Muslims Down Under are coming to Bundaberg to talk openly about their faith with community members in a Question Islam event.
It will be an open forum for people to ask all the “tough, awkward, inappropriate or uncomfortable questions” they may have about Islam and receive an honest and comprehensive answer from a Muslim Imam in a non-judgemental and safe environment.
Muslim Youth Australia Queensland director of outreach Sheeraz Sirajur Raheem has teamed up with Muslims Down Under for the Question Islam event.
Sheeraz said the question-and-answer platform was aimed to start a conversation and help increase mutual understanding in the community by reducing prejudice and uniting the Bundaberg Region.
What sort of questions are asked?
At past events questions asked by the public included: “Are women inferior to men in Islam, if not, then why do we see that they are more restricted like having to wear the veil?” Along with: “is it true that Muslims want Sharia Law in Australia and all of Australia to become Muslim?”
Sheeraz said these were common questions and they are happy to answer them, and many more at the Bundaberg Muslims Down Under event.
“We have observed that many Australians will have come across information from a friend, heard something on the news, or read something on social media about Islam or Muslims that doesn't quite sit right with them,” Sheeraz said.
“They've got something to ask and either don’t know who to approach or the person they have approached hasn't really answered their question.
“We are putting ourselves out there and saying we are here to answer those nagging tough questions, honestly and openly, in an environment that is safe and free of judgement.”
What Muslims Down Under hope to solve
Sheeraz said the problem the group was trying to solve was trying to join all Australians together to take a united stand against terrorism.
“Extremists of every kind, including those so-called Muslim extremists, rely on spreading myths and false information to divide us,” he said.
“They want us to fear each other, to turn against each other. We are battling against stereotypes, poorly informed public debates and sensationalist media who propagate the extremist narrative more than ours.
“We want Australians to stand united with us against extremism, against hate and against ignorance. Because together we can make a difference, and our country is stronger when we stand together.”
With plans to travel part of regional Queensland during June, Sheeraz said Bundaberg seemed like the ideal location.
“While discussing potential places to visit, Bundaberg came up in the conversation and many of our members had fond memories of the place and people, as they had visited Bundaberg during the devastating 2013 floods to help with the clean-up and recovery efforts,” he said.
Sheeraz said a member of the parent organisation, the Queensland Chapter of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of Australia, is orthopaedic surgeon Dr Abdul Ghaffar Chaudhry who operates at Bundaberg’s Mater Hospital.
“Dr Chaudhry offered us accommodation, and insisted we should come up to Bundaberg as it would be the perfect place to hold such an event, so that sealed the deal for us,” he said.
“We are all volunteers aged between 15 years of age to our early 30s from South East Queensland and self-funded.
“There are about 10 of us who will be coming up, including the Imam of our mosque, Imam Syed Wadood Janud.
“Muslims have been living and working in Bundaberg for generations, but form a very small minority, likely numbered somewhere between 100-200 persons.”
A lack of understanding
Sheeraz said there was “definitely a lack of understanding about Islam not just in Bundaberg but across Australia”.
“Research has shown that about 70 per cent of Australians know ‘little to nothing’ about Muslims and what we stand for, and just under half of Australians have negative sentiments towards us,” Sheeraz said.
“Our fellow Australians are not to blame; for many, the only interaction or engagement they have had with Muslims is through social media or sensationalist news coverage of extremist activities.
“Research has also shown that having more factual knowledge about Islam and having contact with Muslims is linked to less prejudice against Muslims, so this is why we are here and want to make ourselves available to the public.”
Bundaberg community is accepting
Sheeraz said Bundaberg was a very welcoming and understanding community, as proved from past experience.
“After the horrific Christchurch mosque attacks hundreds of members of the Bundaberg community from all walks of life rallied together at the Hanbury Street Mosque to show solidarity with Muslim friends and neighbours, and mourn those who died in the Christchurch terror attacks,” he said.
“The Bundaberg Region Mayor Jack Dempsey was there as well.
“Even in the past, in 2017 when there was hate speech against Muslims written in graffiti on a fence on FE Walker Street, more than 20 Bundaberg community leaders came together at Buss Park to speak out against ignorance and intolerance.”
During the 2013 floods the group travelled to the Bundaberg Region to help with the recovery and clean-up efforts.
“After the devastating floods, members of the community were delighted to see us, and some even shedding tears of joy and gratitude,” he said.
“One person even gave us his most prized possession, a treasured family heirloom, as a gesture of appreciation and gratitude.”
But Sheeraz said there is still work to be done in order to unite everyone.
“However we do know from reading comments online and feedback from fellow Muslims that there are still pockets of hate and misunderstanding out there, so there is still work to be done,” he said.
Sheeraz is in his final year of dentistry at Griffith University and said the group had given their own time to make the event successful.
“We have taken time off work, university, school to come to Bundaberg,” he said.
The Question Islam event will be held at Take the Plunge Café located at the YMCA on Saturday, 29 June from 10am to 12.30pm.
“So far we have held three events this year in various locations including our local mosque, Baitul Masroor Mosque in Stockleigh, Queensland; at the Sir Samuel Griffith Centre, Griffith University, Brisbane; and at Southern Cross University in the Gold Coast,” Sheeraz said.
“The event at Griffith University occurred shortly after the tragic Sri Lanka Easter terror attacks, so we also incorporated a prayer vigil for the victims of the Sri Lanka attacks, and attended other vigils at Catholic churches.”
The Muslims Down Under campaign is about reducing the amount of negative sentiment towards Muslims and their religion.
Sheeraz said the community may not realise Muslims people are just like others in the Bundaberg Region.
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