22. October, 2010Activities No comments

Men and women from the members of the Australian community and dignitaries who have strong affiliations with the Muslim community participated on the first day of the conference.  The program commenced with the traditional ‘Welcome to the Country’ by Aunty Kerry Lennis.

This was followed by recital of Surah Rahman by Imam Abdul Kader of Guildford Mosque.

Zubeda Raihman, treasurer and project manager for MWNNA and secretary of RISEAP Women’s movement, who was the MC for the event invited Hajja Aziza Abdel Halim, AM, vice president of RISEAP, chairperson of RISEAP Women’s movement and president and founding member of MWNNA to welcome the invited guests.  Aziza warmly welcomed all the participants and was heartened by the presence of Dr Ameer Ali, senior lecturer-Murdoch University and vice president of RISEAP, Honourable Minister for Auburn, NSW Parliament, Ms Barbara Perry, the president of Australian Women’s Coalition, Ms Sharyl Scott, president of NSW National Council of Women, Ms Doreen Todd, Malaysian consul general representative, Ms Zaidah Md Zain, president of Pakistan Association, Mr Ifthikar Rana,  members of Women’s Interfaith Network and state representatives of Muslim women’s organisations.

Dr Ameer Ali’s inaugural address was the flavour of the conference and he became the immediate favourite when he pointed out that, “his views on Muslim women represent the yearnings of a person who wants to see the one half of the Muslim community, which is also responsible for bringing up the other half to this world, liberate itself from the centuries of male dominance, deprivation, and discrimination imposed by a patriarchal culture championed by an orthodox clergy.” He pointed out that two of the most important attributes of Allah (God), Al-Rahman (the most merciful) and Al-Rahim (the most beneficent) are two nouns which have the same root, “rahm” in Arabic which means “womb” and only women have the womb not men! He also illustrated how civilisation, both east and west, treat women like chattels and used them for procreation. Islam, he proclaimed, came to liberate women from the “state of subjugation and oppression” citing various verses of the Quran which specifies women’s rights in relation to marriage, inheritance, orphans, slaves and modesty. He hoped for a brighter future for the women in their struggle for claiming their “God-given rights which have been denied to them in the name of a misunderstood religion”.

For all women and men participants, this was a “breath of fresh air”!

Further, Dr Ameer Ali informed that RISEAP, which has the membership of more than twenty countries, has the main aim to involve in Da’wah work in the context of general welfare of Muslim men and women, boys and girls. Through its subsidiary organisation, the South Pacific Da’wah Council, it is increasing the educational capabilities to empower the Muslim women of this region through establishing a girls hostel in Fiji specifically for Muslim converts, orphans, poor and needy.

The next keynote speaker, Hon. Barbara Perry, MP, whose portfolios include Minister for Local Government, Juvenile Justice, as well as Minister assisting Minister for Planning and Minister for Health (Mental Health). She was extremely honoured to address the conference in her electorate of the city of Auburn. She acknowledged that all women have same problems and said that she

admired the work of MWNNA in its efforts towards bridge building with the Australian communities and in interfaith dialogue. She went further to say that she admired Aziza Abdel-Halim, AM president of MWNNA as she reminisced as an eighteen year old, some twenty eight years ago; she had attended a talk by Aziza on Islam and human rights. She admitted that that talk had shaped her views in later years!


Although there are many Muslim women doing great tasks in their respective fields, in keeping with the theme of the conference, Barbara Perry, MP was then requested to present awards to four women identified in their respective fields.

These were:

  1. Education Award – awarded to Yasmin Gamieldien, the principal of the Australian Islamic College located in western Sydney.  This is an emerging Islamic school with a population of 700 students from kindergarten to year 12. Yasmin has a master’s degree in Education, and a bachelor’s degree in language and literacy. Her award is in recognition of her sterling efforts in improving educational outcomes for all students through “bounce back” program – a pastoral care and resilience building program.
  2. Interfaith Award – awarded to Zuleyha Keskin, vice president of Islamic Research Academy of Australia (ISRA). Zuleyha is a founding member of Affinity Intercultural Foundation. Currently she is working towards her PHD at the school of Theology, Australian Catholic University. She is an active member of the visitor services team of Auburn Mosque as well as a lecturer at Charles Sturt University. Her award is in recognition of her ongoing contribution to interfaith dialogue in Sydney.
  3. Leadership Trainer Award – awarded to Dr Nuzhat Lotia, manager at Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria, Inc. a community based organisation involved in implementing programs and conducting research related to Muslim women in Victoria. Nuzhat has been involved in the development and implementation of the SILC (self esteem, identity, leadership, community) project for the last six years. She teaches at the University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Her award in is recognition of her SILC leadership training in all major states in Australia.
  4. Welfare and Community Service Award – awarded to Galila Abdelsalam, director of Islamic Women’s Association of Queensland (IWAQ). As a founding member in 1992, under her directorship, IWAQ has diversified its services from settlement to aged care and social activities through providing training, work experience and professional development for its multicultural community. Galila serves on many community organisations management committee boards. Among other recognitions, her organisation has won Local Area Multicultural Partnership award in 2009. Her recognition is in her efforts in providing aged and community care for the needy in the community.

