Muslim’s in Australia make up just 2.2 percent of the population.
But last week for the first time, anti-Islam rallies were held in major cities across the country.
“No Sharia Law, No Sharia Law, No Sharia Law, No Sharia Law” shouted hundreds of people in central Melbourne. They carried Australian flags and said they were here to fight back against the rising influence of Islam in Australia.
The rally in Melbourne was attended by around five-hundred people and similar rallies were held in other major cities.
Under the name ‘Reclaim Australia’, protesters voiced a range of concerns, from terrorism, the fear of Islamic based law coming to Australia and Halal certified food.
However the anti-Islam rally was vastly out-numbered by the thousands who held a counter protest against Islamaphobia and religious bigotry.
“Muslims are welcome, racists are not, Muslims are welcome, racists are not,” was the chant at this rally.
Thirty year old Maree Adgemis was among a handful or visibly Muslim women who braved the counter-protest.
“We are not a threat to people, we are normal people, we want peace, yes there are some people out there who don’t want that, but that’s in every community. So it’s also our responsibility as Muslims to go out there and say this is what we are, these are the values we hold, we’re much more similar than we are different, but because of what the media has done showing our differences to separate and to use fear it has become our responsibility to come out to these things and show our support,” she said.
The two rallies grew in intensity throughout the afternoon and tension were high.
Punches were thrown and violent scuffles broke out at times as hundreds of police failed to keep the two rallies separated.
Some skin-heads and men bearing neo-nazi tattoos were among the anti-Islam crowd, however there were also families.
Margaret Rowe-Keys is a 52 year old artist; she denies the accusation that the rally is racist.
She said she is concerned that 'Muslim values' are inconsistent with the Australian way of life.
“We already live under one set of laws I don’t think we can live alongside each other with two sets of laws. The people who come here need to respect those laws. That’s my concern that they want to come in and bring in another set of laws that disagree with what we’ve built on for over 200 years. We’re happy with multi-ethnicity, we love multi-ethnicity, there’s an Indian man up there for crying out loud, multi-ethnicity is fine, but multi-culturalism is difficult to make work,” she said.
There has been no significant movement from Australia’s Muslim community to introduce Islamic Law in the country.here are separate Islamic schools, which like other religious private schools in Australia, receive government funding.
The wearing of face-coverings by Muslim women in public, which some say security risk and the cost food companies pay for optional Halal certification are so of the concerns raised by the protestors as well as international terrorism.
Away from the rally, anti-Muslim attitudes in some communities are having a real effect on everyday life. Some Muslim women say they have stopped wearing the hijab’s in public due to fear of abuse.
And the Islamaphobia Register of Australia say they are receiving a large number of reports of verbal and physical abuse in public, particularly against hijab wearing women.
Shakira Hussein is a honor research fellow at the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne.
She says the September 11 attacks on America had an impact in Australia.
“After 9/11 it became specifically directed towards Muslims and that’s regarded as a more respectable form of racism because it’s not just based on genes and the colour of your skin and factors that you can’t control, it’s supposedly, though often dubiously, meant to be based on people’s behavior,” she said.
But she doesn’t think that the weekend rallies represent the broader Australian attitudes towards Muslims.
But she says events overseas continue to make daily life harder for Muslim Australians.
“We can’t entirely know how that’s going to play out, it makes it very difficult to predict. Events in Syria and Iraq have played into life in Australia in a way that Muslims here can do very little about,” she said.
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