By Jessica Rapana
Muslim, Jewish and Christian leaders are calling on all Australians to participate in a National Day of Unity to demonstrate the strength of religious tolerance.
Mosques around the country will open their doors for the Lebanese Muslim Association’s (LMA) first National Mosque Open Day this Saturday (October 25).
That same day Welcome to Australia’s (WTA) annual march ‘Walk Together’ will take place in 20 regions across Australia.
LMA project officer Zachary Rea said while the doors to the mosques are always open, people don’t often walk in. The open day aims to demystify the mosques to the general public.
“The idea is to encourage people to walk in and see how it is, what it’s like, and attempt to defuse or mitigate some of the social or community tension that’s out there currently.”
Mr Rea said the current situation in Sydney is challenging.
“I myself am pretty lucky because I don’t look stereotypically Muslim, so I don’t really cop anything with respect to that, but I know with other people for sure – whether it’s just the awkward stares they might get in the supermarket or whether it is getting verbally or in some cases physically attacked.”
“I hope to really make the most of the opportunity, although times can be more challenging and tense now than others, I think it’s probably the most appropriate time to do it.”
The Sydney event will be held at the Lakemba Mosque, one of Australia’s largest mosques, where there will be guided tours, traditional foods, Islamic exhibitions and children’s activities.
Mr Rea said people could still partake in the spirit of the day without attending either of the two official events.
“People don’t just have to attend a mosque or attend a march supporting diversity, it can be as simple as speaking to a neighbour on their street they’ve never spoken to or overlooked speaking to for some time – anything people can do really.”
WTA national director Pastor Brad Chilcott said they were inviting all Australians to visit a mosque in the morning and then join the march of solidarity in the afternoon.
Walkers will gather at Sydney’s town hall at 1pm, followed by speeches, food and multicultural performances.
Mr Chilcott said he hoped the march would paint a picture of social harmony and social cohesion.
“It’s a tangible expression of the Australia that we believe is possible – a welcoming, compassionate, generous place where everyone can belong and contribute.”
“We are really hoping it can be an expression of unity at a time where fear and division and prejudice are all throughout our media and political conversation.”
However both organisers agreed despite increased tensions many acts of kindness and acceptance still existed within the Australian community.
“I think often it’s very easy to report on people being accosted… but there are those grassroots stories that help you to realise that you’re pretty lucky to live where you do.”
Other groups, including the Uniting Church in Australia (UC) and the Union of Progressive Judaism (UPJ) were also getting behind the event.
Pitt Street Uniting Church minister Reverend Dr Margaret Maymen said a lot of people from the UC had been concerned about all the tensions in the community, and many members wanted to show their solidarity with ordinary peace loving Muslim Australians.
“To love your neighbour – to know them and to reach out to them – is one of the most important things that Christians are called on to do. So these events are both an opportunity and a reminder of that.”
“It is so important for people to cut through the fear and stereotyping and actually find out for themselves the people around them in the community share the same common humanity.”
Executive director of the UPJ Steve Denenberg said he hoped the day would remind Australians about what bound them together.
“From a Jewish perspective, we know what it’s like to be discriminated against for what we believe in, not because of who we are.”
“Whether its us or Muslims, it’s unacceptable.”
“In most community groups there are extremists, the difficulty becomes when others take that voice of extremism to be the representative voice, which is very rarely the case.”
“Most people of faith are moderate and want peace for themselves and humanity for the society they live in.”