To Whom It May Concern
Re: Newcastle Muslim Association
It is with great pleasure I write on behalf of the Hunter Presbytery of the Uniting Church in Australia in support of the Newcastle Muslim Association and its proposal to build a new Mosque in Buchanan.
Church leaders and members of the Uniting Church in the Hunter have a significant and highly valued relationship with the Newcastle Muslim Association and its leadership which spans more than 10 years.
We have shared meals and enjoyed their hospitality. Newcastle Muslim Association members have spoken at events within our Hunter churches and have attended our significant celebrations. Uniting Church ministers and members have visited the mosque and shared in discussions about our respective faiths.
Uniting Church leaders first met the current Imam, Sheik Khamis, in 2008 soon after he arrived in Australia at an Itfar dinner in Newcastle. At that event the Sheik expressed great enthusiasm for continued contact and developing friendship between the Islamic community and Christian community in Newcastle.
In 2008 Sheik Khamis and members of the Newcastle Mosque attended the induction of the Uniting Church Chairperson/ Executive Officer for the Hunter, and joined the New Lambton Uniting Church in their Christmas celebrations and shared words of congratulations for the festival celebrating the birth of Jesus. At the Christmas event Sheik Khamis spoke of the friendship the Islamic community held for us and talked of the common beliefs among Christian and Muslim people, making us brothers and sisters.
The following year Sheik Khamis was guest speaker at the annual Hunter Easter Camp for youth and young adults. Over the years since, he and members of the Islamic community have spoken at or attended Retired Ministers Luncheons, Multi-faith celebrations at the Anglican cathedral and individual Uniting Church gatherings.
Sharing Itfar dinners during Ramadan has been an ongoing activity, with the mosque sometimes inviting churches to attend their dinners, and churches sometimes hosting Itfar dinners and sharing those with the Newcastle Muslim Association leaders and members.
Uniting Churches in the Hunter that have hosted or received hospitality from the Newcastle Islamic community include Hamilton Wesley, Jesmond Park, Toronto, Wallsend and New Lambton.
Uniting Church women and Newcastle Muslim Association women are both active in an interfaith women’s group which meets in Merewether.
The Uniting Church and the Newcastle Muslim Association have both been actively involved in festivals and celebrations of diversity in Newcastle. In recent years we have both participated in the Walk Together events run by Welcome to Australia and in the Celebrating Diversity festivals.
Many Uniting church leaders and members have taken up the opportunity to attend Open Days held by Newcastle Mosque in 2014 and 2015. Uniting Church members have found it very positive to see the mosque and hear about the Muslim faith and their worship practices and beliefs, and to experience their hospitality. Uniting Church people have appreciated the opportunity to ask any question they had, to break down misconceptions and to deepen their understanding. From time to time members of the Christian churches have attended Friday prayers at Newcastle Mosque and have been warmly welcomed.
Through this wide range of activities, the Uniting Church leaders and members have found the Newcastle Muslim Association to be community minded, warmly hospitable, open and honest. Another thing that has been appreciated is that there has been no attempt on either side to try to “convert” the other, but rather a willingness to appreciate the beliefs we hold in common and to learn and respect and understand the areas of difference.
The Uniting Church in the Hunter believe it is important to have a place of worship in our region that is appropriate for the Newcastle Muslim community.
In December 2015 a group of ecumenical church leaders met with representatives of the Newcastle Muslim Association at Morpeth Uniting Church for a briefing regarding the Buchanan Mosque proposal. We were very pleased to hear about the consultation process they had undergone to identify an appropriate site, and their commitment to engagement with the local community to address any questions and concerns. Their intention to make the site available for relevant local community activities was greatly appreciated. The meeting closed with a commitment to further build relationships between members of our Uniting Church communities and members of the Newcastle Muslim community, and to help break down community concerns through friendship and understanding.
The Uniting Church in the Hunter is very positive in our support of the Newcastle Muslim Association’s proposed mosque at Buchanan and look forward to worshipping and celebrating with them there.
Rev Stephen De Plater
Chairperson, Hunter Presbytery
Uniting Church in Australia