2022 Annual Peace Conversation

In Defence of Religious Peace
Mufti Nazirudin Nasir
29 September 2022, Otago University, Dunedin NZ

19th Annual Peace Lecture by Dr Nazirudin Nasir, Mufti of Singapore

St David Lecture Theatre, Otago University, 6.30pm 29th September 2022


Mihi whakatau and Karakia by Rev Shari Roy,  Māori  Chaplain, University of Otago

Rev Olivia Dawson (MC) :

Tena koutou katoa.  My name is Olivia Dawson.  I'm one of the ecumenical chaplains here at the university, and on behalf of the entire chaplaincy whanau, the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group, and the Centre for Global Migration I welcome you to this special occasion tonight.  To those of you who are here in person welcome, and to those of you who are watching online welcome also!  

The Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group was formed in the aftermath of the events of September 11th in 2001 out of the expressions of desire for solidarity among local faith leaders.  The group is made-up of members of three faith traditions:  Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Each are considered an Abrahamic faith, as each tradition can be traced back to Abraham as an important faith leader.  Since the group's beginning along with the Otago chaplaincy team these peace events have been hosted every year without interruption, despite covid's best efforts.  We've welcomed a variety of local and international guests to share their views and personal experiences regarding the importance of faith and religion in conversations around peace.  This is our 19th peace lecture. We feel incredibly grateful and excited to have been able to invite an international speaker this year.  Our speaker will be properly introduced shortly. Tonight, we will hear from our speaker doctor Nazirudin Nasir, then we will hear a response from our three panellists. Each of our panellists represent a particular faith group; Islam Judaism and Christianity.  I will properly introduce them after the lecture; and following their responses there will be an opportunity for you all to ask questions. A few important things to keep in mind before we begin.  First of all, in case of emergency please note your nearest exit. Toilets are located outside these doors across the corridor.   I remind you to please silence your phones.  Following the event, you are all invited to All Saints Anglican Church Hall, just down the road, for supper.  Before heading to supper, members of the Islamic faith may like to do their evening prayers. There are prayer mats laid out through those doors up on the mezzanine level.  The rest of us will head over to the church and we will plan to end the event by 8:00 to ensure plenty of time for prayers.  I'd now like to invite forward the University of Otago's Vice chancellor Professor David Murdoch to come and introduce our speaker.



 Professor David Murdoch:

Thanks, Olivia

E kā mana, e kā reo, e kā mauka whakahī, e kā awa , e kā pataka o kā taoka tuku iho.

Good evening, everyone! What a pleasure it is to be here tonight and I'm really delighted to have the role to introduce the guest speaker for this year's Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group and Otago Tertiary Chaplaincy annual peace lecture.  That's quite a mouthful!

 I'd like to start by following on from Olivia's introduction through my own welcome on behalf of the University of Otago.  It is an absolute pleasure to be here tonight with you all. Thank you for coming as some of you may know I'm relatively new to the Vice Chancellor role.  I started in February of this year, and since that time I've been enjoying all the variety of activities that this university attracts.  And amongst those are an incredible variety of the best - the most amazing - the most interesting speakers. In preparing for this talk I discovered the 19 year list of previous speakers - and what an impressive list they are. Clearly this talk has become quite a tradition on the Dunedin landscape and I'm very confident that tonight will continue the tradition of excellence which really brings me to the reason for this evening.  On behalf of the University of Otago I'd like to warmly welcome our guest speaker tonight, Dr Nazirudin Mohammed Nazir.  Dr Nazirudin holds the highest office in the administration of Muslim religious affairs in Singapore in his role as the mufti. As such he is a key interfaith figure in that country. As mufti Dr. Nazirudin chairs the fatwa committee which takes a lead in providing guidance for the Muslim community’s religious life. He was instrumental in developing fatwas for such things as organ donation, joint tenancy and then formulating ethical positions on biomedical issues.  He's a member of the Presidential council for religious harmony and the bioethics advisory committee of Singapore and is an associate faculty at  the Singapore University of Social Sciences where he teaches comparative religion and ethics.  He studied Islamic law in al-Azhar University in Cairo, international law at the school of oriental and African Studies in London and has Doctorate of Philosophy in the Study of Religion from the University of Oxford.  Such an impressive background! I understand he has just returned from a fellowship at the Institute of Advanced Studies of Humanities at the University of Edinburgh in July.  I also note that Dr Nazirudin was appointed as Mufti in March 2020.  Around that time, I know that in Singapore the pandemic really hit, and I'm aware that he had to make some fairly challenging decisions about closing mosques and suspending religious activities during that lockdown.  I think we all remember how tough some of those decisions were and the wider impact of those decisions. So, Dr Nazirudin, it’s an absolute pleasure to have you here in Dunedin and I would invite you now to the podium to give your lecture entitled “In defense of religious peace”.  


Dr Nazirudin:

Thank you very much Vice Chancellor for the very kind introduction.

Bismillah-er Rahman-er Rahim! In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, the most merciful! Allow me to begin with an invocation for peace that is taught by the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, to Muslims to recite after every prayer [the prayer in Arabic]. Oh Allah you are peace, from you emanates peace, to you returns peace. Let us live with peace, and grant us your paradise of peace. Glory be to You our Lord, exalted be you, to whom belongs all glory and honour! And even in the most threatening of situations as the Quran chapter 51, verse 24 to 26 and Genesis 18 tell us, when three strangers visited Abraham, the first expression was of peace, “Qaalou Salaama!”, to which Abraham responded in kind “Qaala Salaam”. Of course, as we know his first act to his unknown visitors was to prepare them the most lavish of meals and great hospitality. To Vice Chancellor of the university of Otago; to my incredibly generous and gracious host, the Abrahamic Interfaith Group, and in particular the chair for this year Dr. Hazel Hussaini, whose true Abrahamic hospitality have brought me and my colleague here to this beautiful country: Just to be sure, unlike Abraham, our situation has never been that threatening. We have been so kindly welcomed, and we have been supported all the way from our first arrival in New Zealand.

