Speech for launch event for Fethullah Gülen Chair in the study of

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					      Speech for launch event for Fethullah Gülen Chair in the study of
                    Islam and Muslim-Catholic Relations

                      Professor Peter W Sheehan AO
       Vice-Chancellor Australian Catholic University (ACU National)




Introduction

I would like to begin proceedings by formally acknowledging Professor David de Kretser,
Governor of Victoria, and Mrs. De Kretser, and thanking them for honouring us with their
presence here today. I would also like to acknowledge other dignitaries, representatives and
distinguished visitors of the Australian Intercultural Society, Australian Catholic University staff,
and friends of the University. I especially welcome His Eminence Mehmet Ali Sengul, who is the
personal representative this afternoon of His Excellency Fethullah Gülen.

It gives me great pleasure to welcome you all to the launch today, of an exciting new academic
development at Australian Catholic University (ACU National): the Fethullah Gülen Chair in the
Study of Islam and Muslim-Catholic Relations. And it is very fitting to this occasion that the
venue for this auspicious launch is our very historic, recently renovated Central Hall.

The significance of the Chair

The Fethullah Gülen Chair is arguably the first academic Chair of its kind in the Australian
Higher Education sector. This important new role expands on the conventions of the various
Centres for Islamic Studies in Australian universities, and adds a vital inter-religious dimension
that places the role in a much wider social context.

The Chair is a new position at ACU National. It aims to provide academic leadership in research,
teaching and community engagement in relation to the study of Islam and was founded with full
recognition of the plurality and diversity of Islam itself. Just as importantly, the Chair will
reinforce ACU National’s standing among Australian universities as a leading advocate for social
justice and equity, with particular focus on improved relations between people of different faiths.

As a university we are committed to scholarly dialogue. ACU National lives out its Christian
mission in a caring and scholarly way as an institution that is open to students and staff of all
beliefs. It is dedicated to rigorous intellectual scholarship and the pursuit of truth and academic
freedom. Its ethos reflects Christian values and its core concerns are with ethics and morals in all
the fields of its endeavour. Inter-faith connectivity is an important part of our distinctive Mission
and this Chair is an initiative which wonderfully illustrates the outreach of its desire for peace,
tolerance and harmony.

Since the turn of the 21st. century, the world as we know it, has been rocked by occurrences that
point to the need for greater inter-faith understanding. Recent events from September 11 2001,
and the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict, to the Bali Bombings, and the Cronulla riots, continue
to reflect unrest and tension between the followers of different faiths. Perhaps these tensions have
always existed, but the growing influence of the media and political manoeuvring has manifested
a culture of fear that exacerbates the tensions, and perpetuates the tragic cycle of
misunderstanding and mistrust. In a multicultural, multi-religious country such as Australia, we
can ill-afford to turn a blind eye to inter-cultural and inter-religious tensions. They attack the very
foundations upon which their country is built, threatening to undermine social cohesion and the
way of life all of us hold so dear.

On this auspicious occasion, I would like to echo the words of Pope Benedict XVI: “In our
diversity, we find ourselves before faith in the one God, May God enlighten us and help us find
the path of love and peace.” In advancing the Fethullah Gülen Chair in the Study of Islam and
Catholic Muslim Relations, ACU National is enormously encouraged by the Pope’s personal
commitment to pursuing, in his own words, “a dialogue to be intensified with Islam.”

Keeping this commitment to dialogue of Pope Benedict’s in mind, I am also moved by the words
of other leaders of our faith who have shown the relevance of “a dialogue to be intensified with
Islam” to the goals this University is now courageously pursuing.

Cardinal Edward Cassidy who unfortunately cannot be with us and who has asked me to convey
his support, says (and I quote): “It is very clear to me that young members of both the Muslim
and Catholic communities of this country need the opportunity of coming to know each other and
the authentic teaching of the two religions.” His prayerful wish is that this new Chair within
ACU National will make a valuable contribution to this important goal and so assist these two
communities to witness the fundamental religious values that we all share for the good of our
society.

Speaking to the letter sent to Pope Benedict and twenty-seven other senior Christian churchmen
by 138 Muslim Leaders at the end of October, 2007, Cardinal Pell wrote on November 11th that
this initiative represents “a breakthrough, a welcome development and a promising early step”,
and he concluded his article by stating his firm agreement with the letter’s closing plea that “our
very eternal souls are also at stake if we fail to sincerely make every effort to make peace and
come together in harmony.”

In the words of Professor Barton, who will shortly address us: “the launching of a professorial
chair ….by a university that consciously embraces its Christian heritage marks a remarkable
development in Muslim-Christian relations.”

History

In August 2006, Australian Catholic University launched its Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-
religious Dialogue, APCID. This Centre provides a focal point and profile for existing inter-
religious initiatives and involvements across all of our University; to make a sustained intellectual
contribution to the furtherance of inter-religious dialogue; and to foster scholarship and research
within it. Importantly for this occasion, the Centre assists in offering educational programs in
inter-religious dialogue to Catholics and other people of all faiths and it importantly complements
the work of the local ecumenical and interfaith commissions of Australian Catholic dioceses.
As an extension of the University’s Mission, APCID has partnered with the Australian
Intercultural Society, a non-government organisation aimed at promoting greater dialogue
between Australia’s various faith communities, to establish the Fethullah Gülen Chair in the
Study of Islam and Muslim-Catholic Relations.

In June 2007, the two parties – Australian Catholic University, and the Australian Intercultural
Society – came together and jointly signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish this
Chair at ACU National’s Melbourne Campus (St Patrick’s). The Chair will work closely with
APCID and the Institute for Theology, Philosophy and Religious Education within the University
as a whole. The Australian Intercultural Society has agreed to fund the Chair, a gesture for which
the University is most grateful.

The Chair is named after Fethullah Gülen, the Turkish-born scholar, educator, spiritual and social
leader, and renowned advocate for inter-religious dialogue and peace. Gülen's interpretation of
Qur’anic teaching seeks to enable Muslims to live their Islamic faith in modern situations and
makes a positive contribution to the transformation of society. Gülen’s private audience with
Pope John Paul II at the Vatican in 1998 confirms his influence in the sphere of Muslim-Catholic
relations worldwide.

It is perhaps fitting that the University’s inaugural Chair in the Study of Islam and Muslim-
Catholic Relations is a Turkish-born scholar, with a shared academic interest in Islam and its
place within wider society.

Conclusion and welcome

In conclusion, allow me now to present to you Dr. Ismail Albayrak, who will be introduced more
fully shortly by Professor Canning.

On behalf of all staff at ACU National, I would like to warmly welcome Dr. Albayrak to the
University. I look forward immensely to his ongoing contribution to teaching, research,
community engagement, and inter-faith dialogue in scholarship and practice.

Finally, I would like to thank all of you for being here today, and supporting what I believe is an
exciting initiative for this university, our Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-religious Dialogue, and the
Australian Intercultural Society. This Chair’s influence will be obvious through the greater social
understanding and community cohesion that I am certain it will quickly engender.

Thank you.

Peter Sheehan AO
Vice-Chancellor
Australian Catholic University
23 November 2007

				
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