By Archbishop Mark Coleridge
AT a recent meeting of the Brisbane-based Heads of Churches, we discussed the difficulties faced by the Muslim community at this time.
We decided that it was time for us to meet with Islamic leaders not only to express our solidarity, but to explore what we might do together to ease tensions.
We felt we couldn’t just sit back and watch or look the other way.
On the night of Monday, October 20, eight Islamic leaders met with seven Heads of Churches, with apologies from other invitees.
The meeting was held at Wynberg and was chaired by Canon Richard Tutin of the Anglican Church who is General Secretary of Queensland Churches Together.
In a two-hour meeting the discussion ranged far and wide.
The Islamic leaders were asked to report on how things were in their own community; and it was clear from what they said that Muslims have been targeted in the most appalling way, the women more than the men.
Some have been assaulted physically or verbally; the crudest kind of graffiti have been scrawled on Islamic buildings.
All this inevitably creates an atmosphere of fear and resentment.
How could it be otherwise when people are made to feel outsiders in their own country?
The impression is given at times that Muslims are some Johnny-come-lately intruders who should stay in their own country and have no place in Australia.
But Muslims have been in Australia for a very long time, some of the Queensland mosques among the oldest in the land.
There are Muslim families that are almost part of the furniture here in Brisbane, so long have they lived in the city and been involved in its life at every level.
It’s absurd to say or imply this isn’t their place. Brisbane’s part of them and they’re part of Brisbane.
The Islamic leaders were also keen to know how our Christian communities were reacting to what’s going on.
We said that it’s hard to generalise, but also that there’s widespread ignorance about Islam among Christians as a whole.
Ignorance breeds fear of the unknown; and this can quickly become an attitude towards Muslims as the dangerous “other”, much in the way Jews, Catholics and even the Indigenous (in their own land) have been in the past.
But the focus of our discussion was mainly practical.
The key question was: What can we do together?
All kinds of options were canvassed, among them these:
- open our social gatherings to each other
- examine our schools and their curriculum
- launch a broader educational thrust to overcome ignorance in the community
- organise forums open to all
- promote the “open mosque” program where people can visit a mosque, meet Muslims and have their questions answered
- speak together to politicians when the need arises
- make joint submissions on debated issues
- speak with leaders in the media
We decided to issue a joint press release and to set up a working group, three Muslim leaders and three Christian leaders, to build on the momentum of the meeting.
The new Queensland Moderator of the Uniting Church, Reverend David Baker, Canon Tutin and myself were nominated as the Christian members of the working group.
The larger group will also meet from time to time as the need arises, and in the meantime there will be email contact.
In one sense the meeting was a small step.
It came up with no magic solution.
But in another sense it was important, signalling not just some vague good will but a shared determination to act in the face of what’s going on at the moment.
Our concern was not just with our own communities but with society as a whole.
Much of what’s happening shows the darker side of the Australian psyche, which betrays the very values that we like to call “Australian”.
The values that prompted the meeting and which we will seek to promote in every way possible are not exclusively Muslim or Christian; they are not exclusively Australian.
They are deeply human values, based upon and expressing the shared humanity of people created by the one God.
The Wynberg meeting was a special moment for all of us there because it was a genuinely human encounter.
No politics, no ideological bickering, no self-interested game-playing: just believing men and women trying to speak the truth peacefully and asking how we might help others to do the same.