A small community seeks fraternal bond

Venkat Raman

New Zealand has a vibrant Muslim community with its members participating in almost all community, social and welfare activities.

It is a matter of gratification that Muslims live in peace and harmony, working alongside other communities, fostering the common cause of universal fraternity and goodwill.

Notwithstanding some untoward incidents in recent months in which Muslims were targets of verbal or physical abuse following the September 11, 2001 incidents in the US.

There are no serious concerns of communal tension, the likes of which are found in India or even in the UK.

Muslims in New Zealand form an integral part of the country’s social fabric and have been effective contributors to the overall development for more than 130 years, transcending all barriers.

The Early Settlers

The first Muslims arrived here in 1868. They were of Chinese nationality, involved in the mining industry. When the industry declined, they returned without leaving any Muslim heritage behind. The next group of Muslims arrived in 1908 to take up permanent residence in Auckland. It was however much later (1950) that cognizable number of Muslims began establishing a firm foothold in this country.

Early Muslim settlers, though small in number, soon began to organise themselves and gather in their private homes to observe salaat, Quran classes and religious celebrations. As their number grew, the need for a larger and fixed place of worship and education became apparent. Such a need led to purchase of ordinary houses which were converted into Islamic Centers in all major cities of New Zealand.

First Association

The first regional Muslim association was formed in Auckland in 1950 and was called the New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA).

It was soon followed by the Wellington Muslim Association (1962) which later became the International Muslim Association of New Zealand (IMAN).

The choice of this name was a reflection of the situation in Wellington where the majority of Muslims were students on the ‘Colombo Plan,’ from many different countries.

By the mid-1950s, every region had set up a Muslim Association, registered with the Government as Incorporated Societies.

Educational Courses

The functions and services provided by these Associations were confined to the immediate needs of their communities. In most cases, this meant establishing the Holy Quran reading and Islamic lessons for children, as well as study groups for men and women.

Despite the scarcity of educational resource material and adequately trained teachers, these classes filled the need for some form of Islamic education in what was a completely secular environment.

By late 1970s, it was becoming increasingly apparent that a national body was required to coordinate the activities of the regional Associations, increase their efficiency and generally represent the interests of Muslims as a whole, at national and international levels.

The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) was formed in September 1979, in realisation of a growing need.

According to the 2013 Census, there were 46,149 Muslims, up 28% from 36,072 in 2006.

Today, the New Zealand Muslim community comprises about 40 different nationalities.

The results of the 2018 Census have not yet been released but the total Muslim population is likely to have crossed 45,000.

Maori and Islander Muslims

Islam is estimated to be the fastest growing religion among the Maori with census figures showing the number of Muslims of Maori ethnicity increasing from 99 to 708 in the 10 years to 2001 and to 1083 by 2013 census data.

The Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association is the most influential Maori Muslim Movement.

While the overall Pacific Islander community grew 15% according to census data from 2001 to 2006, Muslim Pacific Islanders grew 87.43%.

According to 2013 census data, there were 1536 Muslims among the Pacific Islander community (less than 3.5% of New Zealand’s Muslim population).

The most famous Muslim from this community is Rugby player and heavyweight boxer Sonny Bill Williams.

Islamic Centres

Most Islamic Centres are affiliated to the Wellington based Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ).

There are 43 Islamic Centres affiliated to FIANZ throughout New Zealand including Auckland (26), Waikato (6), Bay of Plenty (2), Canterbury (2), Hawke’s Bay (1), Manawatu and Wanganui (4) Marlborough (1), Northland (1), Otago (2), Southland (1), Taranaki (2) and Wellington (5).

It is not unusual for universities and other educational institutions to send their students to the Islamic Centers and mosques to gain better knowledge and appreciation of Islam and the rituals of Muslims. Television and radio programmes are regularly compiled and scholars of international repute are invited for public lectures. Islamic exhibitions are also organised from time to time.

FIANZ publishes regular updates on its website (fianz.com).

Despite being a small community, far removed in terms of distance from the rest of the Muslim world, Muslims in New Zealand have developed a strong and committed community, dedicated to following the ‘straight path’ toward success.

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Photo Caption:

Muslims praying at Mustafa Al Majid in South Auckland

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