Deakin University recently hosted an Iftar dinner in partnership with the Australian Intercultural Society (AIS) as a cultural exchange event during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The event was attended by staff and members from a range of communities that represent the diversity of Australian society today.
Alongside senior Deakin staff, present were eminent members from the AIS, including Executive Director Mr Ahmet Keskin, Victorian Multicultural Commission Chairperson Ms Helen Kapalos, Islamic Society of Deakin University President Mr Zaheen A. Kareemy, and other distinguished guests.
During Ramadan, many Muslims will fast throughout the day, and Iftar is the meal eaten upon the breaking of that daily fast. Fasting during Ramadan is intended to teach self-restraint, which is viewed as a virtue by many Muslims. In keeping with the tradition of Iftar, the dinner at Deakin began with dates, a tradition that goes back to the time of Prophet Muhammad. Interspersed between the breaking of fast, main meal and desserts, were recitations from the Qur’an and addresses by speakers.
Prof. Fethi Mansouri, director of the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, opened the proceedings with the traditional greeting, Assalam-u-Alaikum, or ‘Peace be on you’. Prof. Mansouri spoke about the notion of forgiveness and charity, emphasised in the Qur’an as the opportunity to uphold the spirit of peace and connect with God.
Addressing the participants, Deakin University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Jane den Hollander noted that the annual dinner provides ‘the wonderful opportunity to share space with Muslims and people from other faiths and cultures, in this spirit of peace, tolerance and mutual respect. This allows is to uphold our traditions of hospitality and have conversations about things that matter in our world today such as social cohesion, justice, and the Islamic values of generosity.’
‘At Deakin University we value the richness of our diversity and the contributions that people from different cultures and faiths make in shaping out working and learning environment,’ Prof Hollander added.
The keynote address was delivered by Ms Helen Kapalos, accomplished Australian journalist and media personality, and Chairperson of Victorian Multicultural Commissions. A proud Greek Australian, Ms Kapalos said, ‘I am privileged to be here tonight at Deakin University, an institution that is leading the light on what a truly inclusive society looks like.’ Speaking about the strength of collective practices, Ms Kapalos said, ‘They show importance of anchoring ourselves in rituals, passing on our wisdom, and re-affirm our place in the world. It is a time to reflect on what we have. And ritual fasting, as marked by the holy month of Ramadan, makes us realise what it would be to go without.’
In his address, Mr Ahmet Keskin of AIS also emphasised the importance of rituals. ‘Old friendships are strengthened and new friendships are made,’ he said. ‘The Australian Intercultural Society of Victoria has been created to create social harmony, and the chance to provide service to others, which is the rent we ought to pay for being on the earth,’ he added.
President of the Islamic Society of Deakin University, Mr Zaheen A Kareemy said, ‘It is an honour to speak to you all tonight, a great platform to strengthen bonds between Muslim students and the community.’ Mr Kareemy, also acknowledged the facilities provided by Deakin to students from all cultures enabling them to practise their faiths freely.
Prof Mansouri, in his closing remarks thanked the Equity and Diversity Unit of Deakin and the University leaders for fostering social inclusion by initiating and institutionalising this key moment of intercultural understanding.
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