Respected scholars, leaders, believers in and champions of peace and harmony, ladies and gentlemen and friends! I pray that our Lord's peace and mercy be upon you and upon the people of beautiful New Zealand; Salaamun alaikum wa rahmatullah-e wa barakaatuhu; and very good evening! First, I wish to commend the wonderful and inspirational work of the Abrahamic Interfaith Group for bringing people together and forging understanding and solidarity. From the very few days that I have been here, I've witnessed a lot of understanding, a lot of warmth and friendship between people. It has been such a wonderful and interesting experience. What I've seen offers me some hope because the work of the Abrahamic Interfaith Group justifies the use of the concept Abrahamic. My PhD research was designed to argue the same. In other words, to argue that the concept of the Abrahamic is useful and needs to be used, because there are various theories and academic writings that dispute the concept of the Abrahamic. The work on the interpretations in and around the figure of Abraham to forge greater understanding is indeed critical and reassuring. We started this visit to New Zealand with a wonderful gathering at Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch. It was a deeply spiritual moment when we met with the survivors. We learnt about Kia kaha: “stay strong”. And what I remember most from the events of 2019 were the resilience, the solidarity and the unity of the people. Even as we mourn the death of the countless innocent lives of peace-loving believers—and may God bless their souls—such pain and suffering will only heal if we work tirelessly and relentlessly to replace hate with compassion, suspicion with trust, and contempt with love. Such atrocities in Christchurch and in many other parts of the world remind us of the dangers of warped ideologies, predicated on the blinkered and distorted view of the world; and of people who preach hate and contempt, and prey on ignorance. It’s also a reminder of the strong will of the many good people in this world to defeat hate and contempt. Your communities here and ours too back in Singapore have to continue this important work. In fact, the Christchurch incident had inspired self radicalized individuals to copy such attacks. In Singapore there was a youth who had made plans to attack two mosques quite near where I lived. It was stopped before he could proceed, and faith leaders came together after the incident to provide calm and reassurance to our respective communities. Of course, as we read the news every day and we switch on the TV, you know there's a war in Ukraine; and conflicts elsewhere are escalating, and social and religious fault lines are at risk of rupturing further due to multiple pressure points in our troubled world. This results in more and more people to flee to safety by looking inward and viewing others as threats. This shows how fragile peace is. It's like a pack of dominoes that takes so long to set up but very quickly to fall. It reminds us that building and strengthening peace is always a work in progress. It never ends.

However, throughout the pandemic we learned something that offers us a reason for optimism. If you recall, there was doubt if religions could survive the pandemic. Houses of worship had to be closed during the lockdowns. Worship began to look very different. For example, in our Muslim tradition the lines of prayer during congregation is very important. One ought to stand shoulder to shoulder in order for the prayer to be valid. But that had to be abandoned because of safe distancing or social distancing. There was no divine revelation that said “thou shalt social distance”, but in our scriptures, there is an even more important piece of revelation. If we look at the right place, the Quran says in narrating the story of the Israelites: whoever saved a life, it is as if he had saved all humanity. So we are indeed very grateful that our faith groups remained resilient, and confident. They implemented safety measures for the greater good of society, to protect lives. And for me personally, faith truly becomes meaningful and purposeful when we have to make difficult choices; when we have to adjust, adapt, and negotiate in difficult situations. So we survived one of the most difficult challenges that tested our human bonds. We must not put the crisis to waste, but to learn and rise from it. And here I think we ought to give religions and religious communities due credit for making such quick adjustments and adapting. As we know, religion is about traditions built over centuries.  It is never easy to quickly change practices that have been in place over generations. They have done that, and I think they should be praised for that.

For reasons of relevance and honouring our host, the Abrahamic Interfaith Group, I wish to start with the story of Abraham as we find in a number of scriptures. The story first appears in Genesis in the Old Testament, with numerous commentaries by the Jewish rabbis and the midrashim, and later recounted in the New Testament, particularly in Paul's epistles to the Romans and the Galatians. A few centuries later, the story reappears in the Muslim holy text of the Quran. Of course there are some variations in the details, but the narrative remains largely consistent across the different scriptures. It was essentially a command from God to offer Abraham’s son as sacrifice. The sheer obedience of the father to God's seemingly impossible command was seen by communities who revered Abraham as a proof of faith par excellence. The event also known as Aqeeda in the Jewish tradition evoked and continues to evoke powerful yet different salvific significance for different communities. There's a Muslim reading about Abraham. In this story in the Quran, I am driven to understand how other communities and scriptures interpret him, and conceive their worldviews around his life. This is not least because the Quranic narratives explicitly refer to Jewish and Christian beliefs on Ibrahim. So, the Abrahamic world, within which Muslims live, includes Jewish and Christian worldviews and perspectives. But whilst I, like many other readers, discover similarities in the various narrations of and perspectives on Abraham, I know there are striking differences too. These are self-evident in the ways Jewish Christian and Muslim communities both past and present speak of Abraham. To me these varying interpretations also reveal a remarkable possibility: that powerful and evocative stories that speak of commonality and difference could be employed for whichever end one desires. Genesis 17 versus 19-20 tells us that God had promised both Isaac and Ishmael blessings. And as the Talmudic scholar John D Levinson argues, the presentation of Abraham in the Hebrew Bible is, I quote, “so elusive, so enigmatic, so suggestive, and so non didactic, that it calls out, ynçrd, ‘interpret me’, as the Talmudic rabbis would say.” In this case, the stories about Abraham could be used either to reinforce common origins and therefore bolster a sense of unity which are the seeds of peaceful coexistence, or to highlight differences and therefore justify exclusion and create fractured and divided societies.

Of course, the Abrahamic world that we are speaking about is a microcosm of a more diverse social religious world that most of us live in. Today we encounter differences more frequently and at a greater scale than ever before, especially, but not exclusively in the online world. So the themes of commonality and difference become all the more important as we begin to work on creating social cohesion and peaceful coexistence. When we interact and engage with others, we discover commonalities that can become a strong glue that keep our communities together. Think of sports and think of food. Yet, in spite of our common interest, some differences may still continue to bother us. Here I am referring to differences which we often struggle to shake off. This may lead to our prejudiced views of others. Often such differences have to do with deep seated beliefs or theological presuppositions of others who do not belong to our own faith. In this instance, our view of the world is centered around truth claims. We therefore define others solely on the basis of what they believe, whether he or she is guided or misguided. Consequently, we see them as superior or inferior in relation to us. This sense of superiority may eventually quash the respect for difference and can eventually breed hatred. In some cases it has justified hurt and violence. At best, differences which are viewed as desynchronizing the purity and sanctity of our faith can melt the glue that keeps us connected. This is not to say that religious groups have failed altogether to address fundamental differences. There have been many commendable efforts by religious leaders and communities to strengthen dialogue and rapprochement. But the challenges of today's highly diverse world are more immense. Our current social context demands of us not only to be competent in dealing with differences, but to live with these differences in a more frequent and regular way. Are we adapting fast enough to be neighbours with others who have very different lifestyles cultures beliefs, and are we prepared to share common spaces on a daily basis? How could we transform coexistence into an opportunity and catalyst for cohesion, where differences do not give rise to suspicion fear and resentment, but nurture confidence and even add vibrancy to our societies. In this regard, what is the role of religion and faith communities and leadership?

