“I wasn't sure what it was going to be like, or what the audience would be like either,” audience member Colleen Stack said after the Demystifying Islam meeting held at the Western Sydney University Lithgow Campus on Friday night, May 19.
“But there was a lot of tolerance both ways, that's why it was so good," she said.
At Demistifying Islam forum in Lithgow. More than 80 audience members presence. Six protestors out front and police presence.— Lithgow Mercury (@lithgowmercury) May 19, 2017
What began with the heightened anxiety of police presence and protesters ended with a sense of resolution.
Visiting imam, Mohammed Atae Rabbi Hadi, requested a silent prayer with the eighty-strong audience, “in whatever way they feel comfortable”. And then a ‘selfie’.
Forum over. At the request of Imam Hadi @ImamDownUnder the audience engaged in a silent prayer and he thanked them for attending.— Lithgow Mercury (@lithgowmercury) May 19, 2017
“It was peaceful and very informative,” Lithgow resident Michelle Harlen said.
She said she came to the forum on Islam because she wanted to get information from “the source”.
“I think the media do sensationalise parts of the religion and if you ask questions about Islam at church they put their own spin on it,” she said.
“I had a lot of questions but it was very tolerant and I learnt a lot tonight.
“Lithgow needs more events like these.”
The forum moved between ‘hot topics’ such as jihad, sharia law, religious dress and women’s rights as well as the role of the new testament in Islamic faith.
Other questions being asked at Demistifying Islam forum - how do Muslims seek to perform the 'jihad of self' or better themselves?— Lithgow Mercury (@lithgowmercury) May 19, 2017
When Sharia law came up Imam Hadi joked, “I thought we’d get this question an hour ago.”
Mr Hadi said people are currently using the name of Islam to support their political purposes in ways that do not reflect the true teachings of the Quran.
Mr Hadi said members of his own sect of Islam, Ahymadiyya, were persecuted in Pakistan in this way.
“You may fear certain people within Islam or who claim to be Muslims. You may fear their extremist ideology or their behaviours in the world. But Islamic values are not ethically compatible with their actions,” Mr Hadi said.
“There is no room for persecution of anyone who renounces faith in Islam. It’s a completely absurd compulsion because in the Quran there is no compulsion to the Islamic religion whatsoever, we cannot impose our religion on others.”
Mr Hadi said people enforcing certain interpretations of theology is a problem across religions.
“But arrogance breeds hate. Certain individuals create these issues for us.”
Islam and ‘Australian Values’
Some questions asked at Demistifying Islam forum in Lithgow. Is Islam compatible with Australian values? What does Jihad mean?— Lithgow Mercury (@lithgowmercury) May 19, 2017
Mr Hadi said Islamic values are very compatible with Australian values.
“Muslim values are actually very compatible with western values because Islam is based on secularism and absolute justice.”
“Absolute justice means that means everyone is treated to the same rights whatever their class, race, creed or religion and that people can believe in what they want to freely.”
He said one of his favourite passages in the Quran was about the equal status of women to men.
“Unfortunately, some countries of a Muslim majority use the Quran to reinforce their cultural ideology about women.
“In the Quran it is very clear that women should have equal rights to men and the acquisition of education is a right for every man and every woman,” Mr Hadi said.
“Interpretations that preach discrimination have nothing to do with Islamic theology, they are in fact failing Islam.”
Mr Hadi announced the Ahymadiyya community in Australia are launching a campaign against Islamophobia in the near future.
Father Garry McKeown from St Patrick’s Church thanked the audience and Imam Hadi for the night.
Six protesters remained outside the Western Sydney University building for the entirety of the proceedings.
“We were going to go but we didn’t RSVP,” one protester said.
“They are just going to sugar coat Islam.
“I wanted to ask whether they believe in marrying girls.”
Another said he wanted to know how long it would be before Sharia law was practiced in Lithgow.
“We’re standing up for for Australian culture and values, which we have to be vigilant about not to lose them.”
Those protesting asked not to be identified by name, however, they said they were all living in the greater Lithgow area.
“I don’t want to be persecuted,” one said.