MUSLIMS in Bendigo have a message for the wider community: “come and meet us”.
The Muslim community has remained largely quiet in the face of some community division over the proposed mosque – but its members are now reaching out to people in Bendigo who may not have met a Muslim before.
Loddon Campaspe Multicultural Services and one of its member groups, the Islamic Association of Bendigo, are planning a number of workshops beginning next month where people can learn more about the city’s 300 or so Muslims, their religion and culture.
Kate McInnes, LCMS education and community services manager, said the groups wanted to give people the chance to understand that Muslims were just like them.
“We’re becoming a more diverse community but people often haven’t had the opportunity to meet someone who is Muslim,” she said.
Members of the Islamic community would be at the centre of the initiative, Ms McInnes said.
“This is people wanting to put their hand up and say, ‘We are your Muslim neighbours’,” she said.
“They’re saying: ‘Come and meet us. Come and have a coffee, come and have a barbecue. Get to know us.’”
Nasrin Shah Naaz, from Bangladesh, is one volunteer for the workshops. She describes her community as diverse and family focused.
With so many people talking about the mosque and Islam, LCMS wants the workshops to answer questions about the Muslim community and address misconceptions.
LCMS expects the workshops to be collaborative efforts between various community groups.
“We’re looking at working in partnership with different organisations,” Ms McInnes said.
LCMS is working closely with the City of Greater Bendigo as it develops the city’s first cultural diversity and inclusion plan.
AFL Central Victoria, soccer clubs, the library and Bendigo TAFE were among organisations that had expressed interest in the workshops, Ms McInnes said.
LCMS was a membership-based organisation and the workshops were a response to what people had been asking for.
“We want to make sure it’s our local Muslim community doing it, not us as a service,” Ms McInnes said.
“We’re becoming a more diverse community but people often haven’t had the opportunity to meet someone who is Muslim,” she added.
“We really want people to have the opportunity to realise ‘they’re just like us’.”
To register to attend any of the planned workshops, contact Ms McInnes at LCMS on 5441 6644.
A diverse community within a community
BENDIGO’s growing Islamic community has remained largely hidden from view even as debate over a proposed mosque has dominated the news and, at times, descended into violence on the streets.
So who are Bendigo’s Muslims?
Ms Shah Naaz, says the community of about 300 is made up of people from a range of countries including Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Pakistan, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Some of Bendigo’s Muslims are refugees, many are skilled migrants – and some were born in Australia.
“There are doctors, pharmacists – a lot are in the medical profession,” she said.
Ms Shah Naaz said family was a priority for many in the community.
“They love to spend family time and go places with their kids,” she said, adding that many children had embraced sport in Australia.
“The parents love to go to a cricket ground where the kids can do something.”
Religious customs vary depending on the individual and are often influenced by their cultural background or upbringing, Ms Shah Naaz says.
“It’s quite diverse. Maybe some are not wearing hijab but are praying five times a day,” she said.
“Some might might be wearing hijab but not doing the prayer.
“We are all different.”
At the same time, though, Ms Shah Naaz said the community in Bendigo was united and people enjoyed meeting Muslims who had grown up in another country.
“We really like it. We like to meet people from another country, because as Muslims we have similarities,” she said.
Kate McInnes, LCMS education and community services manager, said most Muslims in Bendigo would not be identifiable by the clothes they wore.
“Lots of women don’t necessarily wear hijab,” she said.
“It’s a multicultural community and people express their faith differently. People have different cultures, different languages.”
“There are many Muslims who were born in Australia – they’re not all migrants.”
Many had moved to Bendigo specifically for work and were employed in a number of fields, including health and information technology, she said.
Beyond the cultural differences, Ms McInnes hopes LCMS’s planned workshops for the wider community will show people who want to know more about Islam how similar their Muslim neighbours are to them.
“We have this idea that Muslims are very different,” she said.
“They will discover that they are just like anybody else.”