The long history of Australia’s Muslim community

Islam is not a new addition to Australian religious landscape, they do in fact have a long history on the continent.

Holland Park Mosque, the oldest mosque in Brisbane. (Image courtesy of Dr Mustafa Ally)

While many believe the Muslim community to be a relatively new addition to multicultural Australia, they do in fact have a long history on the continent.

The first Muslims to come to Australia arrived long before Europeans. Fishermen and traders from Indonesia sailed across the Torres Strait and traded with the local Aborigines. Their interactions spanned several centuries and evidence of it was left in the language and beliefs of certain aboriginal tribes.

However, it was not until the 19th century that Muslims again came to Australia.

According to Dr Mustafa Ally, the president of Crescents of Brisbane: “In the early 1900s the Afghans and Pakistanis came to Australia as cameleers, to help people explore across Australia. Subsequently, the first mosques were built in Adelaide.”

“If you go back to the first mosque along the east coast…it’s been now over 100 years [since its construction]. This mosque was built in Holland Park…it was built in 1908” Dr Ally explains.

Mohammad Abdul Gaffar Deen, President of the Holland Park Mosque, explains that it was this same group of cameleers who built the mosque.

“The Afghans and the Pakistanis built the mosque in 1908, and it stood until 1968. This original mosque was 1000m3. In 1969 it was replaced with a larger mosque”

As the twentieth century progressed the number of Muslims increased, as did their places of origin.

“Since then, Muslims have been coming as migrants from a lot of places. We’ve had them come from Turkey and Albania. In more recent times we’ve had them come from Iraq, Pakistan and India” Says Dr Mustafa Ally

“In Brisbane the largest population of Muslims settled around the Kuraby area. According to [the 2011 census] they make up 15 to 20% of the population there” he continues.

Islam is now the fastest growing major religion in Australia, according to government figures. Reflecting this, the Holland Park mosque is undergoing an expansion to better serve its 500 to 600 weekly worshipers. It might still not be the biggest in Brisbane, but as the oldest, it represents an often forgotten part of Australian history.