Removing the labels of faith

interfaithBy Semisi Kailahi

One thing that young people of different faiths often have in common is a concern over how religious labels define and limit the way that others see them.

This was a theme that emerged as speakers representing Aboriginal spirituality, Islam, Christianity, the Baha’i faith, Judaism and Buddhism addressed a meeting of 30 people who gathered on Sunday in the northern Melbourne suburb of Coburg to promote interfaith harmony.

A young Jewish woman told the group that she had struggled with being typecast by those who could not reconcile the mix of viewpoints she had.

“I wish people knew you can be a Zionist and support a Palestinian state and rights for Aboriginal people,” she said.

A Muslim speaker emphasised the need for positivity.

“We cannot focus only on the negative narrative about us,” she said.

Another speaker dispelled stereotypes of the Buddhist tradition. She said some people associated meditative retreat with painful discipline saying” “Oh, I could not do that”, when it means much more than that.

She also spoke on the “artificial divide” between monks and lay people.

The panel agreed that they are all often categorised by their religion. They discussed the challenges of declaring their faith; while it was easy for some for others it was immensely difficult.

“Telling your parents you have a new faith is a tough gig,” was one comment.

The speakers discussed ideas and ways to remove obstacles to interfaith dialogue. One group suggested the need to confront the fundamentalists within their respective faiths. “We know who they are, let’s engage with them in respectful conversation,” they said.

The event was organised by the synod’s Uniting Through Faiths (UTF) unit in partnership with Moreland Together and United Religions Initiative. Moreland Together is a community program that promotes unity and United Religions Initiative is a global movement dedicated to interfaith cooperation.

Larry Marshall and April Robinson from the UTF unit said the event highlighted the inherent goodwill of people in spite of their cultural or religious differences.

“It was a refreshingly new narrative from young voices focusing on Melbourne’s welcoming multicultural reality despite the media storm of fear and division,” Mr Marshall said.

Synod moderator Sharon Hollis also attended the forum.

Uniting Through Faiths will be screening the film ‘Lion’ this Saturday 25 February 4pm at Waverley Cinema to raise funds for a Harmony Day celebration aimed at uniting Sri Lankan communities beyond division.

To buy tickets please contact Ann Byrne on 0428 611 218 /

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