When Brunswick was named as a terrorist target in 2016, the local religious community decided they would respond by showcasing the neighbourhood’s thriving diversity.
Moreland community leaders, including Christian, Muslim and other faith representatives, formed Moreland Together.
Synod interfaith community development worker April Kailahi was one of the network’s founding members.
“As soon as the news reported that Brunswick was targeted as a site for terrorism, we came together to discuss what we could do to counter this hateful narrative,” she said.
“Our group consisted of those who did not buy into the notion of a divided Moreland, those who love and value Moreland’s diversity and wanted to tap into the thriving sense of community that exists.”
The Moreland Together network welcomes people from all demographics, including those with no religious affiliation. One of its central missions is to create an inclusive community where all voices are respected and valued, especially those from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds.
“Over the last year we have promoted our core values of social justice and inclusive hospitality and generosity through forums and dinners,” Ms Kailahi said.
“We have connected community, council, police and local religions.”
Last month, the Uniting Church and Salvation Army hosted a Moreland Dines Together multicultural dinner at the Brunswick Salvos Community Centre.
The evening featured a short film about a young Australian Muslim woman who becomes the victim of an Islamophobic attack.
The film’s director, Kauthar Abdulalim is also co-founder of Her Project Inc, a non-profit organisation that seeks to empower the next generation of Muslims in Australia.
As a young Muslim of African, Indian and Pakistani heritage, Ms Abdulalim is keenly aware of the challenges faced by many women of her faith.
“When the Sydney siege happened, I remember feeling really scared to step out of the house,” she said.
“I think women are targeted because we are more visible as Muslims than men.
“I used to wear a head scarf, but I feel like going out into the public would make me prone to attacks.”
According to the 2017 Islamophobia Register Australia report, nearly 80 percent of Muslim women who were physically or verbally attacked in public were wearing hijabs.
Women were also more likely to be subjected to an Islamophobic attack than men. More than 67 percent of victims were female and 30 percent were accompanied by their children at the time of the incident.
Ms Abdulalim believes storytelling can be a powerful way to tackle prejudices against Muslims.
“Thanks to having parents from Indian and Pakistani backgrounds, I grew up watching a lot of Bollywood,” she said.
“As I grew up, I realised that film is such a strong medium, especially in today’s generation where you don’t have to go to a cinema to watch a film. You can watch it on your mobile phone or laptop.
“This medium can reach people all over the world.”
Ms Abdulalim’s filmmaking is informed by personal experiences and also her bachelor degree education in Islamic studies.
“I wanted to understand the current socio-political situation of Muslims so that I can better reflect these stories,” she said.
“A lot of academics have so much to share, but their research doesn’t get to people; not everyone reads research papers or essays.
“But when it comes to films, it’s something everyone will watch.”
The May gathering was the third Moreland Dines Together event this year.
Previous dinners were held at Brunswick Police Station and East Coburg Community House.
Ms Kailahi encouraged communities throughout Australia to participate in intercultural and interfaith conversations and counter the divisive ideologies perpetuated by religious extremists.
“We all need to continue to engage with our neighbours,” Ms Kailahi said.
“We need to be radically inclusive; if we are not then those who are trying to divide us will win.”
You can see a short video of Moreland Dines Together by going to the Uniting Church Victoria and Tasmania Facebook video page: https://www.facebook.com/ucavictas/videos/