I’m white, Christian and live happily among Muslims

The Punch

Simon from Lakemba

by Simon from Lakemba

16 Mar 06:00am

I have been asked by The Punch to offer a different point of view about Muslims in Australia. Being a white, Christian, male living in Australia’s most populated Muslim suburb, I should be the most vilified person in Australia according to some fellow Punchers.

Just another street in just another suburb

Well the truth is, I’m not.

My background has many different layers and stepping stones to it. I was born in the mid 80s in Broken Hill to a dad that was local and a mum that was from Wilcannia. Growing up, she was one of the only few white families in town but never had a bad word to say about Aborigines, irrespective of how the situation is there now.

We then moved to Canberra settling in Tuggeranong or “Nappy Valley” as it was called. This is where my first interaction with Muslims happened.

The local primary school had a very multicultural feel to it and my main friends were Lebanese who all seemed to live on one particular street. Being young, I was never aware that he was “different” than me. I never noticed that he didn’t eat pork, believed in a different religion or that his family talked differently than mine.

The moment when things changed was September 11, 2001. I was in high school at the time, in year 10 when this event happened, and it was a difficult time for everybody. My Muslim friends didn’t know how to act, my fellow students didn’t know how to act and my teachers weren’t too sure either.

For the first week not too much had changed, but for the weeks after the anger increased, the whispers increased, the stares were more noticeable. The first instance when “Islamophobia” happened was when the bus driver saw me and my Muslim friends and shut the door in our face and drove off. Then the “terrorists” taunts started.

Another friend had a group full of kids in a car stop and surround her and pull her hijab off. I saw a change in my friends. They became closer to their religion, mainly to go deeper into it to find out why it happened. One particular friend’s mum started to wear a hijab, which she never had before. She was then called a terrorist where she hadn’t been before.

These taunts would continue over the years. These same friends now have double degrees from the ANU in law and politics and engineering.

In 2008 I moved to the Sydney suburb of Lakemba as it was affordable, 15 minutes from work and not too far from the M5 freeway and city. At first people were asking “why?”.

“There are Muslims there, crime, you won’t fit in,” they said.

All those fears haven’t been realised. There is actually more crime in Sutherland Shire, where Cronulla is located, than my local Canterbury Shire. My local Butcher is halal, but so what?

The local Muslim community, whilst never publicised, has raised money for the floods. It raised $26,000 in one single Friday night at Lakemba Mosque, and also had a van helping clean the flood-damaged areas in Brisbane.

They support the local Canterbury Bulldogs, and are arguably the most passionate group of supporters in the NRL. They are also keen players of sport, as evidenced by Saturday mornings at the local Lakemba playing fields.

Unfortunately the bad apples within the community bring the good people down and that’s what the media will tend to focus on.

With more integration and time, I feel the Muslim community will be a great asset to Australia, but that will take an open mind from my fellow Australians as well.

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