The ICV hosted its first Eid Breakfast on Monday 19th September 2016 with Keynote Speaker Fr Rod Bower, from the Gosford Anglican Church. Fr Bower is internationally recognised for his interfaith dialogue. Guests also heard speeches from ICV President Bayram Aktepe, ICV Imam Sheikh Abdinur Weli and MC’ed by Br Junaid Cheema.
Honoured Guests, sisters and brothers, fellow descendants of Ibrahim.
I acknowledge the privilege of standing in the land of the Wurundjeri. I honour Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other Indigenous Australians present.
For 50000 years prior to European settlement the people of this place enjoyed a human culture of incredible diversity with an amazing variety of languages, cultural traditions, foundational myths, stories and music.
For 50000 years there has been an Australian way of life typified by sustainable ecological, social, religious and cultural diversity. Sadly the darkest moments in our recent story have been when this natural diversity has been suppressed, denied or subjugated, becoming a place where the ongoing dreaming turned into a traumatic and tragic nightmare, one from which far too many still struggle to awake.
Today we the descendants of Abraham also gather to celebrate and acknowledge part of our dreaming, in particular for the Muslim Community, the feast of Eid al-Adha, remembering not only the faith of Ibrahim, even to the point of sacrificing his own son Ishmael, but the greater faithfulness of Allah in providing another way forward.
I have neither the scholarship nor the intention to speak further to that story from an Islamic perspective, as there are others present who are far more able in that area than I, and who, I trust, may privately and graciously correct any heresy I have inadvertently stumble into.
But rather I wish to address this story, with your indulgence, from the perspective of my own tradition and seek to apply its wisdom and lessons to the life we share in our nation today, with particular focus on our treatment of the children of Asylum Seekers.
In my tradition this story emerges from the time of the dawning of recorded history where archetypal figures are given names and their lives contain not only deep religious but also sociological meaning. Many who wish to oppose even the idea of the Abrahamic God use this story to accentuate the barbarity of a deity who would require such a sacrifice.
Indeed if such an idea were being considered over a latte in Little Collins Street it could only be considered as barbaric and criminally insane. But this is a story that emerges within a culture and society where child sacrifice was considered as not only the norm, not only acceptable but also at times required to maintain relationship with the gods.
A reading of this crucial passage in the Hebrew Scriptures (Genesis 22:1-18) contains the idea that the God at the beginning of the passage who demands the sacrifice from Abraham is a different God from the one at the end who stops it. Elohim is the name used for God demanding the sacrifice. Yahweh is the name given to God as Abraham is commanded to stay his hand from the slaughter.
Some scholars would say Abraham begins hearing the common tribal gods of ancient polytheism who demand human sacrifices. On the mount however, he begins to hear and envision the one true God who wants us to stop that inhumane practice. So this story represents not only a shift in human consciousness but more importantly in the human consciousness of the nature of the Divine.
God, of course has not changed, but our understanding of God clearly has.
So this must prompt the question: If four thousand years ago we have a record of a monumental shift in human consciousness and practice. We have evidence that society has evolved in extraordinary ways, so how can it be that part of that evolution has been to create ever more complex and subtle ways in which to sacrifice our children.
In the modern world we sacrifice our innocents on the altars of our unrealistic and unhealthy perceptions of success. They are offered to the gods of our ideologies, be it the suffocation of the conservatives or the abandonment of progressives. In the West our sons and daughters continue to be sacrificed fighting for the control of oil.
In the Arab world, what originally began as a just fight for the protection of a homeland has now in some places, with the emergence of Daesh, metastasised into an evil corruption of one of the worlds great religions.
In an equally distressing manner we, the descendants of Abraham, living in Australia today, continue to willingly, knowingly and intentionally sacrifice the children of others on the altar of our own political expediency.
Last Tuesday Save the Children Fund in partnership with the UNICEF released a report, another in a long line of reports condemning our treatment of children in immigration detention.
The report entitled At What Cost? details the human, economic and strategic costs of our current Immigration Policy and suggests an alternative policy framework.
This report explores the ways in which children who have found themselves within the net of Australia’s domestic and offshore processing systems face a wide range of harms, risks and deprivations including the trauma of mandatory and indefinite detention, the hopelessness and anxiety of a life-in limbo and many other serious and well-documented harms. By examining the particular experiences of children and families transferred to Nauru, this report reveals that the rights and wellbeing of people transferred to Nauru are being sacrificed to the goal of deterrence. They are subjected to the consequences of an incomplete policy, which has up until now failed to identify permanent solutions for those sent there for refugee ‘processing’. (At What Cost)
It must be recognised the current immigration policy has nothing to do with the needs of refugees and every thing to do with the requirements of domestic politics. These policies are a sacrificial altar constructed on the pillars of a manufactured and manipulated paranoia in the Australian psyche, a deep seeded culture of xenophobia that has evolved within the Department of Immigration and Border protection itself and a Government now devoid of even the slightest remnant of moral leadership.
The incoherent ramblings, half-truths and outright lies that were the newly elected One Nation Senators excuse for an inaugural speech only served to aid the creation of an environment in which Muslim children are increasingly at risk of the bullying and marginalization that makes them vulnerable to radicalization. Pauline Hanson represents a form of radicalized Christianity that is willing to sacrifice Muslim children on the altar of her own political ambitions. Lest you feel particularly singled out by this ideology it may help to recognize that Senator Hanson is also willing to sacrifice the wellbeing of the children of Asylum Seekers through the support of their incarceration or refoulement into war zones.
Hanson also sacrifices indigenous children, the poor, marginalized and unemployed as scapegoats for the perceived ills of our society.
If her claim that she is only saying what the Australian people are thinking, then The Australian people have sadly missed over 4000 years of human social evolution.
However I do not believe this to be true. I believe that deep in the Australian soul there lies a decency that has, in recent times, been suppressed by an irrational fear encouraged by a small number of unscrupulous people.
Several weeks ago our Sunday morning in Gosford was invaded by a group of right wing extremists, while this stunt was of very little real consequence it was reported by all major news agencies around the world. Two weeks later the Grand Mufti of Australia Dr Ibrihim Abu Mohamed preached a sermon at the Sunday morning mass in Gosford, an event I would suggest of great social importance and cultural significance and defiantly in the public interest. This rated only a fleeting mention in the local paper.
If only the media would be our partners in building a just, harmonious and diverse society. Sadly this does not seem a realistic expectation in the current economic climate for the media.
So we must do this work ourselves. In a world increasing disinterested in rational argument and factual discourse actions really do speak louder than words.
So every time One Nation vilifies the Muslim community we must not only speak up but we must act up. By publically and intentionally with sustained motivation we will reach out to each other recognizing each other’s human right and dignity. Every time a politician like George Christenson seeks to bolster his political capital with prejudicial remarks against the worlds most vulnerable we must answer him with acts of compassion towards each other.
Every time a right wing extremist group seeks to disrupt spiritual practice we will come together and pray all the more earnestly.
There are those who do not want to hear, there are those who do not want to see but we will tell them and we will show them until they cannot deny that we have a multi-cultural, multi-faith future together as a people of diversity and hope. We have confidence in the future, because we have a deep and abiding foundation in our past. We, the descendants and inheritors of the Abrahamic traditions know that not only does The Merciful, The Compassionate not want us to sacrifice our children but that they have been given to us as a precious gift and abundant blessing to lead us into the future.
A future in this land that we hope and believe will sing in harmony with the 50000 years of its history of sustainable diversity.
© Fr Rod Bower, Gosford Anglican Church. Images © Islamic Centre of Victoria