Riverina Islamic leader Dr Ata Ur Rehman remains positive about his religion’s place in society despite a poll indicating 46 per cent of Australians want cuts to Muslim immigration.
Dr Rehman, chair of the Muslim Association of Riverina Wagga (MURWA), said he believed the region’s acceptance of Muslims had improved since the years after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
“The role Muslims are playing is immense in Australia; I don’t see why people should worry the way they worried after 9/11,” he said.
“There is no need to worry about Muslims, in general.
“Yes, there will be a few elements here and there, which is is normal in any community, but we are dealing with that.”
Dr Rehman said MURWA was vigilant about extremism.
“Myself and my team here in Wagga are very particular about these types of people,” he said,
“Hopefully, we will never come across these types of people in Wagga.”
Dr Rehman backed police and security efforts to identify radicalised people and those who inspired them.
“We have to crack down on these so-called religious scholars heavily,” he said.
“When I say heavily, I mean that we have to take action.
“I don’t know who they are in Australia, but if there are people with this type of mentality in Australia coming up and trying to do harm, we have to track where they have come from and who they are talking to.”
A Fairfax Ipsos national poll of 1200 respondents, interviewed from November 14 to 17, found that 46 per cent of people agreed with the statement that “the number of immigrants coming to Australia nowadays from Muslim countries” should be “reduced a little or reduced a lot”.
“It’s a long journey for people to find out who we are; we being Muslims."Dr Ata Ur Rehman, Muslim Association of Riverina Wagga
According to the 2016 Census, 552 residents within Wagga City Council nominated Islam as their religion, compared with 334 residents in 2011.
The combined forms of Christianity was the largest religious group in Wagga at 72.8 per cent compared with Islam at 0.9 per cent.
“It’s a long journey for people to find out who we are, we being Muslims,” Dr Rehman said.
Dr Rehman migrated to Australia from Pakistan 26 years ago and has spent the past 20 years living in Wagga.
Like Islam as a whole, Wagga’s Muslim community is made of up people from different nationalities.
“In Wagga Wagga, there are Muslims from many different backgrounds and they are nice people.
“I am the person who interacts with them the most, being the (MURWA chair) and leading the prayers.
“They are very nice people and there has not been a single incident in Wagga, that proves it itself that they are nice people, loving people, and nothing to do with extremism.”
Dr Rehman said Muslim people felt welcome in Wagga.
“I hardly have heard of anyone saying anything negative,” he said,
“I have been in Australia for 26 years and I haven’t heard anything negative.
“My wife, she wears the Hijab and know of only one incident.
“Soon after 9/11 there were some young boys in a car who said to my wife ‘You are the one’, maybe jokingly, but nothing more than that.”
The poll was taken a week after an ISIS-inspired terrorist attack in Melbourne’s CBD.
That incident saw a 31-year-old man, who immigrated from Somalia as a child, attempted to detonate a crude car bomb before stabbing three people.
One of the victims died at the scene and was later revealed to be Sisto Malaspina, aged 74, a well-known restaurant owner and a pioneer of Melbourne’s coffee culture.
In the days after the attack, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had a duty to “call out” when “extreme Islam” had led to terrorism.
“I don’t believe that is where the majority of decent, hard-working, respectable Australian Muslims are at,” he said.
“They want their community to be safer and there are people coming in to their community and they are infecting their young people and others with hatred and false teaching, which is taking them on the wrong path.”
Mr Morrison’s comments were supported at the time by Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, a Labor MP.
Dr Rehman said he did have an issue with the tendency of people to assign blame for one person’s actions to an entire group.
“Why do we have to defend ourselves?” he said.,
“I am a law-abiding Muslim and I would say 99 per cent of Muslims are law-abiding, so why are we having to defend ourselves?”
Fairfax Media reported this week on the Chinese Communist Government’s imprisoning of an estimated one million citizens from the Uighur Muslim minority in ‘re-education camps’.
Dr Rehman said he had Uighur friends who feared being sent to jail if they ever returned to China.
“We always thank God that we are in Australia, not China. We feel lucky in to be in Australia,” he said.
“I know (Chinese government-style internment) will not happen in Australia. People are educated and they have started becoming knowledgeable about what other religions are for.”
Dr Rehman referred to Islam’s holy text, the Koran, as proof Muslims don't “come with ideas that they are going to blow up or kill”..
“I wish people involved in decision making would read what the Koran says: to kill one person is as if you have killed the whole of humanity, and if you have saved one, then you have saved the whole of humanity,” he said.
“I believe those words are enough to understand how compassionate and merciful God is, as the same God you believe in if you are religious.”
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