British Imam Reminds Australian Muslims of the Positive Contribution They Can Make
30 November 2006
Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, one of Britain’s leading Muslims, and his wife Jamila have been visiting Australia as guests of Initiatives of Change as part of IofC’s mission to build bridges of trust across the world’s divides.
As reported earlier, Imam Dr Abduljalil Sajid, one of Britain’s leading Muslims, and his wife Jamila have been visiting Australia as guests of Initiatives of Change as part of IofC’s mission to build bridges of trust across the world’s divides. Imam Sajid, who is active with IofC’s Agenda for Reconciliation program, is a founder member of the Muslim Council of Britain and is Chair of the Muslim Council for Religious and Racial Harmony, UK. Brief reports of the second stage of their Australian visit follow:
During the Sajids’ five days in Canberra there was impressive media coverage. There were two full reports by Graham Downie, in The Canberra Times, each with a photo, the second with the headline ‘Imam calls for community to find cause of acts of terror’ which ended with a question from the Imam: ‘Is it not time that we should see how the world’s issues could be helped by faith communities?’. Imam Sajid was interviewed on The 7.30 Report; another televised interview on Australia Outlook was beamed to 41 countries, and later the first of three broadcasts of Rachael Kohn’s 50-minute interview with Imam Sajid was heard on ABC Radio National’s The Spirit of Things.
Two government ministers asked Imam Sajid penetrating questions about his experiences in Britain which might have relevance here. There were meetings with five other MPs, including the Member whose electorate includes Cronulla, scene of last year’s riots. He told of various initiatives which are taking place to build respect and understanding between young Australians. Another MP promptly recommended to the producer of The 7.30 Report that Imam Sajid should appear on the program. A Labor MP from an outer Melbourne suburb which has a large Turkish population observed that before 9/11 they identified as ‘migrants’, after as ‘Muslims’. She was concerned how to keep building trust in the community – a concern reflected by the Sydney MP whose electorate includes Lakemba Mosque.
The Sajids were also welcomed by the President and the Executive of the Canberra Islamic Centre. Imam Sajid also had heartfelt exchanges with the Catholic Archbishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Michael Coleridge, and with Gregor Henderson, President of the Uniting Church in Australia.
On their final night in Canberra there was a public ‘conversation’ at the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture between Anglican Bishop George Browning and Imam Sajid on ‘Building trust across the world’s divides– a task for Muslims and Christians'.
A highlight of 60 hours spent in Wagga Wagga was a private dinner bringing together 30 community leaders of the region. Guests included leaders in politics, state and national government, the Church, education, the media and business. Thirteen Muslim professional people were amongst the guests at this event hosted by our Muslim friends in the very fine Chancellor’s room of Charles Sturt University (CSU). Imam Sajid addressed the company after the meal on requirements and challenges of leadership. Six of the guests were asked to provide a reflection in response, one of whom suggested that we should further this spirit of the occasion through ‘a forum where voices that need to be heard are heard’.
The Mayor of Wagga Wagga, Councillor Kerry Pascoe, welcomed the Sajids to the city at a public event in the Historic Council Chambers where they spoke to 60 people. The function theme was ‘Family and community values: common ground?’ and Jamila joined her husband in telling their story of reaching out across cultural barriers in UK. Hosts of the occasion were the MultiCultural Council of Wagga Wagga, the Muslim community and Initiatives of Change. The Islamic Student Association hosted a public lecture at CSU attended by 75 people. There were four excellent articles, with colour photos, in the daily and weekly papers, a 20 minute ABC Radio Riverina interview, commercial radio and television reporting.
In Melbourne the Sajids had many opportunities to engage with Muslim communities who were feeling the weight of bad publicity in the wake of the controversy over Sheikh Hilaly’s comments on women’s dress. In meetings with officers of the Islamic Council of Victoria, addresses at the West Melbourne Mosque and the Doncaster Mosque, the Imam reminded Muslims of their calling to make a positive contribution to the wider community – Muslim and non-Muslim – and to win hearts by doing so. In the Australian International Academy, one of Victoria’s largest Muslim schools, he addressed years 9-11 students and answered their questions on subjects as diverse as the causes of terrorism, the rights of women and the Islamic position on adoption. This was followed by a reception by the Mayor and Councillors, as well as local community leaders in Moreland, one of North Melbourne’s most ethnically diverse areas, and home to many Muslims. The previous day Mrs Sajid had joined women from Morelands ethnic communities for afternoon tea.
The Sajids’ packed programme also included visits to the Melbourne Grammar School, lunch with academics and international students at Trinity College, University of Melbourne, meetings with journalists Martin Flanagan and Waleed Aly, with Peter Brown, Mayor of the City of Greater Dandenong and Grahame Leonard, President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. They also managed to squeeze in a meeting with the penguins at Philip Island. Their Australian sojourn ended with a public meeting in Armagh, IofC’s centre in Melbourne, on Beyond tolerance – towards understanding in which the Sajids spoke winningly of their own journeys towards understanding British culture and the effective bridge-building work they have done, first in Brighton, UK, (where they live) and then in the wider context of Britain, Europe and now the world.