The Diocese of Parramatta and the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations (CCCMR) co-hosted an Interfaith Iftar on 26 April 2021 at the Novotel Hotel, Parramatta.

At the appointed time, Imam Issa of the Parramatta Mosque gave the azan, after which the Muslim guests broke their fast with dates and water.

The MC, Rev Dr Patrick McInerney, directed them to the prayer room which had been set aside for the maghrib (sunset) prayer.

To the other guests he added:

“Some have said that we cannot pray together, as our faiths are different! While it is certainly true that we should not participate in those rituals that are proper to another’s faith, we can certainly join in spiritual solidarity.  If you wish, you may stand behind our Muslim brothers and sisters and pray/meditate/reflect with them, each according to your own tradition.”

Many of the guests accepted the invitation. As the Muslims performed salat – standing, bowing, prostrating to the one God – the guests from other religions stood behind them in respectful silence, bowed their heads, and prayed, meditated, reflected, each according to their own faith tradition.

Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh, Uniting – imam, bishop, minister, priest, rabbi, leaders and members of different faith congregations – all united together in acknowledging a greater power.  It was a very moving and powerful experience of a profound spiritual communion that transcends our differences.

I am convinced that this experience shaped the extraordinary atmosphere of warmth and friendliness that prevailed throughout the rest of the Interfaith Iftar, as believers from different faiths shared food, drink and table conversation and were inspired by the occasional speeches.

There was intensive mingling before and after the Iftar together with photo sessions while a number of speakers expressed their feelings of joy in breaking bread together during the dinner.

This Interfaith Iftar was in line with the spirit of cooperation between Christians and Muslims.

Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed Tayyeb, who co-authored, and on the 4 February 2019 in Abu Dhabi, co-signed the Document on Human Fraternity, the opening line of which states:

Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved. Our faith in the one God – who is Creator, Provider, Judge, al-Rahman, al-Rahim – makes us sisters and brothers to each other.

Pope Francis has affirmed the necessity of cooperation among the religions.  Addressing religious leaders in Abu Dhabi he said. “There is no alternative: we will either build the future together or there will not be a future.”

 


Welcome Speech by Rev Dr Patrick McInerney
at the Interfaith Iftar on Monday 26 April 2021 at the Novotel Hotel, Parramatta. 

أيّها الإخوة والأخوات المسلمون الأعزّاء

Dear Muslim brothers and sisters,

I greet you with the address from the message for the month of Ramadan from the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, offering you “fraternal good wishes for a month rich in divine blessings and spiritual advancement”.[1]

Dear sisters and brothers from all faiths and worldviews,

On behalf of my co-host, Bishop Vincent Long and the Diocese of Parramatta, and my colleagues Kim Chong and Ryan Epondulan from the Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, I welcome you to this Interfaith Iftar Dinner.

I too acknowledge the elders, past, present and emerging, and commit to walk with them the paths of respect, reconciliation and recognition.

I acknowledge the religious and community leaders among us.

Sisters and brothers all, you are all most welcome.

In addressing you as “sisters and brothers”, I channel Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed Tayyeb, who co-authored, and on the 4 February 2019 in Abu Dhabi, co-signed the Document on Human Fraternity, the opening line of which states:

Faith leads a believer to see in the other a brother or sister to be supported and loved.[2]

Our faith in the one God – who is Creator, Provider, Judge, al-Rahman, al-Rahim – makes us sisters and brothers to each other.

Pope Francis has affirmed the necessity of cooperation among the religions.  Addressing religious leaders in Abu Dhabi he said:

There is no alternative: we will either build the future together or there will not be a future.[3]

I have been reflecting on these simple but profound truths; and would like to share an image with you.  The image is the tree.

  • Roots: The tree puts its roots down deep into the soil to draw water and nourishment. In a similar way, each of us put our roots down into our respective religious traditions to draw life and nourishment. This process is hidden, interior, private.
  • Trunk: The trunk of the tree rises from the ground. In a similar way, our various scriptures, worship, rituals, laws – Dharmah, Karma, Torah, Canon Law, Shariah – and ethical practices raise us in our ascent towards Transcendence, which monotheists identify as God. These means are public, visible, open to scrutiny.
  • Branches: And the branches of the tree reach up to the heavens and reach out to each other. In a similar way, we must reach up to the heavens and out to each other.

A single tree can do very little on its own and is vulnerable to the elements, but when beech and oak and elm and eucalyptus come together, they form a forest.  When Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jew, Muslim, Sikh and other religions come together, we become a choir of praise to God and service to each other and to the world.

