Woodford Folk Festival Strikes a Chord at Forum on Islam
A personal reflection and synopsis on the proceedings by David Forde
(L to R) Ahmad Ghazalah, Rasheeda Joseph, Halim Rane, Yasmin Khan and George Negus
My wife and I ventured to the Woodford Folk Festival (over an hours drive north of Brisbane) to sample the activities on offer on the Saturday and Sunday (New Years Eve) of this week long event.
While we did have some previous pre-arranged engagements to see to (including securing George Negus for a Multicultural dinner in aid of the Kuraby Special School on 31 March – more details on that to follow), one of the events I wanted to take in was the forum on “The World of Islam”.
The forum's panel consisted of Halim Rane, Rasheeda Joseph, Sheikh Ahmad Abu Ghazaleh, Yasmin Khan and facilitated by the highly respected raconteur, SBS TV journalist George Negus.
So while my wife went off to learn the niceties of “belly dancing” I headed for the more intellectually stimulating Forum instead. As a non-Muslim I would consider myself to have a reasonably good understanding of Islam and the local Muslim community. So I was a little more than curious to find out how well the forum would be received, and how many people would actually forsake a workshop on Bollywood dancing for a panel discussion instead.
To say that I was a little more than surprised at the size of the crowd, which was in excess of 1500, would be a gross understatement!
George Negus kicked off proceedings by informing the audience that he had lived in and out of a number of “Muslim countries” over the past 25 years. After a brief introduction of the panel members and a reminder that this was not an academic forum, Negus put a series of questions to the panel members.
Yasmin Khan was the first cab off the rank and was asked her reaction to the death of Saddam Hussein. Besides admitting to a tear in her eye and the fact he had carried out some terrible crimes against his people, the word hypocrisy drew applause from the audience.
Halim Rane was next to explain about the five pillars of Islam followed by Rasheeda Joseph who addressed the media abuse of the word Jihad.
George Negus then put several questions to the man I call 'the voice'. Sheikh Ghazalah followed the recitation of the first verse of the Koran with a stirring translation. He then went on to describe what it takes to become a Muslim and fielded the question on suicide bombers in relation to the Palestine/Israel conflict. Sheikh Ghazalah's response was that this was not a prescriptive religious act despite the claims of those involved that they were acting in the name of the religion (which reminded myself of those in my home country of Ireland who claimed to be acting in the name of Catholic or Protestant interests when carrying out acts of violence). It was, he added, an act born out of the desperation arising from the social, economic and political realities of the current conflict. Sheikh Ghazalah then concluded with the statement: “We are all brothers and sisters in humanity before religion”, a point, in my humble opinion, so often ignored these days..
The audience, which had remained attentive and captivated throughout, was then asked to ask questions of the panel. Some of the questions included, what was the purpose of the Hijab? It was explained that modesty in dress was also a requirement of men and some women did indeed choose not to wear one.
Was Saddam a good Muslim? Sheikh Ghazalah responded that it was not his position to make moral judgment on any individual no matter what sin he (or she) had committed. George Negus added (half joking) that anyone who had the misfortune of ever being cast into the Islamic version on hell would face a faith far worst than they could ever imagine or experience here on earth.
I am not sure what television station an audience member watched when he asked; “Mecca looks a like a blast, a big party and can anyone go?” George Negus suggested that having to walk seven times around “a black rock” was not, in most people's book, either a blast or a party. Halim cleared any misconceptions stating that it was a religious pilgrimage that was conducted seriously and with great dignity.
There were several other questions raised including media representation of Muslims and how accurate these reports were. The media, responded the panel, was inclined to show exactly what they wanted their audience to see and they thrived on the negative to generate controversy and boost sales and audience numbers. A young lady, who introduced herself as working closely with young Muslims in Sydney, asked a question concerning Muslim youth unemployment, a question that could have received more attention.
The question of Jesus was raised in relation to Islam and Sheikh Ghazalah answered that Jesus was also a prophet in Islam, an answer that to many of those of Christian faith in attendance would have been somewhat of a revelation in itself but also serving to demonstrate that those of the Abrahamic faiths had more in common than most would have realized.
