Tim Costello, CEO of World Vision, once said that
social commentators who claimed that, because
of global crises and uncertainty, Australians had
become more inwardly focused and xenophobic,
"missed an important movement in the soul of
Australians". He urged Australians to be mindful of
our "role in the world, our shared humanity and our
responsibility to one another."
What is this shared humanity that he is referring
to? This shared humanity is compassion. The
concept of compassion has fascinated philosophers
and theologians alike, from Aristotle to Hegel, and
to more recent authors, including Schopenhauer,
Levinas and Adorno among others.
For Schopenhauer, compassion is "the higher
consciousness" and the very basis for morality.
Levinas builds on Schopenhauer's moral ethics
and argues that the concept of compassion is
about humanising the "other". This is an important
point here as compassion moves from a feeling
to an action. He writes: "For me the deep feeling
of compassion, the suffering I feel for another's
suffering, is only part of a complex and complete
relationship which I have, that of feeling responsible
for another person."
Compassion is more than just peace. It is truly
wanting for our brothers and sisters what we would
want for ourselves. It is the ultimate attribute in
so many ways, something we try to cultivate in
ourselves, our children, and our society. And yet for
many of us, compassion is something we have not
properly cultivated and do not see at work in our
society often enough.
I have been involved in interfaith work for eighteen
years now, and one thing I have learnt along this
journey is that in order to build genuine coexistence
and sustainable peace, inter-faith must go beyond
just merely speaking politely to one another or
simply leaning about one another's faith - it must
deeply involve compassion. In order to do this, it
must include a process of intra-faith, where we look
inwardly at ourselves, and deeply reflect how our
faith informs us, our worldview and our relationship
with others - especially those who are "different".
This year, my good friend Dave Andrews, a devout
Christian, decided to engage in both inter-faith
and intra-faith during the month of Ramadan, a
holy month for Muslims when they abstain from
food and liquids from dawn to dusk. Dave not only
fasted alongside his Muslims brothers and sisters
during Ramadan, he also spent the month deeply
reflecting on Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim - a simple
yet profound supplication which translates to "In
the name of God, the most Gracious, the Most
Compassionate, the Most Merciful".
Each day during Ramadan, Dave reflected on what
this supplication meant for him as a Christian, in his
work with others; in his love for humanity; as well
as his solidarity with his fellow Muslim brothers
and sisters. This unique work contains all of Dave's
Ramadan reflections, his profound thoughts on what
it means to be a true witness to God's love, mercy
and compassion for all His Creation.
Dave's reflections not only mirror that "Australian
soul" Tim Costello talks about, but will better
facilitate harmonious coexistence and understanding
in our multi-religious, multi-cultural society.
1 Tim Costello (2005). Human Rights: the ethical underpinning of globalisation? Talk given at the The Hawke Centre at the University of South Australia. Available from http://www.unisa.edu.au/hawkecentre/events/2005events/Costello.asp
3 E Levinas (1993). Humanism of the Other Man. Madrid: Trotta.
Nora Amath, AMARAH - Australian Muslim Advocates for the Rights of All Humanity
The Quran instructs Muslims to fast during the month of Ramadan for the
purpose of acquiring something called taqwa
in Arabic. In the context of fasting, taqwa
might best be understood as 'self-discipline' or 'self-restraint'. However, in its fullest sense the word means 'God-consciousness'.
Dave Andrews is a man whose life reflects this consciousness of God. His personal piety, kindnesses to others and service to the needy are manifestations of Dave's God-consciousness.
This Ramadan his goal was to engage in a
religious practice that is common to the great world religions including
Islam and Christianity. His reflections while fasting during the month
concentrated on an invocation with which each verse of the Quran begins
and that Muslims utter at the beginning of every action, 'in the name of
God, the most gracious, the most merciful'. This Bismillah
invocation encapsulates a conception of God that is not exclusive to Islam but conveys a universal message.
The era in which we now live has presented people of different faiths with many challenges. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 reminded many of historic conflict between Islam and Christendom. Events of the past decade seemed to confirm that hostility between Islam and Christianity is the norm rather than the exception. Muslims and Christians were reminded of the Crusades while the peaceful Muslim-Christian coexistence of Medieval Spain, for instance, was all but forgotten.
In reality, however, the contemporary era offers far more opportunities for inter-faith understanding than it does challenges. We no longer live in a world divided along the lines of empires defined by a commitment to one faith or another. We are fortunate to live in a world with countries that are increasingly multicultural. Like much of the Western world, our nation Australia is moving beyond multicultural and becoming increasingly intercultural.
In this context, we move beyond merely co-existing with other cultures and
faiths to where various cultures and faiths inform one another.
This process begins with mutual respect and understanding. Christians and
Muslims like Dave Andrews and Nora Amath have spent many years learning
from one another. While Dave has shown Muslims a path towards God through
the provision of service to the needy based on dignity, the
Bismillah invocation has taken Dave another
step closer to God.
God is not the exclusive possession of Muslims or Christians. Dave's
experiences and reflections this Ramadan
demonstrate that Muslims and Christians have much to teach to and learn
from each other in respect to navigating a path towards God and living according to God's will.
Deputy Director, Griffith Islamic Research Unit,
Senior Lecturer, National Centre of Excellence in Islamic Studies
"Dave has encapsulated the very essence of tawheed
so well, he brought me to tears. I honestly believe he has the character
that we should be embodying - better than a majority of Muslims - and I
think that's why he has this affect on us (not being Christian). Surely
refinement of character only comes with purifying one's understanding of
religion. I've always been perceived by some as 'conservative', but
throughout his reflections I was in awe, because it was as if he was
either reading my mind or taking the words off my tongue. He even quoted
some of my favorite hadiths! May Allah grant him eternal happiness. Ameen"
Riffat Gurdezi, Editor, Northside Da'wah Revival.