SYDNEY – A group of Muslim volunteers from across Australia has launched a new campaign that encourages people to meet a Muslim over coffee, cake and conversation.
The initiative is designed to counter misinformation about Islam and an increase in extremism “not only on the side of Muslims, but also on the other side, in the far right,” Imam Mohammed Atae Rabbi Hadi, a leader at Baitul Huda mosque at Sydney’s Marsden Park, told The Sydney Morning Herald on Sunday, July 16.
“Why not meet an Aussie Muslim, and get to know them and see you have so much in common?”
Hadi is the national spokesperson for Muslims Down Under group.
Based on volunteers, the group members are willing to answer any questions members of the public may have about their faith when they book in for a one-on-one coffee with a practicing Muslim through their website.
The group has previously run Q&A sessions at Western Sydney University’s Parramatta and Lithgow campuses.
While some people are interested in Islam’s history and theology, Hadi says most ask questions about “what they see on television.”
“They ask: Is Islam really a violent religion? If it’s not, why has violence happened? What does ‘jihad’ mean?”
The “meet a Muslim” concept is not new, with Muslim communities in the US using the phrase to brand public information sessions.
Najm Sehar, national coordinator of the Muslims Down Under campaign and one of the volunteers said she has overwhelmingly had a positive experience with members of the public.
The 29-year-old mother of two and master’s graduate says people often smile at her in public, where her religious beliefs are “very visible”.
“To tell you the truth, from 9/11 happening while I was in high school, through the seven years I spent commuting from the western suburbs to Sydney Uni for study, I really only had one incident when I was at school which could be described as ‘Islamophobia’,” she said.
In her talks, Sahar prefers to avoid talking about harassment Muslims usually face, saying it can make Muslims “scared” of those around them.
“When you hear about these reports, it almost encourages us to have phobias of each other.”