The sage advice Muslim guest speaker has for Grafton
ONE of Australia's leading Islamic spokespeople Ali Kadri was in Grafton on Saturday with a clear message - the Muslim community does not associate the city with one person and his actions.
"Brenton Tarrant does not represent Grafton," he said.
"Even to his family I want to say his actions are not representative of what his family is to us.
"I have great empathy with the people of Grafton because Muslims have been going through this for a long time ourselves. People have been associating us, as a whole 1.8billion people, because of what a few of us do. I know that has happened to Grafton and I know how that feels, and it's horrible."
Mr Kadri said as a Muslim he realised and recognised this and believed building bridges between different communities can prevent these kinds of things being repeated.
"No matter who the perpetrator is, or who the victim is, these kinds of tragedies should not happen. The only way to stop these things happening is by communication, by engagement and having empathy for each other, and that's why I'm here."
While the crowd attending Saturday's event was small, Mr Kadri said he would be returning next month.
"I hope the people of Grafton take this opportunity to come and have an honest conversation with me," he said.
"If they have misconceptions or ideas which you know are critical of Islam, I'm happy to listen to them and address them, and answer those questions.
"I don't want anyone in Australia to live in fear of the 'other'."
He said regional Australia played an important role in this process and believed that people in areas like Grafton were more "open-hearted".
"People can associate regions with racism but I don't necessarily think so. I like visiting the regions. I think people here are much nicer than people in the city but they just don't get that much opportunity to engage with people like me and with drought and everything else going on, regions are suffering."
He said from the worst of tragedies sometimes good things emerge.
"Let's not let their lives go in vain. They would want their deaths to lead to peace and community building and social cohesion. It's almost obligatory on us and the people of Grafton to keep doing that, to keep reaching out and engage and talk even though we didn't have choice," he said.
"I didn't have a choice to become a spokesperson for the Muslim community but each time somebody I didn't know and didn't agree with did something terrible, I was the one who had to answer the questions.
"It felt horrible but I knew I had to come out to people because I can't let the actions of one or two people define me."
He said while a tragedy may not be forgotten, he did see a future where the people of Grafton and Australia would stand strong and use it to come together rather than let the divide grow.
Mr Kadri extended an invitation to residents to come along when the Mahatma Ghandi (Bapu) motor convoy he is a part of comes through Grafton on October 2.
He will meet and speak with people at Christ Church Cathedral, where no question will be off limits if it means addressing people's concerns.
"Nothing offends me. I don't get insulted easily. If a question is asked for the sake of knowledge or clarifying understanding I will answer them with respect. I want to do this, not just for Muslim communities, I want to do this as an Australian. First, I'm Australian and I care about this country. Whatever is going to happen here is going to affect me as much as it will the people of Grafton.
"I know what it feels like to be stereotyped but if you can look inward like (Muslims) looked inward, not because somebody forced us to but because we chose to, we learned to improve from the tragedies that were going on around us. That's what I hope the people of Grafton can do."
The Mahatma Ghandi (Bapu) motor convoy will arrive in Grafton on Wednesday, October 2 at Christ Church Cathedral at 11am. Everyone is invited to come along.