Keeping the faith

Here’s a thought provoking article from The Canberra Times.

By Graham Downie

Like any captain of a Catholic college, Adam Refki plays a leading role in the religious life of the school.

The difference is that he is a Muslim.

As the popularly elected school leader of Canberra’s St Mary MacKillop College, Adam has found his Muslim faith has opened opportunities for interfaith dialogue.

From his exposure to Christianity through his Catholic education, he said, ”There are great parallels between the two religions”.

”I find there are a lot of similarities. It kind of makes me wonder why it seems like there is such a difference out there in the world.”

The 18-year-old said that as a Muslim with a Catholic education, he had experienced acceptance first hand.

”And having received acceptance I can now offer acceptance.”

He has found many of the students at the college are intrigued by his faith. ”I attend masses and I am reverent but I don’t participate.”

His role as captain includes reading at the college’s masses. Though he takes part in prayers, he does not make the sign of the cross, which has caused other students to ask why.

”I tell them I am Muslim. … The advantage here is that I can tell them about my faith.” Similarly, when he fasts during Ramadan, he has a further opportunity for interfaith dialogue.

College principal Michael Lee said that when Adam was elected, ”he very beautifully approached me and said, ‘What is it you would want of me in terms of the faith life of the school?”’ He took part to the extent he was comfortable. Mary MacKillop had worked with people of all faiths.

Mr Lee said Adam’s role as captain was a tangible sign of the tolerance and inclusion of this Catholic school.

”I thought it was a great honour for us.

”I think Adam’s election to our school is a gift also to the Islamic community and I was pleased our school in a small way could make that further understanding between the two communities.”

He had been elected because he was Adam, not because he was Muslim, Mr Lee said. ”In no way did we feel our Catholic identity was diluted. We were always comfortable about that.”

The male and female captains of the college are elected by Year 11 students and staff.

”It was a huge honour that I was voted as college captain,” Adam said. ”I don’t see that I was voted as a token Muslim.”

He is concerned the impression given by the media is that Muslims are terrorists.

”Seeing me, they see Muslims are just like us. They are in our school; they study hard; they can be elected in leadership positions at St Mary MacKillop College.”

He plans to begin studying civil engineering at the University of NSW next year.

He also hopes to contribute the leadership skills he has developed at the college to university life. This might include an Islamic group, but he said, ”I wouldn’t want to limit myself to that.” ”I know I will be comfortable in seeking some kind of interfaith dialogue at university.”

He also hopes one day to complete the Hajj – the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.