Divergent faiths dare to dream

Imagine a gathering where people from divergent faiths come together in love and peace

Imagine where these people of divergent faiths are ecstatic to meet one another after the Covid-19 isolation.

Imagine that each representative speaks or sings a prayer that resonates with the same message of love and peace.

Indeed, good peoples, this is reality, here in Brisbane, Australia. Indeed this was the very ambience at the recent General Council Meeting of the Queensland Faith Communities Council held at Griffith University on 17-Jun-2021.

Celebrations as friends from divergent faiths welcomed one another

There was real celebration as people from divergent faiths talked animatedly, welcomed one another and caught up on the eighteen months’ happenings. The world has changed since they were all together last time: There is a realisation that our relationships with one another are paramount. We depend on each other. Our common human traits are what bind us together – and this meeting emphasised exactly this imperative bond.

There were three pivotal sections of the formal meeting that were memorable:

  • The first was the prayers delivered by community faith leaders;
  • the second General business; and
  • the third was the resonating address by Rita, our guest speaker, on the topic of “Hate Crime”.

Prayers by community faith leaders

Representatives from Hinduism, Pagan Hearth, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Bahá’í, Judaism, Roman Catholicism, Islam, Sikhism, Christian Science, International Society for Krishna Consciousness, Ahmadiyya Muslim Association delivered their heartfelt prayers for peace.

Divergent faith leaders were given simple directions: time limits, respect for others, no preaching. If you have ever doubted that we can live harmoniously with our neighbours, respecting their beliefs and loving them as our brothers and sisters then the soulful renditions of prayers, the singing of prayers, the chanting of mantras, quickly dissipated any reserves. There was unanimity in the desire for unison of thoughts in peace and love and harmony. What an example to the world. Can we transplant these ingredients of cooperation, love and respect to nations around the world that are fraught with war, anger and hate? May God use this group as a mustard seed of endeavour to “civilise” the world through respect and love.

Pleas were made to encourage people to share with the wider world, especially in this time of critical need for cooperation – medically and financially. Those on the front line were applauded, as were medical researchers. There was a resonating call that we count our absolute blessings, and the accent on love kept resurfacing. Friendship, community and harmony were attributes that emphasised the main gist of the prayers. “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” (The St Francis prayer) could well have been the mantra for the evening.

There was even an advocation by the Islamic Council for loving those who are displeased with you. What a richer place the world would be if this love could permeate war-torn areas. The Sikh Association’s advocation to “teach us how to receive compassion” was a new concept of the reality that compassion will, in our community, be forthcoming. The goal that suspicion of race and creed be eliminated was subliminal to the Ahmadiyya Muslim prayer.

General business

General business ensued. A variety of topics were covered concerning the activities of QFCC.
The report to the meeting by the QFCC Chairperson, Ms Gail Paratz, can be found here.

Guest Speaker

The guest speaker, Rita Jabri-Markwell, has had years of experience working in advisory roles to politicians concerning Aboriginal legal rights and Indigenous affairs, as a publishing editor for a legal publication (Lexis Nexis), and as a secondary school teacher teaching English and History. Her current role as Chief Advisor and Lawyer for the Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN) sees her co-chairing the Cohesive Community Coalition, Better Laws for Safe Queensland.

Peace and Greetings; Rita acknowledged the indigenous custodians of the land on which we met. She also paid credit to the spiritual leaders in the group.

Rita said that:

Gatherings like this remind us what is important. While we are insignificant as human beings, in varied traditions we carry within us an essence of that higher being. We are living in a world that is increasingly hardened – faith encourages us to soften our attitude.

The Christchurch attack was the lightning rod for my awakening as to whether this was part of a coordinated attack; it also made me query whether I could contribute to finding some answers to these issues of hate. Firstly, I was advisor to the Islamic Council, working for the safety of Muslims.

The Media Report at the Holland Park Mosque brought in another legal anomaly. The defacing of the Mosque with Nazi graffiti was deemed to be property damage, whereas it was the glorification of one group to the derogation of another. The existing Criminal Law for Harm to Groups has been used merely three times in the last twenty years; most fines were not prosecuted.

A group of people, energised by what is happening to specific groups, revisited the concept of “Hate Crime”. I stated working for the Muslim Media group and began interviewing victims to see if they wanted to share their stories. I talked with people from all walks of life. One case almost destroyed me: a Muslim man and his family were coming home from the Museum when a man threatened him and his family. The children of this family had the belief that Australians hate them. This chap spoke out, very passionately. There is a big concern with women who wear the hijab. Everyone who is in an identifiable group – Chinese, Indian, Sikh, Jewish, Muslim, African, they immediately understand the “hate” group invective. They understand each other. There is often a lot of shame associated with victim of the crime and therefore they are reticent to speak.

How is a hate crime different from a normal crime? A lot of crimes are motivated by what you are doing, what you have. Hate crime is different – it is because of what is intrinsic, inherent to you. It is an attack on an aspect of yourself you cannot do anything about. Hate crime is attacking your inherent dignity as a human being. It is not a “Public Nuisance” Crime, but needs to be recognised as a Hate Crime. It needs to be:
– Recognised at law – it will mean so much for victims, big deal
– Potentially increase the penalties
– Have a law group – mix of fines, including restorative.
– We have developed legal options that we want referred to a Parliamentary Inquiry. This parliamentary inquiry that closes on 12 July 2021.

Racism is man-made and can be un-made. Now we need to lend our voices to support the list of stories. You can speak as someone who is against Hate Crime. You can speak to the paper. The more Queenslanders who support the paper, the greater the chance of success. Determined to come up with something that works. If anyone wants to make a submission, please get in touch. Unity of purpose has proven successful so far.

Four Problems:
– Shame and Humiliation
– Normalising what is happening
– People cannot imagine a better system – a delusion that hate crime lies in other countries
– Fear of repercussion

You can view Rita’s presentation to the General Council Meeting below.

This blog was written by Di Perkins OAM

Di is a writer and retired high school teacher. She is a member of her local Uniting Church and continues to contribute much in a voluntary capacity to the wider community.