Malcolm Turnbull

Ahmadiyya Muslim minority find religious freedom in Australia

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Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community from around the world are in Sydney to attend one of Australia's largest Islamic gatherings.

As Christians all over Australia attended mass on Christmas Day and celebrated with much of the country, a much smaller group celebrated the chance to finally do the same.

Over the weekend 2500 members of the Ahmadi Muslim community in Australia attended their annual conference known as Jalsa Salana.

It is an emotional time for Ahmadiyya visiting from countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia, where the religion is condemned by the broader Muslim community.

For one attendee from Pakistan, it was the first time he has openly prayed since he was a small boy. For 31 years his faith has been banned in his home country.

Muzzafar Ulhaq was emotional as he told SBS he had recently moved to Australia to find religious freedom and a chance to finally express himself.

"To attend this Jalsa Salana event after so many years is just, I am crying tears of joy, tears are for my happiness," he said.

A persecuted group within a persecuted group

The Ahmadiyya are a minority sect within Islam who formed in British India in the 19th century, and have faced violent persecution ever since.

Followers are defined by their belief in a Prophet called Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who came after Mohammed to spread the divine word of Islam.

For centuries, the religion has been rejected by the greater Islamic community around the world as heresy and defying the true Prophet, Mohammed.

There are about 4000 practising Ahmadiyya in Australia.

Ahmadiyya religious leader Imam Ulhaq Kauser told SBS the broader Australian public often associated the faith with extremist groups, in the wake of high-profile terror acts.

"The first thing we do after the Paris attacks and these things is condemn them," he said.

"One incident took place last night, that was in Kyrgyistan in Russia and they killed one of our Ahmadi members. So we are victims of ISIS as well."

A focus on youth for the future

Youth leaders have used this Jalsa Salana event to educate people on issues - and remind them of the importance of community.

"We are aware of how lucky we are to be free here," National Youth Leader Waqas Ahmed told SBS.

"That means we focus on giving back to the community, helping people and preaching peace."

In the wake of extremist attacks overseas, Ahmed said leaders prepare small children in the community with messages to counter Islamaphobia and prejudice.

Eleven year old Kamran Arshae shared what he was taught.

"We tell them our motto, which is love for all, hatred for none, and we show them kindness."

Groups of children at the conference busied themselves by decorating and cleaning the Baitul Huda Mosque, one of two in the country, dedicated to the Ahmadiyya.

As groups spelled welcome in white stones, Mr Ulhaq pointed to their efforts.

"This is what we feel, this is what we celebrate."

Sydney-based youth in the community will spend Australia Day planting trees, to give back to the country where they feel free.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull acknowledged the community’s contribution to the country, in a special message on Sunday.

“As you come together for this year’s convention, I know each of you will express thanks for the blessings we share in this land, and will pledge yourselves to building a brighter future for this nation.”

 

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