Couresty of the Province Express
The annual Victorian Christian Life Community (CLC) Big Day Out this year was devoted to interfaith dialogue. Fr Andy Hamilton SJ and Shaykh Mohammad Ramzan (pictured) explored the place of mercy in their traditions and the way it is embodied in their respective religious practices.
CLC is a lay association of people who take their inspiration from St Ignatius Loyola. This year's Big Day Out was held on Saturday 14 May at the Wesley Centre in Geelong, Vic., where Shaykh Mohammad is Imam of a mosque*.
He was born in Pakistan, studied the Koran and other Islamic sacred texts, and worked in Manchester for many years before coming to Geelong. To help support his family he also runs a local café, which generously provided a splendid lunch after the conversation.
About 40 people, including Muslims and Christians, took part in the event. The conversation between Shaykh Mohammad and Fr Hamilton was exploratory, allowing people to enter better the way in which the belief of each religion was expressed in the lives of believers.
Shaykh Mohammad opened the day with prayer from the Koran, told stories from the life of Mohammad to illustrate his emphasis on God's mercy, and explained the importance of daily prayer and the observance of Ramadan in the life of Muslims.
Fr Hamilton showed how mercy is central within the Christian Gospel and the more fragmented ways in which it is embodied in current Catholic practice.
The exchange was followed by a question session and reflection in small groups on what people had found most striking in the conversation. The usual CLC practice of a period of silent reflection on the meeting and offering everyone the opportunity to crystallise in a word or two how they had experienced it followed.
Fr Hamilton concluded the meeting with a prayer, before all moved to lunch and further conversation.
The participants were agreed that the conversation opened more questions than it answered, and that to enter into conversation again with people who take so seriously a form of faith different from their own would be a great way to spend a day.
*Sadly, the mosque of which Shaykh Mohammad was imam burned down this week in a suspected arson attack. He, his wife and three children were sleeping in an adjacent home and escaped unharmed.