Respect the key to interfaith harmony
L-R: Natalie Mobini, Ahmed Youssef, Paul Taylor, Robyn Horton, and Amardeep Singh, who will speak in an interfaith forum at the National Multicultural Festival. Photo: Rohan Thomson
A hundred years ago, most people in the Federal Capital Territory were Catholic or Protestant and the census of 1911 showed that 96 per cent of Australians identified themselves as Christian.
But as we approach Canberra's first centenary, it is clear that there is much more diversity among the faithful. Today about 60 per cent of Canberrans say they are religious and though Christianity is still the most prominent, with 55 per cent of the population identifying with a denomination, there is a growing number of members of other religious denominations.
Increasingly harmony is coming with the diversity. Last year, Canberrans overwhelmingly backed the building of a mosque in Gungahlin after 30 residents had tried to block the development.
There are now seven mosques in Canberra, adding to the religious landscape of churches, synagogues and temples.
The state's interfaith community is keen to promote goodwill in the centenary year and there are many worshippers, such as Canberra Interfaith Forum's Willie Senanayake, who advocate respectful debate and discussion, rather than conflict.
''Many more faiths are practised in Canberra than there were 100 years ago. However, no faith or creed teaches or encourages violence,'' Mr Senanayake, who is a Buddhist, said.
''It is important for different faith groups to get together and have a discussion to promote open conversation based on equality and mutual respect,'' he said.
The forum's members include people of Christian, Buddhist, Baha'i, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh faiths. In 2012 7000 Canberrans identified as Muslim and 3000 identified as Hindu. Australia-wide, the largest growing religion is Islam, which has increased by 40 per cent since 2006.
In Canberra, at least, the different faiths have proved no hindrance to forming good friendships.
''We're all friends, because we tend to focus on what we have in common rather than our differences,'' forum member Paul Taylor, who was raised a Christian but now worships as a Sukyo Mahikari, said.
''We're very harmonious, and it's actually very easy to get along.''
The group is holding an open forum at the National Multicultural Festival on Sunday and Canberrans of all religions are invited to attend the day long event.
There will be a variety of faith based activities including a Zen meditation session, Muslim prayers and Hindu Puja presentation.
Canberra's Multicultural Affairs Minister, Joy Burch, said it was events such as these that welcomed the active participation of all cultures and religions in the community.
She commended the interfaith forum for conceiving ''a great initiative that will further promote cultural and religious tolerance in our community''.
''It is pleasing that people from all backgrounds feel comfortable in Canberra to practise their traditions and customs without fear of persecution or vilification, and the National Multicultural Festival is a great example of this,'' she said.
The Multicultural Festival is on from 9.30am to 12.10am on Saturday and from 10am to 5pm on Sunday. Don't miss ''India in the City'' on Akuna Street and African Village at The Canberra Times fountain on Saturday.