National Mosque Open Day - A Successful Event for Interreligious Dialogue

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese,
27 Oct 2014

Morrison, Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, was one of hundreds who attended Open Days at mosques around the country

A National Mosque Open Day was held by the Muslim community on Saturday 25 October 2014 across Australia and Mosques in each state gave guided tours, as well as question and answer sessions throughout the day.

Sydney's Cabramatta and Lakemba Mosques took part and opened their doors to the public. Tom Hollings, a Catholic from Gladesville, brought along his three children Charlie, 7, Annika, 5, and Maisie, 2 for the event.

Attending the National Mosque Open Day was Pastor Brad Chilcott from Adelaide. Mr Chilcott initiated The National Day of Unity which is a partnership between Walk Together and the National Mosque Open Day.

He attended the Lakemba Mosque with The Hon Tony Burke and The Hon Jason Clare and explained they felt welcomed and accepted by the Muslim community as they walked through the mosque and listened to other members of the public asking a wide variety of questions about the Islamic faith.

The general public questions ranged from questions regarding halal food, to why the mosque had separate areas for men and women, to what Muslims believed about Moses and Jesus and also what the Muslim community are doing to stop the radicalisation of young men.

Many young women welcomed visitors to the mosques and provided information on their faith

"Given the amount of negativity in the press about Islam and Muslims I thought it would be good for the kids to have a look and see that a Mosque is just like any other Church. We turned up and everyone was really friendly, it was no different to our local Catholic church in regards to the friendly welcome. There was a Q & A session with Sheik and he was giving balanced responses focussing on the commonalities of the religions, rather than the differences," said Tom.

"The kids had a great time, they played around with some toys on the floor. We drank some pressed orange juice and ate some baklava. There are not a lot of Muslims around Gladesville so I had a chat to the kids about the hijab and the burqa, I want to make sure they don't get negative views about Muslims because of the media."

Zachary Rea is the project officer of Engage Challenge Grow. He works for the Lebanese Muslim Association and was one of the organisers of the National Mosque Open Day.

"We hope to make this an annual event and have more Mosques on board each year. The attendance was positive and successful. There is always the anxiety that you won't get a decent turn out before an event like this but we were overwhelmed with the support and the result. The questions people ask can surprise you because some of them are basic questions about the faith but people are coming from a different perspective and that's what an event like this is all about."

It may be of interest for Catholics that there is a chapter in the Koran named after Mary and she is considered one of the best women who ever lived, most traditional Islamic scholars would uphold the doctrine of perpetual virginity as well so that's a belief Catholics and Muslims have in common, explained Zachary.

Canberra-Goulburn Archbishop Christopher Prowse and Azra Khan from the Canberra Islamic Centre at Monash came together at the Open Day to plant an olive tree together. The olive tree or "tree of oil" is regarded as a symbol of peace.

"A lot of the questions were related to the similarities between Christianity and Islam, someone asked why there were so many tissue boxes in the mosque and the Sheik joked that it is because of all the sweat and the tears. It was funny to me because I had heard that question a few times during the day so our visitors must have thought they were there for a religious purpose but they are just there in case someone needs a tissue."

Speaking to the participants of the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in November 2013, Pope Francis underlined the importance of friendship and respect between men and women of different religious traditions. Dialogue, he went on to say, does not mean giving up your identity as a Christian. On the contrary, the Pope stressed "true openness means remaining firm in ones deepest convictions, and therefore being open to understanding others."

The Holy Father continued "an attitude of openness in truth and love must prevail in dialogue with believers of non-Christian religions, despite the various obstacles and difficulties, particularly fundamentalism on both sides." Recognising the fact that there are situations in the world where coexistence is difficult due to fear, the Holy Father underlined that the one way to overcome this fear, was to foster dialogue.