The first afternoon session was presented by Jamila Hussain, Vice President MWNNA. After screening a Canadian documentary, “Me and the Mosque”, which featured  a research done by a Canadian Muslim Woman about mosque committees’ attitudes towards women frequenting the mosques in Canada and North America, she discussed her own research in Sydney and its surrounding suburbs. The  documentary  highlighted  commentaries by 2 enlightened Muslim scholars who state that women have full rights to the use of the mosques without curtains, walls or other structures with ample quotations from the Hadith and with references to the Sirah of the Prophet (pbuh). This documentary resonates with the research conducted by Jamila and her team. She stated that although the primary source of Shariah, the Quran, stresses spiritual equality of men and women, the hadith (the second primary source of Shariah) confirms women’s right to attend the mosque. There are many examples from the days of the Prophet (pbuh) & early Islamic history of women’s participation in the mosque. For example,


“Do not stop the maid servants of Allah from going to the mosques of Allah” – Muwatta of Imam Malik

“When the wife of one of you asks about going to the mosque, do not stop her.” – Narrated Ibn ‘Umar, Vol.1, Book 12, Number 824: Bukhari

The situation today is that the traditional cultural practices in many Muslim countries discourage women from attending the mosque. The common view of women in Australia is that it is vital that women have the right to attend the mosque for all occasions, since there are few other sources of religious knowledge available to them. Hence the purpose of her research, funded by Department of Immigration and Citizenship under the auspices of MWNNA was to ascertain:

  • Whether Sydney mosques provided adequate facilities for women at present
  • What improvements, if any, are required to ensure that mosques are sufficiently ‘women friendly’
  • Whether women were being sufficiently consulted about facilities in local mosques and if, in fact, they wished to be consulted and to participate in decision making on mosques committees.

Her team surveyed 16 mosques and it found that only 6 mosque associations admitted women as members but only 3 mosques have women on mosque management committees. With regard to physical facilities, 13 mosques had  separate areas of prayer for women. 3 had temporary screens for separation.While most of the mosques provided carpeted prayer areas, 1 had women praying in the kitchen at Jumu-ah and Eid. Screens and barriers included brick walls (with no visibility of the Imam), curtains, wooden screens and frosted glass. Access for disabled women wanting to pray at the mosque had not been considered by 8 mosques. Almost all mosques had some sort of amplification system. However, women have said they were not always used. 1 mosque was not available to women on a daily basis whilst 4 mosques were not available to women on Fridays for Jumu-ah and others had women praying in kitchens or in a separate building away from Imam.

Issues arising from this research that need to be pursued for Muslim women in general, are that:

  • women should be able to access the mosque for Juma’ah and Eid;
  • women should not be  always  the ones to climb the stairs;
  • women should not  have to give up their space when there are too many men;
  • audio/video access could be  a satisfactory substitute for being present in the mosque, if necessary and
  • ideally, mosques could make alternative arrangements especially for disabled women  and  children during prayers.

These issues were explored further on Sunday with a resolve to get women in each state level to work on these as well as a way forward to get better access for Muslim women in their mosques.

The second afternoon session was presented by Dr Ayesha Saeed, Research Scientist, Macquarie University on Islam, Environment and People. She illustrated how Islam advocates taking care of the environment and how the effect of global warming could affect the planet we live in. She informed that, “many climatologists warn that increasing atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases released by human activities, such as burning fossil fuels and deforestation, are warming the Earth. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reported that the 20th century was the hottest of the last one thousand years. As a matter of fact, climate change is considered to be the most serious threat to the world’s environment, affecting human health, food security, economic activity, natural resources, and physical infrastructure. Unless curbed, global warming is to be the fatal catastrophe of our era.”  Global Warming: Our Planet at Stake (2002) By Sara Khorshid (Freelance Writer).

