Initiatives of Change, ‘Building Trust across the world’s divides’ – www.iofc.org
COMMON – Centre Of Melbourne Multi-faith and Others Network – www.commonmelbourne.com
The Interfaith Encounter Association, Jerusalem – www.interfaith-encounter.org
Tim McCowen from the Wellspring Centre, an ecumenical organisation associated with the Ashburton Baptist Church in Melbourne ran a program in 2004 which brought together students across various schools and denominations, including Jewish, Islamic and Christian schools. Unlike the JCMA project this was bringing the students together of different faiths rather than having a presentation from people/ adults of different faiths. The duration of the Wellspring project was for a series of four weekly sessions in which skills that foster understanding were introduced and explored. The first session focused on creating a place of safety and respect; the second on a comparison of faith and values commitments; the third on listening skills and how to listen without criticising or compromising one’s own beliefs; the fourth on the role of diversity in creating community and cooperation.
Following from this the Wellspring Centre are now developing workbooks and resources, including audio-visual resources, for training young people as facilitators of interfaith dialogue. The materials will be used to train young people as facilitators. Year 10 and 11 students from several schools will discuss faith issues with assistance from the trained facilitators. A final gathering will be held to allow the participants to present their findings
Goodness & Kindness Project
In New South Wales the Goodness and Kindness project has been a success and has now become an approved high school resource. Aimed mainly at Primary age children, the Goodness and Kindness project seeks to educate school students about the values of compassion and acceptance shared by the Christian, Islamic and Jewish faiths. Representatives from each faith visit students together and share their beliefs and experiences as a means of breaking down barriers of ignorance and encouraging acts of kindness.
Building Bridges Program
The self-evident need to focus inter-faith dialogue initiatives on the Jewish and Muslim communities was palpable. Both communities were seen to be demonstrably uncomfortable with one another, to say the least, and distrustful to put it mildly.
The Australian Intercultural Society (AIS), a Muslim organisation which aims to foster and promote harmonious relations between faith communities in Australian society, and the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC), which dedicates itself to combating racism, intolerance and prejudice of all kinds, joined forces in conceptualising a pilot project whose key concept involved bringing Jewish and Muslim families and individuals together to meet, to share meals, engage in recreational activities, enjoy one another’s special religious and cultural festivals, and more.
Building Bridges – Becoming Friends Jews & Muslims is funded by an Australian Government Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs grant. The abiding objective of the project was to bring about real attitudinal change in each community through encounters with “the other”.
A microcosmic representation of both communities was considered essential if stereotyping was to be averted: not all Jews attend synagogue regularly, nor are they all kosher and not all Muslim women wear the hijab, nor do all Muslims pray five times daily.
The Jews included those who are orthodox/observant, those who are traditional, Progressives, and those who identified as secular. The Muslims encompassed a number of national origins including those from Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan and Indonesia and also ranged in level of religious observance – from those who strictly follow taqwa (observant to the letter) to those who are less observant. Family units and singles, young teenagers and grandparents – all were in the mix. Knowledge of each other’s practices, beliefs and traditions ranged from entirely lacking through to reasonably informed; evidently, none knew very much about the other.
The casual observer would have been flabbergasted as a “fly on the wall” witnessing the first joint meeting. Trepidation, apprehension and anxiety appeared to be the foremost emotions experienced by most on arrival.
Visualise a picnic on Australia Day 2005 where Jews and Muslims are spread across numerous rugs enjoying and sharing their typical fare, others are playing soccer and cricket alongside, and other small groups gathering to discuss their respective beliefs, practices and whatever. Imagine too, four homes across Melbourne, two Muslim and two Jewish, hosting discussions between groups of about a dozen, facilitated by two trained persons (one Muslim and one Jew), exploring topics such as prayer, dietary laws, texts, festivals, marriage, divorce. It’s happened twice already and others are planned. Imagine a Seder (Passover ritual meal) re-enactment with Muslims sharing the occasion! What better way to provide the Muslims with an historical exposition of this seminal event in Jewish history!
The courage to participate in such a pioneering project may not be apparent to the casual reader. However, those of us at the coalface who are witness to the nuances of inter-faith dialogue, can well understand and appreciate the commitment and resolve necessary in building bridges.
In Building Bridges, the participants – the Muslims and the Jews – are not only learning about each others’ faith, traditions, cultural norms and mores – but in this pioneering project they will get to know people of the other faith and in this process may discover that “the other” is just like us; and where there are differences – they are to be accepted, enjoyed, and respected.