What were at first tentative steps are now rushing ahead apace.
By the end of September, none other than the Grand Mufti of Australia Dr Ibrahim Mohammad will have attended three Uniting Churches in Sydney and held extensive question and answer sessions about the Muslim faith.
Congregations at Wahroonga, Balgowlah and soon Gordon will have been able to ask Dr Mohammad and prominent Australian Muslims like Royal Australian Navy Captain Mona Shindy whatever they want to know about Islam and are not afraid to ask.
In his sessions so far the Mufti’s interrogators have asked about “radical Islam”, done their best to proof text verses of the Koran to discern possible malign Muslim motives, and probe plans to establish a regional caliphate or to introduce sharia law. In sum, all the usual questions most Australians ask when informed by a diet of tabloid media. All questions and concerns have received unfailingly polite, patient and erudite responses.
Uniting Church congregations are not the only ones the Mufti is talking to either. Recently Dr Mohammad stood alongside Fr Rod Bower of Gosford Anglican Church. He was there at a special multicultural service of solidarity two weeks after some people dressed in mock Islamic attire disrupted Fr Bower’s Sunday worship.
I should confess here, that I am probably biased in my analysis. For the sake of transparency, I need to declare that I have enjoyed the Mufti’s personal hospitality and shared meals with him. I was deeply impressed and moved by his generosity and spirituality. You can hear us talking about our relationship in the Assembly’s Relations with Other Faiths Interfaith September videos.
In truth, relationships with our Muslim neighbours are happening in Uniting Churches all around the country.
In Melbourne, the VicTas Synod’s Uniting Through Faith unit is encouraging impressionable young Christian minds into multifaith poetry slam workshops that aim to encourage young people to articulate their faith creatively.
In the last six months, UCA congregations at Benalla, Frankston, Heidelberg West, Elsternwick, The Avenue in Blackburn and more have all held events inviting their Muslim neighbours into their churches.
Facilities are also being shared.
In Perth, 200 Muslims use Wesley Uniting Church hall in the city every week for their Friday prayers.
Muslims in Emerald in central Queensland also avail themselves of the local Uniting Church hall for their prayers.
Next month on 11 October the Imam of the Gold Coast Mosque Imraan Hussein will join a panel discussion moderated by Queensland Moderator Rev. David Baker at Newlife Uniting Church at Robina. Representatives from Griffith University and the Queensland Police will be there too to ponder theological meanings of peace in the Australian context.
To be honest, this extensive interfaith fellowship has been happening for years.
So this time, let’s just put aside Pauline Hanson’s comments and stay true to the Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbours, by continuing the important work our Church does in reaching out in friendship to people of other faiths.