Muslims foster fraternal bond

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 along side 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 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 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.

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.

The functions performed and services provided by these Associations were confined to the immediate needs of their communities. In most cases, this meant establishing 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.

Today, the New Zealand Muslim community comprises 35 different nationalities. Over the last three decades, the strength of the community has grown to 35,000.

As well as the regional Islamic Centres, four Mosques have been built-Ponsonby and West Auckland (in Auckland), Hamilton and Christchurch. A church in Auckland’s Mount Roskill was converted into a Mosque. Islamic Centres are located in Otahuhu (Auckland); Palmerston North; Porirua and Newtown (Wellington). Plots of land have been acquired in different cities for construction of two mosques and an Islamic Centre. An Islamic school is nearing completion in Auckland.

Other facilities for the community include allocation of land through local city councils to meet the religious and spiritual needs and a burial ground.

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.

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.

Source: Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand

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