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AUSTRALIA AND NEW ZEALAND. Although there have been Muslims in Australia and New Zealand for more than a century, the present small but active Muslim communities have developed since 1950. The first Muslims in Australia were camel drivers who helped open up the interior of the country in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but they did not establish a continuing Muslim community. This occurred only in the 1950s when some Muslims came as part of the considerable postwar immigration from Mediterranean countries. More arrived in the following years, including Turks who came with the support of their government and a large number of Lebanese Muslims fleeing the civil war after 1975. Numbers nearly tripled from 1976 to 1986. Lebanese are now the largest national group and with the Turks account for more than 8o percent of the Muslim population. There are also Muslims from other Arab countries, South and Southeast Asia, ex-Yugoslavia, and elsewhere. According to government figures there were 109,500 Muslims in Australia in 1986, representing 0.7 percent of the total population. Other estimates, however, put the number as high as 250,000. Some 87 percent are in the urban centers of New South Wales and Victoria in the southeastern part of the country.

Local Islamic associations were first organized in the mid-1950s, and by the 1970s several were quite well established. They largely follow ethnic lines and have established mosques and provide a variety of religious, educational, cultural, welfare, and community services relevant to their immigrant constituencies. There are also several organizations for Muslim women.

In 1965 a national organization was formed, and this developed by 1975 into a three-tiered structure consisting of local associations, eight state councils, and a new national organization, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). AFIC and the state councils provide a number of educational, cultural, and religious services, but local associations retain their autonomy. Other AFIC functions include representing Australian Muslims to both Australian and overseas agencies and certifying the halal slaughter of animals.

Local associations select their own imams (congregational leaders), but these are often supported by AFIC and overseas agencies. The Turkish government plays a major role in choosing and supporting imams for Turkish mosques. Financial assistance for building mosques often comes from Saudi and other sources, channelled through AFIC. Partly for these reasons there has been some tendency toward centralization in recent years. Although the local associations are still strongly ethnic in character, awareness of broader Islamic identity has been increasing.

New Zealand Muslims are predominantly of Fijian Indian and other South Asian origin, but a number are from other countries, including some overseas students and a small but active group of Western converts. At least half live in Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city. According to the 1991 census they numbered 5,277, about 0.15 percent of the total population, although estimates by Muslims run as high as 9,000. The roots of the present community go back to a handful of Gujarati men who arrived after 1906, but only after 1950 did Muslim families began to settle in New Zealand. Significant growth began in the late 1960s, with more than a tenfold increase from 1966 to 1991. The 1987 coup d’etat in Fiji has caused a considerable recent influx.

The first Muslim association was formed in Auckland in 1950, and between 1964 and 1989 five others were founded. The mosque in Christchurch, completed in 1985, is furthest from Mecca of the world’s mosques. Depending on resources, the associations provide for religious, educational, and social activities, including halal food and publicity. Some have separate women’s and youth groups, and many have usrah (family) groups. Tabligh activity (similar to revival missions, deriving from Mawlana Ilyas‘s movement in India) is important. Some associations are served by full time imams, but policy control is largely in the hands of lay leaders. As in Australia, outside financial assistance, often from Saudi Arabia, has been necessary for both the construction and maintenance of buildings and the payment of imams. New Zealand associations are not divided along ethnic or sectarian lines, mainly because of their small numbers, but partly also because of the efforts of local and national leaders. In 1979 a national organization, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ), was formed to coordinate financial requests and other dealings overseas and to provide other services. It offers a halal certification service, although much of New Zealand’s considerable meat export to the Muslim world is certified in other ways.

Australian Muslims are mainly working-class immigrants and economically disadvantaged, although some, especially South Asians, are white-collar and middle class. In New Zealand the Auckland community has a large working-class component, but the average income of New Zealand Muslims is close to the average for the country. In both countries Muslims have suffered from some discrimination, negative stereotyping, and conflicts between Muslim customs and local ways, such as difficulties in getting time off for religious services, insensitivity of health agencies and schools to Muslim concerns, and legal problems with marriage and divorce. Such problems seem to be greater in Australia than in New Zealand. There is also negative publicity and hostility arising out of events overseas, such as the Iranian revolution, the Rushdie affair, and the the Gulf War of 199o1991. All these issues have been confronted with some success in both countries by the Islamic councils and associations and also by agencies such as the Human Rights Commissions. In both countries Muslims have made considerable progress in establishing themselves and learning to function in their new environments.

[See also Islam, article on Islam in Southeast Asia and the Pacific.]


Humphrey, Michael. “Is This a Mosque Free Zone? Islam and the State in Australia.” Migration Monitor 3.12 (January 1989): I2-1’7.

Humphrey, Michael, “Islam, Immigrants, and the State: Religion and Cultural Politics in Australia.” Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations 1.2 (December 1990): 208-231.

Islam in Australia. Sydney, 1985. Articles from a 1984 seminar held at the MacArthur Institute of Higher Education.

Islamic Communities in N.S.W. [Sydney?, 1985]. Articles giving thorough coverage of Muslims in the Sydney area.

Shboul, Ahmad, “Muslims.” In Many Faiths, One Nation, edited by Ian Gillman, pp. 217-234. Sydney, 1988.

Shepard, William E. “The Islamic Contribution.” In Religion in New Zealand Society, 2d ed., edited by Brian Colless and Peter Donovan, pp. 181-213. Palmerston North, N.Z., 1985.


Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/australia-and-new-zealand/

  • writerPosted On: October 12, 2012
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