As fears about the rise of the Islamic State (IS) increase, an Australian church minister is challenging discrimination against Muslims in his own community.
“Images of arrested Muslims dominated our airwaves for quite a few days,” Michael Barnes of Gordon Uniting Church in New South Wales told the Huffington Post after increased anti-terrorism efforts by the Australian government took hold.
“I was concerned that this, unwittingly, fed into and exacerbated general fear and anxiety in the community and more importantly that it made Muslims feel unwelcome in their own country.”
Barnes said that discrimination against minority groups in Australia is increasing, and “misunderstanding and anxiety expressed about Muslims” is particularly prevalent.
He has therefore had the words “Muslims welcome here” put on a sign outside the church, and has begun an Interfaith Month, during which services exploring other religions and traditions will be held.
A discussion entitled “Why jihadists do not represent Islam” will also take place, led by a local Muslim.
It’s all part of extending Gordon Uniting Church’s motto, which challenges its congregants to “Love wastefully” and care for all those around them, no matter what their beliefs.
“From my connections with the Muslim community, I know that they live with anxieties about attitudes to them in the community,” Barnes explained.
“So many people don’t meet with Muslims and yet have strong views about them.”
Barnes says he wants his church to “offer a different message” – of unconditional love and acceptance – and explains that his own inter-faith connections have helped him on his personal journey.
“It has caused me to rethink many views on life, God and the future,” he said.
“While it can at times be challenging, it is very rewarding and, in our world, utterly necessary.”
Australia has recently joined the US-led anti-jihadi coalition in an attempt to stop the spread of IS.
According to the Guardian, Australian Super Hornet jets have already begun “non-combat reconnaissance operations” over Iraq, and will soon take part in air strikes.
A poll conducted for News Corp shows that 62 per cent of Australian voters support this move, with just 21 per cent opposed.