Thursday 2nd December 2021 COVID-19 Response

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Islam is a global religion. It is represented by a rich diversity of peoples, cultures and societies transcending all geographical boundaries. While Muslims have migrated to Australia since the 1860s (or earlier), over a third are Australian-born. This means Australian Muslims are not a homogeneous group, but they make up a culturally diverse portion of our population. This diversity brings a whole host of interesting stories, life experiences, and positive contributions to society.

These first-hand accounts of Australian Muslims are the missing voices in the collective consciousness, buried beneath public misconceptions about Islam. Misleading media headlines which promote negative stereotypes of Australian Muslims have created a climate of Islamophobia, discrimination and hate.

Over the course of twelve months, the Islamic Museum of Australia collected the deeply personal oral histories of 70 Australian Muslims from all walks of life across Victoria. Their emotional testimonies of triumph, grief, resilience and belonging have formed a detailed archive of the contemporary Australian Muslim experience.

Curated by the Islamic Museum of Australia, Missing Voices presents these testimonies through painting, illustration, video, photography and text. The exhibition is a platform for Australian Muslims to share their stories in their own words and with their own voices. To be humanised. To be heard.

Portrait of Mariam

When I was 18-19 years old, I worked at a café in a popular sporting complex. One day, a man came in and refused to be served by me because I was wearing my hijab, or as he said, That thing on my head. I was shocked. I was immediately pulled away from the situation by my team members and the supervisor gave him a good tell off. He was a contractor at the complex. There was good follow-up; the man had to have counselling and was told to apologise. But I could tell he apologised because he had to. For the sake of the contract rather than remorse, who knows? But I do know he didn’t mean one word of it. And if it happened to me today, I wouldn’t have accepted his apology.

I was at an impressionable age, doing my job, wearing a piece of material on my head. I don’t know what that symbolised in his mind. Since then, I’ve learnt that I am not here to change people’s perceptions on how they view Islam. I am here to do me. If people who are in the wrong feel they have the right to hate on me and say those things to me, then I, who is in the right, absolutely have the right to stand up for myself and speak out. I’m not that timid person anymore.

 

Mariam

Ahmed Ibrahim

Mariam, 2021

Photograph

60cm x 40cm

Ahmed Ibrahim is a Melbourne-based photographer, born in Egypt and raised in Saudi Arabia. Ahmed is a full-time Project Manager for industrial automation projects who started his photography journey in Singapore in 2015.

He explores different photography genres such as macro, food, architectural, landscape and sport. He was an official photographer for the 28th SEA Games and the 18th ASEAN University Games.

Portrait of Ayesha

My great-grandfather was the first Muslim in Western Australia. He was a merchant. And my great-grandmother was the first woman from the Subcontinent to travel to Perth. She was from Lahore, Pakistan, and led a life of luxury. When she arrived in Perth, she realised she couldn’t live that opulent life. She told my great-grandfather, “You can marry again if you like, but I’m going back to Lahore!

My great-grandfather came here in the 1860’s. The White Australia Policy was in place. My great-grandmother wore a burqa. The local newspaper announced her arrival with the headline “Human shuttlecock arrives in Australia.” My grandfather was accused of having a slave woman and was taken to court. Most Australians didn’t know about Islam then. But someone who did explained that these were “Mohammadens“, and that their women covered. So, the case against him was dismissed.

 

Ayesha

Ahmed Ibrahim

Ayesha, 2021

Photograph

50cm x 40cm

Portrait of Ayesha

I had an encounter with a patient. He told me, “You know, I hate Muslims,” and I said, “Don’t you worry, we’ll sort that out later, we’ll worry about your health now.” I don’t get offended because I know there must have been an event in their life that has created that story in their mind. Later on, they page me and tell me there’s a patient looking for you. It’s this guy and he wants to introduce me to his wife, then his daughter and everyone in his family. He asked me, “Why do you wear that thing on your head?” I told him, “Don’t you worry, I wear the scarf on my head, just like Mary wore hers. One day if we have time we’ll discuss it.” Anyway, that patient gave me his phone number and said “Call me when you’re coming over.” Well, as a professional, we don’t take patient’s numbers, so I left it.

That patient came back two years later. He asked for me, and the staff paged me. He and his wife were waiting for me. He said, “You are naughty, you didn’t come and visit me.” I felt so embarrassed. So I went to visit him.

I took him some food, he had made a quiche, and we shared our food. And this is when we discussed why he hates Muslims. Now, he’s a friend of the family. That’s how life is. If we take everything people tell us negatively, everything that someone says to you, behind it there is a story, so we should not react straight away. We have to pause and think about it.

 

Waeza

Mohamed Nazeer

Change Through an Open Mind, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

In this artwork, the artist explores cross-cultural conflicts and judgement. Through this acrylic painting, the artist suggests that these tensions can be met with open dialogue, which aids in building a mutual understanding of the diverse cultures in Australia.

Mohamed Nazeer is a self-taught artist whose first solo exhibition ‘Kaleidoscope’ was held at the Highway Gallery, Mount Waverley in March 2018. Acrylic abstracts have become his platform to capture the energy and form of the subjects that intrigue him. 

Portrait of Ayesha

I am Ethiopian-Eritrean. I was born in Sudan. I was nine years old when I arrived in Launceston, Tasmania. In Sudan, life was difficult because there was no sense of belonging. I was raised a Coptic Orthodox Christian. We weren’t accepted as Ethiopian Orthodox Christians in Sudan; there was a lot of persecution and segregation. We were treated like second class citizens. It made me an Islamophobe. By the time I moved to Melbourne at 19, I was able to make decisions for myself and became Atheist.

When I moved, things were different. The city is so multicultural! I worked at the supermarket. There were a lot of Somalis, Muslims – it was a culture shock but I embraced it. It was so beautiful being amongst other Black Africans. I’d walk down the street in Footscray and see people eating injera (traditional Ethiopian dish). I got to know a lot of Somalis and Muslims. I learnt Islam through their behaviour towards me; they were very open, kind and welcoming, so that made me intrigued to find out more about Islam.

When I was 22, I took my shahada (the Muslim declaration of faith) and became Muslim. It was the greatest decision I have ever made.

 

Marta

Tamirat Gebremariam

Marta, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

Tamirat Gebremariam was an Ethiopian-Australian contemporary artist who lived and worked in Melbourne. He graduated from the Victorian College of the Arts with a Masters of Fine Art in 2012. His oeuvre explored portraiture informed by his own migrant experience, bringing light and strength to the stories of Australians from all walks of life. Artists including Frank Gehry, Neo Rauch and Julie Mehretu greatly influenced his work.

Tamirat received multiple accolades for his artistic achievements. These included the National Gallery of Victoria’s post-graduate encouragement award (2009), the Sydney Opera House’s 100 Most Influential African-Australians of the Year (2012), and Parliament of Victoria’s Celebration of African-Australians Excellence of the Year Award (2014).

 

Portrait of Barry
I was born with mild cerebral palsy.

 

I went to a special school while I was growing up. There were people in wheelchairs who couldn’t move, people with one arm but who could move and talk, and people who were silent but couldn’t move. I admire them. I have to say, thank God I’m alive, thank God I can walk, thank God I can talk, and thank God I can see.

 

With what I’ve overcome, I feel like a young leader.

