Cross Cultural Understanding

Ramadan Iftar

The muslim sisters host an annual iftar dinner during the month of Ramadan. This provides an opportunity for both muslims and non-muslims to participate in the breaking of the fast. This is what someone who attended our event had to say about it.

Sometimes an unexpected invitation will open a new world of understanding! That was my experience when Arfa Khan invited me to attend the United Muslim Sisters of the Latrobe Valley’s Iftar. I have lived in Gippsland all my life and my family have been here for five generations before me, none of us though had ever before been invited to attend a function hosted by Gippsland’s Muslim community, so it was a definite first, for myself and for my husband Michael, and I am so glad that Arfa made it so. We arrived at Churchill not quite sure of what to expect, the friendly welcome from everyone and the gentle guidance on the customary separation of the men and women put us both at ease in a new environment where, Michael, knew no one, and I knew Arfa. I thought it was a bit like an Aussie BBQ , the men in one area and the women in another. Mick was quickly introduced around, and I found myself amongst a table of friendly women from across the region. I was stunned by the beautiful clothes the Muslim women wore, the vibrant colours were elegantly draped and enhancing the beauty of those who wore them. The food was very good, many different dishes of great variety and plenty to eat. What I enjoyed most though was the children, beautifully dressed and so pleased to be participating in such a special occasion. I loved listening to them as they spoke about the importance of the evening, their faith and devotion was evident for all to see. I learnt more that evening in two hours sharing a meal, conversation and entertainment than I would have learnt in many hours of reading. Thank you Arfa and the United Muslim Sisters of the Latrobe Valley for inviting us both into your world and sharing it with us, it was a truly memorable and most enjoyable experience.

Victoria Police Iftar Dinner

United Muslim Sisters of Latrobe Valley president Arfa Khan of Trafalgar was a guest speaker at a Victoria Police Iftar Dinner. Victoria Police hosted its third chief commissioner’s iftar dinner to commemorate Ramadan with representatives and leaders from Victoria’s Islamic community. More than 150 people attended the event, including representatives from the Islamic Council of Victoria, the Victorian Board of Imams, Islamic Shia Council of Victoria, Benevolence Australia, United Muslims Sisters of Latrobe Valley (UMSLV), Rabbinical Council of Victoria and the Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria. Chief commissioner Graham Ashton said he was proud to host his third Iftar dinner which had a theme of ’social cohesion’. “The relationship between Victoria Police and the Islamic community is one that we value greatly – and it’s one that is continually strengthened,” CCP Ashton said. “We are proud to serve a vibrant multicultural community and believe everyone has the right to live free from prejudice regardless of faith, background, age or gender. “With the recent challenging events across the globe, it’s more important than ever that we focus on those things that unite us, as members of a rich and diverse Victorian community.” These interactions through dinner, and numerous other iftar dinners between local Islamic communities and Victoria Police members across the state, provided invaluable opportunities to share experiences and build understanding and respect. The evening included a presentation by Ms Khan and Sergeant Ben McWilliams on Victoria Police’s ‘Social Cohesion Partnership Project’, which focuses on the co-design and delivery of projects by culturally and linguistically diverse communities and their local police. It aims to promote harmony, and cultural understanding in local communities. Mr Ashton said Victoria Police was committed to remaining connected with all communities: “We value all faith communities across the state and our commitment to community engagement will only be strengthened over the coming years,” he said.

Eid Festivals

The muslim sisters provide a cross-cultural experience at our Eid Festivals.

UMSLV setup a cultural table which was brilliantly and artistically arranged. The table had cultural clothes, decorations, spices, tea and food from diverse backgrounds. We had the opportunity to explain to visitors about the different things and food used in different regions and cultures. People further enjoyed the cultural experience by trying dates and coffees from different places. This table provided a great opportunity for conversation about multicultural experiences.
Middle eastern food was also a highlight of the table which was provided by Y-Cafe Youllurn served to try for free at one of the festivals.

Also at the Eid Festival, Arfa Khan held very successful interactive discussions on the topics, what’s Eid and other Muslim celebrations; Hijab, scarves and cultural clothing; and the last session was on what’s halal food and food sensitivities.
Participants were so receptive and engaged in discussions and delved into questions and answers sessions.

Australia Day Awards

We were honoured to receive the Australian Day Recognition award for community event of the year for the 2017 and 2018 Eid Festivals. Thank you to our partner Relationships Australia and all the volunteers who assisted with the event. Thank you also to all those who contributed in cash and in kind to ensure that the family-friendly event is accessible to all who want to attend. And a big thank you to all the support we receive from the Gippsland community. Well done to the Latrobe Valley street requiem (2017). The Maltese community was the winner of the community event of the year (2018). Their Maltese festival ran for 3 days bringing 10 000 people into the Latrobe Valley! 👏🏼 Congrats to everyone else who were recognised for their efforts in the community.

Vigil in Morwell following the Christchurch Mosque Attack

It was so important to have a vigil with the local community following the terrorist act in Chrischurch. Thank you to all who attended and showed their compassion and conviction. Listening to the stories of the victims and visualising their faces was necessary for connecting with them and with The Almighty when praying for them and their families. Well done Arfa Sarfaraz on your address and thank you to all our invited guest speakers as well.

ABC Gippsland – 26 March GIPPSLAND REMEMBERS VICTIMS OF THE CHRISTCHURCH MASSACRE More than 100 people have turned out to pay their respects to the victims of the Christchurch massacre at a vigil held outside the Latrobe City offices in Morwell. The event heard from speakers of a variety of faiths who repudiated the violence and spoke about the need for unity. United Muslim Sisters of the Latrobe Valley president Arfa Khan gave a speech recognising those who died in Christchurch.

