18 April 2023

'New chapter in the history of Canberra': Muslims and Christians come together for multi-faith Ramadan feast

| Travis Radford
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HelpingACT founding president and 2022 Canberra citizen of the year Mohammed Ali helps to serve dinner

HelpingACT founding president and 2022 Canberra citizen of the year Mohammed Ali (centre) was one of the people behind the idea to hold a multi-faith iftar in Canberra. Photo: Andrew Ly.

“This is the start of a new chapter in the history of Canberra,” HelpingACT founding president Mohammed Ali told a group of around 130 Christians, Muslims and people of other faiths.

They had gathered together at Kippax Uniting Community Centre for an iftar, the ‘breaking of the fast’ feast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The event was the fourth of its kind since Ginninderry, HelpingACT and UnitingCare organised the first in 2021, the year after Ginninderry’s first residents arrived.

“We were still very much [asking ourselves], ‘How are we going to foster more community?'” Ginninderry Community Development Manager Tulitha King said.

“It just came about because of a conversation between myself, my Muslim colleague and Mohammed from HelpingACT, and we just thought, ‘We’ll give it a go’.

“Because we were in that stage of, ‘Let’s reach out to our community and see what works and what doesn’t work,’ and it has worked.”

Ms King said the idea originated from a desire to better understand and positively impact Ginninderry’s multicultural community, a high percentage of which is Muslim.

“It’s important to recognise and celebrate all [cultures and religions] and demystify each of them because there’s nothing worse than not having an understanding of other people,” she said.

“Because I think that then puts you into an ‘us and them’ mindset and that’s something that really is not helpful for anyone and it goes against creating strong communities.”

Iftar 2023 was the first year the iftar event had run outside Ginninderry in the neighbouring suburb of Holt, as well as the usual location of The Link in Strathnairn.

Region attended the Holt iftar, which featured both Muslim and Christian prayers, a crash-course in Islam and the blessings of Ramadan for non-Muslim guests by Australian National University Muslim Chaplain Muhammad Imtiaz and a buffet dinner, including Halal options, Sharbat (a Turkish drink made with rose petals) and dates, which are traditionally eaten to break the fast.

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The Holt iftar also attracted Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry and Deputy High Commissioner for Pakistan Ayesha Saeed.

Deputy High Commissioner Saeed said it was her first time attending an iftar in a Christian church and commended the guests for having “a very big heart and a very open mind”.

Many also paid tribute to the founding president of HelpingACT and 2022 Canberra citizen of the year Mohammed Ali for his role in developing and facilitating the ongoing event.

“You need someone like Mohammed Ali to make this work in Canberra,” said Ginninderry Development Manager and fifth-generation Pakistani-Australian Imran Khan.

Mr Ali said the community iftar marked a very important day for Canberra and his 32 years of calling the city home.

“Usually the stories are very different but here is Canberra and we are writing a new page in its history,” he said.

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Mr Ali said he hoped other organisations would be inspired to host similar events to increase respect and understanding between different communities.

“We started from one and then just dispersed into various tribes, but humanity cannot be divided and that is actually perfectly the glimpse today which we are having,” he said.

“It’s us who have the responsibility of bringing people together, spreading love, understanding each other and respecting each other.”

Kippax Uniting Church Minister Karyl Davison said she echoed Mr Ali’s comment that ‘we are one’.

“We might have different ways to God, like we might call God different things, but actually, we’re all made in God’s image or Allah’s image,” she said.

“And so we are one, and things like this break down barriers, they build respect and it’s very hard when you’re sitting around a table, not to actually be pleasant to each other.

“Respect for me is so important and one of the things this is doing for our congregation here at Kippax is that they’re learning a little bit about Islam and through learning comes respect.”

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Wonderful to see religion in a positive light.

Capital Retro12:57 pm 21 Apr 23

I agree. There are very few countries in the world that this gathering could happen in.

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