 

Barry

Tamirat Gebremariam

Barry, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

My grandfather helped start the first mosque in Melbourne. My father followed in his footsteps, and I hope I can follow in theirs.

I was pretty much raised in this mosque. I had Albanian school on Saturdays, and Islamic classes on Sundays. It was a busy childhood. I look back now and wouldn’t trade it for the world. Having the language, the religion, the culture, it’s so important and part of your identity when you grow up. Especially in such a multicultural society like Australia, having that identity and being proud of it is something to admire. Other people look at that and go, “Wow, that’s pretty cool.” So yeah, I’m proud to be Albanian-Australian Muslim.

My current workplace respects that I go to Friday prayer. It’s seen as a sign of discipline. They admire the fact that I have these principles that I live by. They don’t clash with Australian principles; they’re very much aligned.

My first encounter with religion was when I was really young. It was my first year in primary school and my parents were enrolling me in a local Catholic school. The principal at the school was hesitant to accept me because my Dad’s name is Muhammad. So, he asked my father if he understands that I would be going to church and it’s part of the curriculum. My father’s reply was, “We come from the Holy Land, because originally we are from Jordan, and Jordan has the Jordan river and it is Biblical. It’s mentioned in the Bible.” He went on to say “We come from the land of the Prophets and Jesus walked on our lands.” The principal was impressed by what my Dad said, and I was accepted at the Catholic school. Anyway, I was fascinated by what my Dad said and it really motivated me to become interested in religion at a very a young age.

You can’t tell when you look at me that I born here. So they judge me before I’ve even opened my mouth. My biggest struggle is trying to limit how much I worry about what people think of me. I’m a walking, talking image of my religion. My scarf is the first thing people see. A lot of people comment or ask me about it. I always try to put my best foot forward for the sake of my religion. It was forced on me as a young one; I was always told, “You wear a hijab, people will always look at you and make assumptions about you, so you’ve always got to be on your best behaviour.”

Wearing the hijab has been a big struggle. When I was young, I struggled with wanting to wear it. I’d heard so much about women having them ripped off, or taking it off themselves as soon as they’d left the house for the day. I used to have conversations with my family about taking it off. My Mum used to say, “I don’t want you to wear it for me, I don’t want you to wear it because you feel your family is forcing you. Either wear it or don’t. And if you wear it, wear it for the sake of God.” I used to hate it but now, I’m extremely proud. I wear my hijab like a trophy. The way I treat people and talk to people comes from my religion.

I grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. There were pretty much zero Muslims. I think there was myself and two Muslims in the whole school, so I did feel very different to everybody growing up in Australia. I kind of made my own group of friends at school. We were all “non-Australian”; Greeks, Italians, and Asians. I stayed in my comfort zone; that’s who I felt most comfortable with.

I grew up feeling there were a lot of things I wasn’t allowed to do. Even with fasting; when I was fasting, I felt so alienated from everybody because I couldn’t eat, and I felt embarrassed to explain it to them. I would often just be quiet, or I’d just tell my closest friends that we would fast, although I never really understood why – but that’s another story.

I was just always afraid of boys approaching me and asking me out and me having to say, “I’m not allowed to have boyfriends”, and stuff like that. So that was a struggle. I was really shy about it and found keeping to myself was the best way of dealing with it. But then, as I got older and went to university, I started to embrace who I was. University is very different: everybody is more independent and you don’t worry so much about what other people think.

Where I grew up, there weren’t many Muslims around. My Dad had always been a practising Muslim and involved in community. He was amongst those who set up the first mosque in his community. So, I’ve had a big connection to my faith since early childhood. It was difficult growing up. I felt I was a bit of an odd-bod; very different to everyone else, but came to accept that early on. At our school, we just had one other Muslim family. I chose to wear my headscarf when I was in grade 7, so it was a bit difficult knowing I would be noticed more and that I was going to look visibly different. There were times where I thought it would be easier if I blended in, but I was strong in my faith.

When I’m working, I feel like I’m in contact with every day people. I feel that visibly looking Muslim with my headscarf and having normal interaction with everyone is the most important way to educate people and make them aware of who a Muslim is. That I’m an everyday person doing my job and there’s all kinds of people everywhere. So every time I work, I’ve made that contribution where I’ve gotten to know someone else or someone has gotten to know me.

I used to be afraid to tell people that I’m Muslim, even when going for job interviews. I don’t mention my religion for fear of missing out on the job. But Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), my name is David, so I get the job.

Eventually, I tell my workplace that I’m Muslim and I need to pray. I’ve prayed in a cupboard so many times. One time, I was praying in a storeroom where someone had barged in and I hit my head on the door. They said, “Ohhh, I’m so sorry”, but of course, I didn’t want to say anything because I was in the middle of prayer. After that, I had told my workplace that I’m Muslim. The staff all started acting a bit funny towards me. After a while, they realise, “He’s not so bad after all“.

In my current job, I told them I go to community prayer on Fridays. I asked for a longer lunch break, and I told them I’d make up the time by coming in earlier or staying later. They gave me a place to pray at work, and I bring my own mat. One day, when I went to get the keys for my prayer space, a lady said to me, “We found this sejada (rug). Is it yours?” I said no, but realised there’s another Muslim here. There’s a thousand people in my workplace, and to this day, I still don’t know who it is.

I urge all Muslims who go to a new job to be open about it. Don’t be scared. If you’re open about your deen (faith), Allah will protect you.

One time, I was sitting in a shopping centre. I was wearing a bright floral abaya (cloak). It’s not something I would normally wear; it’s so bright. I don’t like wearing things that attract too much attention because I’m so shy. But it was the only thing ironed, and I figured I’d only be out 30 minutes or so, no one will notice.

Then, an old, white Australian lady came and sat next to me and said, “Oh, I LOVE your dress!” It sparked a whole conversation between us while our husbands were in the bathroom. It was a sweet moment, and my first experience with a non-Muslim in Australia in the wider community.

I still have the abaya. Haven’t worn it since.

My friend’s son was born with a closed skull. His operation was due to take place on a Friday. I said to myself, that day is when I start wearing the hijab. That was my intention.

But before that day came, I was called into hospital to say goodbye to my grandfather. I took a scarf with me around my neck. I watched my grandfather take his last breath. And then I put my hijab on. For a few days I didn’t tell anyone; they probably thought it was just because I was in mourning. I always asked Allah, Don’t let me be one who only puts it on because I’m mourning. But Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), I’ve worn it ever since.

Environments always influence your perception of the lifestyle you live and indulge in. I first wore a hijab because I went to an all-girls Muslim school during my budding teen years. When I moved to the Middle East to a co-ed international high school, I found that even though most of the girls were Muslim, they didn’t wear a hijab, and suddenly, I didn’t feel the need to anymore. As a teenager, I wanted to fit in, and with a shift in my environment, I didn’t feel the same sense of comfort in wearing it. When I moved to Australia, this social pressure did go away as I began to realise how diverse Melbourne is. But, the idea of wearing a hijab became more and more unfamiliar to me, as I felt it acted like a barrier to my very extroverted personality. At university, I felt no pressure to ‘fit in’, but when I started my first job, a variance in the age demographic of the people at work changed this. When we had conversations amongst colleagues, some commonly used phrases would be “Oh, sorry, Hana. We didn’t mean to swear”, or, “You probably wouldn’t know this, but in Australia…” I felt slightly alienated and left out of most conversations, including being invited to after-work drinks or other social hangouts which involved alcohol.