 I wish to make an argument tonight that there is wisdom in our religious traditions which allow us to positively and constructively engage with social and religious diversity. From a Muslim perspective, Islam prepares me to think of diversity and difference in a positive way from the outset. Because at the heart of the Quran’s engagement with other communities are the values of recognition, dialogue and hospitality. As the most authoritative source of Islamic teachings, the Quran exudes a powerful sense of intertextuality, an inter religious ecumenism. In many parts of the Quran, it encourages the reader to know other traditions and to be sympathetic to their claims in their attempt to comprehend and grasp the true nature and message of God. But this is not exclusive to the Quran or Islam. In the 1960s the Second Vatican Council issued conciliar documents such as the lumen gentium and the Nostra aetate, which elucidated these intertwined and shared heritages between Jews Christians and Muslims. So in essence, we inherit a very important legacy of interlinked traditions of interpretation, practice, and coexistence; and our faith communities have an important role to play in all of this—not least because faith as practiced by millions of people around the world interfaces with the social context and functions within it, not apart from it. The survival of humanity hinges squarely on our ability to constantly negotiate and navigate our interconnected worlds. So the notion that we can ignore the demands of our context yet remain successfully committed to our faith is ill conceived. As we live amidst many global existential threats: violence, xenophobia, global warming, social inequalities; our faith needs to offer responses and guidance. Faith has remained alive and relevant precisely because it continues to offer hope, as we have seen in the pandemic. Our rule if you're a religious leader, becomes very clear. You must plan and prepare well, respond and adapt adequately, and spread the message of peace loudly and widely. So allow me to just share from the Muslim perspective what I think can be done. Perhaps you could think of your own traditions and also in other ways to strengthen peace. I draw this from the theological and ethical foundations of Islam:

  1. The need to set out a clear theology of inclusion and compassion to counter theologies of hate and exclusion.

2. To augment this theology with ethics and virtues that can bolster positive relations between communities.

3. To look at our religious education to review it so that it speaks to our time and our generation.

Many of us know that the Muslim world encountered a sudden and rapid spread of extremist ideas. This was peddled by extremist groups and worsened by groups such as ISIS. For the large majority of Muslim communities, who believe in peace and coexisting harmoniously with other communities, such a theology was unheard of and was a profane and hurtful intrusion into their religious and spiritual world. In fact, my personal search for religious peace grew and intensified against such ideas of religion, and religious calls that necessitate violence and aggression—those that offer faith that demands some form of hate towards a person different from us. Because in such a worldview, it is impossible to imagine a life that is free from hate, discord and division. The reality is, as the Quran itself acknowledges, there will always be people who hold on to different values and beliefs. We cannot compel others to believe as we do. Understandably, many Muslims resent this distorted version of their faith. They follow a much more peaceful form of theology, one that teaches not to fear, hate, or hurt others who are different. Against a radical and more morally vacuous theology which I've just mentioned, which also poses a great threat to social cohesion, we cannot afford ambivalence or apathy. Rather, we must articulate our theology of inclusion and compassion in a more forceful and compelling way. We knew we need to address head on questions such as: should our understanding of God evolve and change as we live with difference, and what does a compassionate and ever loving God mean in our times and for our context? The basis that can help us formulate a response to these questions can be found within the Muslim tradition. As I've mentioned, the Quran was an interlocutor in a diverse social religious world of late antiquity, replete with references to, and in conversations with, different communities; even as it preached a message of monotheism. In addition, the Quran states with great clarity that diversity is part of the divine plan, and the life of the prophet of Islam, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) illustrated such moral exhortations. In one of his first acts after reaching the city of Yathrib in north Arabia, he signed a pact with its diverse community so that they stood as one nation supporting and defending one another against foreign aggressors. In another example, the prophet asked the companions to migrate to Abyssinia or Habasha in early Islam, to seek a peaceful and safe life under the protection of the Christian king Negus. [Hadith in Arabic] So he asked companions to go to Abyssinia, because over there's a king that does not hurt [oppress] people. These prophetic examples are consistent with how the Quran sets out the mutual and symbiotic relationship between communities. So how we understand the Sharia as Muslims is extremely crucial, how we interpret its values, its principles, and its laws. For the theologian Imam Al-Ghazali, the Sharia is about protecting the five fundamentals: religion, life, intellect, progeny, and property. The 14th century jurist Najmuddin Al-Tufi went further, arguing that the Sharia in essence is about avoiding harm. The Sharia exalts humankind to protect and enhance welfare and well-being. Everything that it sets out for its followers to do is never outside the realm of human life and society, but within it and for its benefit. But I wish to go further than Najmuddin Al-Tufi, because the notion of harm that he mentions and discusses needs to be interrogated even more closely. Harm is not only limited to the theological sense but also in a social context—in particular when we deal with differences, including religious differences. The ability to identify harm is not a matter only for the mind—not just an intellectual endeavour—but more importantly, a spiritual one. The Prophet Muhammad had already indicated this very clearly in his Hadiths on the heart; that when the heart is good, itha saluha, the entire body is fine—the human self becomes good. When it is rotten, itha fasad, the entire body will become rotten.

Now, the next step for us is to translate theology into common social practices. Religion in my view is ultimately about the discipline of the self and society through right conduct and behaviour, that stems from the purity of the heart. That is why there is a big emphasis on compassion, rahma, and kindness ra’fa. One must act in a just and benevolent way to one's friend or foe, one's neighbour far or near. In the light of our contemporary social context, there are new ethical imperatives too. We ought to ask what is the role of our religious ethics in a diverse and multi religious society?

How do we show care love and compassion to neighbours and friends from other faith backgrounds?

What values must we prioritize specially to combat bigotry and to breakdown prejudices that are inimical to cohesion?

One of the very important virtues is hospitality. It calls upon us to always treat someone or some community as our honoured guest. Many of us are guilty of the error of what a 10th century mystic Al Hallaj calls ‘annexation’. We're trapped in a kind of a pre-Copernican world where we place ourselves at the centre whilst others revolve around us, often going unnoticed; or we interpret them through our own experiences and biases. And hospitality challenges this egocentricity, even as we disagree with each other. Our religious traditions teach us not to turn away from another human being, but to remain just and compassionate at all times.

A big challenge is how to understand our historical traditions. The past must be understood and interpreted correctly, with a critical eye to the wider social historical circumstances, and with a careful consideration and appreciation of our own condition today. For Muslims, the context we live in today is unique even if some try to fit it in some parts of Muslim history. Because when you look at your condition as something which has happened in the past, it gives you a false sense of clarity and comfort that there are already answers deemed more authentic and credible. But the reality, on the other hand, is a lot more complex. However, this interpretive exercise requires competence; and to be more specific for our purposes tonight, interreligious competence. For example, we rarely find episodes of peaceful coexistence in history thought and discussed from the perspective of living with difference. Often, they are seen from the vantage point of the victor or the victims. But we know that minority communities did not always live as second-class citizens. Nor were they totally subordinate to a majority group all the time. There were neighbours who lived peacefully together, traders who served all sorts of customers from all backgrounds, physicians who tended to the sick whose faith did not matter, because their aim was to save lives. There were Judges who adjudicated legal disputes, regardless of the religion of the litigants, based on the principles of justice. So, we need to improve the ways we understand our interconnected histories.  When we don't, there is a risk that we will perpetuate and reinforce attitudes that divide and separate. Alternately, it is the collective duty of religious and community leaders to provide leadership and guidance on the constructive ways of living our faith in a diverse society. I truly believe that faith communities can be powerful resources and catalysts for peaceful and constructive coexistence as humanity faces some of its greatest challenges today. While some may justify religion to inspire aggression, exclusiveness and violence, our choice must be the opposite. It must be a clear one to demand, defend, and protect a peaceful expression of faith.