  • The forest provides shade. In a similar way, our religions together can better provide relief and respite to the needy, to those affected by drought, flood and bushfire.
  • The forest becomes a habitat in which plants and animals live. In a similar way, our religions together can provide food and shelter to others, especially the poor.
  • The fruits the forest provide a variety of foods. In a similar way, our religions together can better feed the hungry, the victims of human greed.
  • The leaves of the forest provide shelter, clothing and medicine. In a similar way, our religions together can better provide shelter for the homeless, clothing for the poor, and health care for the sick.
  • The forest provides different kinds of timber. In a similar way, our religions together can provide various woods for construction, cooking and heating.
  • The forest is a carbon capture. In a similar way, our religions together can work better on climate change and preserving the ecosystems of our one and only planet.
  • The forest provides oxygen – they are the lungs of the world. In a similar way, our religions together can better provide oxygen to the victims of COVID-19 gasping for breath in ICU in hospitals around the world.

Let us then be like the trees of the forest – our roots deeply planted in the soil, our trunks solid, our branches reaching up to the heavens and out to each other.

The vertical – reaching down into the soil and up to the heavens – and the horizontal – reaching out to others – go together.  Both are needed; both are necessary, as the following testify:

  1. A Common Word[4], the 2007 letter from Muslim leaders to Christian leaders, identifies love of God and love of neighbour as foundational to our religions.
  2. The young adults who authorised The Sydney Statement wrote in their very first commitment: “We will be passionately religious and compassionately interreligious.” [5]
  3. In the Qur’an we read:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ إِنَّا خَلَقْنَاكُمْ مِنْ ذَكَرٍ وَأُنْثَىٰ وَجَعَلْنَاكُمْ شُعُوبًا وَقَبَائِلَ لِتَعَارَفُوا

O people! Behold, We have created you all out of a male and a female,
and have made you into nations and tribes,
so that you might come to know one another.
Al-Hujurat – The Apartments – 49:14

It is good to belong to a family, a tribe, a community, to have an identity.  It is how we grow.  But if we relate only to those of our own tribe, we become narrow and stunted.  If we are to continue to grow, we must open our minds and hearts and homes to other “nations and tribes”, to other religions. We need to stretch out our arms to embrace the other – and discover them to be “a brother or sister to be supported and loved”[6]. We need to work shoulder-to-shoulder to transform our world in accord with God’s holy purposes.

I conclude with a sentence from Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti, Sisters and Brothers All, his encyclical on human fraternity and social friendship:

Let us dream, then, as a single human family, as fellow travellers sharing the same flesh, as children of the same earth which is our common home, each of us bringing the richness of his or her beliefs and convictions, each of us with his or her own voice, brothers and sisters all.[7]

Sisters and brothers, that dream is being fulfilled here tonight, as people of different faiths gather to share an iftar meal.  It is fulfilled wherever people from different religions reach out to get to know each other, to understand each other better, to cooperate better for the wellbeing of society.  May we continue to make that dream a reality for all the members of our respective faith communities.

Again, to each one of you, sisters and brothers, welcome.

 

REFERENCE LIST

Francis. Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship.  Strathfield NSW: St Paul’s Publications, 2020.

Francis, and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb. “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.” (2019). Published electronically 4 February 2019. http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/travels/2019/outside/documents/papa-francesco_20190204_documento-fratellanza-umana.html.

Muslim Religious Leaders. “A Common Word between Us and You.” The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, http://www.acommonword.com/.

Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue. “Christians and Muslims: Witnesses of Hope ”  Message for the month of Ramadan and ‘Id al-Fitr 1442 H. / 2021 A.D., (2021). Published electronically 16 April 2021. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20210416_ramadan-2021_en.html.

Youth PoWR. “The Sydney Statement: Building Bridges between Believers from Different Religions.” Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, https://www.thesydneystatement.org.au/.

[1] Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, “Christians and Muslims: Witnesses of Hope ”  Message for the month of Ramadan and ‘Id al-Fitr 1442 H. / 2021 A.D., (2021), http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/interelg/documents/rc_pc_interelg_doc_20210416_ramadan-2021_en.html.

[2] Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together,”  (2019), http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/travels/2019/outside/documents/papa-francesco_20190204_documento-fratellanza-umana.html.

[3] Pope Francis, https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/speeches/2019/february/documents/papa-francesco_20190204_emiratiarabi-incontrointerreligioso.html

[4] Muslim Religious Leaders, “A Common Word between Us and You,” The Royal Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, http://www.acommonword.com/.

[5] Youth PoWR, “The Sydney Statement: Building Bridges between Believers from Different Religions,” Columban Centre for Christian-Muslim Relations, https://www.thesydneystatement.org.au/.

[6] Francis and Ahmad Al-Tayyeb.

[7] Francis, Fratelli Tutti: On Fraternity and Social Friendship (Strathfield NSW: St Paul’s Publications, 2020), #8.