As one of the first employees who wore a hijab, and as the only person in my friend circle to wear it, I felt pressured to explain the rules of Islam and to act a certain way so people would understand the essence of my very peaceful religion. I took it off one day, and felt slightly liberated from this pressure and expectation. Suddenly, I wasn’t so ‘intimidating’ anymore and became more ‘approachable’ as I noticed more colleagues at work talking to me. One of them went so far as saying, “You weren’t so approachable with your hijab and I did not know how to act around you.” I ended up learning so much from this colleague who contributed significantly to my PhD thesis.

I’m sad and slightly embarrassed that I don’t have the confidence to wear a hijab and not worry about people’s perceptions of me and how I represent my religion wearing it. Unlike for men, women are easier to spot as identifiers of Islam because of the garment worn on their head.

My sister works in one of the top law firms in Victoria and proudly wears the hijab, claiming she wants people to judge her for who she is as a person and not what she wears. Her hijab did not act as a barrier and obstacle to either being hired or being discounted as a successful candidate for the job.

I hope to wear the hijab eventually down the track, but this is a journey of confidence I have to take on for myself.

Growing up, Islam wasn’t something we identified with. I knew I was Lebanese because I couldn’t speak any English when I went to primary school. My Mum only spoke to us in Arabic. I just remember we were the odd ones out in this fairly Anglo community. As a kid, you don’t notice racism, so I didn’t really feel anything. I suppose it was when Mum was making me za’atar sandwiches you would really start to see, oh, we were different.

 

 

I grew up in the Eastern suburbs of Melbourne. I was the only Muslim in my school. I still remember questions from my classmates: “Why does your mother have a tea towel on her head?” They weren’t asking to be rude. It was a genuine, ignorant question. I saw it as an opportunity to explain and talk about it and to scratch away at their ignorance. But then came the 1990’s and the first Gulf War. Being the only Arab and Muslim in the school, I was picked on. They’d ask me, “Are you part of Hamas? Are you a terrorist? Are you going to kill Australian soldiers?” I was in Year 7-8, but it was water off a duck’s back for me. It didn’t bother me.

 

 

Growing up, my family and I dealt with many hardships, as do many families. It wasn’t easy staying on the right path especially in the neighbourhood we grew up in. And unfortunately, in the ‘Arab culture’, it isn’t normal speaking to your parents or any other family member about your problems, but I could always talk to Allah to help and guide me without judgment. I know Allah is the most merciful and forgiving. I know Allah won’t stop forgiving me unless I stop asking. Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), I learnt the hard way that when we rely on others, there’s a high chance we are going to be disappointed. But when relying on Allah, you will always win.

 

 

Portrait of Nawsheen

I’ll never forget that day.

I was at work that Friday, having fun with my colleague. Then I scrolled through Facebook and saw people commenting about the attacks. It was about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, their prayer time. And I sat there crying, hiding behind my screens. My colleague came over to me, and held me, gave me tissues. I asked, “Do you know what Jummah is?” She said no, I don’t. I replied, “Today is Friday. This is like clockwork. It’s like people clocking in when they start work at 9. It’s clockwork. It’s our most vulnerable time.” When I said this to her, she started crying with me.

And then I got to North Melbourne, and I’m all contained, you know. You’ve got your makeup on and your outside face. I saw this hijab girl sitting down, just scrolling through her phone. I thought, I’m going to sit next to her. I don’t want to sit anywhere else. I felt like we needed to sit together. I’m on my phone beside her, tears flowing, and she is red in the face. And we looked at each other – we don’t know each other – and we hugged. And we cried. We were complete strangers in North Melbourne station. Everyone around us looked at us like were freaks.

The girl looked at me and told me she’s from New Zealand. The thing is, usually, we have certain conversations in private but not in public. But on that day, we couldn’t do the public and private face, we just wanted to speak our mind and say things, lash out. Yet, we always have the voice in our head saying, “White people are looking at us,” and they hold power and we can’t talk.

And so we didn’t. But we held hands. When the reports first came out, they weren’t calling them terrorists. They were saying gunmen. The girl kept saying they’re terrorists. I kept saying “Sister, stop, sister, they’re looking. Sister, stop. I feel the same way. But don’t say that here. Don’t say anything. People are looking at you.”

I can tell you that we started our grieving when Jacinda Ardern used the word terrorist. When she said that, we howled, and we grieved with our people. That’s the power of words: they can help a whole community to start healing. That’s what leadership is.

 

Nawsheen

Sara Mohammad

That Day, 2021

Coated paper print

40cm x 28cm

Al-Nu’man ibn Bashir, a companion of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, 

“The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 5665, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2586

The artist incorporated this hadith into the background text in the artwork. The tears dropping from the subject’s face symbolise the pain and sorrow felt during the difficult time. However, through pain, there is also beauty and growth, and that is what the flower symbolises.

Sara Mohammad is a Melbourne-based photographer and graphic designer.

 

Portrait of Mukhtar

We’re originally from Eritrea. My grandparents are Eritrean but left in the 60’s due to the war for independence that lasted for 30 years. My mother’s culture is very Sudanese since she grew up there. My stepfather, another person who influenced my life, was also born in Sudan. So, Arabic culture and language are what were prevalent and dominant in Sudan. I was born the son and grandson of refugees in that country, so the issue of belonging and identity is a big one for me and for the community I come from. The Eritreans – some went to Saudi Arabia, some went to Egypt, others to Libya, some to Europe – we’re talking about people who left in the 60’s so we’re talking about at least two generations.

I didn’t feel Australian until I started doing some activism. I was Australian on paper, I knew I had the right to feel Australian but deep down, I always saw myself as African-Eritrean. I didn’t call myself Australian. After being involved in these activities, I started to see the politics, understand the history and I started to understand that it was up to me to decide if I wanted to be Australian. It wasn’t up to anyone else to point the finger and tell me who I was. I chose to stick to my Australian identity a bit more strongly. I’d tell my younger siblings that this is their country, this is where they belong, that they have the same rights as everyone else, that we’re not less than anyone else.

My advice to young migrants that don’t feel like they belong: You’re here, you have the right, legally to be here. This land belongs to Aboriginal people. Everyone else are newcomers. 

Don’t think you’re here for a short while or that you’re going back. That’s not going to happen. You’re being attacked, your identity is being attacked. You’re being made to feel like you don’t belong here, like you’re a second class citizen. Don’t give them that power. Fight. And keep fighting because you’re not going anywhere.

 

Mukhtar

Tamirat Gebremariam

Mukhtar, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

Portrait of Abida

I came to Australia in September 2005. I was 16. My Dad was already here. It took us seven years to come here. We didn’t speak any English. I came with Mum and my sisters. Our country, East Turkistan, is controlled by the government, which made it very hard just to get a passport.

I miss home. But we can’t go back. I would love to go back but the Chinese took control of our country in 1949 and renamed it to Xin Jiang. Since then, during Ramadan, we can’t even fast. Teachers would walk around with water and food. Before entering the school, we were forced to take our scarves off.

