• Imam Faizel Chothia and Reverend Peter Humphries in the St Paul’s main church (SBS)
A West Australian church has opened its doors and hearts to include Muslim parishioners in its community.
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20 Nov 2016 - 2:16 PM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2016 - 3:03 PM

A search for somewhere convenient for Friday prayers has led to an unusual joining of two communities.

Every Friday, St Paul’s Anglican church in Beaconsfield, just outside Western Australia’s port city of Fremantle, hosts Muslim prayers in its community hall.

Fittingly, the hall was the original church.

The enterprise began shortly after Imam Feizel Chothia knocked on the door of Reverend Peter Humphris.

Community hall: St Paul’s community hall was the original church and now hosts a variety of activities including Muslim prayers

Mr Chothia said he had been trying to find somewhere convenient for Muslim workers to pray in the Fremantle area with little success.

“I thought to myself that it would be wonderful to pray in this beautiful church,” he said.

“It certainly has the aura of the sanctity associated with prayer, it certainly is a symbol of the divine and it’s the most appropriate place.

“I wasn’t sure how my request would be received, but thank god for Peter.”

Peter Humphris said he was delighted by the request and eager to welcome another community to the church.

“My sense, and the sense of the parish here, is that we continue to seek both the fullness of humanity and the fullness that’s revealed in the divine,” he said.

“We haven’t got it, we continue to seek it and anyone, and everyone, who wants to join in that search can only help.”

Prayer books: The Anglican faithful have borrowed some Muslim customs for their prayers sessions using prayer mats.

The reverend initially offered the main church for prayers, which Mr Chothia said was an honour but added he did not want to inconvenience anyone.

They settled on the community hall.

On the first day, Mr Humphris said he was thanked by one of the Muslim parishioners who said that he prayed one day all religions would be one.

Mr Humphris told him that was never his prayer.

“I said just in case the one ends up as ours,” he recalled with a laugh.

“My prayer is that there will always be a diversity of religions.

“The prayer is that we will honour each other and discover that it’s in that diversity that we’ve got life.”

Mr Chothia said despite their differences the two religions had much in common and the Islamic faith held Christian figures such as Jesus and Moses in the highest regard.

“There’s a shared empathy and a common experience,” he said.

“I think this is where we have the opportunity of benefiting from the wisdom of the other.”

Muslim parishioners: The Muslim faithful gathering in St Paul’s community hall for Friday prayers.

Mr Chothia also saw wisdom in the religions' diversity as well.

“The Prophet (Muhammad) interestingly says the difference of opinion is the source of the greatest blessing because your ideas and your preconceived notions or orthodoxies are challenged,” he said.

“When Peter challenges me, and he’s an accomplished thinker and can make a very strong point, it forces me to question cherished beliefs and I think that’s important.”

But despite the generosity and quest for meaning between the two spiritual leaders, some of the Anglican parishioners have not welcomed the move and have left the church.

Mr Humphris said they had written to his superiors to try to get him “to toe the line”.

He said the objection was simply because they were Muslims.

“That’s almost as if that’s enough of an objection to say you shouldn’t be here,” he said.

“Well, how many people in the world are saying that?

“Gosh, we’ve even got politicians now being elected who are saying that.”

But Mr Chothia said Western Australia’s Muslim community had warmly embraced the idea.

He said the Prophet Muhammad gave Christians sanctuary for prayers at his mosque in Medina, Saudi Arabia in the seventh century.

He said St Paul’s was reciprocating that gesture.

“So from the Muslim perspective it was very warmly received, there was a great celebration and fanfare to be quite honest,” he said.

“Most of the imams are quite envious of me.”

The Anglican “mosque” has also attracted international attention and tourists from places such as Malaysia have been attending.

The Muslim community has also joined the church’s yearly fete and contributes to its charity work in Nepal.

The next project is to build a water feature outside the hall for Muslim ablutions and Christian rituals.

The two leaders say they are not a model for other churches to follow and are happy doing their own thing, but they are looking forward to the day when communities such as theirs no longer make the news.