Love for Neighbour

This was the welcome address by the President of the Uniting Church in Australia Stuart McMillan at the Iftar Dinner co-hosted by the Uniting Church in Australia and Affinity Intercultural Foundation at Parramatta Mission on 14 June. 

As-Salaam Alaikum!

God’s peace be with you at this breaking of the fast between Uniting Church members and Muslim friends, as well as all our friends, community leaders and representatives of other faiths who are present today.

I pay my respects and acknowledge the Burramattagal Clan Nation the First Peoples of these lands and waters where we meet, the place of the Eel for these sovereign peoples.

They have cared for these lands and waters since the Creator Spirit formed them.

We honour their elders past and present and all descendants of this nation.

I acknowledge the colonial powers failure to recognise their existence, and that these lands and waters were brutally and illegally ceased.

For this I apologise and pledge to work for a just terms treaty for all First Peoples of this nation, known now as Australia.

Further I honour today all other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples here.

I welcome the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim and his wife Dr Nala here this evening. We thank you for your tireless commitment to the promotion of community harmony and for speaking, wherever you can, on the values of Islam as a religion of peace.

I acknowledge Ahmet Polat and members of the Affinity Intercultural Foundation, our partners in this Iftar Dinner and long-standing friends of the Uniting Church. Thank you for the wonderful job you do creating opportunities for dialogue and friendship between people of all cultures and faith traditions.

I am thankful also to the civic leaders who made the time to be with us here tonight. Your commitment to building social cohesion in our community is vital. We look to our leaders to pave the way for a more welcoming, understanding and compassionate society. 

On behalf of the Uniting Church in Australia, I wish all Muslim friends here and their families a blessed Ramadan.

We are honoured to share in this time with you.

The valued friendship between the Uniting Church and the Muslim community is significant.

Our relationships are characterised by a willingness to appreciate the values and beliefs we hold in common and to respect, learn and understand the areas of difference.

Whenever and wherever our two faiths meet, whether it be for dialogue or for a particular cause or at a time of sharing like this, there is mutual respect and a common desire for peace in our world.

I am humbled by the deep spiritual practice demonstrated by Muslim people during Ramadan; by your commitment to prayer and fasting; and by your great generosity and hospitality.

Ramadan this year coincides with the 40th anniversary of the inauguration of the Uniting Church in Australia on 22 June 1977.

As part of this significant occasion, Church members have come together in prayer for the 40 days before the anniversary.

I pray that this time of prayer and drawing closer to God is a time of renewal for both our faith communities.

This year the Uniting Church is co-hosting Iftar dinners in three cities, here in Parramatta, last Thursday in St Thomas Uniting Church in Craigieburn in Melbourne and on Sunday at the Uniting Church Centre in Brisbane.

We believe these gatherings offer a powerful symbol of the love of neighbour that our world desperately needs right now.

As we mourn and condemn recent terror attacks across the world, we know that love and understanding will always triumph over fear and hate.

Wherever extremist violence takes place, we pray for God to grant us the strength to passionately pursue a more welcoming, inclusive and peaceful community where all may live in harmony - and to encourage others to do the same.

By coming together tonight we offer a different narrative to the voices of fear and division in the Australian community.

Apart from our First Nation sisters and brothers we know that Muslims in our country experience racism and discrimination at levels much higher than most Australians.

As brothers and sisters in faith, we stand against this kind of behaviour especially when it is used by our leaders to gain political advantage.

We uphold the right for all people to express their faith without fear and without vilification.

We are thankful for all that the Muslim community contributes to our society.

You may have seen a story from the ABC about an Anglican Church in Perth which welcomed the local Muslim community, which was without a worship space, to come inside the Church for their Friday prayers. It is a story about two communities coming together in a spirit of grace and hospitality and both communities being enriched by the process.

It is wonderful to know that this church community here in Parramatta, the Leigh Memorial Congregation, also opened its doors to the Parramatta Muslim community 27 years ago when it was establishing itself here.

A meeting between Parramatta Islamic Culture Association Chair Neil El Kadomi who is here tonight, and then Uniting Church Minister Rev. Alan Jackson led to the Muslim community being invited to use the Church space for their prayers.

It provided the foundation for a strong friendship which continues today between the two faith communities in Parramatta, led by Neil Kadomi and our host tonight Manas Ghosh.

I encourage Uniting Church members here and across the country to look at how we might build bridges of friendship between faith communities.

As friends in faith, we are bound together by something greater than us.

We give thanks to God for the many things we have in common, our shared humanity and our commitment to peace. We are thankful too for our differences and the rich diversity this brings. Finally, we give thanks for this time of sharing.

We look forward to continuing this friendship and sharing this message of peace with those around us.

Mägayamirri rom which means “the way of peace and tranquillity, harmony with the whole of creation, be with and within you.” in the Yolŋu languages of NE Arnhem Land.