The NSW Labor Party Leader Chris Minns together with his 15 shadow ministers met more than 100 Muslim community leaders and Imams over dinner at ANIC offices in Chullora on Monday 12 September 2022, assuring the Muslim community to counter Islamophobia and religious vilification in NSW.

The talking points during the dialogue included concern on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiments across some sections of the Australian society, laws against vilification and hate-speech on religious grounds in NSW, countering right-wing extremism and the upcoming state elections on Saturday 25 March 2023.

Mr Chris Minns assured the Muslim community saying, “I can give you this assurance that a New South Wales Labor government will stand up against Islamophobia wherever we find it. We’ve supported religious vilification legislation in the past and make no mistake, it’s important to protect the unique multicultural society that we have built in this country and we’re determined to do it.

Mr Bilal Rauf.

The program was started by the MC, Bilal Rauf, ANIC Senior Legal Advisor & Media Spokesperson with acknowledgement of country and recalling a similar meeting held a couple of years ago in the same place before the commencement of COVID-19 restrictions.

Imam Anas Yaghmour.

Imam Anas Yaghmour recited from the Quran, Chapter 30, Verses 20-24 calling on humanity to reflect on the signs of creation, companionship, compassion and mercy and diversity of languages and colours.

Mr Rauf during his welcome thanked Mr Minns for the initiative as well as shadow ministers, some whom had travelled from outside Sydney to join the event since there was no parliamentary sittings this week.

Imam Shadi Alsuleiman.

President of the Australian National Imams Council (ANIC),  Imam Shadi Alsuleiman during his address appreciated the great turn out of politicians and community leaders to have a dialogue on issues of concern and cooperating together for a diverse, multicultural and harmonious NSW.

The Grand Mufti of Australia, Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed, after acknowledging the custodians of the land expressed his appreciation for the politicians who work to ensure that Australia remained as one of the best countries in thew world safeguarding human dignity, security, freedom and stability.

Dr Ibrahim Abu Mohamed.

He admitted that Australia is indeed a success story for multiculturalism where all citizens have the right to celebrate their culture, practice their faith and raise their voices resonated by the state and federal political leadership.

Ms Ramia Abdo Sultan, ANIC Community Relations Advisor introduced herself as a lawyer, a wife and a mother, born and raised in Australia and visibly Muslim with a Hijab and took pride in her mixed Palestinian and Lebanese heritage.

Ms Ramia Sułtan.

“Well of course on top of attending to the ordinary demands of life, juggling between work, family and the community- there is an added challenge that, as a visibly Muslim female, I have to deal with each and every day.  Will I be safe…. As I leave my home, as I catch the train, go to work or go to the shops, or drop my kids off to school? Are my children safe, seeing they attend a private Islamic school, where potentially they can be targeted? Is my mother safe, my aunts, my friends- my community?” Ms Sultan said.

She further added, “Never in my imagination did I ever think I would one day come to question or doubt matters of security and safety of my wellbeing here in Australia. But of course, Christchurch changed a lot of things didn’t it? The truth is, I still think about the 15th of March 2019 and the horror of that day seeing it happened so close to home, in the most unexpected of places…. And this terrifies me.”

Ms Sultan referred to the third Islamophobia in Australia Report released earlier this year, which documents incidents of reported Islamophobic incidents that took place between 2018 and 2019 showing that Islamophobia in Australia does exist and is a persistent social issue that overwhelmingly targets women, especially those who are identifiably Muslim when wearing a hijab.

 

She also referred to the recent publication of a report by the Australian Human Rights Commission, “Sharing the Stories of Australian Muslims” that  drew on the contributions of more than 1000 survey participants, and participants in consultations across the country:

The report identified some key themes:

  1. That there is a need for Protection from Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate.
  2. Firsthand experiences of harm and attacks on Australian Muslims, especially women.
  3. The increasing threat of far right extremist ideology.
  4. Media and political narratives.
  5. The need for broader community allies.
  6. The need for legislative protection against religious vilification and especially Islamophobia.
  7. Redressing the balance- countering violent extremism and social cohesion.

“The concerns being raised here are not just concerns. They are lived experiences, and I worry about how my children, especially being girls, would come to deal with such challenges particularly in the absence of adequate protections,” Ms Sultan said.

She finally concluded, “Hence, I call upon everyone in this room, to call religious vilification and Islamophobia out and be a game changer in paving the way for religious protections for Australian Muslims.”

