VICTORIA – Representing a minority in the Australian population, Victoria Muslims opened their doors this month to welcome neighbors, offering them a chance to counter their fear of their neighbors.
“Muslims are only 2.6 percent of the Australian population, which means the average Australian will not get to meet the average Australian Muslim,” Saara Sabbagh, founder, and CEO of the Melbourne-based Muslim social organization Benevolence Australia, told The Weekly Review on Wednesday.
“They’re just going to hear about them and reinforce their fears and prejudices via the media and via Hollywood.”
Sabbagh is one of the organizers of this month’s Victorian Mosque Open Day.
Participants in the event, held on April 15, included Benevolence Australia and 12 other Muslim community centers and mosques around Victoria who opened their doors to the public.
Organizers hope that this event can counter fear in the society. Sabbagh cited a University of South Australia study found in 2016 that one in 10 Australians were “highly Islamophobic.”
Another Essential Research poll in the same year found 49 percent of Australians supported a ban on Muslim immigration.
“We want people to reach out and ask questions,” the president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Mohamed Mohideen.
The council represents the state’s 200,000 Muslims and organizes the event.
“We are always portrayed as angry,” he said. “But we are the same as anyone else. You prick us and we’ll bleed.”
During the event, Benevolence Australia hosted two information sessions at its Doncaster East center, which gave non-Muslims the chance to come and ask questions they might normally avoid.
Last year, Sabbagh fielded queries about hijab, prayer, and terrorism.
“I don’t think people assume they can talk to us on that level,” she said.
“But we don’t shy away from any questions.” And yet, the open day wasn’t all about serious discussion.
Elsedeaq Mosque in Heidelberg Heights, who also participated in the open door event, hosted a barbecue, with halal food provided by the mosque’s Somali and Egyptian communities, as well as face painting, gardening demonstrations and a jumping castle.
Elsedeaq’s imam, Sheik Alaa El Zokm, said that last year’s event was attended by 300 people, which included a tutorial showing people how to properly put on and wear a hijab (or head scarf).
“We took photos of them wearing the hijab and we sent it to them,” he says with a laugh. “It was very fun.”
“We need to spread the right information about Islam, especially when there are those who will misrepresent the religion by showing violence and extremism.”
“We are encouraging Muslims to talk because we are not here to isolate ourselves from the community,” he says. “We have to share in building this society.”