Bendigo Muslims concerned about anti-mosque sentiment

What began as a small campaign protesting against the proposed Bendigo mosque has gained the support of far-right anti-Islamic groups, spilling from social media to the streets and into a council meeting. Four Muslims from Bendigo talk about how it has affected them.
 

About 300 Muslims call Bendigo home, hailing from 25 different countries. Currently the local Muslim community use a prayer room at La Trobe University's Bendigo campus, which can accommodate up to 50 worshippers.

An application for the construction of Bendigo's first mosque by the Australian Islamic Mission was submitted to council and approved by Victoria's planning tribunal despite opposition from some local residents.

The student

Marwa Kamarelddin was born in Australia of Lebanese background

Marwa Kamarelddin was born in Australia of Lebanese background and has lived in Bendigo
for the last year, having relocated from Melbourne to study pharmacy.
(ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)


Marwa Kamarelddin was born in Australia of Lebanese background and has lived in Bendigo for the last year, having relocated from Melbourne to study pharmacy.

She was surprised by the reactions against the mosque and has found herself having to field many questions from the public. Most of the concern has been about the level of noise people think will come from the mosque. Once she explains the calls to prayer will not be broadcast fears are allayed.

"I just take it with an open heart," she said.

However, she was concerned about the recent protests and is worried when leaving the house at night.

"You'd be like, 'Oh, should I leave late?'", she said.

"You maybe now try to stay in more, at late times you prefer catching a ride instead of walking back home.

The citizen of the world

Dr Aisha Neelam has lived in Bendigo for the last ten years

Dr Aisha Neelam has lived in Bendigo for the last ten years, working as a GP.
Originally from Pakistan she spent most of her time in Dubai before getting married
and moving to Bendigo. (ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)


Dr Aisha Neelam has lived in Bendigo for the last ten years, working as a GP. Originally from Pakistan she spent most of her time in Dubai before getting married and moving to Bendigo.

She describes herself as a "citizen of the world".

Even though she is concerned about the recent anti-mosque demonstrations, and acknowledges some of it has come from Bendigo, she said she has always felt included in the community.

"The recent protests really don't characterise what this city is about," she said.

She is reassured by the support from the Bendigo business community and the other interfaith communities in Bendigo. "Who've stood up and really held us all together, and said - 'We're all with you'," she said.

Aisha said the fear-mongering had been largely created by right-wing political groups who were using the mosque to further their own agenda.

However, she is concerned the next tactic in protests may shift to the site of the proposed mosque.

"As Muslims, our religion teaches us patience, and we believe that if this mosque is meant to be and it's for our benefit it will go ahead," she said.

"It may take a certain length of time before it happens, but we have faith in Allah and he will make things happen."

The doctor

Dr Fahad Jamil is originally from Pakistan

Dr Fahad Jamil is originally from Pakistan but has lived with his family in Bendigo
for the last six years, working as a GP, having previously lived in England.
(ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)


Dr Fahad Jamil is originally from Pakistan but has lived with his family in Bendigo for the last six years, working as a GP, having previously lived in England.

Fahad says he is concerned about the intolerant behaviour by some members of the community towards the legal process in terms of the lack of respect towards council-approved plans for the mosque.

He says this has prompted him to feel insecure in his community.

"I, at times, do feel insecure and do feel as if I'm at times concerned about my own safety, in terms of such people being around myself and my own community," he said.

He is particularly concerned about some of the anti-Islam comments about Muslims not belonging, adding to his insecurity and making him feel unwelcome.

"Such remarks make you feel as if you don't belong here ... so that sense of not belonging that they're trying to create for us, although we've been serving the town, serving its people and pretty much working in Bendigo for a long time and living in Bendigo with the family ... I think we are just made to feel like we don't belong here at all," he said.

The psychiatrist

Usman Mansoor has lived in Bendigo for the last 5 years

Usman Mansoor has lived in Bendigo for the last five years having arrived from Pakistan.
He works in the psychiatry department at Bendigo Health.
(ABC Central Victoria: Larissa Romensky)


Usman Mansoor has lived in Bendigo for the last five years having arrived from Pakistan. He works in the psychiatry department at Bendigo Health.

Usman said he has lived peacefully in Bendigo and has made many friends from all religions and cultures but is concerned when watching reports from the media and reading comments on social media about the recent anti-mosque protests in Bendigo.

It has left him feeling sad.

"It's just sad to see something like this - people discriminating against your religion and kind of instilling fear in some people," he said.

"It doesn't feel good to see people behaving in this kind of manner, especially in an aggressive manner against a certain religion or ethnicity."

However, he realises it is just a small number of people.

"It's only a few numbers of people who think that way, and I guess there are bad people everywhere, in every country, in every religion," he said.

He said there were many misconceptions about the mosque and believed education was the answer.

"We need to provide them with an education about the mosque and maybe about other cultures," he said.



Source: ABC Central Victoria

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