A women’s place in Islam was also raised. It was pointed out that Muslim women were not obliged to do any housework or cooking etc at all. Islam places no obligation on them in this respect. In fact, a Muslim woman is allowed to demand a 'salary' from her husband for performing such duties. (I was glad my wife wasn’t around when this was being mentioned! Thank God for those belly dancing lessons). The comment of one panel member that there are some Muslim men who still believed a woman’s place was in the kitchen left the fact that men in all religions and cultures also hold such beliefs as a significant point that seemed to go begging.
Sandy McCutcheon, the well known ABC Radio National presenter was invited onto stage. As one who lived one half of the year in Morocco, McCutcheon described his experiences as a non-Muslim living in a Muslim country. He was always treated with the utmost respect there and had made many Moroccan friends and shared many a fine meal with local Muslim families.
While one of the panel members expressed a view that some (Muslim) migrants were hijacking Islam in Australia, George Negus commented that there were approximate 1.5 billion Muslims world-wide and that the religion was here to stay and that (some) people needed to get used to the idea!
When the forum concluded I made the following observations:
The fact that it ran almost 15 minutes overtime at an event that imposes strict time schedules speaks for itself.
George Negus was an excellent facilitator and managed to keep some humour going throughout.
Overall the panel conducted themselves in a very professional manner and the audience seemed to have warmed to their reasoned arguments and explanations.
In brief conversations at the end of the forum with some members of the audience I learned that several of them had had little or no interaction with the Muslim community prior to this event.
While I have no doubt that most Woodford attendees would have already arrived with a propensity for acceptance of other peoples' ideas and beliefs, I was left in little doubt that the forum generated an increased sense of goodwill and awareness of Muslims and Islam in general and an appreciation of what is meant to be a Muslim. It was more to the pity that there was no coverage of the event from the mainstream media (other than CCN, of course!).
Packed to the rafters
Disclaimer: These are just my personal observations in my role as guest “reporter” at the behest of the Editor – and you will be glad to know, I won’t be giving up my day job!
Eid-ul-Adha in Brisbane
Qari Mahbub-ul Haq delivers the Khutbah (sermon) on the playing fields of the Australian International Islamic College in Durack to a congregation of around 2000 men women and children
A Brahmin Who Sent a Muslim for Haj
ARAFAT, 30 December 2006 — The truth is indeed stranger than fiction. You hear this cliché and it remains a cliché till you run into a story that indeed gives you a pleasant jolt.
Mahboob Hasan’s true story may seem to be an exception for those unfamiliar with the inter-faith traditions of India. To others who are acutely aware of the horrific communal riots of Gujarat in western India, in which Muslims were burned alive by Hindus, it will certainly come as a surprise.
Hasan from Aurangabad in India’s Maharashtra state is one of the millions of pilgrims standing shoulder-to-shoulder as Muslims here on the plains of Arafat where Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) delivered his last sermon. The standing of the pilgrims in Arafat is the climax of Haj.
Hasan was able to stand here yesterday thanks to the sponsorship of a caring family back home — a family of Brahmins.
Hasan’s relationship with the Jagtap family began in the 1960s when he held a lowly position at Maharashtra government’s Department of Cooperatives. His boss was Harishchandra Jagtap. Eventually the Jagtaps had a son by the name of Surendra and they offered Hasan a job as a nanny. It was Hasan who would take Surendra to the only English school in the city. In his late 30s, Surendra now works as an engineer in Dubai.
The Jagtaps never forgot Hasan’s loyalty after he retired. Mrs. Jagtap decided to send Hasan to Haj at her expense. She explained her decision to her son and reminded him of what Hasan did for him when he was a school-going boy. Surendra said he would bear all the expenses of Hasan’s pilgrimage, but Mrs. Jagtap insisted she will pay and in the end she had her way.
“Hearing such a story is heartening,” said one journalist covering the Haj. “There are some in our society who disapprove of Muslims associating with non-Muslims in any way. In reality, we live in a global community and if the intention of one human being to another is good, then we should thank God for such a blessing.”
It is normal for many Indians to spend their life’s savings to perform Haj, but Hasan, who was never highly paid and had barely the savings to support himself after retirement, decided at some point he simply would have to forgo his pilgrimage.
However, thanks to Mrs. Jagtap’s gesture, Hasan was able to perform Haj without spending money that he would need for his waning days.
