People living in suburbs with concentrations of Muslims are less likely to express or experience Islamophobia, according to new RMIT research published in January 2021.

The study led by Associate Professor Val Colic-Peisker and Associate Professor Karien Dekker examined whether the concentrations of Australian Muslims affected local community cohesion and Islamophobia.

“The data, collected through an analysis of census data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, The Household, Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia (HILDA) survey, interviews with residents of Sydney and Melbourne as well as a large scale survey suggest that the significant presence of Australian Muslims reduces Islamophobia because they accidentally meet in the streets,” Dekker said.

“We found evidence for the ‘contact theory’: when people meet regularly with other cultures fear and prejudice is reduced,” she said.

Researchers from RMIT University and Western Sydney University focused on the effectiveness of programs to increase social cohesion in ten suburbs where many Muslims live: Broadmeadows, Campbellfield-Coolaroo, Dandenong, Fawkner and Meadow Heights in Greater Melbourne (Victoria) and Lakemba, Wiley Park, Auburn Central, Auburn South, Greenacre-Mount Lewis in Greater Sydney (NSW).

“Many Australian Muslims are experiencing disadvantage on the labour market and have low incomes. This means they are concentrated in disadvantaged suburbs,” Dekker said.

“On the individual level, respondents who are dissatisfied with their income and older respondents with low education tended to be more Islamophobic, which confirms findings of other Australian and overseas studies,” she further added.

Respondents with more diverse local social networks expressed significantly lower levels of Islamophobia.

The study shows that suburb attachment of Muslim and non-Muslim residents is lower in more disadvantaged localities. This was especially so for local Muslims, who liked their suburbs, interacted with their diverse neighbours and felt accepted and safe in their local areas. Interestingly, the share of Muslim Australians did not affect attachment or satisfaction with the suburb.

“We have clear evidence that it is the concentration of problems that people dislike, not the concentration of Muslims,” Dekker said.

Libraries, community houses and playgrounds have been identified as a welcoming setting for Muslim Australians.

Organisations that want to create more cohesive and less Islamophobic communities can best focus on fostering bridging social networks in the community: ongoing, positive local relationships between diverse cultural communities.

“It seems that school-based programs, those targeting women, children and youth are most effective. It is also a very good idea to support local entrepreneurship and support migrant-run businesses,” Dekker said.

The study was conducted in collaboration with the Islamic Council of Victoria and the Department of Social Services of the Federal Government. 

Contact: Associate Professor Karien Dekker, (03) 9925 3354 or 0409 001 218 or [email protected]