Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell Wisdom from interfaith cooperation and action needed for lasting peace
As Muslims celebrate Eid ul-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting, Australian Ambassador Bill Tweddell called for increased interfaith cooperation and action in order to bring about lasting peace and to improve the lives of Filipinos, especially in Mindanao.
“We in the Australian Embassy respect Ramadan as a time of sacrifice and compassion for those who are less fortunate, an outlook shared by Muslims throughout the world, including those in Australia. It is the perfect time to reflect and improve on efforts toward sustainable peace and development in Mindanao, especially increasing efforts in interfaith cooperation and action,” said Ambassador Tweddell during a recent iftar (“breaking of the fast”) dinner which he hosted in his residence.
Iftar refers to the meal taken right after sunset when Muslims break their day-long fasts during the month of Ramadan. The iftar reception hosted by Ambassador Tweddell promoted action over rhetoric, as embodied in the theme “Beyond Dialogue: Interfaith Cooperation and Action.” It was attended by representatives from government, civil society, the diplomatic corps, and the academe who are Australia’s partners in peace-building and human development efforts in Mindanao, including youth beneficiaries of interfaith projects that the Embassy is supporting through the Strengthening Grassroots Interfaith Dialogue and Understanding (SGIDU) Program.
“Australia is a strong supporter of interfaith dialogue and cooperation as a means to bridge the differences and divisions between people. Both our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister are committed to supporting interfaith dialogue at a number of levels - to build support for tolerance, respect, and pluralism. I want to emphasize that this is not a rhetorical commitment or an academic exercise; it is in many senses an embodiment of our own community norms and national values,” Ambassador Tweddell noted.
The Australian Embassy implements a number of programs to encourage Filipinos – whether Muslim, Christian or Indigenous – to play an active role in interfaith activities that promote peace-building, cooperation and harmony.
At the core of Australia’s development cooperation program for the Philippines are its investments in education, worth over AU$85million, focused on the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Through a partnership with the Philippine government and the Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC), access to quality education is provided to remote, rural Muslim communities in Mindanao that have no public schools. In ARMM, more than 500 barangays and villages are without government schools.
As of July 2012, Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes in 410 remote communities in ARMM have been opened, using methods based on what has worked to improve graduation rates in Islamic communities from other parts of the world, and adapting these for the Philippines.
An ongoing collaboration with UNICEF and the Bangsamoro Development Authority seeks to improve ‘taderriyah’ or Islamic pre-schools in ARMM. The curriculum was developed in partnership with stakeholders to ensure it is culturally appropriate and responsive to Muslim sensibilities. It also ensures children are transitioned to Grade One.
Since 2010, the Australian Government Development Cooperation Program has also supported a project, in cooperation with an NGO called Peacetech, to reduce prejudice between young Filipinos of differing religions and backgrounds. The project, which connects school classrooms through video-conferencing, allows Muslim and Christian students to talk directly with each other on issues of prejudice, bias, and how to practically build stronger interfaith communities. Schools in Manila and Cebu are linked via the project to schools in Cotabato City, Iligan City, Marawi City, and Zamboanga City. This initiative is part of the broader peace-building efforts delivered under the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) grant program, which supports catalytic activities of community level peace-building, strengthening key institutions in conflict areas, and strategic policy contributions to reduce conflict and promote peace in Mindanao.
The Embassy also provides support through the SGIDU Program toward peace-building activities by community groups and non-government organisations in Mindanao and Metro Manila. These include activities such as inter- and intra-faith training and dialogue sessions; youth peace camps; training workshops in leadership skills, peace-building, advocacy and conflict resolution; development of peace modules for school curricula; sporting and cultural events that encourage community participation, cohesion and harmony; and TV and radio programs on interfaith and peace-building.
Ms Rohania Bazar from Iligan City, one of the Muslim youth volunteer participants who were the “guests of honor” at the reception, shared her grassroots experiences as a volunteer assigned to a non-Muslim local organisation that serves Christian-dominated communities in Lanao del Norte. She said being in the program not only gave her self-confidence, but also aided in establishing a common ground for understanding, mutual respect and cooperation with the communities that she serves.
Commissioner Edil Baddiri of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos (NCMF), one of the speakers at the reception, said that “beyond hosting Iftar, Australia is at the forefront of providing assistance in improving the situation of Muslim Filipinos. Australia inspires people to see Muslims as a distinct people and, at the same time, goes beyond that identity to find a common humanity. Australia promotes both dialogue and active cooperation.”
Australia is home to nearly half a million Muslims, with Islam as its fourth largest religion. The Australian Muslim community is diverse, drawn from over 60 different ethnic backgrounds. They are very much an integral part of the fabric of Australian society, playing an important role in every aspect of Australian life. Muslim Australians have established Islamic schools and more than 100 mosques and prayer centres around the country.
Ambassador and Mrs Tweddell (rear, 5th & 6th from left) with Muslim youth participants of the Embassy-supported interfaith youth leadership project of Peacemakers’ Circle Foundation Incorporated, and other guests, during the Iftar reception held at the Ambassador’s residence on 10 August.
Ambassador Tweddell welcomes Rohania Bazar, a Muslim youth volunteer from Iligan City who is a participant of the Embassy-supported Muslim youth volunteering program, during the Iftar reception held at the Ambassador’s residence on 10 August.