Invercargill (Waihopai in Maori) is the commercial centre of the Southland region and the southernmost and westernmost city in New Zealand.
It is also one of the southernmost cities in the world.
Named after local government administrator William Cargill, Invercargill is situated on the banks of the Waihopai River, near the New River Estuary that lies in the heart of the wide expanse of the Southland Plains on the Oreti or New River, about 18 kms north of Bluff, which is the southernmost town in the South Island.
Although Maori had traversed the site, there was no permanent settlement until John Turnbull Thomson surveyed the area in 1856, leading to settlement by Scottish immigrants. The city’s cultural links with Scotland are reflected by many of the main streets, which are named after Scottish rivers.
Invercargill has a temperate oceanic climate similar to that of the British Isles. The mean daily temperature ranges from 5.2°C in July to 14°C in January. The yearly mean temperature is 9.9°C. Rainfall averages 1112 mm annually, and measurable snowfall is occasionally seen during the winter months of June to September.
It is the cloudiest centre of New Zealand with 1580 hours of sunshine per annum. Despite its cloudiness, and a relatively high frequency of rainy days, Invercargill receives less rain than either Auckland or Wellington.
Invercargill is also New Zealand’s second windiest city, after Wellington.
The first known Muslims arrived in Invercargill during the mid-1980s.
They were of Iranian origin and were involved in the freezing industry. They worked as Halal slaughter men for the Alliance Group at their Lorneville and Mataura plants.
During off-season, they returned to their families in Iran.
In early 1990s, Fijian Indians replaced the Iranian Halal slaughter men at the Lorneville Plant and Malaysian Malays at the Mataura Plant. They also returned to their families in Fiji and Malaysia during off-season.
It was from early 2000s that some of these Halal slaughter men started bringing their families to live in New Zealand and began establishing a firm foothold in this region.
A good influx of Muslim doctors in early to mid-1990s from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Middle East, who came to work at Southland Hospital, complemented the existing Muslim population in the area.
The growth of Muslim population received a boost by students from Malaysia, India and the Middle East enrolling at Southland Institute of Technology.
From 2000, the growing prosperity in the Southland farming sectors attracted Muslim share-milkers and dairy farm workers from Indonesia and Kenya.
These Muslims, although small in number, soon began to organise themselves and gather in their private home garages to observe Salat (ritual prayers), Quran classes and religious celebrations. As their number grew, the need for a larger and fixed place of worship and education became more pressing.
In 2004, St Mary Parish Meeting Room, situated at Eye Street, Invercargill was hired on selected days for performing Jummah Salat (Friday Prayer) and conducting meetings of Jemaah Tabligh.
By 2006, it was becoming increasingly apparent that a more structured organization of Muslims was required to promote the interests of Muslims in the area and to co-ordinate their activities. Towards this objective, formation Southland Muslims Trust was initiated by a few members of the Muslim community but due to subsequent transfer of some of the founding members of the Trust, the registration of the Trust could not be completed.
On March 14, 2008, the Invercargill Muslims Group at Yahoo Group was created to make communications among Muslims in Invercargill and its surrounds easier.
The long awaited formal platform for the Southland Muslims was formed with the registration of the Southland Muslim Association Incorporated (SMA) on April 17, 2008. The first Executive Committee was elected at a General Body Shura Meeting of the local Muslims held on April 25, 2008 at St Mary Parish Meeting room, after the Jummah (Friday) prayers, which was well attended by brothers from Mataura, Winton, Wyndham and other neighbouring areas of Invercargill, since it was a public holiday.
As a first step towards creating a dedicated, albeit temporary, facility for the Southland Muslim Community a room was permanently hired in the UFS Hall on Tay Street for performing five times obligatory prayers, the weekly Jummah prayer, annual Eid prayers and for use as a community centre. The first use of the facility was for the Jummah Prayer on Friday, May 2, 2008.
At a workshop held on November 1, 2008 at 31 Fairview Avenue, Invercargill, the potential for a Masjid was identified. After the inspection of the property by about 12 SMA members on November 2, 2008, there was a unanimous decision that the property had the requisite potential and SMA should take further steps to acquire it.
After an intense and spirited campaign of fundraising, which was wholeheartedly supported by Muslims all over the World, a lengthy process the Resource Consent and various Building Consents the construction of the SMA Masjid and Community Centre started in April 2010 and was completed four months later, just in time for the Holy Month of Ramadan.
Effective use of new communication technologies was the key to raising the requisite funds, avoiding persona visits to established Islamic Centres and Masjids nationally and internationally, which is the norm form for a typical fund raising project.
All funds were collected predominantly through phone calls, emails and the SMA website (www.sma.org.nz), which was specially created to assist the Association in its efforts. As the project moved from its early stages of acquiring the property and obtaining Resource Consent to the final stages of Masjid opening, there was a need to continually update our supporters and stakeholders on the progress of the project.
We did that effectively through the website.
Rise in tourists
The main purpose of the website now is to provide information related to our location, Salat timing and other programmes. This has proved its usefulness, testified by an increasing number of Muslim tourists who frequent this most beautiful area of New Zealand. Our facilities are a refreshing stop for individuals and families in their journey through the area.
The new Masjid and Community Centre (at 31 Fairview Avenue, Invercargill), replaced Dunedin’s Al-Huda Mosque to become the world’s southernmost, and is further from Mecca than any other masjid in the Southern Hemisphere.
The management of the SMA is on the basis of Consultation or Shura.
The principal forum for this consultation is the monthly meeting held on second Saturdays. The minutes of the meeting are punctually documented and circulated among members and placed on the Masjid Notice Board.
Where any decision is to be made on an urgent basis, then this consultation is done through telephone, emails and the Invercargill Muslims Yahoo Group.
The monthly meeting is open to all members and they are continually reminded and encouraged to participate and contribute in the Shura process.
SMA is registered as a Charitable Organisation, which is of benefit to donors who are New Zealand taxpayers as they can claim a refund for a portion of their donations made to the Association (currently 33%).
The Financial Statement of income and expenses is prepared monthly and filed in the Masjid documents folder, available to members for reference and any enquiries.
The annual financial statements are religiously filed with the New Zealand Government Authorities (Societies and Trusts & Charities Commission).
Azeem Haqqani is an Engineer from Pakistan. He was the Founding President of the Southland Muslim association. The above article was abridged for Indian Newslink by Hamilton based Abdullah Drury from the original text by Mr Haqqani.