A question of faith

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The Hindu community participates for the first time in an annual USyd event, writes ASTHA SINGH


The Hindu community participated for the first time in the University of Sydney Union’s fourth annual Interfaith week this year.

Hundreds of students from various communities participated in the 3-day event organised from 26-28th March 2014.  Students visited faith-based stalls, engaged with panel discussions or just chilled out in the Zen garden.

Two stand-out speakers on behalf of the Hindu community elucidated the major tenets of the religion for the benefit of the wider student community.

Balesh Dhankhar from the Hindu Council of Australia contrasted the concepts of ‘tolerance’ and ‘acceptance’. Through the centuries, Dhankhar noted, Hindus have adopted a culture of acceptance; they have given refuge to different religious communities like Zoroastrians, Jews, Christians and Shias. All these communities today enjoy   equality and peaceful co­existence within India. Vasudhaiva kutumbakam is a basic principle in Hinduism: it means, “The world is one family”. The concept of ‘tolerance’, on the other hand, is rather shallow and only provides a synthetic illusion of peace, Dhankar observed.

Jewish Rabbi El Feldman was in full agreement with Dhankhar, pointing out that Jews have lived safely in India for centuries.

Questions were raised however by an Islamic female student on Hindu Muslim riots in India mainly directed towards Dhankkar. He replied by explicating the facts relating to community violence and riots: they are driven by motives other than religion itself.

Leah Briers, also representing the Hindu Council of Australia began her presentation by reciting one of Hinduism’s oft-repeated prayers Asato ma sadgamay and translating it for the audience. It is knowledge (enlightenment) alone that can transform our lives for the better. Briers observed that knowledge (of the self) can be attained by cultivating qualities of mediation, becoming free of ego and self-identification. She ended her talk by citing the example of Vivekananda who pursued the inner beauty of the soul with mediation and learning from the holy book of the Hindus, the Bhagvad Gita.

The presentation by Shaykh Wasim Cherkawi of the Islamic faith was also well-attended. He began by reciting the very first words of Quran, which talk about the importance of reading and writing. The knowledge of god helps man understand his place in the world, said Cherkawi.

Dr Yassir Morsi also of the Muslim faith spoke about the 7/11 incident and how it has affected the youth of his community, particularly as they have become a subject of doubt in everyone else’s minds.

Dr Rowan Kemp representing the Christian faith noted that Jesus followed the fundamental of healing, delivering, forgiving and raising which serves as the basis of free life and giving yourself in humility to love and serve one another. We should all be a good steward of God’s creations and that salvation is not being free from the world but being free in the world said Dr Kemp.

Others who spoke included Mona Forghani and Safa Rehbar from the Baha’i community.

Sexologist Patricia Weerakoon’s talk on sex in and out of religion, the discussion on spirituality and sex with the University Evangelical Union and Dr Rowen Kemp, and the discussions on faith-based leadership, were other highlights.

On the sidelines, the Laughter Yoga session, the Sikh Society food stall and the Indian hour at Hermann’s Bar with Indian modern and traditional dances and henna art, went down just as well.

Arpita Singh, one of the attendees, said at the conclusion, “It was interesting to get differing perspectives on the universal issues of freedom, racism, inter-ethnic relationships etc. I’m sure it will go a long way in inculcating a sense of respect for others within the student community”.

Organisers Anisha Thomas and Sonia Diab agreed, and stressed the need for more students to come forth and help take the community and traditions forward.


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