This year due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Building Harmony Iftar Dinner hosted by the Affinity Intercultural Foundation and Uniting Church in Australia took place in a virtual format.

While people could not physically share the meal together, the spirit of friendship and hospitality was shared in abundance as people joined live via the UCA Assembly Facebook page.

It was the seventh annual Iftar to be organised by Affinity and the Assembly, NSW/ACT Synod and Uniting (NSW/ACT) – but this year people joined from all over the country.

In welcoming guests, Affinity Executive Director Ahmet Polat paid tribute to frontline workers protecting our community throughout the coronavirus crisis.

“The pandemic has surrounded the globe and showed us much of life is uncertain and that no one is invincible, no matter how much wealth or power they have. We can all be tested equally,” said Ahmet.

“This virus does not focus on certain religious, cultural or ethnic background. It knows no borders. The pandemic is a time to realise all of humanity is interrelated and interconnected. We are reminded to return to our roots in the values of peace and mutual understanding,” Ahmet concluded.

Bilal Kilic and Ibrahim Karaisli from Amity College in Sydney broke the fast with soulful Azan, call to prayer and the Qur’an recitation.

Keynote speaker, Zia Ahmad, Editor-in-Chief of the Australasian Muslim Times AMUST, shared how Ramadan 2020 was an unprecedented experience for Muslims.

Keynote speaker Zia Ahmad

“Throughout the globe, for first time in people’s lifetime, Muslims are not able to offer congregational prayers, especially the Tarawih night time prayers together in the mosques with fellow Muslims. We are not able to break the fast with neighbours and family and friends of all faiths and no faith,” said Zia.

“On other hand, Ramadan under COVID-19 provides an opportunity for people to be more inward looking, strengthening their relationship with their creator in solitude, as well as spending quality time with their immediate family,” he further added.

UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer, the second keynote speaker, spoke about the significance of sharing the Iftar meal.

“Even though we might not be sitting alongside one another, we recognise the gift of sharing in this significant ritual for our Muslim friends.”

“As many of you know, the sharing of the Iftar meal is a powerful symbol of friendship and mutual understanding. It is a celebration of our common values – of compassion, of love and of hope.”

“We know how important these values are for the world as we face the crisis of this global pandemic.”

“Many people are searching for meaning right now, many are feeling disconnected or anxious. As people of faith, we are called to be bearers of God’s hope, and to embody God’s love for all people and all creation, as we go forward.”

Sinan Bekir Pamuk from Sirius College Melbourne shared a piece of Sufi music.

Sinan Bekir Pamuk, Sirius College Melbourne playing a Sufi hymn

Closing remarks were offered by Rev Dr Manas Ghosh, Minister at Parramatta Mission who has been instrumental in the organisation of the Iftar over the years.

Manas said while Christians shared the loss and disappointment of not being able to physically gather for religious rituals during COVID-19 lockdown, all was not lost.

“This virtual Iftar dinner has transcended time and geographical borders as many people from different parts of world are able to join. It has become a global celebration,” said Manas.

He spoke about the growing friendship between the Uniting Church and the Muslim community over the Iftar’s seven-year history.

“Not only have we enjoyed a great meal together, but great fellowship and friendship as well.”

“It has created opportunities for discussion during meals our prayers, about worship and rituals, a sharing of our world. We have found we have more in common than we have thought. It has enriched our wisdom and our own spirituality and broken down barriers and misconceptions, and enhanced our willingness to work together.”

In closing, MC Rev Simon Hansford, Moderator of the NSW/ACT Synod, said though we faced many challenges in the season of COVID-19, our common values remained.

“Events like this evening remind us that hospitality is not constrained, justice is not constrained, mercy is not constrained nor is peace constrained.”

“As we move further into the blessed season of Ramadan, let us be reminded of values we hold in common and the things that make us who we are as people of faith, disciples trusting each other and working together.”