Forget the UPF anti-Muslim banner stunt at the MCG. Australians are generally much more civilised than most in dealing with religious and cultural diversity. This afternoon in Toowoomba was a case in point. Our Toowoomba Garden City Mosque is in serious need of re-building, following the fire almost a year ago. What to do? Why not, said our local Muslim community, ask the neighbours round for a cup of tea to talk it through? - and not with the slick presentation and glossy leaflet plans some groups might effect. So it was that, as chair of the Toowoomba Goodwill Committee, I also joined a goodly gathering of people from the immediate vicinity of the mosque for a meet and greet and disperse any heat. After all, I am an ethnically English Australian, and what is more English than a cup of tea (especially when you can be the vicar popping round)?
This kind of holy humdrum action is typical of community life in Toowoomba and further afield. Sadly, such widespread generous connections rarely get the attention the hotheads do. It is certainly very much representative of Muslim-wider community relationships in our city here. In one sense, it is simply just another step in the journey. Yet every stage matters, not least when there may be concerns about new local construction and the footprint it may provide. In this case, the plan is to remove the old de-mountable and extend the mosque (previously an old church building), widen the roof space but retaining the existing height limits, add three metres to the front to provide space for genuinely appropriate toliets and washing facilities, and put in a mezzanine level to enable women's space.
It was a delight to see and be part of the warm and genial conversations (even over parking), and to hear of the generosity of other locals, like one of our (other than Muslim) city lawyers who has provided legal advice towards the rebuilding for free. All of us enjoyed our time together and look forward to the next steps which will bring fresh community as well as physical environment pride to us all.
Penny and I were delightfully taken aback when the president of Toowomba's Garden City mosque invited us, with a few other Christian leaders, to the recent post-wedding reception of his son Adnun Abdullah Khan and new daughter-in-law Farhana Haider Chowdhury. It was lovely expression of the growing multicultural friendships across our community in Toowoomba and another step in the deepening of our relationships. One of the most beautiful moments was when one of the little Muslim girls present came up excitedly to greet Penny. She was in one of Penny's classes at The Glennie School last year and she had spotted Penny as one of the few grown-ups other than her family to whom she really wanted to say hello! In such moments God smiles most kindly on her many children of different faith.
I am not a great fan of what is called 'the pathetic fallacy', particularly in films when the rain, for example, comes down when times turn sad and miserable. There are some special occasions however when these things do seem to come together. A few years ago, this happened before the first Five Lands Walk on the NSW Central Coast. Some of us gathered on the beach for a special dawn ceremony before the main event. As one of our Aboriginal elders finished singing the final song whales appeared off shore, seemingly beaching gloriously in the joy of that splendid morning of spiritual renewal. The flagwashing we shared on Australia Day was similar moving occasion. Earlier that afternoon, on a hot day, I attended the solidarity event after the fire at the Garden City mosque. As we drove out to Acland the clouds gathered and, as we arrived, rain began. In that place of so much political and environmental conflict, it felt as if creation itself was weeping with us for the failings of our nation and world and that, like gentle tears, it was washing and healing us as we prayed together. It was a beautiful event. The liturgy touched many hearts. It lifted the spirits, not least of the Aboriginal elders present and of Glenn Beutel (who so gracisously welcomed us and who so ably the practicalities of the flag washing).
Recent events overseas have increased concern for security in Western countries and sparked incidents which have raised understandable community anxiety. As Christians concerned for the welfare of all our neighbours we consequently therefore continue to pray for all those who are most directly affected by violence or its threat. We remember particularly the peoples of the Middle East at this time, especially those who are persecuted, forced into flight as refugees, injured, killed, or bereaved. We pray for all those in positions of authority and influence who make difficult decisions about violence and security, remembering especially our Prime Minister and Federal Government, military, security and police personnel. May compassion be combined with wisdom, determined courage with insight. As national security levels are raised, let us however also raise our peace and understanding levels. For in the case of Anglicans at least, the current situation certainly calls us back to the 4th Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion:
To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation....
Jo Inkpin is an Anglican priest serving as Minister of Pitt St Uniting Church in Sydney, a trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.