When we came to Australia, we put our scarves back on. Being able to practice our religion. To fast during Ramadan. It was amazing. I went to a Catholic girls’ school. The teachers and students were amazing. During Ramadan, the principal would come to us and ask us, “How are you going? Should we make a space for you to pray? Do you need to rest?” They were amazing.

 

Abida

Tamirat Gebremariam

Abida, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

Portrait of Abdul

I walked into the factory. I told them, “I’m looking for a job. I work with timber.” That was my job in Lebanon. The manager – a very good man – he said to me, “I can’t give you a job. I like you very much, but you don’t speak or read English, it’s very hard.” I asked him to give me a chance. He gave me three weeks.

Then one day, he came to me with a job order written on paper. He said to me, “Here’s the job, what does it say?” I told him exactly what the order was. He was shocked, he asked, “How do you know this? You can’t read English.” I told him that my son, who was 5 or 6 at the time, had been teaching me for an hour every night after work.

 

Abdul

Tamirat Gebremariam

Abdul, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

Portrait of Ikram
After the invasion, I decided I wasn’t going to stay there anymore.
 
One day, I dropped my daughters off to school – three of them – and I went to work. One-and-a-half hours later, people started to come in and they were talking about a kind of militia. The militia were trying to enter our suburb, which is called Al Mansoor. Some of them said they entered one of the schools and destroyed it. This school was my youngest daughter’s school. I panicked. I just told my colleagues, “I’m leaving. I want to check on my daughters.” So I left.
 
I hired a taxi from the street, but on my way I thought, “Who am I going to pick up first? My youngest daughter with the middle one, or the oldest one?” I went back home to get advice from my Mum. When I arrived, I found out my brother went and collected all the children, my daughters and my other brother’s children from the schools. When I entered the house they came to me and hugged me. I felt relieved, but insecure; today my daughters are safe, but what am I going to do tomorrow?
 
I called my husband who was in Australia. I told him that we can’t stay here anymore. After making arrangements, we moved to Australia.
 
Our life was smooth until 25 May.
 
My husband went to work and he told me, “Don’t have lunch, just wait for me.” He left.
 
But he didn’t come back.
 
He left at 11:05am, and at 12:15pm, I received a knock on the door. It was two policemen. They asked me, “Are you the wife of this person?” I told them, “Yes.” They said, “We need to talk with you.” I held the door and I told them, “My husband’s not at home, just give me your address and name and I will tell him when he comes, to talk with you.” I tried to close the door. They pushed the door against me, kindly.
 
One of them said, “No, I want to talk to you. Your husband has passed away in a car accident.”
 
They stayed with me from 12:15pm until 3:30pm when my friend came to support me.
 
Then I had to start a new life, again.

 

Ikram

Tamirat Gebremariam

Ikram, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

Often, we are faced with the question, “Where are you from?” The interesting thing is, it is a question that never leaves us, no matter where we are. If we are here, and answer that we are Australian, the follow up question is, “Where were your parents born?” or “But where else are you from?” If we were visiting the land of our ancestors, answering the first question with the name of the land we are visiting, we would also be looked at with scepticism. The person asking the question, seeing you as someone who does not belong to the land. For many, it can seem as if we are not welcome anywhere, lost somewhere with no home that accepts us. I think it is important that we don’t allow these questions to faze us. There are many layers to our identity, but that is, in part, what makes us Australian.

Bosnia was a Communist country. There was a religious division between the Orthodox, Catholic and Muslim populations. Under the Communist regime, Muslims could pray, but we were always being watched. Sometimes, you were put in jail. You could tell a Bosnian Muslim from the way they wore their fez (traditional hat).

When the civil war broke out in Bosnia, I was here in Australia. I was worried about my family; my brothers, uncles, aunties, my mother and father – but especially my two brothers. Bosnia had conscription, and my youngest brother was in the army. One month, I spent $1,500 on my phone bill because I was always concerned about my family’s safety and wellbeing. Some of my cousins, and a lot of my friends, were killed.

Since my first visit to Bosnia after migrating to Australia in 1982, I began bringing traditional Bosnian items back with me. I’ve done this ever since with every visit. A sedžada (prayer mat) from my mother, the sahan (bowl) we ate from as a family, tespihs (prayer beads); whatever I could find.

I’ve displayed my Bosnian collection at schools. I’m so proud when kids come up to me and ask, “What’s this? What’s that?” I’m just trying to encourage the younger generations to learn about culture and history, and to remember. There’s no price for the things I have.

I was raised in high rise flats in Collingwood. It was a different time, the 80s, early 90s. A lot different to what it is now, thank God. We didn’t have the internet, we didn’t have social media, we didn’t have smartphones. So, I spent a lot of my time playing downstairs with friends. There was an oval where we played cricket in the summer and footy in the winter. In VFL/AFL terms, I am a Collingwood tragic. Peter Daicos was my sporting hero, he was an inspiration to many of us who were children of European migrants.

Collingwood, the suburb, was very multicultural even back then – a different mix though. Over the years, the suburb has been home to different waves of migrants. There was a large Vietnamese community when I was growing up, great people. There was also a substantial Turkish community – most of my friends were Turkish at the time. Three decades later, I actually can say I still bump into a few people, it’s good to see the old faces.

My old neighbourhood, Collingwood, has a very special place in my heart, even now. Although I’ve been living out of there for 25 years, I still go back to the old neighbourhood. For me, it feels almost like a pilgrimage. I suppose it’s a testament to how connected I am – and how fond I am of my upbringing.

From grade prep to grade two, my education was entirely in the Turkish language. This was an arrangement with the education department at the time. I’m very fortunate that I received this foundation, which helped shape my identity, and planted the seeds of my belonging.

I was born in Sri Lanka. I grew up in Hong Kong, and lived in pockets between Singapore and the Philippines as well. When I’m with Sri Lankans, I push out my Sri Lankan-ness, with Egyptians, I go that way, with Malaysian Chinese, I go that way. When I’m in Hong Kong, my Cantonese kicks in. The thing with being Muslim is that you’re almost always going to be multi-faceted. Being different is dynamic. You never have just one identity; you have multiple. Having moved around so much really encouraged me to be sociable, otherwise I just had to deal with being alone and not having many friends. I think this experience is why I am who I am, because it enabled me to get to know a lot of people from different cultures and walks of life.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “A smile is charity.” I try to reflect this in my everyday life and instil this in my children. As a child, I never had a parent who was invested in me. I grew up in a broken home. I had to do things for myself, by myself. And, so, I never knew I could do certain things because I didn’t have the support system back then to encourage me. I feel that if I had more support during my vulnerable teenage times, it would’ve pushed me further in life. I look back at it now and see how far I’ve come, and I use that as leverage. You know, my Dad always wanted me to be a journalist. I don’t know why; perhaps because I spoke a lot. Well, here I am now. I was the first one in my family to enter university. That’s why it’s important to me to be supportive of people who have had the same upbringing – because I’ve come here now in spite of it all. Although I was surrounded by riches and given all the pleasures in life – to still overcome a broken family environment and find direction was challenging for me. But, I’m here.

My grandfather arrived in Fremantle, Western Australia in 1928. I see him as one of the founding developers of where we live now in Shepparton, Victoria. He settled in the very early stages. He had strong connections with the Indigenous community; he shared a farm with an Indigenous Aboriginal, so we have strong ties and respect for the local Indigenous community. My family has been here for almost a century. From the time my grandfather migrated here to my children, we have continued to embrace the Australian culture to this day, and we are grateful to call it home.

