Faiths unite at Iftar Dinner

Representatives from the Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Ba’Hai communities gathering at Cathedral House for the 2023 Iftar Dinner. Photo: Giovanni Portelli.

Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP has told a dinner held to mark the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, that all the great spiritual traditions should unite in celebrating the beauty of fasting as a way of purifying body and soul and strengthening our relationship with God.

The Archbishop was speaking at the 13th annual Iftar Dinner at Cathedral House, which brought together representatives from the Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Ba’Hai communities alongside Christian churches on 29 March.

Established by Cardinal George Pell, the dinner honours the Muslim community as members of one of the great Abrahamic faiths and invites representatives from other faiths to join with them in an evening of feasting and friendship, hosted by the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, on one of the most significant occasions for Muslims.

Grand Mufti, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed speaking with Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP at the 2023 Iftar Dinner at Cathedral House. Photo: Giovanni Portelli.

Archbishop Fisher told the 100 guests at the dinner, fasting is a central part of the three Abrahamic faiths of Christianity, Islam and Judaism and all traditions recognise that is a practice that can draw us closer to God.

“As I understand it, for Muslims fasting is God’s law and so an expression of surrender to God’s will”, he explained.

“In hunger we realise how weak we are, how dependent upon others, but especially upon God, as created beings. The distance between us creatures and the Creator God is infinite, yet we come close to God by such spiritual practices”.

“If fasting helps right relationship with God, it also affects our relationships with others. We come to appreciate that all human beings are needy as we are. This helps address our egotism and hopefully inclines us to assist others by prayer and alms”.

The National Director of Together for Humanity, Rabbi Zalman Kastel and the Parish Priest of St Aloysius Gonzaga, Cronulla, Fr James McCarthy, at the 2023 Iftar Dinner. Photo: Giovanni Portelli.

Many of the guests at the Iftar Dinner remarked on how the Archbishop’s message on the spiritual benefits of fasting resonated with them in their own faith tradition as well.

Dr Shafiq Khan is Founder and Managing Director of Al Faisal Colleges and has been attending the Iftar dinners every year since they began at Cathedral House.

He believes the dinners have made an extraordinary contribution for well over a decade towards enhancing respect, dialogue and mutual understanding between Sydney’s Muslim community and other faiths.

“The dinner really helps to bring the different faith communities together around a shared meal and is a great tribute to the leadership of Cardinal Pell, Archbishop Fisher and the Archdiocese of Sydney’s Commission for Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations, led by Sr Giovanni Farquer”, Dr Khan told The Catholic Weekly.

Auxiliary Bishop Richard Umbers with Jewish and Orthodox community leaders at the 2023 Iftar Dinner. Photo: Giovanni Portelli.

Like Dr Khan, Mr Jeremy Jones from the Australian-Israeli Jewish Affairs Council has attended every Iftar dinner at Cathedral House since the tradition began and he believes it is a powerful reflection of the depth of interfaith friendship in contemporary Australia.

“Thirty years ago, if you had brought anyone into that room at Cathedral House for a dinner like this, they would have thought they had walked into another planet”, Mr Jones said.

“It simply didn’t exist to see an Archbishop hosting a dinner like this in a spirit of genuine friendship- let alone brotherhood and sisterhood with Sunni and Shite Muslims, Jews from different traditions, Buddhists and the Baha’i. It really exemplifies the genuine friendship that people of faith have been able to forge in multicultural Australia”.

A long-time supporter of the Iftar Dinner and former NSW Community Relations Commissioner, Mr Stepan Kerkyasharian believes the event benefits everyone of faith, not simply those who attend the event.

“It sends a strong message to the followers of all the faiths that their leaders are united in harmony and that religion is not a barrier and is not an excuse for division, but they can co-exit and can live in harmony, they  can sit down together, break-bread and talk over dinner together as friends and as fellow Australians”.