As the Muslim community begins preparations for Eid Al Fitr to be celebrated later this week marking the end of the Holy Month of Ramadan, we offer our greetings and prayers and look back at the challenges that they have had to face for more than 140 years.
From the early settlers dating back to 1874 to the modern day, they have suffered and continue to suffer some form of discrimination.
Terrorist attacks in the US, UK, Europe, India and Pakistan (not to overlook many countries in the Middle East) have made them targets of attack even as they go about earning a living as honest citizens or doing social and community work.
It is unfair that a community of people, a majority of who are moderate and modest, should be singled out to the disturbances that occur elsewhere in the world.
True, there have been instances in which some Muslims have breached the law, given vent to their internal differences differently, but most of them are hard-working, simple, honest and peace-loving people.
Branding all of them as terrorists or treating each of them as the villain of the piece does not bode well for New Zealanders who are known as compassionate and friendly people.
We dedicate this editorial to our brothers and sisters in Islam, who have been keeping ‘Roza,’ or observe daylight fasting during the Holy Month of Ramadan, which commenced on Friday, June 19, 2015 and will end with the sighting of the Moon on or about July 18, 2015.
As we wish them well, we appeal to others to respect their sentiments and help them to follow their faith. We have lived and worked with many of them over the years and have always found them to be humane and peace-loving people.
Their spirit of goodwill and understanding has never been properly understood or appreciated. They belong to this country as much as we do and some of them have in fact been pioneers in a number of areas.
The first group of Muslims is reported to have arrived in New Zealand soon after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1870 and a mention is made of their residence in the Census Report of 1874. Three Gujarati Muslim men arrived in New Zealand between 1907 and 1911, although migration in sizeable numbers (from India) continued through the 20th and 21st Centuries. Muslims of Fijian origin arrived from 1920s and their numbers increased to thousands after the two coups that occurred in Fiji in 1987.
Muslims from other parts of the world including China, Egypt, Iran, Libya, Malaysia, Singapore, Somalia, China and South Africa also migrated to New Zealand during this period and they continue to grow.
Muslims today are successful lawyers, barristers, solicitors, accountants, consultants, manufacturers, traders, shippers, medical practitioners, media executives and other professionals. Among them are also writers, scholars, and lawmakers.
Muslim women are active in various professions and speak out on issues of concern to the community and the country.
But the participation of men and women in social clubs and associations is sparse.
The New Zealand Muslim Association was the first organisation that brought together all Muslims in the country in the middle of the last Century. It was followed by other Islamic organisations in other regions – in Wellington in 1962 as the Wellington Muslim Association, 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. Subsequent associations were established in Christchurch (1980), Hamilton (1981) and Palmerston North (1982). The most recent, the Otago Muslim Association, was established in Dunedin (1994).
By mid-1970s, Muslim Associations had been set up or were in the process of being formed in every region. These were registered with the Government as Incorporated Societies. The functions performed and services provided by these Associations catered mainly for the immediate needs of the local communities. In most cases, this meant establishing children’s classes for Qur’an reading and Islamic knowledge, 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 the late 1970s it was becoming increasingly apparent that a national body was required to co-ordinate the activities of the regional Associations, increase their efficiency and generally represent the interests of Muslims as a whole, at national and international levels. Thus it was that after two years of informal discussions between the various regional Muslim groups and organisations, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) was formed in April 1979.
Today, the New Zealand Muslim community comprises of over 42 different nationalities. Over the last three decades the number has swelled from approximately 200 in 1950 to around thirty thousand today.
Despite being a small community, far removed in terms of distance from the rest of the Muslim world, New Zealand Muslims have developed a strong and committed community, dedicated to following the straight path toward success.
Eid Al Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, is an occasion for Muslims to embrace people of all faiths and pledge to work with them for a world that is assured of peace, harmony, progress and prosperity. We are confident that New Zealander Muslims will continue to preach and practice tolerance, respect other religions and most important of all, have a true sense of belonging to the country and its people.
Indian Newslink is a newspaper that believes in the inherent goodness of mankind; that man-made differences be removed to foster the spirit of oneness, which is indeed the spirit of Eid Al Fitr.
If the Holy Month of Ramadan is a period of abstinence and introspection, Eid Al Fitr should be an occasion to celebrate humanity.
For in the ultimate analysis, we can trace back our ancestry to but one tree of life.