Multiculturalism, religious tolerance and inclusion in Islamic education were the themes of a symposium held at Griffith University that brought together a group of educationalists from Indonesia with speakers from institutes involved in promoting multiculturalism in Australia.

The symposium was part of an Australia Awards Indonesia Short Term Award funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). The course, titled Islamic Education to Promote Multiculturalism, brought a group of principals, school teachers and ministry officials attached to the Ministry of Religious Affairs (MoRA) in Indonesia to Australia for two weeks in June 2016 to learn lessons from Australia’s own experiences in introducing multiculturalism and pluralism into the school curriculum and society.

The 26 participants were introduced to a framework for promoting multiculturalism through the curriculum via a broad range of classroom visits delivered by experts in the field.

In her opening remarks at the Symposium, Alison Carrington, Director Queensland State Office for DFAT, said that freedom of religion was an important right supported by Australia.

She said the participants in this program have been identified as future leaders in promoting multiculturalism and pluralism in Indonesia and would receive support as part of the prestigious Australia Awards network.

“You will play a vital role as recipients of the prestigious Australia Awards; I would urge you to stay in contact with the professional and personal links made in Australia.”

The program was implemented by Griffith University and supported by the Griffith Asia Institute (GAI), the Centre for Interfaith and Cultural Dialogue and the International Business Development Unit at Griffith.

Tolerance of others

Challenges and successes encountered by religious places of worship were addressed by a panel which included the Venerable Miao Xin, Chung Tian Temple in Brisbane and Imam Afroz Ali, Head of the Al Ghazzali Centre in Sydney.

“Muslims in Australia are part of a multicultural society and, by far, Australians are very tolerant of others, characterised by actions such as the ‘#Ill ride with you’ Twitter movement after the Lindt Café atrocity,” said Imam Ali.

“A focus on positive citizenship would be more productive than an emphasis on programs focusing on de-radicalising Muslims,” he said. “Violence and harmony begins at the family level and increasing funding to programs that support reduction of domestic violence and drug use would be more productive than increasing funding for targeting radical Muslims, who are a very small part of Muslims in Australia.”

Panelists at the symposium included John Fox, from the Queensland Police; Ana Bran, General Manager for Aurizon; Rueban Keehan, Curator of the Gallery of Modern Art and Queensland Art Gallery; Keith Shangare, Diversity Coordinator for AFL Queensland; and Clem Campbell, President of UNAA Queensland. Panelists spoke dynamically as to how government, business, and the arts, sports and school sectors promote multiculturalism and diversity in the workplace.

Remaining relevant

“We cannot be what we cannot see,” noted Keith Shangare. “Remaining relevant and communicating with a diversifying audience is important so that AFL can remain Australia’s number one sport of choice.”

In closing the Symposium, Dr Kathleen Turner, Manager Strategy at the Griffith Asia Institute, noted that GAI places a priority focus on Australia’s important bilateral relationship with Indonesia.

“Programs such as such these are an important part of GAI’s mission to facilitate dialogue on contemporary issues of significance affecting our region,” Dr Turner said.

The Symposium moderator was Robert Kingham, who has worked in Indonesia for more than30 years and is a specialist in Islamic education with work conducted in Indonesia forDFAT.

In addition, the two-week short course program included visits to primary and secondary schools including Coorparoo State School; St Laurence’s College and John Paul College; the Australia Indonesia Business Council Queensland Education Forum; Kuraby Mosque; Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland; and the Queensland Interfaith Network.