She advised that the solution to this problem could be found through geoengineering. This refers    to first by cooling the planet through reduction in the amount of incoming solar energy; and second by removing some of the atmospheric carbon dioxide and lock it away where (we hope) it won’t cause problems  refer http://www.explainthatstuff.com/geoengineering.html) for further information.

On day two of the conference, the theme was further elaborated with presentations and discussions by the women from New South Wales, Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia. The panellists, Aziza Abdel-Halim, AM; Silma Ihram, an educationist; and Zuleyha Keskin all agreed that bridge building, interfaith dialogue and community service are the way forward towards an enhanced integration of Australian Muslim women in a minority country.

Silma Ihram pointed out that effective internal communication and networking are important in meeting our goals. Aziza, whilst agreeing said that women who take up positions in an organisation’s management committees have a paramount responsibility of ensuring that they carry out the duties of the position held. She also noted that most women are in volunteer roles and that team effort in an amicable manner is fundamental in order to function effectively.

Nada Ibrahim, researcher at Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance Mt Gravatt Campus, Griffith University, reported on her research on intimate partner violence (IPV) that can generate appropriate prevention and intervention strategies within the Australian Muslim community as being still scarce.  She said that the present paper moves forward from the notion of “is there a need to research IPV in the Australian Muslim community” to present research results of the first research of its kind that identifies and analyses existing attitudes and beliefs amongst Australian Muslims, and the prevalence with which IPV occurs.  The research was conducted among 290 diverse Australian Muslims in South-East Queensland (SEQ). Findings of the research are expected to inform policy and practice in relation to IPV under faith-based intervention strategies for the marginalised group of the Australian population, particularly in the design of effective preventative strategies that challenge core assumptions towards IPV which promote and justify IPV. The findings will contribute significantly to research in this field by highlighting the importance of working within the cultural and religious framework in preventing IPV.

Galila Abdelsalam, representative of Islamic Women’s Association of Queensland, highlighted the success of IWAQ through active participation and contribution of each of their members in the management committee. She advised that they have been able to build good relations with all three levels of the government through functions, meetings and networking. At organisational and Muslim community level, they had organised Unity in Diversity international conference, religious briefings with Buddhist, Christian and Jewish communities, continued networking with ACCESS, Multilink and others. They provide services in the area of home and community care, extended aged care at home, disability service as well as running a Salam Respite Centre for cottage respite where the carer gets a relief!

Sherifa Khan, representative of the Muslim Women’s Association of South Australia stated that it had strong support of 200 members. Management committee members are all volunteers, who are dedicated in providing services which are culturally, religiously and sensitively appropriate to their clients’ needs, thus helping them to integrate and participate in the wider Australian society.

Tasneem Chopra, Chairperson of Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria advised that the Council was established in 1991, as a non-religious organisation reflecting the ethnic, cultural, linguistic and sectarian diversity of Muslim women living in the state of Victoria. The Council is founded on the belief that meaningful change in the status of Muslim women is to be achieved through the improved situation of Muslim women individually and building their capacity collectively. The Council’s work has been well recognised by various levels of government, the service system and by the community. Current work priorities of the council include settlement of newly arrived women into Victoria, poverty and housing, violence against Muslim women, capacity building and leadership development, education and training and economic participation. With regard to capacity and leadership development, the Council had run courses in almost all the states of Australia funded by Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, under the auspices of MWNNA, Inc.

Aayesha Gafoor and Aziza Daniel, representatives of Muslim Women’s Support Centre, advised that this organisation was incorporated in 1992 and is a specialist agency working with Muslim community to promote better health, self esteem, personal and spiritual growth as well as the general wellbeing of Muslim women and their families. MWSC works in cooperation with other mainstream service providers to promote positive relationships and understanding.

In conclusion, the participants agreed that all the organisations represented are generally grassroots organisations and the women involved are working tirelessly towards betterment of their communities and are keen to make a difference towards an integrated society. They also made a resolve to address the perennial issue confronting Muslim women – that of full participation in their mosques. In this regard, Silma Ihram would be contacting all representatives to review a short questionnaire that can be distributed to Muslim women for their feedback in a bid to collect data for further action towards better access in their mosques.

All the participants and the invited guests expressed gratitude and were extremely happy to be part of the conference. An offer for future support was also extended by the president of the Australian Pakistan Association. The representative from the Girl Guides who apologised for not being able to attend the conference but expressed her best wishes and would be joining hands with the Islamic schools and form partnership to forge ahead with their leadership training for girls.

Zubeda Raihman,

Treasurer and Project Manager, MWNNA

Secretary, RISEAP


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