Australia: first mosque ‘open day’ seeks to address prejudices : by : Michael Safi


Nine mosques around Australia will open their doors later this month as part of a new National Unity Day, inviting non-Muslims to take tours and ask questions of Islamic leaders to clear up “prejudices and mutual misunderstanding” in the community.

The first national mosque open day, to be held 25 October, will be followed by a march in 20 cities organised by an interfaith community group, Welcome to Australia.

The first National Unity Day events were announced by Muslim, Christian and Jewish community leaders at Sydney’s Pitt Street Uniting Church on Wednesday.

The president of the Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA), Samier Dandan, said the day was about “demonstrating to the wider community that our mosques are open”, an openness he hoped would be mirrored in the general public.

“We want to say, open up your heart, open up your intellect, do not allow ignorance, don’t allow those bigots out there to dictate what you think,” he said.

“If you have a question, go straight to the source, do your own research, find out what a Muslim stands for, what a Christian stands for, what a Jew stands for.

“I guarantee that you that what you’ll find is that 99% between the different faiths is common,” he said.

Dandan said the LMA was implementing other interfaith projects, including organising visits between private Islamic and Jewish schools “to cross-pollinate their mindsets”.

“It’s about taking those common messages of peace and harmony and implementing them in a practical way,” he said.

Maha Abdo, the chief executive the Muslim Women’s Association, said the debate around Islam in the past weeks, including last week’s ban on people with facial coverings sitting in federal parliament’s open public gallery, had made Muslims “fearful and anxious”.

But she was heartened by the backlash to the burqa decision, including prime minister Tony Abbott’s request to parliament’s presiding officers to reconsider the ruling.

“At first we were all in a state of shock, but at the end of that day, the announcement [that Abbott wanted to ruling reversed] gave back hope that our leadership is listening, that our voice is being heard,” she said.

“You could see and hear the positive messages, people saying, ‘It’s not OK, people should have the choice to wear any attire they choose.’ It really brought out the best of Australians that day.”

The status of the decision to segregate burqa-clad women in parliament, made by the Speaker, Bronwyn Bishop, and the Senate president, Stephen Parry, remains unclear as Bishop is currently travelling. It is expected to be clarified by the time parliament resumes in two weeks.

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