Human rights

Unity in diversity and the Gosford Anglican Church example

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A service at the Anglican Parish of Gosford where many faith leaders including Fr Rod Bower and the Grand Mufti of Australia stood together, is "unity in diversity" encapsulated, writes Junaid Cheema

WHEN the Party for Freedom harassed Gosford churchgoers and robbed them of their peace during a Sunday mass, we all knew we had to support this Anglican Parish of Gosford, somehow — a church which is small in size but gigantic in spirit.

So when my seven year old asked, "Daddy what are we doing this weekend?" I smiled and said we are going to church!

Saying that, I took my entire family and we drove to Gosford to see Fr Rod Bower (a personal hero of mine) and attend his multi-faith service — a service which was to become the most memorable service I have ever attended.


At the service, there were leaders from all faith groups including the Grand Mufti of Australia, showing "unity in diversity" — the theme for this Sunday's church service. However, beyond feel-good words — what does "unity in diversity" actually mean? We live in a world separated by war, hate and competing perspectives, each claiming superiority.

We all seem locked into our particular perspectives not wanting to understand the other, convinced that our way is better than any other. It seems in an attempt to protect our own particular way of life, we have imprisoned ourselves in our own worlds and have become prisoners of our prisms. So what can these feel-good words – unity in diversity – possibly mean?

Well, like most compelling questions in life, the answer is in the question hidden in plain sight. You see, if you take a prism and shine transparent light through it, on the other end you get the ultra violet spectrum of beautiful colours. Can the red say it's better than the blue, or the blue say it is better than the red? Can the blue exist without the yellow or the orange, can the orange destroy the yellow without destroying itself — is any one colour better than the other?

No. Rather, they are all better together, because that is what you call a rainbow. The colour manifest only depends upon our perspective on the prism. However, if we defer our own prism, our own perspective just for a minute, we realise, the source is all the same — transparent light. And this is our origin, our essence, this is what we are and this is what the multi-faith Gosford Church service proved.

I too found myself shattering my own prism at this service, at the most un-expected of times, as I heard the speech of the Grand Mufti of Australia. I confessed at this Gosford Church that the view of this man I was given was light-years away from what he was saying and just an arms length from the authentic prophetic example.

The Grand Mufti, as the leading Islamic authority in Australia, spoke to a multi-faith congregation on record — substantiating his statements from the Quran and the Prophet's sayings: 

The highest value is the value of the human.

God is love and who hasn't loved does not believe in God.

If you don't love, you can't believe and you can't love if you don't spread peace between people.

Spreading peace and love are a condition to paradise.

Words which are light-years from the repulsive men with untamed beards we see constantly invading our our television screens and papers terrifying us from desert sands and mountain caves. The address was to a multi-faith gathering and he referred to all those present as the "seeds of peace sown by the prophets of old"; as faith is meant to heal the divisions amongst humanity not create them.

Seeds for peace ... befitting words as at the centre-piece of the service, stood a symbolic tree of peace with branches analogising the different extensions of humanity both in faith and race. Despite symbols and words, the truth is that this is also our scientific and historic heritage. We all originated from Africa and we are nothing but brothers and sisters land-locked over millennia forming different races and cultures. Yet the reminder is within us all. The African gene our original marker still courses through the veins of every single one of us, regardless of our race or faith: a reminder of our origin and who we are.

Perhaps the tribal instincts of fear and apprehension of the other were relevant and required for our Stone Age ancestors, but this mentality, belongs in the Stone Age and is not fit for the modern age.

Whether we like it or not, in the age of globalisation, races, cultures and faiths are coming together in exciting yet daunting ways. Whether we think this is good or bad is not as relevant as the fact that it is inevitable. We can either read these signs of nature and ascent to the next stage of human progress, or we can lock ourselves into our self-created prisms engaged in perpetual violence and hate, only to watch the torch of civilisation be passed to another.

But there is hope, as the Church of Gosford has shown. And as a result this one small church has set a giant example for the rest of Australia.

Junaid Cheema is an IT executive, writer and activist and vice president of the Islamic Council of Victoria. You can follow Junaid Cheema on Twitter at @Junaid_m_cheema.

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