You are Us
Sarah has just been ordained a priest at the Anglican Church in Auckland, and Masooma is a young Muslim woman involved in humanitarian work. The day after the attacks on two mosques in Christchurch, Masooma and her family attended an interfaith meeting organized by Sarah’s parish. Sarah was wearing a green bracelet in solidarity with the Muslim victims of the attack. Masooma thought the idea was excellent, Sarah made her the same bracelet, and they shared a photo on social networks: this marked the birth of the “You are Us” project. It’s a simple Facebook page, documenting their friendship to normalize and trivialize Muslim-Christian relations and to show that religious differences are not a relational obstacle, on the contrary. The young women share common moments, such as the trip to Christchurch that Masooma invited Sarah to join to thank the victims’ support groups, or Sarah’s ordination, which Masooma attended. They show how certain social or environmental struggles bring them together and relay articles and videos dealing with inter-religious dialogue to disseminate positive content, denounce hate speech, and answer any questions from those who follow them. Thanks to the “You are Us” project, their simple, true, and concrete friendship can serve as an example to inspire other relationships of the same type and underline the richness that emerges from their religious and cultural differences.
Disarmament and Security Center
Rob Green and Kate Dewes created the Disarmament and Security Center after a lifetime of activism for nuclear disarmament. They met on a project to push through the International Court of Justice for an obligation for states to sign a convention on the elimination of nuclear weapons. The legal text has been used by citizens’ groups around the world to hold their states to account, and the number of nuclear weapons has been greatly reduced since then. The protest movement that led to this victory was born in New Zealand in the 1970s to oppose French nuclear testing in the region. Many religious communities were involved from the very beginning of the movement, Protestant and Catholic churches, or Jewish, Baha’i, Hindu, and Mahori communities in particular. Kate and Rob took 10 years to build the case to be brought before the International Court of Justice, working with diplomats, activists, and politicians from different backgrounds and religions, and from Muslim, Hindu, Christian and secular states. As the case was studied, several communities came to pray before the International Court of Justice and the UN headquarters, and the declaration was translated into more than 40 languages to enable it to be signed worldwide.
Rob and Kate contributed to a guide on nuclear disarmament with the international NGO Religions for Peace. The guide shows that interfaith is a strong lever for this cause, since the nuclear threat is universal. The influence of religious organizations and their strong local presence make it possible to quickly mobilize a large number of volunteers and reach as many people as possible. Today, Rob and Kate are working with the Disarmament and Security Center to pass on the thousands of resources and data accumulated over their lives. They have created a website where they record the stories and experiences of hundreds of nuclear disarmament activists from different backgrounds and religious communities and the non-violent practices they have put in place to advance their cause.
Anglican Cathedral of Auckland
The Auckland Anglican Church has been involved in interfaith dialogue for many years, particularly Muslim-Christian dialogue. In 2017, in partnership with the Shia community, they organized an iftar for 200 people in its cathedral and transformed the basement into a temporary prayer room for Muslims. In 2018, the operation was repeated with the Sunni community in Auckland. In 2019, the event took place again with all the actors who had participated in previous years, and many others: Ramadan being just after the attacks in Christchurch, the Anglican Church wanted to invite also different priests and media, to send a strong message of solidarity and mutual help.
The following week, the church invited Muslims to come and talk about their faith and share their testimonies with Auckland’s Christian community. In return, the youth of the parish went to the mosque to do the same. The young people of the two communities came closer together and forged strong bonds, which helped them to fight some social or environmental struggles together. For example, there was a prayer in Auckland Cathedral before several climate walks that took place on Fridays in New Zealand, and young Muslims came to join the Anglicans who marched from the church to the site of the demonstration to walk with them.
The positive reaction of Auckland Anglican Cathedral after the attacks was made possible because strong and lasting links had been built with the Muslim community over many years. Their practices show that inter-religious relationships are built over time, but also that they are essential to ensure that a positive reaction takes precedence over fear and anger after the tragic events.
Paul Morris is a university professor, researcher, and the drafter of New Zealand’s National Declaration on Religious Diversity. He produced the first draft in 2004, following acts of anti-Semitic vandalism in a Jewish cemetery. He saw the need for civil society to have a text that laid the foundation for relations and interaction between the country’s different religious communities. He, therefore, traveled for two years, in rural and urban, mixed and homogeneous contexts, to hear the views of his fellow citizens on issues of diversity. When the first edition of the text came out in 2007, hundreds of Christians opposed it and demonstrated against the first article, which recalled that New Zealand has no state religion. The extensive media coverage that followed had the effect of launching a national debate on these issues. Two years later, Paul Morris rewrote the text to adapt to the changing New Zealand context, and in particular to the growing inclusion of biculturalism and respect for Maori traditions in public life. The treaty has become a reference text, particularly on ecological issues and the fight against climate change: it has raised awareness of the impact of community life on economic, social, and environmental issues. A third version of the Declaration has just been published, in November 2019.
To address tensions between the Jewish and Muslim communities in New Zealand, Paul Morris set up discussion groups between students of both religions, in partnership with the Federation of Islamic Associations. This gives them the opportunity to learn to talk to each other, discuss and do exercises on combating discrimination, stereotypes, and prejudices. The groups work in particular on historical and political misunderstandings and projections, such as on the question of the Shoah or the political situation in the Middle East. Paul Morris also develops workshops for Jews, Muslims, and Christians on important social issues in New Zealand that they have little opportunity to address on a daily basis, such as white nationalism.
