The History of Islam in Australia: From Early Visitors to a Diverse Community

For at least two centuries, Muslims have visited and worked in Australia. Malay fishers and divers were followed by Afghan camel drivers. However, large-scale Muslim settlement in Australia only began after World War II as a wave of people left behind conditions of economic hardship in search of a better life. … Later events in the Middle East and Europe and the onset of political crises such as the civil war in Lebanon, the Islamic Revolution in Iran and the Bosnian ethnic war, created new waves of settlers. As a result, Australian Muslims come from diverse social, political, economic and ethnic backgrounds. …

The Evolution of Australian Muslim Identity

In the Australian context, Muslims, especially second and third-generation Muslims, are adding a new layer to their identity. They are developing a certain bond with Australia, which, in most cases, is not at the expense of their Islamic and ethnic traditions… However, it may be premature to talk of an Australian Muslim identity as the exact contours of this identity are still evolving. …

Multiculturalism: A Policy for Social Inclusion

It is clear, however, that this process can be aided or hindered by the larger Australian society. Multiculturalism offers a valuable opportunity for Muslim communities and can assist in the development and consolidation of Islam in Australia. Multiculturalism is more than the introduction of Indian and Turkish take-away shops. It is a policy of social inclusion, transforming people from diverse backgrounds into a cohesive social unit. It is a mechanism for giving people from a variety of different cultural backgrounds and loyalties a stake in the vibrancy of the Australian society.

The Two-Way Process of Multiculturalism

The sense of ownership and social responsibility among Muslim Australians is tied to the extent of their inclusion and participation in the multicultural project. That project is, by definition, a two-way process. Appreciation of the cultural and religious needs of Muslim communities by the mainstream of Australian society needs to be reciprocated by Muslims’ commitment to the legal and political framework of the Commonwealth of Australia.

(Excerpted with permission from “Searching for Identity: Muslims in Australia” by Abdullah Saeed and Shahram Akbarzadeh, in Muslim Communities in Australia, edited by Abdullah Saeed and Shahram Akbarzadeh, University of New South Wales Press, 2001)