Thank you

[End of lecture]


We are very privileged to have you with us, not only tonight but this week as we enjoy meals together and get to know one another. It really has been wonderful. I'm going to take just a moment to introduce briefly our panellists who are seated up here, and then they will have the opportunity to respond

First, we will hear from Susan Mickey. Susan is a member of the Jewish community in Dunedin.  She was born and grew up in Zimbabwe, lived in Australia and the UK before moving to New Zealand. She currently teaches chemistry, senior geography, and junior science at Tokomairiro High School in Milton.

After Susan we will hear from Amy Armstrong. Amy is currently the pastoral ministry coordinator for the Catholic Diocese of Dunedin. Within this role, she works part time in Catholic chaplaincy here at the University, which she has been doing for about 16 or 17 years. She is a trained spiritual director. She is married to Paul and is the mother of Anton, and finds refreshment in music and nature.

And then we will hear from George Shafi Lethbridge. He is a student here at the university of Otago. He is a Muslim revert; currently serving as president of the University's Muslim Student Association; and working with the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand in his free time. He enjoys playing American football and making cheese.

The individuals up here, while they do represent a particular faith group, they are not expected to speak on behalf of every member of their particular faith group. They are of course individuals with their own opinions and thoughts that have been shaped by their religion. So, while you might subscribe to one of these faith traditions; it's still possible that you won't agree with what a panellist says—and that's OK. In fact, we celebrate the beautiful diversity that is found in, and among, each religion. After hearing from the panellists, we will have a time for questions.

 So, I now invite Susan to come forward and speak, followed by Amy, and then George.


Thank you for asking me! That has been an absolutely fascinating talk, and I have to say I don't think there's anything I disagreed with. Growing up in Zimbabwe with the Iraqi embassy as our neighbours, its mosque’s imam was my stepfather's best friend. The school I went to was a Jewish day school, and Muslim students usually took out the Hebrew prize; they usually did better! But it has always been for me—my childhood and my adulthood—has always been a mixture of faiths. It has always been about people talking to each other: from the shoe seller, when I went to buy some shoes for my youngest son before Yom Kippur which couldn't contain any leather, who said “why are you buying non leather shoes”; and I explained, and he said “I'm a Muslim”; he said “you're a Jew, we are all the children of Abraham”! And such a profound comment, such a wonderful thing for him to say! He said, “do you know it gives us ethics, it makes us good people; we are brothers and sisters”. And that to me says most of it. I'd also like to quote from the former Chief Rabbi of the Commonwealth, Lord Jonathan Sacks, who died about a year ago, where he said that coexistence is part of God's plan along with neighbourliness care for the stranger and respect for others. And that is what Judaism is about: that care for whoever comes along; somebody's hungry, feed them; somebody comes to your home, make them welcome. The other comment that I dearly loved from a paper I read by a Muslim philosopher by the name of Akbar Ahmed. He said, there were three main steps on part of being interfaith. The first is dialogue, being open minded, willing to exchange views and communicate. The second is understanding. After exchanging views, we understand, we promote, and follow a path that actually gives us a genuine education in each other's ways. We often discover surprising similarities, as well as some of the differences. But we can explore those and appreciate them. And he said the third step—which I think quite a few of us are on the way to—is friendship. We eat at each other's homes; we talk with each other; we share things: one of us is down, one of us has a problem, we talk and share. The most wonderful example of that I saw was that the first hui that we had in Dunedin after the Christchurch massacre. It was part of the royal inquiry into that massacre, and we had official government people there, people who work directly for the Prime Minister, and there were people from all the faiths in Dunedin involved in this. And they were talking about a memorial for the martyrs, what could be done. And after a while, one of the Muslim women stood up, and she said, “please don't! This is not our way. Our way is to remember, to do good things in the names of the souls of the people who died. We don't make memorials. We enhance their souls.” It's hard to describe, but the Jewish way is very similar; that we try to do good deeds in memory of those who have passed on. And we not only listened with our ears, but we heard her with our hearts; because she was comfortable enough to talk to all of us to say, to us please don't do this. And you may have noticed, there is no memorial; because we listened with our hearts as well, and we respected the way; and we said that is fine; so, all of us go through and do other things in their memory to help. And that to me is what it is all about! It's about talking to each other, and respecting each other, and listening to each other. Thank you!


Kia Ora! Ngā mihi Nazirudin! I really enjoyed your presentation, and like Susan resonated with much of it. And I feel a bit like the middle child: Christianity between Islam and Judaism! A lot about the hospitality, and the friendships, and knowing each other, they run throughout all of these religions. And I've enjoyed the history of these peace lectures. I haven't been to all 19, but I've been to many of them; and often walk away feeling heartened and connected to all three religions; and how much we share in common. And that's what this is about: as Nazirudin said, getting to know each other, and dispelling any misconceptions, and choosing love over hatred. I'm glad Olivia gave the disclaimer. I'm not speaking for all Christians or all Catholics here today. Catholic means universal, so we always say here comes everybody! And sometimes I agree with Jewish and Muslims more than with some of my Catholic colleagues—but in some areas of course. So, I guess peace for me is an important concept; and as I was thinking about today, and what I might [say], how I might respond; there's sort of three steps to peace that I feel are important. The first one being inner peace. So, I think as a spiritual director, that's my focus; that's the focus of the practice: knowing ourselves, and who we are created to be in God and the likeness of God, and peeling back all those layers of culture and worldliness that can bury who we were created as in our purity. And so, the more work we can do in knowing ourselves, I think we create that inner peace that can't help but emanate into the world. So, I think that's the most important step of the journey. And then from that, the second step would be peace in relationship with one another, and getting to know each other. And I think you know that in the Christian tradition, the gospels are full of stories of Jesus mixing with people that others wouldn't necessarily mix with: the tax collectors, the sinners, the prostitutes, the whatever metaphor you want to use. Jesus wasn't afraid to mix with those who were different to him, and he was wasn't afraid to welcome them to the table and to eat with them. As Nazirudin was saying, when you're hospitable with people you see the human face, the face that God created. I was going to look it up, but I ran out of time: there was a Jewish speaker for one of these peace lectures, maybe 10 years ago, and I don't remember his name, but I remember what he said. And he said one of the Jewish traditions is when you see someone you look at them as a sacred text, you see them as a sacred. Does that sound right Susan? You see them as someone who has their own sacred story, their own sacred narrative to share. And that stayed with me, because I think that's what Jesus did. He saw the sacredness of people that others might not see because they were different. And the third peace I was thinking about was the peace of creation, the peace of the earth. I think Papa-tū-a-nuku is hurting. And there's a lot of violence, and weather patterns, and climate change we're seeing that needs to be attended to in a peaceful way. And we all across all religions, I think it's a very important part of our mission to look at in this age, in the stage where we're at in life and in the world. And Pope Francis wrote an encyclical a few years ago called “laudato si”, the care of our common home; and in it, he talked about: it is our common home no matter our religion, no matter our race, or creed, this is what is common to all of us; and if we don't have a home to live on together, there is no peace. So, that's what I was thinking! I was also impressed that to see Nazirudin quoted lumen gentium, that was the Vatican two documents. It's lovely to hear that we know about each other, we care about each other, and we want to learn from each other. Kia ora!


