On the evening of 5 April 2023, the Melbourne office hosted its Iftar Dinner in collaboration with the Muslim Legal Network (MLN), which was organised by the Melbourne D&I Network’s Partnerships subcommittee co-led by Hassiba Ahmar, Mariia Artemenko, and Calvin Collins.
The MLN is a not-for-profit professional association of legal practitioners and law students who belong to the Muslim faith. The MLN is made up of lawyers in various stages of their legal careers, from a variety of cultures, who are united by two commonalities: their faith, and passion for law. This event, held during Ramadan, sought to enable legal professionals from diverse backgrounds to network and share their experiences whilst having a traditional dinner together. HSF served as the exclusive partner of this event.
The event started with Imam Adbul Rahman Zyka reciting a few verses from the Holy Koran about Ramadan and explaining the role of fasting which is purification of one’s soul in addition to abstaining from eating food and drinking water from sunrise to sunset. This was followed by an opening address by Jazeer Nijamudeen, current President of the MLN who explained the values of MLN and the services it provides to the Muslim community in Melbourne. Menoz Bowler did a fantastic job MCing the event.
Attendees had an opportunity to hear from the keynote speaker, Chief Justice The Honourable William Alstergren AO, who spoke about leading innovation in the Family Court and Federal Circuit Court unification to ensure justice is delivered safely, efficiently and effectively. The keynote address was followed by a panel discussion with the Alstergren CJ and our very own HSF partner Niresha Mudalige, who shared the firm’s efforts to make Muslim employees included and respected. Anika Waldin from MLN moderated the panel discussion while Hassiba Ahmar, on behalf of the subcommittee, made the closing remarks and acknowledged the contributions.
Melbourne D&I Network’s Partnerships subcommittee was thrilled to be able to partner with and support the MLN, and is excited for further collaborations in the future. NAB has already indicated an interest in co-hosting Iftar Dinner with HSF next year and the co-leads will enter into the proposal discussions in due course. Stay tuned & watch this space!
Who was invited
This event was attended by 80 invited guests which included HSF employees, MLN and general public. The subcommittee extended the invitation to our key client NAB which has been providing Islamic banking services to its Muslim customers since 2021 and hosting Iftar dinners for their clients and staff members across Australia since 2022. Two senior NAB’s executives, Raechelle Binny and Alaa Karrar, attended as guests, with NAB CRPs and CRM supporting the event. Two tables were allocated to HSF/NAB, with the remainder of the seats being allocated by the MLN.
Raechelle Binny, General Counsel, Personal Banking & UBank at NAB, sent through glowing feedback the day after the dinner:
“… It was a magnificent event. Bringing together lawyers from across the profession to discuss inclusion, shar[ing] stories and educat[ing] non-Muslims about the Islamic faith is important to ensuring that our profession is equipped to build inclusive workplaces and an inclusive justice system. Every time I attend an event like the one HSF hosted last night, I learn more about how I can be a more inclusive leader and a better ally for people of all faiths and cultural backgrounds.
I was so impressed that Hassiba, encouraged by Marina, led this event for Herbert Smith Freehills. Hassiba’s closing remarks were insightful and gracious and I very much enjoyed sharing inclusion action plan ideas with Marina.
Thank you for including me. I am sure you’ll have other clients who are passionate about inclusion who would also benefit from an invitation if HSF hosted an Iftar dinner again next year…”
Danielle Kelly, Director of Culture & Inclusion at HSF, reflected that in light of the newly launched Life@HSF and our new Values, Raechelle’s feedback “very much speaks to the impact of living our Values of Human, Bold and Outstanding. Shout out to Hassiba in particular for leading on this initiative”.
Jenae Webb, Head of ALT Disputes at HSF, provided the following feedback to Hassiba who, as a current board member of MLN, identified the opportunity for the subcommittee to support MLN and sponsor hosting of the Iftar Dinner at HSF which was enthusiastically supported by her talented co-leads Mariia Artemenko and Calvin Collins:
“Congratulations Hassiba on initiating and organising such an impressive event! I know a lot of thought and time went into getting the right approvals and connecting with various people across the firm to make the night happen. I obviously wasn’t able to attend the event, but the email from Raechelle Binny at NAB paints the picture of an incredibly inspiring and thought provoking evening.”
Sophie Lefebvre, President of Victorian Women Lawyers, posted the following feedback on LinkedIn: “[b]eing invited to share in the holy month of Ramadan and to break fast is incredibly special and I thank the organisers for being so welcoming to the extended Victorian Legal community”.
Sarah Rey, Founding Partner of JUSTITIA, posted the following feedback on LinkedIn: “listening to the Imam lead prayers on the eve of the breaking of the fast was deeply moving as you could appreciate it was a ritual that has existed through many ages and settings. His Koran recitations and explanation of the role of fasting, and purification of one’s soul (it’s not just about the body and the mind) provided insight. For me it was an introduction to an Australian faith community that I should really know more about. Thank you Herbert Smith Freehills for the generous sponsorship and support”.
Topics discussed by Panel
The topics discussed by the panel which comprised of Alstergren CJ and Niresha Mudalige included a variety of questions focused on measures the workplaces could implement to make their Muslim employees feel included and ensuring that their needs during Ramadan are respected. Niresha Mudalige also shared that as part of HSF’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, a Reflection Room is available at our Melbourne office which provides our employees with an opportunity to perform their prayers while working in the office. Alstergren CJ also addressed the question of the Family Law Amendment Bill 2023, which through the lighthouse expansion and streamlining referrals through to the specialist high risk list known as the Evatt List, enhances accessibility to minority communities such as those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
Melbourne D&I Network’s Partnerships subcommittee would like to acknowledge the enormous contribution of Harry Edwards, Neena Aynsley and Tessa Eustace who found the time in their busy schedules to meet with the co-leads and listen to their original idea in relation to this event. Without their contribution and the initial empowerment this event would not be possible.
A lot of time and efforts by many people across the firm were put into place to make this event a reality. The Committee would like to especially acknowledge the contributions of the following individuals: Niresha Mudalige, Danielle Kelly, Jenae Webb, Raji Azzam, Damian Grave, Marina Nasution, Ellaha Faieq and the whole Client Services team. Similarly a lot of time and efforts were put by many people from MLN to make this event a successful one. Shout out to Walid Babakarkhil, Nancy Abdulla, and Areeb Ali.