I had an amazing upbringing. We almost had a village set up. The family property at home had three individual houses. The original farm house where my uncle lived with my grandparents, obviously they passed on, so he continued living there with his three sons. Then my uncle Sam, he also lived on the property, and then it was my parents. Our backdoor led to the orchard.

I wish I could live back on the property with my family now, and my two boys and little girl. We grew up on the orchard, around trucks and fruit. I feel like I know how to do so many other things other than what I currently do, which is work within the retail industry. I know how to drive forklifts, tractors. I remember we’d eat dinner and be straight out the back door to the farm.

My family and I came to Australia when I was four-and-a-half years old, to escape the war in Lebanon. We lived in the firing line and left in a hurry as the conflict got very heated. I remember having to sleep in the corridor of our apartment, where I saw bullet holes in the walls. We boarded a cargo ship to Cyprus that was evacuating people from Lebanon. We waited in Cyprus for several months before receiving our visas and making our way to Australia. I remember the plane ride. I didn’t know a word of English when I arrived, but thankfully received ESL (English as a Second Language) support in the early years of my schooling. I think that’s one of the reasons why I am so passionate about my role as a Multicultural Education Aide. I feel the need to give back and to help others who are facing similar struggles to what my family and I faced when we were new arrivals to the country.

I feel like I belong, but there are certain times that are awkward. Like when there was a Somali-Australian Muslim who ran through the city with a knife. It was awkward for me to go to work the next day because it was plastered everywhere across the news, and I probably copped it five times on my way to work. I’m Muslim, Australian and Somali, so I fit in to all three categories. A customer came up to me and asked if I’m Somali and Muslim. When I told him that I was, he told me, “Don’t turn out to be one of those people.” I said, “One of which people?” knowing exactly what he meant. He replied, “One of them, running around being hooligans and terrorists.” I told him that just because one person did this, it doesn’t mean we’re all like that. He started being racist. He told me I should be more like his people; he said, “We were immigrants before you, do you see us causing problems?”

How do you think I felt after that? I’m a person that doesn’t get offended. I don’t take many things to heart. But I took that to heart.

When people ask you “Where are you from?”, and then you say “Australia.” And then they say, “Where are you really from?”, and then you can say “Darwin” or “Melbourne.” And so where are you actually from? I think those kind of things are when you start to think that question of belonging comes in. I think we need to get a lot better at recognising the diversity in Australia. If you really want to capture humanity, you really have to capture those stories.

I was born in Eritrea in 1967. I lived there until I was eight years old. I had a terrible childhood. We were at war with the Ethiopians. The Eritreans killed some Ethiopians, so that caused them to go on a rampage. They were just shooting everyone. They came into our school, breaking the gate with tanks and just shot our teacher right in front of us. That memory still lingers with me till now.

After that, my family fled to Sudan. I lived there until I was 23, then I came here. I left good memories in Sudan, good friends. But now I call Australia home. It feels like home. I have everything here; I can practice my religion with freedom. I have good friends and family around me.

Part of my job is to visit schools. I speak to students about charity. So I talk to them about how privileged we are here and how disadvantaged others are. Some of them don’t even have a school to go to – they go straight to finding work. I show pictures to show how fortunate we are here. We have it easy here. I tell them to stop complaining to their parents about not having this or that. These other kids, they don’t have anything. And yet you still see them happy. I even remind my kids, one day I want to take them back – not to Eritrea, it’s too dangerous – but maybe to Sudan. It will be an eye-opener for them.

I’ve always been open minded. My curiosity came when I was a bit older, when I started to explore more of the information that’s out there and tried and piece things together. If you start to take an interest in what’s happening in the news, it’s all very contemporaneous; what happened yesterday is on hot off the press, but there’s no context, so you never really understand why it’s like that – like the Palestinian and Israeli issue. You just know there’s oppression and cruelty, but how did it get to that point? A lot of people are ignorant about the history in the Middle East and the history of Islam. They don’t really have a big picture idea; they don’t know the history and how it correlates to today. What happened 70-80 years ago can be very relevant to what happened this week and what’s been happening in the last few years.

One time I was at Safeway in Northland Shopping Centre. There was a young lady and little boy in there. She had that look, like, you know, when a person is going to say something to you. I didn’t want to get into it so I just kept walking. I got my groceries and went to the cash register and she’s there in front of me being served. She turned to me and she said, “You should go back to your own country.” I said “Excuse me?” She continued, “You girls come to this country and steal our men.” I just let her speak. She had her little boy with her. She kept trying to trade words with me and the lady serving asked, “Would you like me deal with this?” Then after she left, the lady at cash register said, “I’m so shocked. And I’m so proud how you just stood there.”

I’ll tell you why I did that. I did that for a reason. She had that little boy with her. If I had said something to her, that little boy would have seen a lady with a scarf being mean to his mother but if I ignore her, he’s not going to grow up thinking that ladies in scarves are going to be a threat to him. I was proud of myself for that. Because really, I could have turned around and told her “@#$%!

It’s become normal to have racial slurs thrown at you in passing. You just have to deal with it. I just get really frustrated. This is not okay. This age group is volatile, just being an adolescent and in high school, or even starting university – you are still trying to find your identity which everyone, irrespective of their faith or beliefs, has to grapple with. There is your own journey to establish your own identity. It’s layered; being a woman in the 21st century and the limitations that society imposes on you with it’s existing inequalities, you then add on the fact that you have a Middle Eastern heritage, add on the fact that you’re Muslim, and add on the fact that you wear the hijab; and unfortunately, if you’re also a woman of colour, you are likely to be predisposed to even further inequalities.

I always thought that because I was born in New Zealand and grew up in Australia, that the way I look and carry myself, how articulately I speak, plus my university education allowed me to seamlessly blend in, that somehow, I was safe from discrimination. However, I recall one night as I was returning home, a group of men began yelling at me at the train station, “We’re going to kill you tonight, we’re going to murder you.” One of them vividly described how he was going to hurt me. He yelled, that he would target not just me, but my friends. Those words sent a shiver down my spine. I never dreamt those horrid stories of targeted discrimination on the news, could happen to me. I never once questioned my Australian identity, until then. Listening to him, cruelly describe how he was going to inflict pain on me that night, I felt like a coward running away. I realised it doesn’t matter who I am, I’m not untouchable. In his eyes, I’m still considered the other. Yet every day, when I hear stories of racism and discrimination that occur in this country, I remind myself of the closing lines of Waleed Aly’s book People like Us:

Ours is an age of arrogance. Ours is an age of ignorance. Whether this can be cured will depend on people like us.”

Portrait of Akhtar

We used to go to India every year to buy our spices, and then bring them back to Australia to use in cooking over here. Since I was in a job which required me to travel substantially, traveling was not a problem. Going back to India was not a problem. The problem was bringing the spices here.

The Customs staff at Brisbane airport knew me very well. I remember I once brought a spice which is very commonly used in biriyani (an Indian dish). That gives you that added flavour in biriyani. You don’t use too much in this part of the world, but in India, it’s very common at weddings. It’s called khas khas. It’s like a seed. I bought that and declared it at quarantine. In those days, they didn’t have all the quick testing facilities. The Customs staff said, “Oh, look, Dr. Kalam, you go ahead and we will test it and give it back to you.

