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Spread hummus not hate

Last night, I met Lina Jebeile at an Iftar meal co-hosted by the Uniting Church and the Affinity Intercultural Foundation.

Lina is a Lebanese Australian, born and raised here. Growing up, she was often told by strangers to ‘go back to where you came from.’ (She wears a hijab.)

After she finished school, and feeling alienated from her Australian identity, she did just that; she went back to where she came from, at least, where her parents came from, Lebanon.

But there, she was told that she was a ‘foreigner.’

Lina returned to Australia, trained as a high school teacher, married and raised four children.

On 14 September 2016, watching the news with her family, she saw a report about Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech in the Senate, ‘We are in danger of being swamped by Muslims.’

In response, she decided to do something positive, wanting to make a difference for the sake of her children and the community. She picked up the hashtag ‘spread hummus not hate’ and created ‘The Lebanese Plate’ (http://thelebaneseplate.com/) in which she shares food recipes to build bridges across cultural and religious divides.

In an interview with SBS, she said, ‘I want to give people the opportunity to sit down and chat to me and my family over food and just realise that we're just normal, average people going about our lives like everybody else.’ (https://www.sbs.com.au/food/article/2016/09/27/meet-aussie-mum-who-wants...)

She told this story at the Iftar meal last night. It was a funny and moving story, told with grace. The pain was evident but not overstated.

Several speeches were given last night, but this one stayed with me.

In the last ten days, I’ve attended two other Iftar meals, one hosted by the Former Grand Mufti, Dr. Ibrahim, and another in the home of a Turkish family who live at Prestons, just beyond Liverpool.

Each time, I have been struck by their generosity and hospitality. And I value the opportunity to hear their stories, the stories of people who have lived different lives to us, and who have battled discrimination and exclusion.

Earlier, I mentioned the word ‘grace.’

They are gracious.

Given the discrimination they have experienced, it would not be surprising if they were bitter or angry, but they are not.

If I could determine Australian attitudes to the Muslim community, I would call for welcome, curiosity, and respect. I can’t do that, so when I hear stories like Lina’s, I feel a sense of shame as an Australian.

And yet when I meet Muslims, while hearing the pain, I sense a magnanimity of spirit, and a commitment to make our country a better place for everyone.

Thank you, Lina, thank you Dr. Ibrahim, and thank you to the Koca family.

Indeed, your courage and spirit make our country a better place.