Crossing spiritual frontiers on campus
All images used with permission.
There are certain topics in Australia that are often deemed too dangerous for public discourse — and religion might be top of the list. This widespread reticence to talk about faith has always been a disappointment for Tasmanian-born Hadi Sulieman.
“I really love discussing theology and religion, but I went to a public high school in Hobart, and religion was never really encouraged and never really spoken about,” says Hadi, 23, whose family migrated to Australia from Syria in the 1970s.
“If you were religious and you liked to talk about religion, it kind of set you apart, and not in a good way. It was like, ‘you’re the different one’, and in high school, anything that’s different is usually not good.”
This left a huge gap for Hadi, a devout Muslim who relishes any opportunity to engage in discussion on faith and doctrine. He filled the void by debating Islamic theology with members of his tight-knit Muslim community.
“We have a very small community in Hobart, and so the majority of my conversations about theology were with friends and family, and because we were only talking from the Islamic perspective, the discussions often weren’t very challenging.”
That all changed in 2018 when Hadi moved to Victoria to pursue a Bachelor of Nursing at ACU’s Ballarat Campus.
At the urging of his Jewish friend and flatmate, Hadi volunteered for ACU Campus Ministry’s Frontier program, which was launched in early 2018 to form faith-inspired student teams that engage with the wider campus community.
He became a regular attendee of the Ministry’s Connect Groups, where students discuss Catholic values and beliefs, and its Sunset Sessions, which offer more scope to engage in respectful-but-rigorous interfaith dialogue.
“I instantly found it fascinating,” he says. “When I was faced with the Catholic point of view, it was stimulating because we explored topics that were familiar to me, but from a different perspective, and I feel like that’s where you learn the most because you’re forced to delve a bit deeper and really challenge your beliefs.”
Hadi was soon offered a position as a Student Ministry Assistant, and has since dedicated seven hours a fortnight to this role, facilitating and running these sessions.
The discussion groups often involve many Catholics but also people of different faiths, of no faith, and those who are spiritual but don’t identify with a specific religion.
“I think this diversity tends to lead to some great conversations because you can challenge each other in a very open and good-intentioned way, and I think that’s how you get the most benefit from it,” says Hadi, who also assists pastoral associates to run weekday mass, and acts as the Student Ministry’s on-campus contact.
“It’s part of my role to make sure people feel comfortable talking about their beliefs in a safe space that’s open and encouraging, and I’m really passionate about promoting ‘the four Bs’: belonging, becoming, believing and being supported.”
Being involved in ACU’s Campus Ministry has helped Hadi to solidify his commitment to his studies. He sees nursing as an ideal occupation for those who want to contribute to the wider community.
“I think the overarching reason I chose to study nursing is that it’s a profession that feeds you spiritually as well as financially,” he says.
“I like helping people, and I want to be able to go home at the end of the day, and even if I feel tired or I’ve had a long and hard day, at least I can put my head down on the pillow and think, ‘I helped someone today when they were at their most vulnerable’.”
His many theological discussions with fellow students have also helped him to bolster his religious beliefs in unexpected ways.
“I honestly didn’t come to ACU thinking it was a place where I would explore my spirituality — it was nursing that drew me here — but Campus Ministry has provided a very good platform for me express my own spiritual beliefs and to teach others and learn about faith, but in a very soft, open and gentle environment,” Hadi says.
“It has bolstered my Islamic beliefs in the sense that learning about other people’s faith has driven me to learn more Islam, and that’s really strengthened my faith. Hopefully, in some small way, I’ve also helped some of my Christian brothers and sisters to reaffirm their own beliefs.”
Keen to study nursing at ACU? Explore the options. Find out more about ACU’s Campus Ministry.