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Defusing Intolerance
16 May 2007


Well, we did it. Yesterday we completed the two-day 'Discover the Other' workshop for the entire Year 9 students at the Australian International Academy – Australia's oldest Muslim school. In the final session we invited the students to reflect on what they had learned and what would be different as a result of the workshop. It was moving to hear that so much had gone in, and there was an excitement about addressing various relationships, listening, not judging, supporting each other and being ready to forgive. There were also many who wanted to be proactive about building better understanding between faith communities – for example inviting Jewish kids to the school or trying to give a better understanding of Islam to the wider community.

Something that struck me during one of the exercises was to realize that, without exception, all the kids' families had suffered taunts or worse for being Muslim. It was mainly directed at the women who are the most visibly Muslim because of wearing the hijab. It must take a lot of courage to publicly identify yourself as Muslim and I can fully understand why most of the girls take the hijab off when they get out of school. Yet to anyone who gets to know them these are just ordinary Aussie kids with the same hopes, aspirations and struggles as any other kids.

Being attacked in this way inevitably produces a reaction. So when a significant number of the boys identified 'religion' as the thing they valued most, my impression was that this was more about questions of identity than about spiritual practice. Fortunately they are in a very good school which embodies the best of Islam, and in Melbourne we have good leaders in the Islamic community who preach compassion, forgiveness and understanding between cultures.

I wish that those who fear and hate Muslims and who feel that the 'war on terror' justifies their loutish attacks could understand that their behaviour is only making more likely the things they fear most – an aggressive and intolerant Muslim population. Intolerance breeds intolerance. Hatred breeds hatred. But conversely, tolerance breeds tolerance and respect breeds respect. This is why as Christians we are called upon to break the chain and 'turn the other cheek'. At the moment this is what I see Muslims doing and my heart is full of gratitude because of it.




COMMENTS

"God is love" this is what we have always learnt as Christians. If we want to live as Christians, the first rule is to love and forgive.
Practically speaking, the best way to live together in peace, is never to try to discuss the different religious issues but to make sure that unconditional love and forgiveness should prevail between us without taking into consideration the Other's religion or faith. I think religion is a very personal issue and one should choose on's own religion but never hate or illtreat the other because of his beliefs.
Hoda
hoda Amin, 20 May 2007


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