Christchurch post-attack citizens’ initiatives
The day after the attacks in Christchurch, citizens of the city from all religious communities gathered around the mosques and made a human chain as a sign of solidarity and security for Muslims during their prayers. The following week, between 20,000 and 30,000 people gathered in Hyde Park to pay tribute to the victims and to act as a gesture of brotherhood.
On Friday after the Christchurch bombings, inspired by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, hundreds of women wore the hijab in solidarity with Muslim women. The aim was to create a safe space to open the dialogue with these women on discrimination and the dangers to which they are exposed face in the name of their religious affiliation and to act as solidarity. A hashtag was created for the occasion, #HeadScarfForHarmony.
The day after the Christchurch bombings, Jewish victims of a shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh held a fundraiser and raised over $100,000.
The week after the attacks, many people in Christchurch, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, planted a sign in their garden translated into 6 languages which read “No matter where you come from, we are happy that you are our neighbors”.
Ivica Gregurec is an Anglican priest who has worked in various islands in the Pacific. He is very much affected by the precarious situation of students in several towns and cities, so he had the idea of opening an agricultural cooperative in his parish to make fruit and vegetables affordable for young people. He created a kind of local supermarket where volunteers sort, manage, and deliver produce to bring down their prices. When he called for volunteers, he was surprised to discover that more than 90% of the people interested in accompanying him on this project were atheists, agnostics, or non-religious. The solidarity action was therefore carried out hand in hand by Christians and non-believers and highlighted the common values that animate them beyond their spiritual differences.
Auckland Interfaith Council
The Auckland Interfaith Council operates in one of the most diverse cities in the world, where more than 220 ethnic communities are registered. It brings together leaders of the different religions that bring them together, to carry out a number of joint actions aimed at strengthening inter-knowledge.
The council has set up a music program, which brings together at regular events orchestras and choirs from different religious groups to work on a common theme. This program is in the process of being developed as the council wishes to go further and set up a choir and orchestra that is inter-religious and allows members of different communities to meet regularly to rehearse or perform together.
The Auckland Interfaith Council encourages regular exchanges between its members: through it, the Anglican Church regularly invites Muslims, Buddhists or Sikhs to its events, for example. These links are reinforced by regular visits to places of worship proposed by the council, which invites all curious and religious leaders to pass through the doors of temples, mosques, cathedrals, churches or synagogues to deconstruct their prejudices and break down the mental barriers that stand in the way of positive coexistence between Auckland communities. Conferences and seminars are also held jointly, on religious issues but also on various social or bioethical themes: birth and death, marriage, domestic violence, addictive substances, and ecology.
The “Leadership Diversity Day” program brings together high schools from different religious and public institutions for a day to discuss different religions and Maori spirituality. The workshops are led by students, who come to testify about their different practices and inspire the desire for dialogue and common action among the youngest students. Certain social and environmental themes are addressed and studied during each edition, under the prism of spirituality. The feedback from the young participants is extremely positive, as this is the only time they can meet other high school students outside the sports fields. An introductory booklet on the different religions presented is distributed to all participants, who can take it with them to read it. The initiative aims to compensate for the lack of knowledge about religious facts and practices in a country where these issues are not addressed in school curricula.
Khadija Leadership Network
Tayyaba Khan created an association of young Muslim women in response to an observation she had made in New Zealand society: Muslims, especially women, are often expected to know how to answer all questions about their religion. In order to prepare them, to enable them to learn as much as possible about their faith and to develop an identity in which they feel comfortable, she organizes training courses and summer camps for young women and even creates sports teams around Islam. She explains her work by a desire to give women back the position they are supposed to have in Islam, instead of the one they have today. The confidence they gain in talking about their identity allows them to open up to others, and Khadija Leadership Network groups participate in many local, national, and Pacific-wide interfaith dialogue events.
Interfaith Friendship Group
Ravi and Kalyani, members of an interfaith dialogue group in Auckland for many years, wanted to work on concrete actions to be carried out together with people from different religious communities. They approached local groups of communities who are used to working on social projects. They chose to organize a day for children in precarious situations and their families: the objective was to bring them joy but also to bring together the different local groups providing information for the families and the inter-religious councils of the city. More than 400 people took part in the event, many of them young people who decided to set up a group of inter-religious actions around the fight against climate change. Among other things, they organized several tree-planting missions.
The Interfaith Friendship Group is now working on a new project: to create and run a free dental clinic together. New Zealand has a very good public health system, but some treatments, such as dental care, are still very expensive.
Christchurch Methodist Church
The Methodist Church in Christchurch was destroyed in the 2011 earthquake. The community wanted to rebuild a new, more inclusive place of worship that would not be attached to a dominant religion: a building for all religious communities, where young people can start interfaith dialogue groups and where everyone can come to feel safe. The stained glass windows do not represent a religious scene but different colours that symbolize harmony in diversity. The inauguration will be done jointly by several leaders of religious communities, and musicians from different traditions will give a concert. There will also be an exhibition of the works of a number of children who have represented what love means to them.
Canterbury Interfaith Society
Every year on the International Day of Peace, the Canterbury Interfaith Society organises a day called “Interfaith Prayers for World Peace” when representatives of a wide range of faith traditions in and around Christchurch gather around the Peace Bell in the Botanical Gardens to pray together.