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Monday, July 9, 2012

Faiths unite in prayer to mourn asylum-seekers lost at sea

BY:PAIGE TAYLOR
From:The Australian
July 09, 2012 12:00AM

UNITING Church ministers have begun inviting Muslims and their imams into congregations across the country to jointly lament the deaths of asylum-seekers who drowned last month trying to get to Australia.

Yesterday inside Perth's Wesley Uniting Church, the central Perth mission that feeds 400 poor and homeless each day, the Reverend Don Dowling stood with imam Mukahtar Ahmadi Hussein Sadiq to offer prayers for the separated, the lost and the dead from two boat tragedies last month.

"This congregation wishes to express its deep regret at the events of the past few weeks," Mr Dowling said.

Australian authorities suspect a total of about 100 people, many of them Hazaras from Afghanistan, drowned last month trying to get to Christmas Island by boat; 109 people were rescued from a boat that capsized between Indonesia and Christmas Island on June 21, Six days later, 130 asylum-seekers were rescued in another deadly emergency.


The bodies of 28 people have been recovered.

Yesterday, Hazaras from Sheik Mukahtar's mosque in the northern Perth suburb of Nollamara sat in the first four pews of the inner-city church with heads bowed.

Some said later they were refugees who had come by boat as far back as 2000. The imam is a refugee too, although he arrived by plane.

Through an interpreter, Sheik Mukahtar told The Australian he fled political persecution in Afghanistan, heading for Iran where he applied to and was accepted by Australia's Department of Immigration and Citizenship 3 1/2 years ago as part of the nation's annual humanitarian intake.

"Our people have been persecuted in Afghanistan for 300 years, that is why they seek asylum," Sheik Mukahtar told the congregation.

"It is great that we can be here together in this church and learn more about each other -- two holy religions that live side by side in a peaceful and respectful way."

Sheik Mukahtar said the deaths of asylum-seekers at sea always affected his people deeply. Many of the regulars at his mosque were refugees and it did not matter that they knew nobody onboard.

"They felt it, they felt it," he said.

After a reading from the Koran, baritone David Bowyer sang Comfort, Comfort All My People.

Mr Dowling said yesterday's service was the second to remember the dead from last month's boat tragedies. The first was in Adelaide.

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