Islam ' fastest growing faith in Australia

By Ridwaan Jadwat, Special to Arab News

RIYADH, 25 October ' On Monday, Oct. 7, I had the
honor to represent Australia and hundreds of thousands
of Australian Muslims at the washing of the Holy Kaaba
ceremony in Makkah. It was the fourth time that I have
been granted the privilege of entering the inner
sanctum of the Kaaba and performing prayers inside
Islam's holiest site. It remains a vivid and deeply
moving experience.

My invitation to Makkah and the warm welcome that I
received from my Saudi hosts and diplomatic
colleagues, represents a symbolic acknowledgment that
Australia's cultural and religious diversity is
recognized throughout the world.

Islam's presence in Australia predates European
settlement. In the early 16th century, Makassan 
fishermen from the east Indonesian archipelago were
the first Muslims to visit Australia and trade with
the indigenous Aboriginal community. In the 19th
century, Afghan Muslim camel drivers played an
important role in the exploration and opening up of
the interior of the Australian continent. Today, Islam
is one of the fastest growing faiths in Australia, and
Muslims are a vital and integral part of the rich
mosaic of Australian society.

In the past 25 years, the Australian Muslim community
has significantly expanded. According to the 2001
census, the Muslim community constituted 281,578
people, an increase of 40 percent since the 1996
census and an overall rise of 91 percent in the last
decade. And these figures may be very conservative.
Some recent estimates suggest Australian Muslims now
number between 350,000-450,000.

Australian Muslims are ethnically diverse and come
from a wide range of backgrounds and cultures. Some 35
percent of Australian Muslims were born in Australia,
and the rest immigrated to Australia from over 70
different countries, including Lebanon, Turkey,
Indonesia and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There are almost 100 mosques and over 20 Muslim
schools in Australia. Reflecting the increasing
recognition in Australia of the Islamic faith,
Commonwealth and state governments have introduced
flexible work hours on Fridays to make it easier for
Muslim workers to attend a mosque and observe Juma
prayers. Public streets are closed every year of
Eid-ul Fitr and Eid-ul Adha to accommodate the tens of
thousands of worshipers who attend Eid prayers at
mosques such as Lakemba Mosque in Sydney, home to
Australia's largest Muslim congregation.

Islamic community centers, student associations, halal
butchers and restaurants are found in every major city
in Australia. The peak Islamic authority in Australia
is the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils
(AFIC), which is the umbrella organization of Islamic
councils from Australia's various states and

The Australian government recently announced a
partnership program with AFIC. The partnership will
include employing a journalist to work with the media
toward a better understanding of Islam and Muslims in
Australia, through facilitating informed and accurate
reporting and producing information, articles, and
media releases on Islam and Muslims.

Australian Muslims are doctors, lawyers, academics,
diplomats, police officers, members of the defense
force, entrepreneurs, shopkeepers, and laborers.
Muslims have contributed much to Australia's
political, economic, and social life, and have
cemented their place in Australia's religious and
cultural landscape.

They occupy an increasingly important place on the
Australian public square, and are embracing
opportunities to participate in a tolerant, inclusive
and culturally diverse Australia.

(Mr. Ridwaan Jadwat is second secretary at the
Australian Embassy in Riyadh) 

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