Muslim faith is part of Border | SATURDAY FOCUS

MUSLIMS are not terrorists nor are they to be feared.

Islamic Society of Albury-Wodonga president Yakub Mohammed wants to make people aware of a rising Muslim population on the Border and break down any misconceptions about their beliefs. 

Mr Mohammed said there were about 400 Muslims who had relocated to the Border in the past 10 years due to them being moved from Sydney or Melbourne until they obtain permanent residency. 

He said often, non-Muslims would avoid them and it was because of warped perceptions. 

“We have been given a bad name because of extremists,” he said.

“We are a very peaceful religion and don’t believe in violence.”

He said because Islam was a strict religion, people associated Muslims with those extremists. 

“I’m a Muslim here and if I went to jail or did a robbery and a person who is not Muslim did the same thing, I would get publicised a lot more because I have a Muslim name,” he said.

“There is not much we can do about that but I am trying to get people to understand by welcoming them to research and come and ask us questions.”

Mr Mohammed said Muslims were not that different from followers of other religions. 

“We don’t believe in drinking or sex before marriage — much like those from Christian or Jewish faiths,” he said. 

“The only difference is we pray five times a day.”

Mr Mohammed said his family had experienced times when they were judged by the community.

When his wife got a job in Lavington her employers did not understand her faith.

“But since they have got to know her they realise she isn’t a bad person and now they are some of our best friends,” Mr Mohammed said.

“A lot of my good friends are of a different faith.”

He said a place of worship was imperative for the Border to keep Muslims in the religion. 

Having lived in Albury for 26 years, he had no centre to practice his worships while growing up.

“In my first 15 years living here, there was no environment for my religion and no other Muslims, so I was surrounded by people with a different faith,” he said. 

“I didn’t have the environment there is now and I went away from my religion, drinking and going out.”

After marrying in 2002, Muslim scholars would travel to Mr Mohammed’s Albury home from Melbourne to worship once a month. 

That was when he started to realise people of Islamic faith were relocating to the Border. 

“We would pray together and have activities to encourage people to stay in the religion and on the path,” he said.

“It started becoming very successful with people even travelling interstate.”

They rented a property on Fairview Drive in 2008 to act as their mosque after Mr Mohammed’s home became too small.

That ended up being an expensive venture and could not cater to the Muslim population, so last year they opened a new mosque on Wagga Road in Lavington. 

Every Friday, about 80 Muslims go to the mosque to worship in a tradition Mr Mohammed says keeps them connected. 

“Without a Mosque they stop praying and start living a non-Muslim lifestyle,” he said.

“We are very strict.

“If there isn’t the environment then a Muslim is not a Muslim.”

Mr Mohammed said they had plans to renovate the mosque to cater to the growing population and encourage those back to the religion who may have strayed. 

He said the renovations would consist of three stages. 

Stage one will meet council requirements as the mosque was bought as a community centre. 

“We have to build two driveways and the grass area has to be covered to create parking,” he said. 

“We must also have disabled parking and toilets.”

Mr Mohammed said he could see the mosque becoming too small already so stage two involved an extension. 

In Muslim faith, purity is one of the main things and they perform an ablution, washing themselves before they pray. 

Mr Mohammed said they would like to separate the sinks from the toilets and create a room dedicated to ablution. 

He also hopes to create a prayer room for women. 

He estimates the renovations to cost about $140,000.

Mr Mohammed said once the renovations were completed he expected the mosque to be appreciated by many. “People donate when they come here on Fridays and I think anyone who has donated will get a sense of feeling their donations are going towards something good,” he said. 

“I think it will encourage them to come here and we will be very welcoming.”

Tallangatta doctor and Muslim Rizwan Akhder explained that in Islamic faith, women prayed separately to men.

“That is why they have a separate room in a Mosque and it’s like that everywhere in the world,” he said.

“They can’t pray together and that’s one of the teachings in our religion.”

Dr Akhder said it wasn’t due to any discrimination as women had their own rights. 

“It’s for both genders and it’s about modesty,” he said.

“If they pray separately then there will be no interruption of their prayers and they can pray privately.”

Mr Mohammed said Islam was the widest spread religion in the world.

On the Border Muslims are made up of people from Pakistan, Lebanon, Fiji and Nigeria. 

Assher Khan moved from Pakistan two years ago. 

“It’s quiet and it’s peaceful here,” he said. 

Mr Mohammed said many of the Border’s Muslims were contributing to society. 

Mr Mohammed wanted others to get to know and understand Muslim people beyond their religion, skin colour and accent.

Mr Mohammed hoped Muslims would be integrated into the community and encouraged anybody wanting to know more to contact him on 0403 679 465 or by visiting isawmasjid.org.

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