Imam Wessam Charkawi

Imam Wessam Charkawi showcased a glimpse of the cinematic version of the movie “Before 1770: Discovering Australia’s Muslim history” soon to be hitting the Australian cinemas, a multimillion dollar project paid for by the community.

“Knowing that Muslims had a long-standing relationship with Aboriginal people from North East Arnhem Land (Yolngu Clan) is profoundly significant in terms of the Australian Muslim identity.  It allows Muslims to draw strength from such a relationship and realise that Islam is no stranger to the first peoples of this land, ” Imam Charkawi said.

Mr Jihad Dib MP and Shadow Minister for Energy and Climate Change and Emergency Services thanked political and community leaders for participating at the event and highlighted the support provided by community through the tough times during the last three years.

Mr Jihad Dib MP

“I think of many disasters, remember the bushfires, the incredible amount of support, the generosity and the work that this community did was unbelievable. It was then followed by the drought and then floods and I remember collecting bales of hay by Human Appeal from the community to help farmers who were victims of the drought,” Mr Dib recalled.

He further added, “Then, of course, COVID-19 and the leadership that this community demonstrated during COVID, when things were really tough and the patience that you demonstrated when things were extra tough on people in those 12 so-called LGA’s.

Mr Dib thanked his Labor colleagues, particularly those attending from the regional areas of NSW and then introduced the leader of the opposition in NSW, Mr Chris Minns MP as the next Premier of NSW while thanking him for proactively engaging with the Muslim community.

Mr Minns greeted the audience with the Islamic greeting of “Assalamu Alaikum” and after acknowledging the traditional owners of the country thanked ANIC for organising this historic event and expressed his appreciation of ANIC’s work in all states of Australia.

He talked of his visit to UMA centre in Padstow in March this year saying, “The work that UMA does with the local Muslim community, particularly Muslim youth, is amazing. Getting together, playing sport, shooting hoops, lifting weights and sharing a meal. The UMA is helping many young Muslims find their identity and sense of belonging right here in this wonderful country.”

Mr Minns went on to say, “Your generosity in sharing in cultures, cuisines, artistic traditions have enriched Australian life and the Muslim community has found success here in Sydney and NSW. But as Ramia has said, we must remain vigilant against those who want to promote intolerance. They want to promote division and disunity in this wonderful country. Sadly, there are far too many incidents of Muslim Australians being subjected to unwelcome and often vile comments and they shouldn’t have to. Recent report on Islamophobia in Australia found the largest number of incidents unfortunately occurred in the state of New South Wales.”

Talking about the upcoming NSW state elections, he said,  “Should we form government in March next year, friends during the next six months, New South Wales Labor will be making a strong case for change in the State Government in New South Wales. We want a start by addressing the rising costs of living in Sydney, in particular the excessive costs of tolls and the impact they’re having on families and businesses. We start fixing the skills and labor shortages and that means investing in type and training and apprenticeship systems. And we want to relieve the pressure on our hospital system. We also want to take full advantage of our state’s rich cultural diversity, which I believe is our great strength and competitive advantage in a very competitive.”

“We can do more to mobilize our diverse population to build those economic connections with our trading partners. Much of what we have seen over 800 years ago. While there are many reasons that this government does not deserve to be returned to office, in my opinion, that does not mean Labor will win the election in March 2023,” Mr Minns warned.

Highlighting the strong bonds between the Labor Party and the Muslim community, he said, “In fact, we need to convince you and all the communities in New South Wales that we’re worthy of your trust and that we’re worthy of your support as leader of the New South Wales Labor Party. I’m aware of the strong links and historic links between the Muslim community and New South Wales Labor in many elections at local state and federal elections. We’ve enjoyed strong support from the Muslim community in New South Wales. So my shadow cabinet and I are here tonight to recognise and honour that long standing relationship and the help and the support and the electoral support that the Muslim community has given my party for decades now.”

He further emphasised, “We’re also here to reaffirm the value of our friendship and commitment to the community, the Muslim community here in New South Wales. And I want to assure you, each and every one of you, from the senior leadership of this Council to every member sitting here tonight, that we will never, ever take your support or your friendship for granted”

“We are grateful and appreciative for you and all of your colleagues who have attended, particularly those who have come from certain distances. And we know that that’s a real ask on your time. And we’re grateful for that,” Mr Minns concluded.

The program concluded with a vote of thanks by the MC and mingling during the dinner.