THE turning of a sod at Bendigo East yesterday meant so much more than the start of a construction project.
It was the start of a new chapter for Bendigo, and significantly for the Bendigo Muslim community.
We cannot and should not speak on behalf of the Bendigo Islamic Association, so it's best we draw on their words and lived experiences to share how they feel.
In the words of Sameer Syed, the centre 'won't be just a mosque for the Bendigo Muslims to pray in, it will be a centre of religious and cultural exchange for all residents of Bendigo. Our vision is for every Bendigonian to benefit from the BICC, whether it be to educate themselves, engage in constructive dialogue, take part in community activities or simply drop in with family and friends for a coffee in a tranquil yet ultra modern setting. I am confident that once the centre is up and running Bendigonians will reflect on what a positive impact the centre has been making on this great city of ours."
And in Dr Aisha Neelam's words: "We love where we live, we feel welcome here and we want to use this facility to reach out to the Bendigo community."
It's pretty clear, this facility is going to be one built with the intent of bringing people together - not to divide.
Up until this point, we have seen the ugliest side of humanity, as some tried to do the exact opposite of what the Bendigo Islamic Association is hoping to do. It was a prolonged battle fought by those opposing the mosque, which was based on misinformation and untruths. A battle that deliberately created fear, incited hatred and division. An unnecessary battle that afforded our Muslim community little respect, or grace.
Yet, through all of that we saw the very best of humanity in the way the Bendigo Muslim community was always respectful and showed grace in their response. We have much to learn from that. And we saw how Bendigo stood up to the hate. We are a city that believes in harmony and fairness, and will continue to embrace people of all cultures and who practice all faiths. They are entitled to do so, free of judgement and hate.
Nicole Ferrie, editor
READ MORE: A day of joy as mosque construction begins
READ MORE:Build begins on Bendigo mosque
READ MORE: Bendigo mosque gets go ahead