Bismillah-er Rahman-er Rahim! Assalaamu alaikum! May the peace, mercy, and blessings of God be upon every single one of you in this room today. Before starting my formal speech, I'd love to just give a really big thank you for this event taking place, for the speaker, for everything. It's been a really valuable sharing. And the value of this Abrahamic identity is something which is very strongly held within our faith. Whenever we go to pray, we say [salat Ibrahimiya in Arabic] “blessings and peace be upon Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, and upon Abraham and the family of Abraham!” So, this is the common recognition that this is this family, this religious community; and that is something which is extremely valued in our faith tradition. As to the talk itself, I can't help as though wonder if it's somewhat misnamed: “Defence of religious peace”! There's always this idea that religion is the source of war, and we need to defend it as a source of peace. But I'd argue that if we look at what's currently happening with the world order, the secular peace world order we've seen in the news, the “rules based international system” is crumbling. Of course, as Muslims, seeing the suffering of our brothers and sisters all around the world in Myanmar and Palestine, in all of these countries, we've known for a long time that that's not true, that this secular world order is not a peace; but now with the crimes happening in Ukraine, it is only further been reaffirmed to the world; we know that it is not a true peace. And this is actually something which is alluded to in the Qur’an. Allah Azza wa Jaal says in Surah Takathur: [First and second ayah in Arabic] “the competition for worldly goods, for money, for fame, for land, distracts you, until you turn, until you visit the graves” and it is only when we visit these, we lose sight of what really matters. When you're going to work every day, struggling on, that you forget what's really important. But similarly, when you focus all day on “my nation, I must take this land, I must take these resources, we must better that”, you lose sight of what is really important; and it's only when you go to the graves, you know, when you see those who are dead, you realize maybe the search for wealth isn't as important! And just in the same way, when you go to the graves across Poland, across Germany you see the suffering of the Jewish people; when you look in Ukraine, you see the mass graves there; you see that this nationalism, this competition over these worldly benefits is absolutely futile and that it means nothing. And it is only through the worship of our creator that anything can make sense. Allah is as-Salaam, it's peace. The Mufti recited a beautiful hadith which I'd actually heard and considered including in my own speech but my Arabic is… not atrocious, but not great, so I decided I'd not; but I'm glad it came out cause it's a very beautiful, very beautiful prayer for peace. But it is only when we reflect on that, when we reflect on our true purpose—which is that one day we will come before our Lord—It's only then when we reflect on that that we can have this true faith, this true peace in between nations. And this is actually recorded in a hadith which is narrated by Abu Hurairah in Sahih al Muslim, and I believe in Bukhari as well, where the Prophet Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wa Salam says “you shall not enter paradise so long as you do not affirm belief, and you shall not believe so long as you do not love one another. Shall I not direct you to a thing which, if you do it, will foster love amongst you? Spread peace between yourselves.” And there's, furthermore there is an addition which comes out in Al Bukhari’s Adab al Mufrad, so a guide to Islamic ethics, to Islamic behaviour and all of that, and it adds: “beware of hatred, for it is the razor. I do not say that it shaves hair, but that it shaves away the religion”. So when we give in to hatred, when we give in to this competition over “I want this and you don't want it”! Think about it, if I own something, “this is my jacket”, so by definition it's not your jacket. And when we start thinking about that, all of a sudden there is this competition,” this is my land so it's not your land!” So what does that mean: you have to fight over it. That's where these conflicts come from; and it's only when we realise [that] doesn't matter whose jacket this is, cause when I'm dead I'm not gonna need a cool jacket; you know like that doesn't matter. What matters is these spiritual truths; and so when we give into this hatred, we don't just lose the bonds between one another, we lose our bonds with Allah, with God; we lose the very purpose of why we were put on this world. And I think so it's not a defence of religious peace; it's a re[gaining], taking it back. We need to do that, we need to reclaim the heritage of peace which has only truly come about when we set aside our meaningless differences and embrace our faith towards God. We live in a world which has cast religion as a source of violence, and it is not that. It's only by returning to this idea of religious faith that we can truly find peace and truly build peace between our communities. And as we can see, here today we're all here in the name of our own faiths, but here to support that common good, that common peace between our faiths. And so I leave you with the greeting that all Muslims make every time we meet each other, and which isn't just a ritualised greeting like when you say how are you and you don't want to know how they are, you just want to say hi; every time we meet we say assalamualaikum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh! And it's not just a ritual, that is us honestly wishing onto this brother, onto the sister onto everyone on earth peace, blessings, and mercy; because that is what peace is founded on; and the only way that we can do it is when we put aside our divisions and we turn back to God. Thank you!


Doctor Nazirudin, would you like to respond to anything the panellists said before I open it up to the floor, or are you happy for me to just open it up?

Dr Nazirudin:

Thank you for your comments and reflections. I think they add to the richness of our conversations tonight. Just to clarify on the title of the lecture, “In defence of religious peace”, I think you [George] have offered a very interesting perspective and interpretation of it. I think it's meant to deliver a very powerful message that there have been violence and aggression and hatred done in the name of religion, and that has also led to some confusion amongst people that religion represents those values. As you rightly pointed out, that's definitely never the case. And therefore, it's very important that we put forth a defence of religious peace and build not just the principles and values that will support it, but also the strategies that will allow for religious peace to become the norm rather than an exception. I think it's important looking at the developments around the world that I think this has become one of the key priorities. There has been a lot of confusion especially amongst the younger generation, what does religion represent for them; in particular when they read about all these things that have happened, the kind of violence and whatnot that have been performed in the name of Islam and of religion. So, the idea is to defend religious peace as the fundamental teaching of our faith as well as what constitutes the norm of our religious life and practice. So, I think we don't disagree on that point; but you offer a very interesting perspective and reading of what the title means. And I think it's important to take note of what you've said as well. Thank you!


Greg is going to walk around with the microphone for us. So, if there are any questions for Dr Nazirudin or any of our panellist members, you are invited to shoot your hand up in the air and Greg will come to you.

Q.  Tēnā koutou katoa! Thank you very much for the lovely talk. My question [is] just [about] your last comment, Dr Nazirudin.  You talked about the young people having a bit of confusion. And I'll open it up to the whole panel. What's your thoughts about bringing religion into the school system, in terms of getting them to understand it—particularly those who don't practice their faith? I'm a Catholic; I'm actually a religious sister, the Sister of Mercy. I went through the state school system, so I didn't go through the Catholic school system. But just your general view on teaching religion in schools, because we're having a conversation here in Aotearoa [about] the historical facts which led to land wars; and I'm just wondering whether we need to ensure the fact and balanced discussion around religion, [and] all religions need to be included.