The fabric of our community entwined more closely together this evening, unified through the wonderful efforts of the UMSLV United Muslim Sisters of the Latrobe Valley, the Latrobe City Council and the many citizens gathered at a prayer & vigil for Christchurch mosque victims. Woven in mutual friendship, respect & a commitment to understanding & trust – the crowd joined in prayer & song. I loved the children leading the way…… ‘I am, you are, we are Australian’. Melina Bath –

International Day of Peace

Women’s Federation for World Peace held their UN International Day of Peace Conference and Bridge of Peace ceremony on 22 September 2018.

Khatija Halabi attended this conference. Anne and John Bellevance explained that conflict and division stems from our hearts, therefore peace starts in our hearts. Conflict in one’s self can cause conflict with others, so mastering ourselves is the core of EQ. Then we can move onto mastering relationships with others and our relationships can be perfected through love. We need to work on the love/peace/relationship between parents and their children, children and parents, siblings, husband and wife then with our wider social circles and society. They suggested we start a quiet revolution – to live for the sake of others on the maturity of this love, rather than live our lives based on self-serving practices seen around the world. They gave examples of this through Nelson Mandela and Revd Moon and his wife Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon.

It was interesting listening to the presentation by The Institute for Economics and Peace, which is a think tank dedicated to building a greater understanding of the measures of peace as well as identifying the economic benefits that increased peacefulness can deliver. They had a great line up of guest speakers as well as concurrent workshops run in the afternoon.

In 2017 Arfa Khan, UMSLV President, participated at this event as a guest speaker.

Symphony of Peace Prayers

Celebrating the ONENESS of Humanity 20th May, Rokeby Hall West Gippsland an event of Byakko Shinko Kai and the World Prayer Society.

This annual event gathers people of many faiths and all who seek and pray for peace to offer prayers for peace from their own tradition and to join with others in a gathered prayer. Welcome to country was given by a local aboriginal elder and the peace flame was lit. Prayers and meditation followed and the ceremony of world flags enabled each and all to enter into payer for every country on earth.

The Muslim faith/community was represented by Khatija Halabi and her family one year and by Arfa Khan and her daughters the year after. They both offered a prayer at these events. 

The Dignity Project

The Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP) organised and presented a Dignity Forum in Dandenong. UMSLV partnered with WFWP on this project and our role was to assist with the designing a flyer  (thank you Hina Faisel)  and be a guest speaker on  a panel (thank you Ieda Azhari for your assistance with the preparation of the PowerPoint presentation). Khatija Halabi did a presentation on retaining the dignity of muslim women in Gippsland. It was good to see that the values of UMSLV were so similar to the philosophy of WFWP and other well-established organisations such as the Wellness Centre. They had 4 speakers on a forum. Topics included Dignity of the homeless, dignity of asylum seekers, dignity of victims of domestic violence and dignity of muslim women.


Faith Stories Conversations and Story Telling

The Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP) hold an annual Faith Stories symposium in Melbourne to support and foster peacebuilding between faiths within our diverse multicultural city. We were involved in the symposium that focused on the Abrahamic faiths. Presenters shared Faith Stories from the feminine perspective covering: Aboriginal people’s stories, Muslim stories, Jewish stories and Christian stories. Councillor Mike Clark welcomed everyone to his ward in the Shire of Yarra Ranges. We had two beautiful young women MC for the day: Kosina Hanson and Yumna Ahmed, representatives from the partnering organisations, WFWP and UMSLV. Anne Bellavance (National President of WFWP) gave a presentation about the goals and mission of WFWP International and encouraged participants to get involved with their service projects within the Pacific island nations. Khatija Halabi shared the vision of UMSLV and described some of their activities and work with the communities of Latrobe Valley to fulfil that vision. Some of those activities involved helping to dispel misconceptions about the Muslim faith and culture within the Gippsland region.

Understanding Scarves and Scarf Story Events

UMSLV often organises events to foster social integration, not for the purpose of preaching or prolithesising, but to provide opportunities for both muslims and members of the wider society to develop an understanding of each other’s cultures and to foster mutual respect. UMSLV was approached by a group of women representing various organisations to help organise an event to show Australian women’s support to Muslim women, given the current global climate. So together

We organised an Understanding Scarves event in November 2014. This event was about creating an awareness of Muslim women and their culture, by providing a safe space for women from the wider community to ask all their burning questions. The contribution of the muslim women from the community was invaluable!

Based on the success of this event, we presented the Scarves Story event across six shires of Gippsland, with the support of Interfaith Steering Committee of Gippsland Ethnic Communities Council.

Understanding Journeys Event

The organising committee of Understanding Scarves organised the Understanding Journeys event that took place at the Traralgon Library in  March 2015 and again in March 2016, during cultural diversity week. This event was about creating an awareness and acceptance of people from diverse cultural backgrounds living in the region and to acknowledge their journeys and contributions to modern day Australia. We used the living libraries concept where people came to the library and borrowed a book that was a person. That person told her story.

Every one of us has been on a journey. This event gave people the opportunity to share their stories through the use of oral narratives. In the lead up to the event, one of our books said “It was a very difficult time, and now 61 years later I get to tell my story”, which we found very touching. The readers thoroughly enjoyed listening to the stories of journeys experienced by Maltese, Malaysian, Nigerian, Filipina, Nepalese women amongst others. 

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