Today is the last day of Ramadan. As Jess and I rode our bikes from her home in West Heidelberg to the nearby organic food markets, we passed a family getting in their car, in religious dress. Jess wished them Eid Marabak, and the older son’s face lit up. Waves and smiles, and cheerful greetings followed, as we peddled on our way. That's interfaith dialogue, in my mind.
And I'm reminded of when I was in Yatta, a predominantly Muslim city, on Christmas night. We four internationals had been in Bethlehem for Christmas eve, and had just returned home. Our neighbour, Abed, turned up in his usual style, which was to knock loudly on the door while shouting out various names at the same time, and clad in a full-length fake-fur overcoat. I came to the door, and Abed marched into the lounge, announcing that he’d brought each of us a Christmas gift. There in his hand were 4 small wrist bands in Palestinian colours. He explained that he didn't really know what to give us on our religious festival, and hoped this was acceptable. I really appreciated the thought, and the act of interfaith generosity.
|Abed, on the balcony of his guesthouse|
My experience in this place where I was a religious minority, was of constant graciousness, generosity, hospitality and warmth. We were regularly invited into our neighbours’ homes, and fed bread, hummus and tea. Our cultural quirks and misdemeanours were graciously ignored, and attempts were made to understand our seemingly odd behaviour. And it's the same here in Australia. Visiting Lakemba the other night, shop-keepers were delighted to be able understand some of my broken Arabic, and share in the delight of delicious middle eastern food. I want to be able to give something of that generosity back to Muslims in Australia and elsewhere, who live as a religious minority, and/or whose difference is more often seen as a reason for suspicion and fear as opposed to an opportunity for connection or learning.
|Coffee in Lakemba|
So, whether it’s across the street in West Heidelberg in Victoria, over a cup of coffee in Lakemba in Sydney, between neighbours in Yatta, Ramallah, or Jerusalem or across the wires of the internet, the faith divide is only as wide as we wish it to be. I wish my Muslim brothers and sister Eid Marabak and hope for more opportunities for connection and understanding in the future.