A. [Susan] We had a very interesting discussion, I think it was last year, on the subject of religion in schools; and whether it should be religious instruction, which is specific instruction in a religion; or whether it should be what they offer in the state schools in for example the United Kingdom, which is religious education, which is education about all religions—their similarities, their differences and appreciation of that. I'm not so sure about religious instruction, because I think there is a lot of potential for abuse perhaps; and a lot of parents would feel that they would want to withdraw their children from that. Religious education on the other hand, the best example I can give is actually [what happened]: [I was] covering a class in that subject one day, where one kid came in and [said something very offensive]. I won't repeat what he said, but I said “hang on a moment; stop! That was really offensive.” And he said “what do you mean?” Now, he was from a very old religion in the Middle East that predates Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. And I said, “well, older people might be offended!” And we talked about that, and I actually sat there and educated this group of year eight students while they talked about what respect meant to them. And I said that … I knew of three men who worked together one of whom was Hindu, one of whom was Sikh,  and one of whom was Jewish; and how when they went out on jobs together, knowing and understanding about each other 's religions. And having respect meant that they worked together well when they stayed in hotels. Nobody ordered food that would offend anybody else, that they could share and be together. And these children sat there and had an hour discussion of what respect meant to them, which was absolutely wonderful. And funny enough, a couple of weeks later when I happened to cover their class again, they were very upset because they had actually their class teacher when asked what they had done during the lesson, they said we had this discussion on respect and what it meant. And she went, “oh, for God's sake!” And they said, “look miss, we're very sorry, but we're finding that offensive. We have actually made a class pact, in fact it's a whole year pact, that we are not going to swear or take any God's name in vain. We are going to be respectful of each other.” And she turned around; she said, “oh, shut up!” And they came to me in an absolute rage, because they felt they weren't being respected. But I can't believe that just my saying “hang on a moment, you're being disrespectful” led to a whole year group of about 150 students actually having this discussion about respect and what it meant, and sharing it. So to me that is what religious education is about and should be: that we as a teacher—sometimes that'll happen in the middle of science or in the middle of geography—we take those little moments, and we try to share ethics with our students, possibly in a non-religious way, if you like; but in the way that God's guidance gives us all. So that's how I feel about that.

A [George] So I actually had the most wonderful opportunity to study abroad for several months, in Switzerland. Now that's a country where they actually do teach religion in school, and it's the way they do that is so valuable. When I was there, they were teaching about Islam and we were going to get on to Hinduism. Unfortunately, this thing called COVID-19 … that came along, and I had to come home. But they've done [it] there. The year before, they'd covered Christianity and Judaism, and then this year it was Islam Hinduism—and if they had time Buddhism too. I was somewhat worried, because I don't know if you guys know Switzerland's reputation towards Islam, but it's not positive. They banned us from even putting up minarets on masjids [mosques]. So knowing that, I was very worried. In fact, in the first class I didn't even tell them I was Muslim. I just sort of hummed over. I was like, yeah, I'm agnostic or something. So, I didn't exactly want to announce to a class with no one visibly Muslim that I was; because I thought that could be a very socially isolated year. And well, I was surprised, as this was one of the greatest classes on religion I could have imagined. They went over all the basics; had class discussions in a really great, really respectful, way. And what it did, it just fostered this sense of understanding. There was never any [push that] you should join this religion; there was never anything like that. Really respectful! There were actually some Muslims in the class, I just hadn't noticed at the time because they were not visibly Muslim. … There we were, we all liked to share; and it was a really beautiful way of handling the subject. And we walked away with this really good understanding of that. And they covered not just one religion. Although it's a very deeply Catholic part of the country, they covered all religions. And I find that that has so much value, and that's something which we really could learn from. And when we look at the state of some of the schools these days, with the behaviour of children, you could say there's definitely some value in them learning values, and the values of all faiths; because even if they don't pick up all of the values of one, there's so much beauty in all of our faiths to be learned. And I think there's so many beautiful life lessons which a lot of the students that I hear about from my brothers really could take from—because I've heard some horror stories.

A [Amy] Yeah, I think it's a really good question. I myself, a born and bred Catholic, never went to Catholic schools until I went to university. And in the States, that was a very positive experience, the university, because it was steeped in social justice; and I took a lot out of that. My son, who's eight, is in a Catholic school here in Dunedin. And I was always like: just because I'm Catholic, it doesn't mean I'm gonna make my kid go to Catholic school; because I didn't go to one, and I'm fine. You know, I was really sort of defensive about it. But in the end, we sent him to the school my husband works at, and it's been a very positive experience. But the interesting thing is, you know, Islam and Judaism isn't taught; and I think that would be really valuable to add to the Sacramento stream! The other interesting thing is that, especially in secular New Zealand, there's less devout people. A lot of our school systems are struggling to staff with principals and teachers of the faith; but that has strengths and weaknesses as well. There's more diverse views coming to it. It's very clear that the values are still to be taught, but there's  a bit more flexibility, and I think that can have its advantage as well.

A [Greg] Just to mention that one thing the Abrahamic group does is to visit schools, high schools, in Dunedin. And we've been doing this for 20 years. And one of the schools we visited was John McGlashan college, and we just happened to have a retired chaplain from that school sitting in front of me. So maybe you, Roly, you could just mention what was the value to your class of having the Abrahamic Group bringing Hashmat and others back into your school. You've got one minute!

A [Roly Scott] Well, of course Hashmat was such a delightful young man everybody lined up to become a Muslim at the end of the … [laughter]. It was just so [important], especially in those years after 9/11, if I could be so crass as to use that expression; because we did have a range of students there. Ninety five percent were secular, and we had Muslim students there, and we had Hindu students there; and I think it just brought an appreciation of difference and togetherness. The other two things that hit me in those [times], and they were great times, and I remember not only Hashmat, but his father, Professor Lafraie, he was just such a wonderful witness for faith. Yeah, that's enough!

 Q [Ann Mary] I've been involved with the Abrahamic Group for a long time; because I decided, without telling my vector—I'm an Anglican. I didn't say anything to him; I just joined, and he retired and he didn't even know that I'd done it. So, it was good. But I have some wonderful Muslim friends; and because they don't necessarily have their grandparents here, I have started being called grandma [by] a lot of the younger Muslims. And I'm I really appreciate and enjoy that. And because I don't have any of my family in Dunedin—my sons, in Sydney and my daughters in central Otago—and it's just like I've opened my heart to these children. And they there are a lot of fun to be with; and we look after each other. And for me it's been wonderful!

Greg: It's more of a sharing than a question, but that's precious, thank you!

Q. Thank you doctor Nazir for the wonderful talk and for the panellists for your input. My question goes back to the formation of the Abrahamic Interfaith Dunedin Group; twenty years ago, after September 11th. So if you reflect back, in the last 20 odd years, has the interfaith harmony improved? You can all answer this. What have you improved, one or two things? Or, what can we do next to improve this interfaith harmony? Sometimes when we talk about interfaith or pan-faith or pan-cultural, intercultural, multicultural harmony, are we preaching to the converted? Forgive  the pun! But, are we preaching to the converted? Everybody who turns up to these rooms are converted. We believe in this. So what about those who are not converted? How do we reach them? How do we understand what their issues are? And how do we try and change their views? How do we understand them to make them more harmonious?