“How can I forget their token of affection,” he was quoted as saying to his friends yesterday.
“They are very nice people. Mr. Jagtap was a very nice man. He died years ago. He shared my happiness and my pain in those difficult days. They treated me as one of their own. They are my extended family and I am part of their extended family.”
Ten days before Hasan departed for Haj, Mrs. Jagtap died. One of the Hindu woman’s last gestures was giving Hasan 300,000 rupees (about SR26,000) to pay for the trip of his lifetime.
Hasan says the Jagtap family is in his prayers here in Arafat.
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Oprah's Leadership Academy in RSA
Oh, the joy: Mishkah Kaariem, Bilqees Jardine, Waniq Botha and Zaida Lawrence have been accepted into the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy
Former state president Nelson Mandela congratulated talk show host Oprah Winfrey on being a benefactor of the disadvantaged around the world at the opening of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy in Gauteng.
The state of the art $US40-million facility was officially opened on 2 January with Winfrey hoisting the school flag along with grade 8 and 9 pupils handpicked by the "queen of talk."
"This school will provide opportunities to some of our young people they could never imagine, had it not been for Oprah. The key to any country's future is in educating its youth.
"Oprah is therefore not only investing in a few young individuals but in the future of our country. We are indebted to her for her selfless efforts," said Mandela.
The school offers a private and residential learning environment for girls from grade seven to grade 12
When Winfrey officially accepted the first 75 girls for the academy in August, she said she had even dreamt of the colour of the bricks for the building.
The academy is every inch Winfrey - every tile, door handle, towel, bedsheet, spoon and chair is her choice.
The campus, which sits on 22 hectares, has 28 buildings comprising state-of-the-art classrooms, computer and science laboratories, a library, a theatre, a gymnasium, a wellness centre, modern dormitory facilities and a dining hall.
A total of 152 Grade 7 and 8 girls from all nine provinces will be the first to study at the school.
The girls, aged between 11 and 13, are from poor backgrounds and were chosen on their intelligence and leadership qualities.
Winfrey's aim is for the school to teach the girls to become the new generation of leaders.
This would be done by implementing a dynamic and innovative curriculum designed to develop critical, questioning minds and prepare the girls for university study "in an inspired, open and tolerant learning environment".
The curriculum will include mathematics, natural science and technology; arts and culture; social, economic and management sciences; life orientation and leadership; and languages.
They will be taught this year by a minimum of 13 teachers, using innovative methods and state-of-the-art technology.
Joan Countryman, retired head of Lincoln School for Girls in Providence, Rhode Island, US, has been appointed interim head of the academy.
The Promotional Issue of the Islamic Lifestyle Magazine (64pg glossy magazine) is available for sale at half the price from Leila on 0422 914 629 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost is $5 each (RRP $10), postage extra if you would like it sent direct to your address.
It would also be a great idea to purchase extra copies to give to non-Muslim friends and family or to leave in medical centres, university hubs, waiting rooms and the like.
If you know of anyone who might benefit from these programs please pass on this information to them.
It's NOT just about losing weight!
Regular exercise is as important to a healthy heart as quitting smoking, lowering blood cholesterol and controlling blood pressure. What kind of exercise you do, isn’t as important as doing something several times a week, week after week, month after month and year after year.
Researchers in the UK have found that three brief sessions of aerobic exercise per week significantly reduced tension, anger and fatigue in women. This is one more study to suggest that exercise is the best and fastest way to beat depression.
A Japanese study recently found that women who jogged just 30 minutes a day, 2-3 times per week for 12 weeks, scored significantly higher on intellectual tests than non-joggers. When the running stopped the scores began to fall.
Do you want to put your spare time toward a rewarding cause? IFA Youth is looking to get young, old and all those in between involved in the Mater Volunteer Program, who are constantly recruiting volunteers, whether you are interested in brightening up the day of the sick or elderly or are more inclined to administrative or clerical work, the program caters for all. It is not demanding and requires approximately 4 hours a week. The following are the main requirements:
Attend an interview
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If you are interesting in lending a helping hand, the next information session will be held on 15th February 2007, from 1.30 -2.30pm. Please RSVP to IFA youth ASAP:
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