The Uniting Church in Australia is hosting six Iftar Dinners in five different states as an expression of its desire to build a more peaceful world with people of other faiths.
Iftar is the breaking of the fast during Ramadan for people of Muslim faith. The sharing of this meal among people of different faiths is becoming a popular and powerful symbol of friendship and harmony.
“In a world that is easily divided by differences, it is so important that people of faith build bridges together,” Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan told 130 guests at the Iftar Dinner held at Parramatta Mission in Sydney on 5 June.
The dinner was co-hosted by the Assembly, the Synod of NSW/ACT and Uniting with Muslim partners the Affinity Intercultural Foundation.
Keynote speaker was Muslim food blogger Lina Jebeile, who has a following of 32,000 people on her Instagram Page, The Lebanese Plate.
Lina spoke of how she feared for her children’s safety whenever a prominent public figure made negative comments directed at Muslims, inciting fear and division in the community.
“Stopping (my daughters) from being alone in public wasn’t going to work. But I also didn’t want them to develop a resentment for the country they were born in - one that they love, the only one they call home.”
Lina has sought ways to bring people from different backgrounds together, usually around food.
“Food is the most common ground between all people, no matter their background. I call on more of us to use food as a stepping stool. Use it to open dialogue. To ask questions. To just have a conversation. Use it to celebrate our differences and please use it to appreciate our similarities.”
Affinity Executive Director Ahmet Polat added: “At Affinity, we believe it is necessary to reserve in your heart a seat for everyone. Love and peace have the capacity to change the rhythm of our world.”
Master of Ceremonies on the night, NSW/ACT Moderator Simon Hansford commented on the warm spirit in the room, “Tonight we are creating reserves of hope, justice and relationship that will last beyond a meal.”
For the first time, the Uniting Church hosted an Iftar Dinner in Tasmania at the Scots Memorial Uniting Church in Hobart on 1 June.
VIC/TAS Moderator Rev Sharon Hollis and Hobart Mosque Imam Sabri Samson were special guests.
“When we live as friends we both learn more about ourselves and the other,” Rev Hollis said.
“When this is done in a spirit of respect and friendship we enhance each other’s understanding of our faith and the other’s faith, contribute to the wellbeing of society and make peace possible.”
In Brisbane, the Queensland Synod hosted an Iftar Dinner for 40 guests on 3 June, including representatives of the Islamic Council of Queensland and Holland Park Mosque.
Guests heard Janeeth Deen of the Queensland Muslim Historical Society talk about the diverse history of the Muslim community in Queensland and a panel reflected on how faith sustains and shapes life.
Reflecting on the night, QLD Moderator Rev David Baker said, “Understanding and overcoming distance and fear happens when we hear the stories of others and tell our stories.”
The Synod of VIC/TAS also hosted two Iftar dinners in Melbourne. St Thomas Uniting Church in Craigieburn hosted its second Iftar with the Australian Intercultural Foundation on 25 May. On 2 June, Carlton Church of All Nations hosted an Iftar organised by Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV)and the Victorian Council of Churches.
ICV general manager Ayman Islam said the Iftar dinner was a great demonstration of interfaith friendship.
“It’s great to be hosted in a church and great for the Muslim community to come in and experience that warmth and welcome,” Mr Islam said.
“These kind of events really break down stereotypes and barriers – there’s really nothing like food to bring out conversations.”
The Synod of Western Australia hosted its first Iftar Dinner at St Peter and Emmaus Church, an Anglican and Uniting Church fellowship, at Joondanna in Perth on Saturday 9 June.
General Secretary Rev. David de Kock welcomed about 60 guests to share a Moroccan-flavoured dinner.
Saliha Yildiz, year 8 student at Fountain College, spoke to guests about what participating in Ramadan means to her.
“Ramadan comes with many blessings,” she said. “Fasting also comes with many benefits, especially when we’re about to break our fast because we then realise the value of food; how precious it is to drink water and have a plate of food ready for you everyday."