The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP hosted the eleventh Iftar dinner at St Mary’s Cathedral House on Thursday 15 April 2021. The event was a wonderful opportunity for leaders of multiple faith communities across Sydney to come together and share a meal after a year of separation due to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Iftar means the breaking of fast during the religious observations of Ramadan, with people gathering to break their fast as a community. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims do not eat or drink between dawn and sunset. Muslims believe that Ramadan teaches them to practice self-discipline, sacrifice and empathy for those who are less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and charity.

The Muslim community were represented by Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, Grand Mufti of Australia; Sheikh Kamal Mousselmani, Chair of the Supreme Islamic Shiite Council of Australia; Sheikh Shafiq Khan Abdullah; as well as members from the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC) and the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and other imams, sheikhs and representatives from the Muslim community.

From the Catholic Church, Bishop Antoine-Charbel Tarabay of the Maronite Diocese attended as did various business leaders, clergy, religious and lay people representing Catholic agencies, ministries and parishes. Faith leaders and representatives from the Jewish community also attended, as did those from the Buddhist, Hindu and Ba’Hai communities. The Orthodox churches, Anglican church and Uniting church were also in attendance.

With representatives from so many faith groups, Archbishop Fisher spoke eloquently of how in music, “composers sometimes add a different melody on top of or underneath an existing melody, so that, while the two are independent and different melodies, they work together, in harmony, interdependently, as a single piece of music.”

Pope Francis of the Catholic Church and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, met in Abu Dhabi in February 2019 to sign the Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together. In it the two leaders committed to “a culture of dialogue as the path; mutual cooperation as the code of conduct; reciprocal understanding as the method and standard.”

In this spirit of inter-religious dialogue Catholic Cemeteries + Crematoria (CCC) and the Muslim Cemeteries Board have been working together for almost 8 years to continue CCC’s mission of managing and providing burial spaces for all faith groups in the community.

Mr Kazi Ali, the president of the Muslim Cemeteries Board and a veteran of several decades volunteer experience has been working closely with Mr Peter O’Meara, the CEO of CCC to facilitate the provision of burial places for the Muslim community in accordance with Islamic guidelines for burials. A Muslim lawn is now available for purchase at Kemps Creek and a future lawn has been ear-marked at Macarthur.

CEO of Catholic Cemeteries, Mr Peter O’Meara and President of the Muslim Cemeteries Board, Mr Kazi Ali.

The Muslim community is aware of the acute shortage of Sydney burial space, with Rookwood General Cemetery due to exhaust their section in just 4 years. Groups from the Orthodox, Jewish and Muslim community who require burial to meet their customs and beliefs are frustrated by the lack of strategic planning and action on behalf of the Crown.

Many religious groups have been calling for action for over 20 years. The lack of a clear strategy by the government has forced these communities to seek short-term and inefficient solutions to fulfil their religious customs and practices, despite the Act requirement that no religious group is “disadvantaged and adequate and proper provision is made for all”.

CCC is the only trust that has secured new burial land in the Sydney metropolitan area, with two multi-faith cemetery developments at Macarthur and Nepean. These two sites will provide greater western Sydney with more than 180,000 plots, across more than 150 hectares.

CCC has created strong, active and respectful alliances with many multi-faith groups including the Christian, Jewish and Muslim communities, while extending its services to welcome those who are not religious. As Archbishop Fisher shared at the Iftar dinner “we are sharers in the same stream, singers in a massed choir” in our common requirement for sacred memorial places.

Images courtesy of Giovanni Portelli/The Catholic Weekly.