March Through May; A Significant Time for Religious Australians
Spring may be seen as a time of rebirth and reaffirmation to faith for spiritual groups worldwide, but Autumn in Australia is a particularly Holy time for our multireligious and multicultural population. Lauren Freemantle sets out to learn more.
Now that many of us have enjoyed four days off work and Uni, and indulged in a chocolate egg or 10, Easter 2021 is over. Whilst Australia is a secular country, our public holidays are largely shaped by Christianity, which according to the 2016 Census, remains the most popular religion with 52% of Australians identifying as Christian. Following Christianity, the Census tells us Islam is the next most followed religion at 2.6% adherence, and in fact, there is a thriving community of more than 1000 Islamic students at UON. Finally, the religion to enjoy the greatest growth in Australia throughout 2006 – 2016 was Hinduism.
So, now you’ve had your fill of chocolate eggs, lets learn about the culture and tradition behind Easter, Holi and The Month of Ramadan.
For some of us, Easter means Sunday lunch with family or a camping trip with friends. For others, it is the most significant event on the Christian calendar, celebrating the holy resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday after his crucifixion on Good Friday. In Christian churches, special hymns are sung and flowers may decorate the altar. The imagery of rabbits and eggs we see in modern manifestations of Easter actually dates back to Pagan origins, specifically to an ancient festival celebrating the arrival of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Prior to Easter, Christians observe Lent, a time of reflection and repentance in preparation for Christ’s rising. Western Lent begins on Ash Wednesday around 6.5 weeks before Easter and originally saw Christians eating only once a day and avoiding meat, fish, and eggs throughout the period. Nowadays, Christians may give up specific pleasures like alcohol or social media in a gesture to allow them to refocus on prayer during Lent.
Also known as the Festival of Colour, Holi is a vibrant Hindu celebration marking the end of the Northern Hemisphere Winter and welcoming in Spring. There are several legends associated with Holi’s origin, but the most renowned story tells of Prahlada’s victory over the evil King Hiranyakashipu and his sister Holika, who was burned to ashes. It is for this reason that the festival kicks off with a bonfire burning an effigy of Holika, signifying the triumph of good over evil. On the second day of Holi, participants smear each other with coloured powder celebrating new beginnings for love and good harvests. Holi is most frequently celebrated across India and Nepal, but Hindus all over the world take part in their own version of the tradition. This year, the two-day festival ran from March 28-29, with the Hindu Council of Australia running a number of events across Sydney and Melbourne. Traditional aspects remained with a modern twist – carnival rides, cricket, and a DJ set enlivening the throwing of colours for happy participants.
THE MONTH OF RAMADAN
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic Hijri calendar, a lunar calendar based on the moon’s cycles. This year, Ramadan begins next Tuesday, 13 April. I spoke with Ashraf Abdelbaky, an Advisor at the University of Newcastle Islamic Society (UNIS), to hear the Club’s perspective on Ramadan’s significance.
Ashraf says the Quran is said to have been revealed during Ramadan to the prophet Muhammad, making it a sacred time. During Ramadan, Muslims abstain from food and drink during the daylight hours from dawn to sunset, breaking the fast with a meal after sunset. The elderly, ill, pregnant, or breastfeeding are exempt and children do not have to participate. Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, which are recognised by Muslims worldwide regardless of ethnic, regional, or sectarian differences.
“Ramadan gives Muslims the chance to focus on devotion to their faith through prayers, articulating gratitude, pursuing forgiveness and helping the poor and needy. They pray to become closer to God,” Ashraf says.
Masters of Professional Engineering (Electrical and Electronics) student, Qasim Hamdani agrees there is much more to Ramadan than fasting.
“It’s basically there to refresh and re-enforce your faith. It’s not only about fasting; that’s a gesture, but the true essence of Ramadan is to refrain from sins – you refrain from what’s prohibited. You try to be regular in your prayers, you try to be more compassionate and to feel the pain of the poor who can’t afford three meals a day.”
The international student, from Pakistan, has not been able to travel home due to COVID-19 since he arrived at UoN in September 2019. Qasim says participating in Ramadan in Australia is different to in Pakistan, as we do not have any public holidays here. However, Qasim believes the early morning wake-ups and fasting have made him more productive as he works and studies.
Meanwhile, Ashraf says UNIS spent Ramadan 2020 supporting UON’s Muslim students by bringing meals to their accommodation and providing financial assistance. The club is looking forward to meeting with more Muslim students this Ramadan. If you are interested, you can contact UNIS through their Facebook page.