The National Census reported that 1,140 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians identify as Muslim. A figure has grown significantly in the last 15 years, almost doubling that of what was recorded in 2001. While statistics indicate Muslim conversion and identification is growing in Indigenous communities, Islam in Indigenous Australia is not new.
Dating as far back as the early 1700s - almost a century before British settlement - religious influences came from Asian neighbours who worked, traded and socialised with First Nations’ people. From Afghan and Indian cameleers in Central Australia to Malay pearl divers in the Torres Strait and Cape York Peninsula, and Indonesian fisherman in the Top End, Muslim-Australia holds many fascinating stories.
More recently however, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have become drawn to the faith independently, interested in its guiding principles, spiritual beliefs and finding cultural parallels to traditional Indigenous culture. But just like the individuals living in different parts of the country, with different backgrounds and families, the stories are as diverse as the people themselves.
In an 2012 interview boxing great, Anthony Mundine was asked how he thinks media portrays of him, to which he replied, “I’m three things that you shouldn’t be in this society, and that’s Muslim, Aboriginal and outspoken.”
Reflecting on Mundine’s powerful words and the preconceptions of minority groups, we consider national identity, and meet the people who are dedicated to their faith and simultaneously committed to keeping culture strong.
Images by Stuart Miller
Shaymaa, a Noongar woman, is a decedent of the camaleers, with her mother’s family name being ‘Abdullah’. Shaymaa began her journey with Islam before researching her family history, having many close Muslim friends and being drawn to its values and the supportive Islamic community around her.
Anthony, a Bundjalung/Wiradjuri man, often socialised with Muslim friends, but became particularly drawn to Islam after reading the works of African-American leader and black rights’ campaigner, Malcom X.
Tahlia, a Nunukul woman from Minjerribah, North Stradbroke Island began her journey to Islam while studying at University. Tahlia is a mother of three and happily married. Her younger sister Kaskade (pictured left, above) is also a proud Nunukul girl.
Wiradjuri brothers, Obeid (L) and Omar (R), grew-up practicing Islam. Their Aboriginal mother came to Islam in her early 20s and their father is Syrian-Muslim.
Kayla, a Murrawarri/Gomeroi woman, has known her Lebanese-Muslim husband since she was a teenager. Despite being high school sweethearts, Kayla came to Islam years later and independently of her partner, interested in faith, identity and Aboriginality. Kayla and her husband Khaled have five daughters. Kayla’s father is Aboriginal Elder, Uncle Glen Doyle, a traditional and ceremonial performer in Sydney.
Mohammed, a Torres Strait Islander man, was born and raised Muslim. His father is a Lebanese-Muslim and his mother is a Muslim-Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander woman who was also born into the faith.
Wiradjuri mother, Khadija began her journey searching for spiritual fulfillment in the late-1970s when Islam was making news. Her daughter, Shifaa, also a proud Wiradjuri woman, was born in Syria and raised Muslim in Australia.
Simone, a Gomeroi woman, grew up with no religious practice, but was always interested in existence, life and nature. She started researching Islam in her early 20s.
Aunty Halima, a Torres Strait Islander Elder, was the daughter of an Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander woman and an Indo-Malay pearl diver and grew-up in a Muslim family on Thursday Island.
Pictured above: Aunty Halima with her granddaughters, Raheema, Maimunnah and Tasneem, and her close friend of 30 years, Khadija, and Khadija's daughter, Shifaa.
NITV would like to thank all the participants for inviting us into their homes and sharing their stories with us.
The Mosque Next Door continues tonight, 8.40pm on SBS. Episodes will be available after broadcast anytime, anywhere, for free via SBS On Demand.