Olivia: That's a great question. At our church, we always say we're preaching to the choir! So yeah we're preaching to the people that agree with us! That's a great question; any thoughts up here at the front or any thoughts from those who have been in whether Dunedin Abrahamic interfaith group or another interface group for several years or maybe an outsider’s perspective.

A (Ruth) I do feel that in that time there has definitely been an increase in understanding; because there has been a sharing all the time of what each of these faiths is really about, and that dialogue on its own has brought it together, brought about an understanding of each other, and the similarities and the differences. And just knowing that, and being appreciated, being appreciative of that, makes a heck of a difference to all of us. And because we have that knowledge now, we can then in our own way spread it to other people, and spread our satisfaction of knowing that data now. The Abrahamic group have made great inroads in putting that in, and it's been a joy to be a member of it. Thank you!

A (George) Having grown up almost entirely in a post 911 world—[born on 29 August 2001,] I think I got just 13 days in the heydays of tolerance that we sometimes talk about—I think there is a constant effort for us to come together, because hardship breeds solidarity. We saw that after 911 there was so much violence, so much hatred which came out; but there was so much learning, so much sharing, so much of that which had to happen. When things are good, it's very easy to sweep conversations under the rug. For so many people in New Zealand, the idea that there was racism in New Zealand, [they’d say,] was there's no way that could happen! And then, there was Christchurch; and it turns out we've been saying that the whole time but it hadn't been heard. So in a way, these kinds of crisis scenarios force these conversations, which need to happen, to the fore. But in terms of preaching to converted, literally yes; but also, all we can do is small actions, living our peace, because that's what it's all about. If you're a member of a faith tradition, especially if people know that, they will be impacted by your daily actions. And it's actually one of the reasons I've recently started wearing this hat a lot more; because otherwise I don't look Muslim. But what I want to do is, I want to be out there, so that if I hold the door for someone, that's not just us someone open the door, but “hey that's a Muslim!” Hijabi sisters are constantly, whether they like it or not, they are a symbol of Islam. And so, every action they do gets seen in that way. So, if through our good character—and that's what so much of religion is about, it about good character, in the very classical days of Islamic scholarship, our greatest scholars spent years learning Adab, learning [conducting] your behaviour in society, before they would even touch any religious doctrine. And so it's that it's by living our faith traditions that we can build this dialogue; because so many people, if all they know is what they see divisive media, they're never going to come together. But it's through getting people in the same room and making sure that each of us … If we are the converted, if we are the choir, we might as well sing a beautiful song! So, let's go out there and live our lives in the most beautiful ways we can, so that those people who see it, they don't think “oh! all those Muslims, all those Christians, all those Jews, they're all like this!”—when they don't know that you're right next to them, and you're actually behaving in a beautiful way. If we can live in the same world as everyone, and live with them in a beautiful way, that's the only way we can actually get past these divisions and get into friendly relations between everyone; because we judge books by covers, so it's up to us, if we are the choir, if we are the converted, we need to make that cover as beautiful as we can so that the people who will only judge by the cover, they are getting a good picture of it.

A (Amy) I'm not sure about this [how relevant it is]. It's just a thought that came to me. I come from Minnesota, in the States; and unlike Susan here, I grew up in a very monocultural society: you're either Catholic or Lutheran, and if you were something else, you're a little bit weird! And I think one advantage of New Zealand is that it is so secular here. In fact, I was embarrassed to be Christian when I first came; and all of a sudden, I had to really think about what my values were, and why I was calling myself that—instead of just, “well everybody is, so that's what we do here!” But also, it means that racism is here, obviously is always seen; but it means that there's not one dominant religion; so that we are all allowed to be here as we are. And in our urban centres as well, and at university, we're very privileged to have the mix and the respect. I can feel the respect of different colleagues of different religions amongst each other. And I think what can we do, I think it comes back to the question about our schools. If we start with the children, with the diversity, and the teaching with the children; it's just natural for them. If they have a Muslim friend, or the more we can mix with each other, the more natural the relationships are; and there won’t be the question of why are you different; because you've known each other from a young age. But I'd be curious to know from Nazirudin what the culture in Singapore is. Is it diverse? Is it mixed? Religions mixed with each other? Is it taught in schools?

A (Nazirudin) Thank you! I was planning to respond to the question. Anyway, yes, I thought it's a very important question. It's something that we have always taught about as well: what are the outcomes and how things have changed in in society? We are very diverse society, so those who have been to Singapore [know that] 5 million people on a very tiny island. So, we live very close to each other. As I think many Singaporeans and the audience will attest to! So with neighbours it's extremely important; because what they cook, you can smell very easily all the time, and you have to have that tolerance if you don't like your particular smell or food, and different cuisines and different cultures and practices. So, interfaith harmony or interfaith work is extremely important. But I wanted to say that inasmuch as we are amongst friends and interfaith activist, we always want to have more people to get involved; but we need to also recognize that interfaith work is not for everyone. You need to have the interest and the confidence in your own faith first before you step out and willing to speak to other people. But you also need to have the right skill sets to get engaged with interfaith work; so the ability to respect, the openness, and also I think very important quality—a quality which I think a lot of people may not have—is the ability to listen without judging. And I think that's a very difficult, not just with interfaith work but with our personal relationships: the ability to listen to what the other person [has to say]. So, because of that we often find the same people getting involved, and that has also been a kind of challenge for us. But what has interestingly developed in Singapore, again the impetus for interfaith work, a lot of it goes back to September 11th unfortunately, again with the intent of improving perceptions of our faith to other people. And what we have seen is, because we get the younger people involved, this takes time. It takes a lot of effort; but the younger people also involved. And they are quite interested to find out, but we look at what actually interests them. It may not necessarily be the theology, not necessarily the history, but some commonalities that are of concern to them. So a lot of young people want to talk about the environment, about global warming, and bringing faith and its values to be the basis for the conversation around those big challenges for humanity as a whole. So there is that interest, and the conversation gets going; and today it happens online as well. So we do see a higher level of confidence in interreligious understanding, not as much as we like; but I think that is one of the important first few steps that we must take in Singapore. And a lot of the interfaith understanding happens via the institutions, as the places of worship play a very important role, and especially the religious leaders. Of course, because of the way in which our cities and towns are developed, you sometimes find different places of worship very close to each other. So you have one very popular street in Singapore, if you're tourists you might have seen that, you might have walked along the street where you would find a mosque, a Hindu temple, and a Buddhist temple very close to each other; and they are all very good neighbours. So on the festivities, they would visit each other, and exchange greetings, etcetera. And we also have certain malls and churches which are close to each other, and they help each other out in terms of … we have very little land space, we have very little parking space, so on Fridays for the Friday congregation, when the congregants come and they want to park their car, the parking is not sufficient; the church will open its parking space up for Muslim congregants to park their car there. And the reverse happens on Sundays, because we don't have our you know congregation on Sunday morning. So, there's a lot of that exchanging that's happening in each locality. And they built those kinds of understanding and friendship. So interfaith is not just about conversation, but about very deep understanding, of protecting that common space, the common home that you want to build. We respect the differences; we hold on to our values and principles; we invite them—in fact, in Singapore it's very common now during Ramadan, during Iftar, when you breakfast, that we invite a lot of non-Muslim guests to come and have meals with us. And likewise, on their occasions as well. So there's a lot of that going on. And I think that requires some kind of deliberate planning to ensure that harmony prevails, understanding prevails. And as George rightly points out, when you have these personal friendships and relationships with someone from a different faith, that easily breaks down the stereotypes that you may have had in your mind after reading about a group of people that you've never met. And that was the case with the relatively young boy who wanted to attack the mosque in Singapore after the Christchurch attacks. He spent most of his time in his room with his computer; he didn't have friends from the Muslim community; he didn't really have any friends. So he didn't know what Islam was all about, so when he read about it, he said, “well it's a good idea to attack the mosque, someone has done it in Christchurch, why can't I do it in Singapore?” That is something that we want to address very carefully in terms of trying to help the younger generation understand diversity of faith, and what these faith represent, and the perspective communities.

