On 3 July, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Victoria broke their daily Ramadan fast with High Street Uniting Church in Frankston. More than 90 people from various faiths came together to share an Iftar dinner and listen to guest speakers talk about their Muslim faith.
During the holy month of Ramadan, Muslims throughout the world fast from dawn until sunset. It is a time of spiritual reflection, prayer and self-discipline as Muslims abstain from food and drink during daylight hours. As the sun sets, they would end their fast with an Iftar meal.
The community event was organised by the Frankston Interfaith Network, in partnership with the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and High Street Uniting Church.
Rev Jay Robinson is one of the ministers at High Street Uniting Church and the multi-faith chaplain at Monash University Peninsula Campus. She said the evening was an opportunity for guests to learn about Muslim culture and beliefs in a welcoming and inclusive environment.
“One of the young people at High Street made the comment that they had never really heard much detail about the Muslim faith and found the evening to be a really good way to hear more,” Ms Robinson said.
“One of the tables had a discussion during the evening about how important it is to give people the opportunity to learn more about other cultures and faith. This is so that the correct information is shared and people can then feel comfortable about talking and sharing with others who are not of their culture or faith background.”
The evening began with a welcome from Ms Robinson and Irene Lawrence from the Frankston Interfaith Network. Imam Syed Wadood Janud then spoke to the guests about the basic teachings of Islam, such as its philosophy, belief systems and practical applications. He also explained the spiritual significance of fasting and why it is central to his faith.
“Fasting is so much more than not eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset,” Imam Janud said.
“It teaches and cultivates forbearance, determination and self-belief. A Muslim learns the value of life and his reliance and dependency on the blessings of God we take for granted. It promotes empathy towards the less-fortunate who fast on a daily basis, not by choice”.
As sunset approached, the guests were served dates and fruits. According to tradition, the prophet Muhammad ended his fast by eating dates. They also have an added health benefit of restoring low blood sugar levels following a day of fasting.
“We then all moved into the church for the members of the Ahmadiyya community to offer the Salat (Islamic prayer), while the rest of us observed,” Ms Robinson said.
“Following this prayer, we returned again to the hall to share in dinner which had been prepared and was served by the members of the Ahmadiyyan community along with some of the young people of High Street.”
Between the main meal and dessert, Sherene Hassan, Director of the Australian Islamic Museum, shared her experience growing up as a Muslim in Australia.
Frankston mayor James Dooley said the event was an opportunity to break down ignorance, fear and prejudice by standing together as one united family. He presented certificates of appreciation before the evening closed with a performance by the Ahmadiyya children’s choir.
The High Street Uniting Church congregation has been involved with the Frankton Interfaith Network for the past five years. Last year, they partnered with the network to hold an interfaith Seder meal, a celebration of the Jewish Passover.
At a time when certain political parties are calling for increased surveillance of Muslims in Australia, this demonstration of interfaith unity suggests that a more conciliatory and hospitable approach may help bridge the gap between different faiths.
“It was a great night with a number of comments about the food, the choir, the knowledge that was gained and the people present,” Ms Robinson said.
“A number of the Ahmadiyyan community commented on how welcome they felt at High Street and how privileged they were to use the church to pray. The Ahmadiyyan community was great to work with and we will definitely do more events together.”