Muslim community

Muslims form 1.5 percent of all Australians but only 0.2 percent of Tasmanians, nearly two-thirds of them living in Hobart. Ethnically diverse, the community has drawn its numbers from Eastern Europe, West and Central Africa, and largely West, Central, Southern and South-eastern Asia. Saib (Sahib?) 'Jacob' Sultan, a shipwrecked seaman from India, was the first Indian and Muslim to set foot on Tasmania, in 1807. Other shipwrecked Indian Muslims followed him in subsequent years. They received land grants and settled in the Hobart, New Norfolk and Campbell Town regions. Muslim numbers remained small until some arrived as post-Second World War migrants. The process was augmented from the late 1960s, which not only saw an erosion in the traditional European sources of Australian immigration, but also a serious outbreak of the Middle Eastern wars, involving the Arab countries, Israel and Lebanon. Again, in the 1990s, mainly due to wars in the Gulf, Eastern Europe and North Africa, and upheavals in Afghanistan and Iraq, Tasmania saw a nine-fold increase in its Muslim population.

The late immigration of the bulk of Muslims is reflected in the relative younger age of Muslims to other Australians: 72 percent of Muslim are under 35, compared to the Australian average of 54 percent. Australian Muslims, especially their womenfolk, have a lower participation rate in the work force, and their share in the educational and vocational qualifications has also been significantly less.

Islam is as much a system of beliefs as a way of life. In the absence of a church-like organisation overseeing believers' religious life, Muslims have always felt an innate urge to turn to the state, if Islamic, and to their own community. In a non-Muslim state the community life and organisation assumes even a greater importance. In 1968 Muslim students in Hobart founded the first Islamic organisation in this state, the Tasmanian Students Islamic Society, to take care of their general and religious concerns. The need for a broader organisation representing the entire community gave birth to the Tasmanian Muslim Association in 1973, committed to promoting the religious, cultural and social interests of the community, including the establishment of an Islamic Centre-cum-Mosque. The Association was incorporated in 1976 and as the Islamic Council of Tasmania became affiliated to the national Islamic organisation.

The lack of adequate funds long stood between the community and its dream of a purpose-built Mosque. Substantive donations from the Saudi Arabian and Malaysian governments led to its establishment in Hobart. Its location shifted over a period of time, but the efforts of years came to fruition as the new Mosque building in Warwick St became ready for its first Friday prayer in 2004. Muslims in Launceston used a hired church hall at Mowbray. Now all Muslims use the university-provided prayer room at the Launceston campus.

The Tasmanian Muslim Association and Islamic Council of Tasmania assured many objectives of the community, such as a regular Imam as a religious leader; dedicated places for Islamic funerals in burial grounds, and provision of ritually slaughtered (halal) meat, and most importantly, it serves as the focal point for dissemination of Islamic knowledge and education, while there are many pockets of religious instruction in individual Muslim homes. The Tasmanian Muslim Association celebrated its Silver Jubilee in 1998.

General ignorance of Islam and Muslim culture in the wider world, and prejudice exacerbated by terrorism, have presented unprecedented challenge for Muslims as migrants. Other issues, for them, arise from the apparent conflict of a religious culture pitted against a predominantly Christian society and secular laws. The present Imam of the Hobart Mosque appreciates the absence of any serious problems in Tasmania in this difficult time.

Further reading: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Statistics Section, Immigration: Federation to century's end, 19012000, Canberra, 2001; H Deen, Broken bangles, Sydney: Transworld, 1988; M Jones (ed), An Australian pilgrimage: Muslims in Australia from the seventeenth century to the present, Melbourne, 1993; A Markus, Australian Race Relations, 17881993, Sydney, 1994; W Omar & K Allen, The Muslims in Australia, Canberra, 1996; K Rivett, Australia and the non-white migrant, Melbourne, 1975; The people of Tasmania. statistics from the 2001 census, Hobart, 2003; The people of Tasmania, Canberra, 2003; Souvenir, 11 th July 1998 AD. Silver jubilee celebration (1973­1998) of Tasmanian Muslim Association Inc., Hobart, 1998; B York, From assimlationism to multiculturalism: Australian experience, 19451989, Canberra, 1996.

Asim Roy