National Grand Mufti of Australia

Islam In Australia

The Australian Continent 

Australia is a continent in itself which is situated in the South Pacific between 10 and 43 degrees South of the equator and between longitudes 113 and 39. Papua Niugini lies to the north and the island of Tasmania is to the south. The country is very big being 7,682,300 square kilometres in area being almost as large as the United States excluding Alaska. It is 32 times larger than England and is twice as big as India and Pakistan combined. The coastline totals 36 735 kilometres in length. Some locations lie at very high altitudes, up to 2228 metres above sea level. The weather differs according to the location around the continent with average temperature ranging from 12 to 29 degrees.

History of the original inhabitants of Australia 

The original inhabitants of Australia are called aborigines yet the tribes use different names to refer to themselves, such as Nanga/Murri and Koori. They came to Australia about 40,000 years ago from Asia.   At the time it is believed that Asia and Australia were joined by a land bridge but have since separated due to the rising of sea levels.

At the time of European settlement there were approximately 500,000 Aborigines settled throughout the continent.  They had their own religious customs, cultures and traditions, which indicate their associations with foreign people, particularly Asian, Arabs and Indonesia in order to fish for taypang, and arrived at first in Arnhem Land in Northern Australia.  There is no historical room for doubt that the Macassar’s contributed to Australian history, but they did not leave behind them a well-organised group of descendants.  Nothing is left except a few names, words and customs amongst the Arnhem Land and Grout Island people.  Some aborigines include traditions such as circumcision, marriage rites and honour of elders, which have links to that of the Macassar Muslims.

European contact with the continent 

In 1606 the Dutch navigator William Jansz was the first European to have made a landing on the Australian coast along the Gulf of Carpentaria.  Between 1606 and 1616, many Dutch navigators arrived and in 1616, Abel Tasman landed in Tasmania, hence the name of the island.  In 1688 the first Englishman, William Dampier spent three months in Southwestern Australia.  In 1770, James Cook arrived and at last, the English occupied the Eastern part of the continent and later the whole.

In 1788, the first Governor Arthur Phillip arrived in Sydney and worked hard to establish farming land, roads and exploring the interior of the continent.  In 1817, England enacted the first law regarding the colony and the Commonwealth of Australia, which consists of six states under the Federal Government, established on January 1, 1901.

Population

The Australian population 25.7 million according to the 2021 census and religious affiliation is as follows.

There are many religions apart from Christianity including Islam, Indian religions and Buddhism.  Over one million people declared that they have no religion.  The current aboriginal population is about 864,200.  After a long struggle for survival in the land of their birth, they were finally granted Australian citizenship in 1970.

The history of Islam and Muslims in Australia 

It is a proven fact that Islam was introduced to Australia by Macassar fishermen who used to visit Australia for centuries along the Northern Coast of Australia from the Eastern Islands of Indonesia, particularly from Macassar.  This was during the 16th and 17th centuries.

Macassan Perahu boat used to collect trepan (sea cucumber)

The stories of the Macassar are still remembered in the dreamtime stories of the Aborigines and celebrated in their sacred ceremonies.  Macassar graves are spread throughout the Northern coastal area of Australia. It is a real pity that for unknown reasons the Macassar has failed to leave a well-organised Muslim generation behind them.  In the same way, they did not leave any sign of Da’wah among the aborigines of this country.  This can be partly attributed to the aborigines’ nomadic lifestyle.

After the arrival of the Europeans, the British colonists brought Muslims to Australia from Afghanistan with the help of the British-Indian army.  In the first place, they used to bring Afghans for use in the exploration of central Australia; secondly, they were employed for constructing roads, transport and telegraphic lines between the distant towns and cities of Australia. Muslim immigrants managed to firmly plant Islam on Australian soil.

As far as religion is, concerned most of them were illiterate yet devoted Muslims and whatever they knew they would practice. They were able to build a number of simple mosques in the places where they worked.  Namely, from Port Augusta in South Australia to Wyndham and through to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.  One of the oldest mosques in Australia that was built by the Afghans late last century was in a place called Murray Bridge, in South Australia.  In 1976, this mosque was declared part of the Australian National Heritage.