Later, they came to my house, asking where I am growing it. I said, “Growing what?” They said, “Where are you growing the poppy seed that you are carrying? Where are you growing the opium?” Biriyani tasted very nice with it – then I realised that that is why. When you eat biriyani at weddings in India, you get a bit high. I never knew that. I was not in trouble – I told them, “Look, I don’t have it,” and I explained it to them.

 

Akhtar

Samia Khan

Belonging, 2020

Copper leaf, ink and acrylic on canvas with calligraphy in Diwani style

60cm x 50cm

The centre of the artwork are the letters which form the word “Qalb” and it is surrounded by two verses handwritten in copper leaf from the poet Allama Iqbal.

Akhtar’s story was primarily about belonging; how he, as a migrant to Australia, was attempting to recreate the flavours of cooking from the country he migrated from. This sense of belonging to our homeland lies deep within in our heart which is called “Qalb” in Arabic and Urdu. The letters of this word “Qalb” are painted in the Diwani style calligraphy script in silver in the centre of the canvas. Surrounding the “Qalb“, or the heart, are two verses from the poet Allama Iqbal which are written in Urdu using copper metal leaf. The verses say:

غربت میں ہوں اگر ہم، رہتا ہے دل وطن میں

سمجھو وہیں ہمیں بھی دل ہو جہاں ہمارا 

Samia Khan’s artwork is inspired by the multiple cultures she has been immersed in. The art she makes serves to inspire, motivate and be a reminder of spiritual growth and self-actualisation. Samia incorporates textual elements across all of her paintings. She specialises in abstracts with modern English and Arabic calligraphy to create inspirational art.

 

Portrait of Hussein

No olive oil in this country. My three friends and I were getting sick of eating Greek food all the time. One of them said “Hey, let’s go and make a salad and eat it.” The other one said, “Yeah, good idea.” We made the salad, but where is the olive oil?

We went outside, got in the car, and drove around. We found that milk-bars are all run by Australians. We found one Italian milk bar. We asked for olive oil. “Ohh,” she started to laugh. “Olive oil? You’ll never find olive oil.” But we already made the salad.

She gave us a good idea. Chemists were selling small bottles of olive oil which were coming in from overseas. We bought a half a dozen of those. They’d oil newborn babies with olive oil. We found them at the chemist, drizzled it in the salad and ate it. At that time, in Australia, it was like that. It was only afterwards that all these different types of oils came about in supermarkets. Now, there are many different ones.

 

Hussein

Mirela Cufurovic

A Culinary Quest, 2020

Watercolour, pencil and gold leaf

75cm x 56cm

The artwork tells a story of Hussein’s experience in adapting to new life, despite yearning for belonging and familiarity within an unfamiliar environment. Hussein and his three friends realise this when olive oil becomes difficult to acquire in their environment, and he must adapt to recapture the familiar taste of ‘home’ that was once their own. The bright colours symbolise the myriad of experiences that define the lives of immigrants like Hussein — from adapting to a new life, to something as trivial as recapturing ‘home’ through a culinary quest. After all, what’s a salad without olive oil?!

Symbolised through the olives and olive branches that connect, flow, and surround Hussein, the artwork signifies how integral a sense of belonging is to immigrants like Hussein and how far they will go to recapture those sentiments. Hussein appears present in the artwork, but at the same time, remains hidden to show that it is the experiences we make that define who we are not our physical, apparent selves. Hussein’s story of his search for olive oil with his three friends is a story that captures one wonderful part of Hussein’s identity.

Mirela Cufurovic is a self-taught watercolour artist based in Sydney, New South Wales. She began her career in early 2012 and has been recognised for her art talent by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

 

Portrait of Zahidah
Portrait of Zahidah's child

I think of the trees my mother planted. The trees my father planted. The olive trees. That’s what made moving to Australia a challenge. It is still a challenge. The way I see it is well, I’m like a tree. It was easier for me to move that tree from Syria to Lebanon, Lebanon to Emirates. My roots in the Arab world are very big. But that tree moved to Australia and has to adapt with the land here. The land will take time to accept that tree and the tree will take time to adapt to the land. But I think of my mother and how she would say, “If you water the plants, God will be with you. If you care about trees and plants, God will be with you.

 

Zahidah

Left:

Tamirat Gebremariam

Zahidah, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

 

Right:

Zahidah Zeytoun Millie

Zahidah 2, 2010

Acrylic, old nursery text, oil colours, brocade

50cm x 50cm

This self-portrait represents Zahidah when she was six years old. She painted it from a registration photo at primary school, using the image to compose the painting in her favourite suit. Joseph Beuys in his ‘Felt Suit’ project represents the transformation of humble felt cloth into a suit that symbolises power.  

Really, my suit gave me a feeling of confidence whenever I wore it. In the background are some Arabic words, like my name and my parents’ names, my primary school and my age at that time.  I have written the same in Ugaritic script, but part of it is covered by the Syrian silk, brocade.  In the bottom right corner, I have attached a piece of text taken from my old kindergarten book which is about learning Arabic letters.  The text in the middle right is a lovely kids’ song.  Kids in Syria have been singing for generations and this song in translation would touch everyone.  Why?  Well, when all of us were kids we played similar games and heard similar songs.  The only differences I suppose were of names, countries, parentage and language.

I grew up surrounded by ancient ruins and brought up on a big history, which is why I added the Ugaritic words and the Syrian brocade.  My town of Jeblah is close to the archeological site of Ugarit where a tablet of one of the first alphabets was found.  

Zahidah Zeytoun Millie holds a Master of Visual Arts from Monash University (2011) and is currently a PhD student at Deakin University. She believes art has a catalysing role towards environmental protection and has the capacity to influence laws and individual attitudes. She aims to contribute to the protection of her own homeland in Syria by raising awareness of the beauty and importance of the mangroves and wetlands.

 

I grew up playing football. I’ve always had a passion.

We came as refugees to Australia in 1977. Within the first few months, my Dad jumped on the tram and went to Princes Park in Carlton, which is now called Ikon Park. He just followed the crowd, and it took him to this game that he had never seen before. It was an AFL game between Carlton and Collingwood. He reckons the Collingwood supporters were a bit feral, so he decided to support the Carlton team. From there, we became a Carlton family.

When I was four or five, as young as I can remember, we used to go to nearly every game. And Milham Hanna being a fellow Lebanese was, I guess, an idol for me, so yeah, I’ve always loved football. Always wanted to coach. When I was watching Carlton play, you know even at five or six years old, I would always say to myself; when Carlton was losing, I wish I could go onto the ground and tell them to do this or that. Obviously, I knew I couldn’t do it but just having that there in my head was important to me. I was always wanting to better myself but also better the environment I was in. Whatever I cared about, in this case, it was football.

 

Wassim

Tamirat Gebremariam

Wassim, 2020

Acrylic on canvas

61cm x 51cm

Portrait of Sajda
I was in Italy and booked a train ticket to Rome.
 
I had organised a Vespa tour, but the train was delayed. I called the Vespa guy and he said, “Sorry, I’m leaving” and I told him “No, please, I’m coming to Rome. I need to see Rome on a Vespa. You need to wait for me.
 
