Sydney Catholic, Muslim reps reaffirm fraternity

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Watched by students, Sheik Shafiq Khan, in blue suit, and Sr Giovanni Farquar RSJ walk towards the stage at Al Faisal College on 17 February. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

A delegation from the Archdiocese of Sydney and Australian Catholic University met with leaders of Sydney’s Muslim community at Al-Faisal College, Auburn, to reaffirm their commitment to the 2019 “Document on Human Fraternity” signed by Pope Francis and Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb.

Following the promulgation of the 2019 document, Bishop Michael McKenna and Professor Hayden Ramsay signed a Christian-Muslim interfaith commitment statement that same year, alongside Sheik Shafiq Abdullah Khan and Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammed, the Grand Mufti of Australia.

As a sign of recommitment to the 2019 statement, Sheik Shafiq Khan, the founder of Al-Faisal College, welcomed the delegation on 17 February as part of two decades of interfaith initiatives.

Al-Faisal’s Director General of Education, Dr Intaj Ali, said “We are totally committed to researching, understanding the document of human fraternity”.

Students at the Al-Faisal College, Auburn. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“By saying that we mean, first of all, we start off with our executive team. They are totally committed to it. They are totally committed to interfaith dialogue,” he said.

Sheik Khan and Dr Ali both paid tribute to their close friendship with and admiration for the Church’s delegates, in particular Sr Giovanni Farquar RSJ, who led the delegation, and Archbishop Anthony Fisher.

“Here in the group from the ACU and of course from the Church we have distinguished guests who are our role models. These are the people who we can emulate so that we can all become better people,” Dr Ali said.

Unforeseen circumstances kept Bishop McKenna and Professor Ramsay from attending the event, but both sent warm messages of encouragement to the participants.

“The essence of the joint Commitment, then and now, is to work together through every means in our power for human fraternity and world peace,” Bishop McKenna said in his message.

Professor Ramsay called the commitment “a rich document reinforcing the importance of citizenship, free expression, human dignity and religious values”.

The delegates from ACU were “keen to learn more about your institution and to explore ways in which we might cooperate in the spirit of the Interfaith Commitment”, he added.

Sr Giovanni Farquar RSJ recalled the 2018 visit to Al-Faisal College of then-Bishop, now Cardinal and President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue Miguel Ayuso.
The visit was organised at short notice but because of the fraternal relations between Al-Faisal College and the Church, it was a highlight of then-Bishop Ayuso’s visit to Australia.

Al-Faisal’s Director General of Education, Dr Intaj Ali, said “We are totally committed to researching, understanding the document of human fraternity”.

“Bishop Ayuso and his colleagues came out here and it remains ever in his memory every time I hear from him. It’s never happened to him anywhere else in the world,” Sr Giovanni said.

The speakers, who warmly addressed each other as “dear friends”, emphasised the importance of interfaith experiences in their educational lives.

Sr Giovanni, who holds a doctorate in Islamic Studies, was taught by the esteemed Professor Abdul Khaliq Kazi during her time at Melbourne University, and Dr Ali reminisced about the strong social justice focus of his secondary schooling at a Catholic selective boys’ high school in Fiji.

Students at the Al-Faisal College, Auburn. Photo: Alphonsus Fok

“I proudly tell my students, I went to a Catholic boys’ school. You enter the school a boy, and you leave a young man,” Dr Ali said.

“A young man with the idea of social justice ingrained in us. That concept of putting others before self is part of your DNA.”

The Catholic delegation included senior personnel from ACU and the Archdiocesan Chancery, including Sydney Chancellor Chris Meney, Director of the PM Glynn Institute at ACU, Dr Michael Casey, and Associate Professor Miriam Tanti, ACU’s Associate Director of Partnerships in the Faculty of Arts.

The VIPs enjoyed lunch after the event, which also featured Quranic recitation by one of Al-Faisal’s year 12 students, and a short reflection by a second student on her own interfaith experiences organised by the school.

Al-Faisal College has campuses in Auburn, Campbelltown, Liverpool and Lakemba, and is the 26th ranked school in the State, keeping pace with NSW’s selective schools and prestigious private schools.

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Pope to take part in UN event celebrating human fraternity