Challenging 'bad publicity': Muslims open homes to non-Muslims

Muslim families in Western Sydney have been welcoming non-Muslims into their homes for iftar meals during Ramadan, as a way to increase understanding of one another.

Throughout the month of Ramadan, Muslims around Australia and the world have been breaking their daily fasts with a sunset meal known as an iftar.

But on Saturday night in Auburn, Western Sydney, one gathering stood out from many others. 

The Agar family took part in an intercultural program which has seen Muslim households inviting non-Muslims to join them for the traditional meal. 

Their guests were Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and non-believers. Some were Indigenous. An officer from the local police station was also invited along.

For most, it was their first iftar. 

The Agar family prepares the meal.
Source: Nick Baker / SBS News

The initiative - run by the Affinity Intercultural Foundation - is being held at several Muslim homes with the aim of "breaking down stereotypes and prejudices".

"We [Muslims] get so much bad publicity," said Guner Agar, one of the hosts.

"Stories of bad Muslims are always in the news ... I opened my doors so people could come and meet some real Muslims."

The Agar family cooked their guests (and one very fortunate SBS News reporter) a multi-course Turkish feast, starting with dates before moving onto soup and several dishes of meats and vegetables.

And - as the program intended - similarities won the day. Shared love of Turkish delight and common hatred of parking conditions in Sydney far outweighed any clashes of faith or culture. 

Iftar at the Agar household on 9 June 2018.
Source: Nick Baker / SBS News

The night also provided guests with a firsthand introduction to Ramadan traditions.

The Muslim holy month falls from 16 May to 15 June in 2018. During this time, many Muslims abstain from eating, drinking and smoking during daylight hours to build self-discipline and compassion for those less fortunate.

"[But] I know people who haven't even heard of Ramadan," Ms Agar said.

"For me, fasting is about understanding how others feel who don't have food, who don't have water ... Millions of people around the world are starving."

Ms Agar said that while during the rest of the year, "I can't go without a cup of coffee", she's now "used to" Ramadan fasting.

"I think it's a mental thing," she said.

Guner Agar and Janet Mooney.
Source: Nick Baker / SBS News

Guest Samantha Muscat, who has a Maltese Catholic background, said she "knew literally nothing" about Ramadan before meeting the Agar family.

"I had no idea just how important it is [to the Muslim community]," Ms Muscat said.

"Sadly, there's a massive separation between other Australians and people of the Muslim faith ... There's lots of labels because of what's on the news and what's in the papers."

Dessert is served.
Source: Nick Baker / SBS News

When it comes to Ramadan observances, Ms Muscat said it was "very admirable to see their selflessness".

She said nights like this made her think that "we're all just the same". 

Indigenous guest Sharon Galleguillos said it was good to "learn more about the broadness of Australian society" and that the Agars were "just another Australian family".

The iftar ended with Mr Agar offering a future invitation to his kebab shop in Bankstown. Based on the night's spread, it's an invite the guests (including one spoilt reporter) will certainly be taking up.

Published 10 June 2018 at 1:09pm, updated 10 June 2018 at 2:56pm
By Nick Baker