Monday 19 November 2018

Muslims in non Muslim Countries: Australia

I always thought that Australia is an outward looking country which absorbs people form all over the world, specially students and even allows immigration on very easy terms to professionals to add to their work force and progress of the country. But today a news caught my eyes which was really disturbing. The news heading read: Nearly half of Australians want the number of Muslim immigrants slashed following the Melbourne terrorist attack. Now this is really disturbing. If an Australian kills someone or sexually assaults a minor, no one question it for he is a Christian and Australia. Now read just another reported headline: The grubby dance school toilet cubicle where a girl, 7, was ‘sexually assaulted' by a man, 54 – as the ‘hero’ dentist who kicked the door in to rescue her breaks down while calling for a parole review. Now imagine if the assailant was a Muslim and then how differently this headline would have appeared.

I  had thought of writing about Muslims in Australia in my series of posts at a later stage for I thought Australians were more outwardly looking people than others and always embraced people of other faith with open hearts. But after reading the above headline, I thought of writing about plight of Muslims specially after the recent Melbourne terrorist attack.

After the dominating Christian region, Muslims are the second majority people. According to the 2016 Australian Census, the combined number of people who self-identified as Muslim in Australia, from all forms of Islam, constituted 604,200 people, or 2.6% of the total Australian population, an increase of over 15% of its previous population share of 2.2% reported in the previous census 5 years earlier.[1]

Muslims started vising Australia generally by Indonesian Muslims trepangers from the southwest corner of Sulawesi visited the coast of northern Australia, "from at least the eighteenth century"to collect and process trepang, a marine invertebrate prized for its culinary and medicinal values in Chinese markets.However the earlier settlers were the camel drivers of Afghan origin the mid to late 19th century. Between 1860 and the 1890s a number of Central Asians came to Australia to work as camel drivers. Camels were first imported into Australia in 1840. The camel drivers, from thence on who  came from many other countries, started to be called as 'Afghans' and they brought with them the first formal establishment of Islam in Australia.

Afghan grave Bourke [Photo]

However,  in the 1920s and 1930s Albanian Muslims, whose European heritage made them compatible with the White Australia Policy, immigrated to the country. Albanian Muslims built the first mosque in Shepparton, Victoria in 1960, first mosque in Melbourne in 1963 and a mosque in Mareeba, Far North Queensland in 1970. The Albanian community in Far North Queensland settled in the area in the early 20th century searching for work in the sugarcane and tobacco industries with many descendants still living in Mareeba, Cairns and other small towns across the Atherton Tablelands. Later Muslims from Bosnia and Turtkey aslo came in the 1970s and settled in Australia. Even as per 2011 census, 1,140 people identify as Aboriginal Muslims, almost double the number of Aboriginal Muslims have been recorded in the 2001 census.[1]

By the beginning of the 21st-century, Muslims from more than sixty countries had settled in Australia. While a very large number of them come from Bosnia, Turkey, and Lebanon, there are Muslims from Indonesia, Malaysia, Iran, Fiji, Albania, Sudan, Somalia, Egypt, the Palestinian territories, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, among others.Muslim students from countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Bangladesh and Pakistan, are among the thousands of international students studying in Australian universities.

Muslims have thus formed a size bale Muslim community in Australia and have been contributing positively yo the growth and development of the country. But in recent times, eye brows have started to be raised among the Christian majority community, even on production of Halal meat. The Halal meat products are exported to the Middle East and Southeast Asia and are a big source of earning for Australia. However, Halal certification has been criticized by anti-Halal campaigners, who argue that the practice funds the growth of Islam.

However recently the trend of intolerance towards Muslims is increasing and currently a great deal of interest in, and misunderstanding about, Australia's Muslim communities. Although Muslim Australians are not a homogeneous group as some media reports might lead us to believe, but make up a small, culturally diverse section of Australian society. But despite that, incidents like Melbourne recently are blown out of proportion, which even compelled the prime minister to come on TV and talk of terror Islam. and captions like Radical Islam are on the increase. I wonder how many of the total Muslim populations are of jihadi nature or are involved in terrorist activities. 

In fact such incidents should not mean that all Muslims are all suspect. And this worries the majority peace loving Muslims in Australia and even all non Muslim countries. Sensing a threat to their faith and way of living, the Muslims from various countries and sects are striving to change the negative perception. In a new SBS documentary, 10 Muslim Australians with vastly different views on their faith live under one roof for eight days to explore what it means to be a Muslim in modern, multicultural Australia. Marshall Heald of SBS is of the opinion: “Muslims Like Us showcases the diverse range of interpretations of Islam that are practiced in Australia, with the broader aim of giving Australian audiences a chance to learn more about what it means to be a Muslim today.” 

Watch this documentary:

What worries the Australis today is the ever increasing Muslim population. The number of Muslims living in the country has almost doubled from 341,000 in the the 2006 census. as per 2016 Census showed the Muslim population in Australia has soared to more than 604,000 people, overtaking Buddhism as the most popular non-Christian religion.  The Muslims are predominantly concentrated in Sydney and Melbourne, with the majority of the population being working class.

While most Muslim men can go unnoticed, it is the female Muslims wearing Hijab that are more often than not singled out . The Department of Immigration and Citizenship found 88 per cent of Muslims in Australia felt harshly judged for their religion. SBS columnist Ruby Hamad wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald that the media had been obsessing over Muslim women and their choice of Islamic garments for far too long. “The dynamic conversation about the veil’s place in western society has become an obsession to some people and it needs to be had both on the role and manifestation of modesty within Islam itself, and on the responsibility for children to follow the beliefs of their parents,” Ms Hamad said.

However, despite concerns and fear of Islamophobia, the life of Muslims is generally peaceful. And they do celebrate their religious events with much fanfare and large participation. The Islamic Eid Festival is widely celebrated throughout Australia by Muslim communities, with the biggest celebration being The Multicultural Eid Festival & Fair (MEFF) in Sydney. in 2014, the Islamic Museum of Australia was opened in Thornbury, 10 kilometres outside Melbourne’s city centre. It’s the first Islamic Museum in Australia and aims to dispel stereotypes and promote understanding of Islam’s unique heritage and its contributions to Australia. A rich collection of contemporary art by Australian Muslim artists as well as crafts and artifacts can be found here in five permanent galleries as well as one designated for visiting exhibitions. The museum also holds lectures, workshops, events, screenings and more.

Muslim-friendly restaurants in Australia are plenty and prominently display the halal sign – although be mindful that they are self-certified; currently there is no official restaurant certification body in Australia. By the way have you ever watched the show MasterChef Australia? Then you might be familiar with George Calombaris. Well, his Greek restaurant in Melbourne serves halal food so Muslim patrons can happily dig into the chicken wings in smoked black Aleppo mayo, grilled squid and calamari.

Author's Note: The data above has been collected from the references as given below. If any one differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo: Chullora Greenacre Mosque  | References: | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |
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