Twenty years ago, Ahmed Abdo was followed home from school by a group of bullies. He turned to police for help. Now he says he wants to give back.
Thirty-four-year-old Sheikh Ahmed Abdo has become NSW’s first Muslim police chaplain since 2011, and is believed to be the only Muslim to hold the position currently in any state or territory of Australia.
He succeeds the late NSW police chaplain Sheikh Khalil Chami, who died in 2011.
At his swearing in ceremony in Fairfield on Thursday, he recalled how his experience of discrimination, growing up in southwest Sydney, shaped his views of the police force.
He said he was experienced racist abuse daily, and at one point even feared for his life, while being followed home by his tormenters.
"My home was about 10 minutes away. But that afternoon, it (felt like) the longest walk in my life. Following me were scores of young people. Unfortunately they had taken it upon themselves to ensure that I didn't arrive home safely."
He turned to police for help – filing a complaint at a local police station, and he was promised, police would do everything they could to ensure he was safe.
“And we go home that day, having been comforted by a lovely man, who took it from his own heart to ensure that this insignificant young boy goes home with a raised head."
He says his experience made him want to give back to the police who once helped him.
“I think police for many people are seen as a power and an authority. However, I’d like to see the police - and this is how I saw the police as a young boy - as a refuge. As a family you can go to and seek help from.”
NSW Police Commissioner Andrew Scipione said the police chaplain’s role was to “help the helpers”, providing comfort and spiritual guidance to officers to help them deal with traumatic events.
“He’s there to meet the spiritual needs of police officers, particularly our Muslim police officers, as and when they may need the comfort that comes from a chaplain. The work that they perform can’t be overstated.”
The Commissioner said it was hoped Abdo’s appointment would help to promote unity, at a time of increased tensions and misunderstanding between Muslims and the wider community.
“We are multicultural police force, and we have to be. The reality is that we live in a multicultural society, and so we are only going to be able to service that community if we have officers from those communities. And the chaplains need to be there to support and represent those officers who are from those communities.”
The ceremony was also attended by the Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohammad, and other senior police officers and community leaders.