+ Cardinal George Pell, Archbishop of Sydney
19 Sep 2010
Our Muslim brothers and sisters here in Australia have recently finished celebrating their holy month of Ramadan.
By contemporary Australian standards they follow a stiff regime during this time as they abstain from all food and drink between sunrise and sunset.
For Muslims fasting is a communal act of devotion as they strive to come closer to God, seeking his forgiveness. The discomfort of hunger and thirst helps develop self-control and conquer anger and reminds participants of the sufferings of the poor and the starving. Worship and prayer accompany the fasting so encouraging both contemplation and community spirit. All this is no small sacrifice.
I attended a couple of Iftar dinners, one hosted by the Premier, where Muslims and their friends come together at sunset during Ramadan to break their fast with a good meal and fellowship. By a coincidence both were held in the Strangers Room at the N.S.W. Parliament House.
Since September 11, 2001, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the home-grown terrorist outrages in Britain, Muslims are in or near the news much of the time.
A lot of good quiet work continues here in Sydney as different religious groups meet with the Muslims to deepen friendship and understanding.
A very active group is the Affinity Intercultural Foundation which hosted 25 Iftar dinners during Ramadan for religious and ethnically mixed groups. These sorts of interaction are invaluable.
I recently also heard the retired Anglican Bishop of Rochester U.K., Michael Nazir-Ali speak on Islam and secularism in the West. Born in Pakistan to a Christian father who converted from Islam, the bishop is plain spoken, somewhat controversial and has an encyclopaedic knowledge of Islamic history and theology.
He is a regular participant in the highest level theological dialogue both with the Sunni Muslims e.g. at Al-Azhar university in Cairo and with the Shiite experts from Qom in Iran.
He does not believe in "kissy-kissy" dialogue, but that the hard issues should also be discussed, e.g. harsh civic penalties under Shari law for those renouncing Islam.
An important struggle continues throughout the Muslim world between moderates and the men of violence. In Australia the moderates are in control.
At the local level, where we generally do not have special expertise, we should continue to talk and get to know one another better, but the experts need to continue their private discussions on the important differences.