I arrive in Rome and went straight to the Vespa hire guy. He tells me to get on the Vespa and explained how to ride it. So then, I go to ride it and…
 
I fall.
 
The guy says in his Italian accent, “Sajda! You only have one life! Treat it well.”
 
After that, I sat at the back of his Vespa and he took me on a one-hour tour of the city.

 

Sajda

Samia Khan

Italia, 2020

Metal leaf, ink and acrylic on canvas with calligraphy in Diwani style

60cm x 50cm

The letters written in green form the word ‘Italy’ in Arabic.

Sajda’s story of exploring Italy inspired the artist to create this artwork to show Italy. The centre of the artwork shows Italy with the letters of the word Italy in Arabic painted in Diwani style calligraphy. The letters also show the diversity of Italy’s populace and the sights that Sajda saw on her Vespa ride. The map of Italy is surrounded with antique finished gold leaf which shows the rich cultural heritage which Sajda experienced on her trip.

 

My children should never feel like they don’t belong in this society. But it’s not easy for young Muslims to be themselves in a country that may not share the same values as them. It can be hard to wear your faith on your sleeve when you can’t bring up God in conversations amongst classmates or have to decline after-work-meet-ups in bars. So I encourage my girls to find a balance when navigating this world, and to always hold onto their principles no matter what. I hope that my life here, from being an international student from Indonesia to becoming a local businesswoman, shows them that they can carve out their own space without compromising themselves. I want them to understand that this society doesn’t belong to any one person, but is for all of us to define and shape, and I see signs that it is becoming more inclusive and diverse everyday. So I hope I’ve done them proud, as much as they have made me proud.

I had a mentor when I was a graduate engineer. He used to go out of his way to help me and teach me in the workplace. He was a great engineer, in a specialist role. After about eight months of mentoring me, he found out I was Muslim and there was a 180 degree change. That was the end of it. He went cold on me, never did anything against me but kept his distance from that point on. That was a moment where I realised I need to avoid others finding out I’m Muslim. And that bothered me, for years. Especially as a graduate engineer, you need to learn from other people’s experiences, to teach you, take you out in to the field.

Now that I’ve proven myself and earned respect in my field, I feel a lot more comfortable. After about five years, I joined the company’s inclusion and diversity committee. That’s when I stepped up and wanted to make sure no one else goes through that.

I had a little cousin who drowned at the beach. At first I thought, if I was there I could have helped. Then I realised, what could I have done? I didn’t know anything about first aid before his passing. The way I was able to accept and heal was by doing something afterwards.

There was a multicultural program for Muslims through Lifesaving Victoria. I went through the program and became a life guard. I loved working at the women’s only swimming sessions for Muslim women. I was able to go in as a Muslim woman, representing my faith to other Muslim women, and educate them around the importance of water safety, looking after children near water and not letting them out of sight, and how to identify a rip at the beach. That was my way of honouring the legacy for my cousin because he drowned saving his sister. So he taught me that fundamental lesson about being selfless and self-sacrifice.

My favourite saying of the Prophet (PBUH) is, “The best of you is the one who is best to their family.” I try to take that to heart. So, I try to treat my family better than I treat anyone else. I make an effort to be fair to my wife and kids and make sure I give them my time and attention. Hopefully if my kids see me behave this way, then they can adopt those same characteristics too with their own families when they are older.

When we first moved into our family home, my Dad taught us about the sunnah (the Prophet’s guidance) associated with neighbourly bonds.

We got to know all of our neighbours on both sides. We had a neighbour from the Philippines – Rob – and his dog, another one who had a dog that looked like Snoopy, and Royce and Joyce – yes, a couple with matching names.

Royce would actually drive us to school and be my proxy grandfather for grandparents day. A white Australian man – my grandfather. I didn’t have grandparents here and he was just amazing. They were 1950s babies. We would go to their house, they had a large photo of their wedding day in their living room.

I remember when Joyce had heart surgery. She’d open up her chest and let us touch the scars. As a kid, I’d put my ear on her chest to listen to her pacemaker. They had these delicious jam cookies, an apple tree, and a rabbit we’d chase around their house.

On Eid, we used to take them things, and they would bring us eggs during Easter. When we moved, they were so upset. They said we were the only real family they had.

My Dad tried to visit them at least once a year. When Royce passed away, I was so upset. His words still resonate with me to date. It was all thanks to my Dad, who taught us the importance of being good to your neighbour in Islam.

A lot of minority groups are under-represented in books, so I wanted to create Muslim characters that represent our communities so that my daughter and other kids can see themselves in the books they read.

Our community needs to stop steering away from taboo topics. I’ve worked as a mentor and a counsellor in the alcohol and substance abuse area. Issues such as substance abuse and domestic violence are happening in our communities. We can’t be intimidated by challenging conversations. We need to embrace the conversations and start educating ourselves about these topics because they are real. Usually people don’t have these conversations until it hits their door step but before that, people couldn’t care less, as though the issues don’t exist. Being religious doesn’t exempt you from having drug and alcohol problems within your family.

My Mum, she’s a bit of a feminist so she raised me with the notion, “Get a degree, get a really good degree. Stand on your own two feet. Never rely on a man. Never rely on a husband. Please, you have to do this. I didn’t have the opportunity to study. I really wanted to go to school. Grandpa didn’t let me so you have to do it.” She was deprived from a lot of things, so she tried to live through us and give us what she couldn’t have. My Mum was a very practising person; very close to God, very on point with her Islamic values. Very strict – extremely strict. But, she was also a feminist. I think it was due to her experiences with the men in her life and she nurtured us with that and set boundaries for us Islamically. So, you know, growing up I never had friends’ parties, I never went out, we knew when she said no to something, it was no. Going against your parents is not what it’s like now for the youths. How I’ve come to where I am now is all thanks to my mother’s experience and seeing the mentality she was raised with. I want to rewrite history. I want to challenge it, and I have challenged it all along growing up.

The one thing that stands out for me is only worrying about Allah’s opinion of me and my actions and not others. I spent a huge portion of my life worrying about other people’s opinions, pleasing other people, making sure I was doing things to fit in, to be included, and just for others in general. I wish I lived a larger portion of my life doing and thinking things that would ultimately genuinely please Allah and not just for the sake of Allah. I went to Umrah (Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca) last year in March and it was only then that I actually came to that realisation. And that really hurt me. I made an oath to God that I would only do things moving forward from this point on to please him and to only care about his opinion and judgement.

Cooking reminds me of my childhood. My passion for cooking comes from my Mum and Dad. My Mum used to bake sweets, and make special meals for breakfast and dinner. But, because I lost my mother when I was 13 years old, I always feel like something is missing. Your mother is your everything. That’s why it makes me very happy when I share my meals with my children and grandchildren. You know, setting the whole table with the family. It makes me very happy. I like that.

I went to a breastfeeding information session one day and the nurse asked, speaking slowly, “Are you going to be right to fill out that form?” There was an assumption that I couldn’t fill out a form. I believe this is because I was wearing a hijab. I thought to myself, I’m an English teacher! But I didn’t say anything. When these kinds of things happen, you’re like a deer in the headlights. It’s only afterwards that you think of all the things you could have said, or perhaps, should have said.

