Young Indonesian Muslims Visit St Patrick's Cathedral (25 March, 2011)

By David Schutz

LtoR: Muzakkir, David, Fahd, and Achmad

It was a joy, as ever, to be able to host the first group of 2011 participants in the "Australia-Indonesia Muslim Leaders Exchange" at the Cardinal Knox Centre and St Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne on Friday 25th March.

The Ecumenical and Interfaith Commission has always been happy to cooperate with the Islamic Council of Victoria in meeting with participants in the program. Over the years, we have met many inspiring and enthusiastic young Muslim leaders from Indonesia. This has enabled us to learn about aspects of Islam in Indonesia that are rarely reported in the media.

The Program explains its nature and aims as follows:2

The Australia-Indonesia Muslim Leaders Exchange Programme is an initiative of the Commonwealth Government through the Australia-Indonesia Institute, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, managed by the Islamic Council of Victoria and the University of Melbourne. The Exchange brings young leaders who are actively engaged in their communities in Indonesia and Australia to visit the other country to meet faith organisations, educational institutions, government, and media representatives, and to experience the life and culture of the host nation. The Exchange aims to promote people-to-people relations between Muslim and broader communities of Australia and Indonesia, promote interfaith relations in Indonesia and Australia, enhance bilateral relations between Australia and Indonesia, and encourage friendships and understanding between the two nations.

The participants this time were

  • Mr Achmad Ubaidillah (Bogor, West Java, Director, Centre for Pesantren Studies, Member, Nahdlatul Ulama Syuriah Council, Bogor)
  • Mr Fahd Pahdepie (Jakarta, Researcher, The Indonesian Institute of Sciences, Writer and speaker)
  • Mr Muzakkir (Balikpapan, East Kalimantan, Director of Education, Hidayatullah, High School Teacher)

They were accompanied by local Christine Rafferty-Brown. Christine's son-in-law, Rowan Gould, is the program coordinator at the Asia Institute.

In our discussion we talked togther about Catholic-Muslim and wider interfaith activity in both Australia and Indonesia, and about the Catholic Church in Australia. We provided the visitors with copies of the Melbourne Archdiocesan statement "Promoting Interfaith Relations", and discussed the four methods of dialogue: Dialogue of Life, Dialogue of Action, Dialogue of Theological Exchange, and Dialogue of Religious Experience. In relation to the "Dialogue of Action", the Indonesians told us about the many charitable works that are done locally and nationally in Indonesia on an inter-religious basis. In that regard, they certainly are more advanced that we are here in Australia. We also spoke of the importance of a "Dialogue of Religious Experience", especially as it is carried out by the Jewish Christian Muslim Association here in Victoria.

Each time a group of Indonesians visit us as a part of this program, we give them a guided tour of St Patrick's Cathedral. Here they had a chance but opportune meeting with the Dean of the Cathedral, who spoke to them about the significance of the building. As they were being shown around the wonderful neo-Gothic creation of the 19th Century architect Wardell, Fahd commented on the peacefulness of the space and how being in it "made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end". It reminded me that familiarity with this special place of worship does sometimes dull the impact that it has on the first time visitor. I remarked that I had the same experience at times when I was travelling in Turkey and visiting the beautiful centuries old mosques there.

The visitors are in Australia for two weeks. The Islamic Council of Victoria has set up many opportunities for them while in Melbourne to meet other local leaders and organisations, and they have greatly enjoyed their time here. They are now heading for Canberra and then on to Sydney. Unfortunately, they will be flying to both destinations, and will not get an opportunity to see any of this "land of sweeping plains". We wish them well, pray that their visit gives them the opportunity to learn much and to share much with us, and look forward to the next group later in the year.

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