Bendigo Muslim speaks: Islam: A place of truth

As a young boy, Bendigo resident Usman used to visit the local mosque in Pakistan with his father. Not so keen on attending, he remembers spending more time on the streets playing than praying and cheekily running into the back of the mosque to turn off the lights.

Now he understands that prayer teaches discipline and he tries to fit it in with his busy career working as a medical officer in the psychiatric services at Bendigo Health. "Prayers play an important role in the life of a Muslim but it doesn't mean that if someone isn't offering prayers he is not a Muslim or a good human being, " he says.

Fitting in his morning and evening prayers, before and after work, Usman also occasionally sneaks in a short two to five minute session during his lunch break, if he has time. His duty of care to his patients comes first. "Islam doesn't say you have to offer prayer at the cost of your duty," he explains.

Likewise his wife Sara also agrees that Islam is not just about praying and worshipping. "It is a belief, a code of conduct for life," she explains. At the heart of it is a responsibility towards others. "It's about meeting and welcoming people and sharing a life with your community," she says.

People and particularly respect of people is central to the teachings. "If I don't respect other people, irrespective of their religion or race. I would not be a Muslim," Usman says.

Then there is truth, a belief they are both passionate about. "Islam is about speaking the truth. There is no place for telling a lie," Usman says. 

Although Usman differentiates between Islam and Iman, the former being more about the external form, in terms of outward actions, and the later embodying a spiritual awareness, they both look forward to the proposed mosque for the 150 or so families of Islamic faith in the Bendigo community.

Sara says, "It's not just a place of prayer, it's a place where we can have community meetings, discussions and gatherings."

Usman also sees it as a place of learning, particularly for the youth. "It will be a central place for people to gather and learn, to guide the young generation," he says.

Usman first arrived in Australia over five years ago to further his medical training in psychiatry prompted by his colleagues insistence that Australia is the best place for medical training. He began with a stint in Adelaide then Melbourne and now calls the "peaceful" town of Bendigo his home.

Sara only recently arrived in Bendigo after completing her Bachelor of Arts degree majoring in English language and literature. Her parents wanted her to study medicine but after two years of study she switched to pursue her love of language. Then followed marriage. She plans on embarking on her PhD sometime in the future.

Both Sara and Usman are from Sialkot, a major industrial city in northeastern Pakistan. They met after being set up by family and immediately liked one another. Their families were long time friends with Sara's grandfather teaching Usman's father when he was young.

Although both their families live in Pakistan they want to make Australia their home. They love the peace, quiet and friendliness of Bendigo and Usman parallels the basic fundamental principals of Australian society with Islam. He singles out the lack of discrimination and equal opportunities in Australia with Islam's belief "that no one is superior to anyone else."

He finds it easier to practice Islam in Australia than Pakistan, where 97% of the population is Muslim. Usman explains that the many interpretations of Islam have led to violent clashes around the world including Pakistan.

"People are more tolerant in Australia, they have a tendency to understand different cultures and to respect other people's values. It is one of the most understanding societies in the world," he says.

Source ABC Open, Bendigo

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