in Australia.

Maulana Syed Muhammad Nazeerul Hassan Thanvi

Is a Muslim Theologian, Religious Minister and Registered Marriage Celebrant resided in Sydney, NSW since 1987. He is the very first Muslim qualified Minister (IMAM) officially appointed in Rooty Hill Islamic Centre, Sydney West

He accomplished his theological Master’s Degree in the Theology and another Masters Degree in Arabic Language and comparative study of Religions from the University of Punjab, Lahore, Pakistan in 1980.

He served as Education Officer in the Higher Secondary Education Board, Pakistan and served as Lecturer in Islamic Studies and Inter Religion Studies in Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

He was appointed as Interfaith Religions Research Coordinator in International Islamic University, Islamabad.

During his career responsibilities in Australia, he has actively participated in the Interfaith. He established the first Interfaith group in Central Coast /Hunter area of NSW in association with The Venerable Rod Bower of Anglican Perish. Gosford.

Rabbi Zalman Kastel

Rabbi Zalman Kastel was raised in the Hasidic Jewish tradition in a racially divided part of Brooklyn, New York. Encounters with Christians and Muslims transformed him. He is Director of Together for Humanity Foundation, an interfaith organisation that fosters interfaith and intercultural understanding in school students and brings communities together.

Rev Dr Patrick McInerney, MTheol, PhD

Rev Dr Patrick McInerney is a Columban missionary priest. He was assigned to Pakistan for over twenty years.  He graduated from the Pontifical Institute for the Study of Arabic and Islamics in Rome (1986), the Melbourne College of Divinity (2003) and the Australian Catholic University (2009).

Fr Patrick is the Director of the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations.  He is a member of various interfaith and academic organizations, participates in interfaith and multi-faith conferences, and gives talks on Islam, Christian-Muslim Relations and Interreligious Relations to a wide variety of audiences.

Photos by Ali Photography