Happy to be part of a ‘very multicultural society’

Four young Muslim men discuss their experiences in Australia

Raif Ameen celebrating the end of Ramadan with a friend

Declan Sinclair considers himself lucky. Since moving to Australia four years ago and converting to Islam, he feels accepted in what he calls a “very multicultural society”.

Having lived the first 17 years of his life in England, Delcan immersed himself in Muslim culture in Australia and converted to the religion.

“I feel very accepted as a Muslim in Australia. Yes, I converted from being an atheist to a Muslim, so in some people’s eyes perhaps I am not a true Muslim, but I still feel an overwhelming amount of acceptance from my friends, and strangers” says Declan.

He acknowledges that he may just be “lucky” that his friends at university, and co-workers at his local supermarket are welcoming towards other cultures.

“I have heard from other Muslims that I pray with, that they are being treated differently because of their religion, and I can see that it does happen, but I think by and large Australia is a very multicultural society”.

Declan’s friend Abdul Baqi has been living in Brisbane for two years, having lived the first 16 years of his life in Saudi Arabia. Abdul regularly attends Muslim prayer services at the University of Queensland in St Lucia. Abdul has had both positive and negative experiences while adhering to Islamic traditions in Australia.

Abdul speaks highly of UQ’s facilities.

“UQ has fantastic facilities for Muslims wishing to devote their lives to Allah, and because UQ hosts regular prayer meetings, we can praise our Lord daily.”

Abdul says he feels “safe and comfortable” attending prayer services, but does not have the same opinion at his regular workplace. Abdul works at a major fast-food outlet in Brisbane City, and claims that here “the genuine views of the nation come across”. Abdul says that co-workers regularly make jokes about his religion, his personal preference to fast during Ramadan, and his abstinence from alcohol.

“I am frequently asked why I don’t participate in drunken events on the weekend with my co-workers, and when I tell them I don’t feel comfortable drinking, they call me “boring and up-tight. It’s quite hurtful, and if I weren’t friends with fellow Muslims I have met through UQ, I don’t think I could cope with it”.

Not all young Musilms have such positive experiences and recent protests in Sydney sparked by an anti-Islamic film resulted in 11 arrests. The violence in response to the video was condemned by prominent Sydney Muslim leaders.

University of Queensland exchange students Mukhtar Abdi and Raif Ameen have found some aspects of Australian society difficult to adapt to.

Both men are six months through a year-long exchange program. They both frequent Muslim events held at UQ, and have part-time jobs: Mukhtar works as a maths tutor at the university, and Raif works at 7/11, a convenience store in Toowong. Mukhtar speaks highly of Australians in general, but notes a few exceptions.

“As a maths tutor I naturally interact with students from a wide variety of cultures. I can only speak fondly of my time working at the university. No one questions my clothes, my religion, or my customs. It’s great,” Mukhtar says.

However, he tells a different story when he goes out ‘to the city’ to meet with friends.

Mukhtar explains, “I like to be accepting of people’s faith or lack thereof. I have many atheist friends, and we hold a mutual respect for each other’s beliefs, but occasionally when I go to the city with them to chat while they’re drinking, I am the butt of many cruel racist jokes. I’m called a ‘terrorist’, and mocked for my clothes. It really hurts.”

Raif notes that people occasionally stare at him when he walks from the train station to work because he dresses unlike most Australians but says he feels “welcome” in Australia.

“Sure, people look at me occasionally. But who wouldn’t? Sometimes I’ll be outside, in 35 degree heat covered from head to toe in clothes with a Taqiyah on my head. People are always going to notice someone who stands out. You can’t get angry about that.”