Olivia: That's all the time we have for questions tonight, but I think a really excellent question for us all to ponder as we leave this space tonight is: what's next? Nineteen years of these really good conversations; now that we're comfortable with the conversations, what do we do next? Before we do dismiss, I'm going to  invite up Dr Haizal Hussaini  to come forward to say a few words. He is one of our Muslim chaplaincy team members, and he's also a member of the Dunedin Abrahamic Interfaith Group.

Haizal:  kia ora everyone! This has been an excellent night tonight. Thank you very much for coming here and celebrate this event with all of us, with the Abrahamic Interfaith Group. I would like to thank our guest speaker that came all the way from Singapore, and had to spend a few nights in Christchurch. The problem was that we were scheduled to be on the 26th of September, but that has become the Memorial Day for the queen. So we shifted to 29th. With all those events that happened, he still made it! So it's wonderful for him to come; and also his companion Mr Rauf, thank you for coming! I would like to also thank the panel speakers Amy, Susan, and George; and also the Vice Chancellor for supporting this and coming over. Now I've got the best job: to give the gift to our speaker and the rest!

Key points for the Otago Peace Lecture 2022

by Mufti Nazirudin Nasir

1 Atrocities in Christchurch and elsewhere around the world remind us of the dangers of a warped ideology centered on hate, contempt and ignorance, but also the strong will of the many good people in this world to defeat it. Even as we mourn the death of the countless innocent lives of peace-loving believers, such pain and suffering will only heal if we work tirelessly and relently to replace hate with compassion, suspicion with trust, contempt with love.

2 We speak of peace in even more challenging times today, when a war in Ukraine and conflicts elsewhere are escalating, when social and religious fault lines are at risk of rupturing completely due to multiple pressure points in our troubled world. It shows how fragile peace is, and building and strengthening peace is always a work in progress.

3 However, throughout the pandemic, we learnt something that offers us a reason for optimism. Faith groups remained resilient, made adjustments and implemented safe measures for the greater good of society and to protect lives. Beyond that, religious leaders expressed solidarity and support for each other, which helped our faith communities draw strength from togetherness at a time when anxieties were high.

4 Why is peace important? Why defend it? In summer of 2014, ISIS emerged and self-proclaimed a caliphate that preached violence to achieve its aims, and to revive the ‘religion of Abraham’. But what ISIS claimed about the prophet Abraham was not completely foreign to many Muslim minds. On more than one occasion, the prophet Muhammad was asked by the Quran to direct believers to follow the faith of Abraham (millata Ibrahim) because Abraham was a staunch monotheist (hanif), and that this faith was unadulterated.

5 The insidious and poisonous ideology of extremism is meant to cause harm and destruction – where violence and aggression are easily justified and where you belong either to an imagined collective or outside of it as an enemy. In the Muslim case, you either live in a Muslim land or the land of the enemy (dar al-Islam or dar al-harb). One has to either accept this version of the faith or be prepared for its most horrendous consequences.

6 My search for religious peace grew and intensified against such ideas of religion and religious goals that necessitate violence and aggression, and of a faith that demands some form of hate towards a person different from us. In such a worldview, it is impossible to imagine a life that is free from hate, discord and division.

7 For Muslims, the context we live in today is unique, and gives rise to unprecedented theological, jurisprudential and existential questions. There is huge discomfort and worry in coming to terms with the fact that life today presents us with very complex and completely new issues and challenges. Whilst some may justify religion to inspire aggression, exclusiveness and violence, our choice must be the opposite – to demand, defend and protect a peaceful expression of faith.

8 For Muslims, the Shari’a is most instructive. But the quest for what the Sharia is in the modern world or what it should be like has been a perennial struggle, and different expressions of it have led to very different forms and visions of religious life. But in general, the Shari’a exhorts humankind to protect and enhance welfare and well-being. Everything that it sets out for its followers to do is never outside the realm of human life and society, but within it and for its benefit.

9 But one of the greatest challenges in interpreting the Sharia is to situate the human condition and interest vis-à-vis the divine – which is at the centre and which is at the margins and periphery? How we understand the Shari’a as Muslims is extremely crucial, how we interpret its values, principles and laws, and how we envision the priorities given any particular context and environment.

10 Some see the world from a binary lense with two distinct and irreconciliable realms or entities, and within this worldview, only one or the other would prevail. If a worldly life that functions on reason and rationality clashes with a worldview and laws from a sacred source, then we will always remain in conflict, both in our minds and with others out there.

11 The pursuit of peace, and the concomitant avoidance of aggression, are principles that are well-entrenched in the Muslim religious tradition. There are many examples that speak to this. The Prophet asked the companions to migrate to Abyssinia in early Islam to seek a peaceful and safe life under the protection of a Christian king Negus. In a similar way he avoided direct confrontation with the Meccans at Hudaibiyyah, even willing to negotiate on matters some felt were unnegotiable principles.

12 These prophetic examples are consistent with how the Quran sets out the mutual and symbiotic relationship between communities. Success depends on the level of trust, confidence and support between them. The Quranic exhortation to do good and act honourably and with fairness (al-birr) and (al-qist) is important. This is also closely tied to the way we think of diversity and difference. At the heart of the Qur’an’s engagement with other communities is recognition, dialogue and hospitality.

13 Abraham’s faith in God was unquestionable – it was relentless; he was ready for the ultimate sacrifice. Perhaps so pure, so staunch, that the claim to Abraham’s faith was so fierce so as to give birth to different and competing traditions over time. Reading about Abraham as a Muslim, I am driven to understand how other communities and scriptures interpret him and conceive their worldviews around his life.

14 The different interpretations of Abraham reveal a remarkable possibility – powerful and evocative stories that speak of commonality and difference could be employed for whichever ends one desires. In this case, stories about Abraham could be used either to reinforce common origins and thus bolster a sense of unity, or to highlight differences and therefore justify exclusion.

15 The themes of commonality and difference become all the more important as we discuss social cohesion and peaceful coexistence in our diverse social worlds. This requires of us to constantly negotiate and navigate our interconnected worlds. As we live amidst many global existential threats, such as violence, hate crimes, terrorism, environmental crises, inequality, our faiths certainly need to offer responses and guidance.