Religious leaders across Australia have issued a message of love to Muslims, in what they hope will become a viral campaign to counter hatred, divisiveness and marginalisation.
The movement follows the unveiling of a proposed raft of new counter-terrorism laws by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, prompting concern from Islamic organisations that Muslims will be unfairly targeted.
The religious leaders issued a statement saying they will “love Muslims for 100 years” – a reference to a recent headline published by News Corp which misquoted former army chief Peter Leahy as saying “we’ll fight Islam [for] 100 years”.
“We believe people of Muslim faith are being unfairly smeared in the eyes of the Australian public,” the statement read.
“…The violence and values of extremists like ISIS are not representative of the vast majority of Muslim people in Australia, who are recognised better by their commitment to peace, community and mutual respect.”
The statement has signed by more than 150 members of the Christian, Jewish and other religious communities, including Rabbi Zalman Kastel.
'It’s very important to provide a counter narrative'
He told SBS that the diverse group was “concerned about a growing atmosphere of division”.
“There’s a growing shrill dialogue relating to Muslims that’s infecting relationships here in Australia, from shock jocks and social media," he siad.
"It’s not helpful. I accept that sometimes there needs to be robust discussion, but we need to be very careful to maintain ties between communities.”
Listen: Rabbi Zalman Kastel speaks to Stephanie Anderson.
Rabbi Kastel said the event should act as a "reality check" for many Australians.
“We’ll be holding a banner that says we’ll love Muslims for 100 years, courting the other headline,” he said.
“It’s very important to provide a counter narrative.”
Former South Australian Premier, now Anglican Deacon Lynn Arnold told SBS: “We hope to be a kind of antibiotic against this virus that is spreading around the community because we all have many Muslim friends who are feeling targeted, are being targeted by this campaign of inflammation, this campaign of hate.
“We want to have a viral effect to have ordinary Australians stand up and say this is not the Australian way, this is not the Australian tradition.”
There have been gatherings at St Peter’s Anglican Cathedral in Adelaide, the Lakemba Mosque in Sydney and St George’s College chapel in Perth in a show of solidarity with the Muslim community.
Iraqi refugee Mohammed Al Khafaji says the Islamic community deserves better than a “rushed, one hour meeting” as “consultation” over the laws.
“The Muslim community is divided with this approach and some of them have boycotted the meeting…and this has not given them the chance to review the proposed legislation, have a think about it and actually sit down together in a round table to discuss these issues” he says.
“They’re basically saying you either come in, sit down and accept these proposed changes, or if you don’t we will call you names and basically you’re boycotting our meeting. “
Mr Al Khafaji added, “if I want to travel to Iraq to visit my family, I don’t want to be questioned by security agencies every time that I need to travel over there, under suspicion of terrorism.”
The gatherings follow calls by Australia's top spy for more Muslims to join the nation’s security force.
ASIO boss David Irvine said the government was not good at listening to the Muslim community and needed to work on communication.
He said he would like more members of the Islamic community to join ASIO.
“That will help us understand better, but this is an organisation that is designed to protect you and you should be part of it," he told Muslim community leader Jamal Rifi in an interview obtained by Fairfax Media.
Mr Irvine said he was "utterly outraged" by some media reports that suggested Australia was "fighting Islam".
"We would never see a headline in an Australian newspaper that says, 'we’ll fight Christianity for 100 years', in response to sexual abuse allegations or any other."
The national director of Welcome to Australia, and pastor with the Activate Christian Community church Brad Chilcott says it’s unhelpful to suggest that certain elements of our community aren’t part of the team or aren’t part of what it means to be Australian, when more than half the Muslims in Australia were born here.
"There’s not really any other section of the Australian community that is called upon to defend themselves every time there is an act of violence overseas, or any time a member of their faith commits a crime or is associated with a violent act.
"We would never see a headline in an Australian newspaper that says, 'we’ll fight Christianity for 100 years', in response to sexual abuse allegations or any other. We are standing in solidarity with our Muslim friends saying that a whole faith community doesn’t need to be targeted, alienated and marginalised by the political and media conversation."
Young Islamic community leader Manal Younus says the portrayal of Islam in media and politics in Australia is hurtful.
"Myself and many other Muslims in Australia… we feel we’ve integrated into this community and for us to constantly be picked out because of these headlines, because of these actions that people are committing overseas, that’s very disturbing and it’s unsettling for Muslims in Australia."
On social media, users have coined the hashtag #love100years to show their support.