In a ‘first of its kind’ effort, the leaders of New Zealand Muslims gathered in the thriving metropolis of Hamilton on 20 January 2018 to develop a strategic plan for the next 20 years for the Muslim community.

The idea was the brainchild of the Waikato Muslim Association (WMA) whose Executive Committee embarked on developing a Strategic Plan 2018 – 2038 in mid-2017.

A small group led by a young professional, Tariq Ashraf, came up with a draft plan for the region which became a catalyst for a National Symposium.

So with the help and support of its national body, Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ (FIANZ), a one day Muslim community leaders Symposium was organised by WMA in Hamilton which brought together various Muslim community leaders from across the country.

The audience listening to Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner, New Zealand.

In their opening addresses the President of FIANZ, Mr Hazim Arafeh, and the President of WMA, Dr Asad Mohsin, outlined the purpose of the Symposium.

It was “to examine the current position of the Muslim community in NZ, with a view to developing actions that will enable the community to participate in and help improve itself and all other NZ residents”.

In addition to Muslim leaders, the organisers invited relevant key partners from Government and the wider community to take part in this future-focussed Symposium. These included a Cabinet Minister, three local MPs and invitees from Office of Ethnic Communities, Ministry of Social Development, Police and Interfaith Council.

In her address the Minister for Ethnic Communities, Hon Jenny Salesa, the first Tongan born New Zealander to hold a cabinet post, said that “As a migrant and a Pacific woman, I would advise you to dream big as NZ is a land of opportunities.

She cited the example of Dr Ashraf Choudhary as the first Muslim MP and Sonny Bill Williams, the All Black who has just been to Makkah to perform Umrah.

“The success of any community in NZ is measured by whether they are represented in the All Blacks team – and you are there!”

She noted “there are well over 1000 Muslims within the local Maori community as Tangata Whenua and Muslims have lots in common including compassion, care and unity”.

“New Zealand has a reputation as a diverse but socially harmonious society, although we still have some way to go in achieving social cohesiveness,” she admitted.

Hon Jenny Salesa, Minister for Ethnic Communities, New Zealand addressing the Symposium audience.

The Director of the Office of Ethnic Communities, Ms Wen Powles, reiterated that NZ Muslim community is incredibly diverse and brings a feeling to her quite different to what she got in a Muslim majority country, like her native Malaysia. To make NZ a really inclusive and diverse society, she invited members of Muslim community to make serious effort to join state sector Boards and public sector positions.

Dame Susan Devoy, Race Relations Commissioner, talked about the effort being made towards elimination of racial discrimination in crown entities which currently have no ethnic CEO. She also called for more hate crime data to be collected and hate speech legislation to be strengthened.

A representative from the Ministry of Social Development, Ms Ann Dysart, said that communities, families and whanau are best to identify issues and find solutions to make the difference.

She praised the effort Muslim community is grooming the young members of the community and advised the elder members to keep listening to them – an advice she also gives constantly to the Maori community.

Peri Paea, a Senior Constable representing the Police Commissioner, advised Muslim leaders to ‘grow’ healthy roots on which healthy plants can grow in form of the new generation. New Zealand Police need more ethnic community members in the force, he said.

The Symposium included three keynote speakers, each followed by three Panel Discussions led by a Panel Moderator.

The first Keynote address was by Mr Muhammad Cajee, a South African born professional who gave an excellent presentation about the critical success factors in Leadership and Strategic Planning in Muslim Organisations.

The second Keynote address was an excellent succinct presentation of the draft Strategic Plan for an Inclusive Society by Mr Tariq Ashraf, a locally born and educated young Muslim who is a Senior Strategic Advisor in the local Government.

The third Keynote address was by a highly qualified researcher and writer, Dr Thamina Anwar about Waqaf and Social Enterprise as a Tool for Socio-economic development.

The Panel Discussions teased out many points and suggestions for a future plan which would value ethnic minority, emphasize social harmony and inclusiveness as well as appreciate diversity.

These also provided a future focus to identify national level opportunities and challenges facing the Muslim New Zealanders and how these may be addressed. Participation throughout the day was excellent and delegates were quite excited about the outcomes.

A brilliant summary of the whole day was prepared and ably presented by the WMA President, Dr Asad Mohsin who also made a pledge to take the suggestions and the Strategic Plan further.