Earlier this week I had the privilege of chairing a lecture by visiting Muslim scholar and imam, Abduljalil Sajid. He was speaking at an Initiatives of Change gathering hosted by Elanora Uniting Church.
Imam Sajid’s topic for the evening was “Being a Muslim in the West”. The local audience, mostly Christian, were interested to explore ways in which the Gold Coast could grow as a multi-faith multi-cultural multi-ethnic community.
The Gold Coast community was reeling from coverage of an ‘honour killing’ in which a Muslim man killed his wife when he disccovered his daughter planned to convert to Christianity. Local media had suggested that this murder had been an expression of Muslim culture. Fortunately Imam Hussein, the local Muslim leader, had been featured in the Gold Coast Bulletin explaining that this case was more about personal fear and pride. Imam Sajid over dinner and during his lecture distinguished between local customs and culture and the mandate set out in the Qur’an.
Imam Sajid gave us a summary of the origins of Islam, helping us understand the phases of Muhammad’s life and teaching. We heard about Imam growing up in Pakistan, learning to study the Qur’an, learning English, Bengali, and moving to the United Kingdom for PhD studies.
The story that stays with me is the impact of hospitality on Imam Sajid’s life and work. Staying in a London hostel Imam was forming a poor impression of life in the UK. Coming from a large gregarious family he was used to lively conversation. But in his first year in London he only encountered people intent on maintaining privacy, whether that be in the hostel, on public transport or in lectures. It wasn’t until he responded to an invitation for a Christmas home stay that he discovered a family that lived out values of dialogue, service and hospitality. The family turned out to be that of a Christian minister.
It was in his interaction with this family that Imam discovered in himself a passion for living a life of passionate faith, more than the loyal submission he’d been living up to that point. From that point he set up Islamic societies and became involved in interfaith projects that helped form a warmer environment for migrants.
The story wouldn’t have sat well with those who’d like the story to end with conversion to Christianity. But it’s a lot more desirable than inter-faith interactions that end in hostility, misunderstanding and resentment.
I came away from the gathering encouraged to keep on taking initiative in building relationships with people in my own community, despite my own fears of rejection or feelings of discomfort.
Pictured here are Lesley Bryant (local organiser), Glennis Johnston (Uniting Church minister in Elanora), Daphne McDonald (Gold Coast City Councillor), Imam Abduljalil Sajid and myself.
Imam Sajid can be heard speaking on the ABC Sunday Night Second Hour program – including MP3.