A few months ago, I came across a photo of a man in the ‘Personality Pix’ section of one of Australia’s most popular weekly tabloid-style magazines of the mid-20th century – Pix (1938-1955).
The man was Muhammad Salah-Al-Samman and the caption read, “it seems impossible that the young man pictured above should be an Australian. But he is. He comes from Sydney, has blue eyes and an unmistakable Aussie accent” (Pix, 20 August 1949).
Samman’s family emigrated from Damascus Syria to Sydney around 1860 and at the age of 18, he enlisted with the AIF where he fought in the Western Desert Battles.
He was then transferred to New Guinea before being discharged in 1946. After touring the Middle East for the next three years he returned to Sydney in 1950.
Reflecting on his journey, he stated that these travels brought home “two major facts – first, that the Moslem communities knew little or nothing about each other. Second, that relations between Islam and the rest of the world could be strengthened by a better acquaintance.”
Salah, as he preferred to be known, actively sought to foster ‘interfaith dialogue’. He was invited to speak at various local events and in 1953 he addressed a group at a meeting arranged by the Taree Ministers’ Association.
Salah focused on one of his key beliefs – that individuals were entirely diverse and that ‘the secret of unity lay in this diversity’.
Following a hit and run accident on Parramatta Road in 1953 that left him with a spinal injury, Samman used the incident to spread his ‘Golden Rule pledge’:
“At home and on the road,
In all relationships
I’ll love my neighbor as
This do I pledge.”
The little we know about this Auburn resident tells us a lot about the importance of local stories/ histories and their role in the broader Australian Muslim narrative.
Stories that we can relate to give us a sense of place and help us form a connection with the person we are reading about or listening to.
Storytelling also inspires communities to action, and now more than ever, we need to tap into this valuable tool, this fundamental human experience in order to communicate, educate, share and make deeper connections with all members of our local communities.