Migrant workers on the Murray Bridge in 1875

As previously mentioned the knowledge possessed by the early Muslim immigrants in Australia was very weak, therefore there was an opportunity for Christian missionaries.  These missionaries often visited the families of the Muslims, who were in many cases forced by circumstances to marry local women, and Islam often died within the family soon after the death of the Muslim.  Most families list Islam due to their isolation and the continued efforts of the Christian missionaries.  Today there are many descendants of these Afghans who are completely Australian both in lifestyle and religious attitudes.

The third major group of Muslim immigrants to Australian began to settle here during the 1950s when the Australian government changed its immigration policy.  Since then well over one hundred thousand Muslims from Turkey, Lebanon and the Indo-Pakistan region have settled in Australia.  Due to their greater mutual support through numbers and a much higher degree of Islamic education as well as practice, this large group of Muslim immigrants managed to firmly plant Islam on Australian Soil.

Marree Mosque

Situated at the Wangamanna station, the place where the Marree Mosque is. The Marree Mosque is considered the first Mosque built in Australia.

It is not only a historical landmark but also a symbolic representation of the development backed by Muslim immigrants and how the Muslim community and the people of the land helped in building the town of Marree in South Australia.

The present Muslim population in Australia is approximately 650,000 out of 28.2 million. Muslims have settled throughout Australia, particularly in the Southeast of Australia mostly living in New South Wales and Victoria.  There are more than 288 mosques, musallas and markkas and also 38 Islamic primary and secondary schools.  The number of Muslim and Islamic institutions is always increasing.  All these achievements have come about during the past twenty years or so.

Muslim organisations in Queensland

The original Muslim families in Brisbane were Afghan camel drivers and traders.   They built the first mosque in the southern outskirts of the city area in an elevated corner visible from the main highway.  This first Afghan mosque was built in 1908 in Holland Park and was subsequently rebuilt in 1968.

Holland Park Mosque

As already noted previously most of the Muslims were immigrants from different countries, races and of diverse cultural backgrounds.  Being immigrants, they occupied their time in establishing themselves in Australia and neglecting Islam.  Unfortunately, the lack of Islamic education ultimately forced many families to integrate with the dominant Australian culture.

Soon after arriving in Australia the Muslims realised that the surrounding environment was not suitable Islamicly for themselves or their children, unless they were to work hard to establish an Islamic environment.  They often considered their children’s future and what could happen to them without an Islamic environment.  Taking this worry firmly with both hands the Muslims started to organise themselves.

The current situation of Islamic organisation 

Muslim communities in Brisbane total about ten thousand people spread all over the city of Brisbane and the surrounding districts.  There are now over 20 or more mosques and Islamic centres each having their own madrasah which hold classes on the weekend. One class per week is insufficient and as such children can only gain a mere sample of Islamic knowledge.  Due to this situation, many hundreds of children grow up with almost no knowledge of Islam- perhaps thousands.

The difficulties facing the Australian Muslim community 

When the achievements of the Australian Muslims is observed over the short span of twenty-five years one could suppose that the situation is stable.  This is simply not so. Naturally, the best efforts have been made in order to protect Islam and keep it in daily life and in the life of upcoming generations.  Many mosques and Islamic centres have grown up all over the country but there may well be many problems in future.

The greatest problem that the Muslim community faces is the lack of an Islamic environment in the local surroundings.  Most Muslims migrated to Australia for reasons not connected with Islam.  The Islamic environment in Muslim lands was not brought with them and with such a vast difference between the two environments, the need to pay attention towards tarbiat-ul-awlad, the proper upbringing of children, at school, in the home and mosque is extremely great.  Without the proper upbringing and guidance, there is little hope for the Islamic future of Australia.

Imam Abdul Quddoos Al Azhari