I went back to work a year after having my first son and I was really enjoying my career. When I had my second son, it was hard. I felt empty, useless. I spoke to the nurse and told her that I felt really isolated, and she suggested we go to playgroup. So, we started to go. My oldest would play and I would sit with my baby. One day, the facilitator said “We know you’re bilingual. We’re trying to crack your community and we’re finding it really tough. Why don’t they come to playgroups?” I said, “I can’t speak for the community, but there are some barriers around language and culture.” They asked if I would like to become a facilitator; I said yes. I got trained as a facilitator, and it really helped to bridge the gap. More Arabic speaking Muslim Mums started coming to playgroup, and we even got the library involved. They started a reading program and every week a librarian would introduce a new book to read with the families. The kids started taking books home. It was wonderful. From experience, being a Lebanese Muslim woman, I’ve learned that people want to hear your story. You just reach out and tell people what you’re doing and it eradicates the misunderstanding and the fear they might have had.

Portrait of Rayan

I speak fluent Arabic. And that’s really, really helped with a lot of my clientele, especially here in the Northern suburbs of Melbourne. Even doing things like a tribunal hearing, being able to pick up on the interpreter; where there might be a sense of bias or they might not be fully competent for example in terms of you know, getting the client’s answer exactly as they were repeating it. I sort of regretted not having Saturdays growing up as a kid because I was attending Arabic school at the time. But now, I cherish it. I really appreciate what my parents did, in the sense that they pushed us to do that kind of thing. It sort of set me apart from a lot of people, in that I can communicate with people who otherwise couldn’t.

We shouldn’t have that mentality that everyone who comes here should be able to speak English. I can’t stand that mentality. I feel like we should be able to communicate with others in different ways. We’re culturally diverse.

There’s a hadith from the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) where he said, “Don’t respond in anger.” It literally governs my practice now. I think when you initially start practising law, you’re ready to go and you just want to fight. It’s in your nature to argue, I suppose.

 
Sometimes you’ll receive quite an aggressive piece of correspondence from someone and you want to respond and be a keyboard warrior. But I will close the email that I’m typing, save it as a draft, come back to it an hour later, read it, and take out any emotion that might imply anger. Otherwise, you’ll burn bridges with other solicitors who you might come up against one day. Even in life, in general – don’t react when you’re angry and don’t be petty. Think on it.
 
 
Rayan

Soraya Abidin

Theory of Emotion, 2020

Perspex, vintage metal mesh, sequins, copper, tin, velvet

24cm diameter x 8 units

In this artwork, the artist draws a connection between Rayan’s musing and psychology. Specifically, the artist references psychotherapist Robert Plutchik’s (1927-2006) psychoevolutionary classification of general emotional responses. The classification contends there are eight primary emotions that can be conceptualised in terms of pairs of polar opposites. These bipolar emotions are listed as: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation.

The artist selected a variety of materials to communicate these polar opposite emotions from Plutchik’s colour wheel of emotion. The paired materials – fluorescent perspex and dull metal mesh; glittering pink sequins and beaten copper; raging red silk and the finality of black perspex; tarnished tin and royal blue velvet – have been hand-cut into circles. This represents the cellular structure of the chemical reactions that occur during an emotional response.

The overlapping and layering of the circles suggest that all emotions can be felt in different intensities and can mix with one another to form different emotional responses. And perhaps, provide us with a clearer understanding of the emotion in human behaviour. 

Soraya Abidin is a contemporary textiles artist from Sydney, New South Wales. Her art practice explores the notion of inter-culturalism through commonalities of embroidery and quilt crafts practiced by her Malay and Australian ancestors. She is the current Artistic Director of Seed Stitch Collective and the initiator of the Seed Stitch Contemporary Textile Awards (SSCTA) in partnership with the Australian Design Centre. The founding ethos behind the SSCTA initiative is Soraya’s belief that all cultures are interwoven through a camaraderie found in textiles.

Portrait of Anisa

With my retail business EMAAN, my mission is to encourage people to wear their values. We all know about climate change but not everyone knows that their everyday actions and what they purchase have an impact on that. The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. Mass-produced fast fashion has led to severe environmental degradation due to the dumping of toxic chemicals into our waterways and the mountains of garments that end up in landfill. On top of that, the exploitation of garment workers is rife in the industry, and it’s responsible for so much of the poverty we see around the world.

As Muslims within this industry, we don’t want us or our customers to be complicit in this. We believe it’s our duty to use our platform and resources to raise awareness of these issues with our customers and offer them more ethical alternatives. That’s why our clothes are made ethically in Turkey and we are moving towards materials that are more environmentally friendly. We also give a portion of every sale to charity and donate our preloved garments to those in need. Islamic clothing isn’t just something that covers you, it’s also something that is friendly to the environment and doesn’t exploit people in its manufacturing. We’re really just trying to practise Islam in a wholistic sense, as it should be. We as a community are gradually reviving this concept of being a khalifa (steward) of the earth. Taking care of the environment is a trust placed on us by God.

 

Anisa

Aysha Huq

Anisa, 2020

Oil paint and oil pastel on canvas

60cm x 50cm

The artist is influenced by Anisa’s work in the fashion retail realm. In this piece, Anisa blossoms with yellow daffodils climbing up her scarf. They symbolise rebirth and the prospect of new beginnings. As humans, the extent of our impact on the environment will only be recognised when we encompass a new and flourishing gaze. When this change comes, we will inspire new growth, liberation and beginnings. 

Aysha Huq is a young artist based in Sydney, New South Wales. She was the winner of the Young Archie Art Prize in 2019. Since then, she has pursued visual arts as a strong hobby. In her words:

I painted this artwork in my last year of high school, during the lockdown period in March 2020. Given this opportunity certainly eased my tensions of school and isolation at the time. It was a great artistic release.

 

Portrait of Warsan

I’m like the designated mother to first-year students at university. I tend to mentor Black Muslim girls, because most of them really need guidance after high school. After finishing school, there tends to be a period of learning about yourself, finding out who you are, and separating yourself from all of the toxic stereotypes you’ve been taught about what your identity should be as a Black Muslim woman. When the first-year students see me being my authentic self and comfortable with my identity, they feel inspired to do the same. That’s why I like to be a role model for them. It makes me feel emotional because I understand the amount of work involved in the journey of self-love and self-acceptance. It’s very personal. I used to be like them. I see myself in their struggle.

Throughout high school, I really held back on my Muslim identity. I would act certain ways just to survive. When you’re young and you see the media attack your identity, you feel scared to interact with certain people. At the same time, I knew I owed it to myself to live my life. To be myself. Since African-Australians are very new to Australia, we’re trying to find our own spaces. We’re in a period where Black people are loving themselves at the moment. It’s like a renaissance. They’re loving their identity.

 

Warsan

Sara Mohammad

Look Within, 2021

Coated paper print

61cm x 51cm

Portrait of Gulsum

I come from a family that’s very focused on education. My Mum was the only child out of nine children that wasn’t allowed to complete primary school. So for her, it was a big deal. I remember my Mum telling me that when she was young, her sisters would come home from school and throw out the notebooks and pencils that had finished. She would go and take them out of the bin and take out the pencils that were too short to use. She would then connect the pencils onto a stick and then trace over all the letters in the notebooks her sisters had written in just to teach herself to read and write. So she didn’t have the opportunity to be educated and she would often say if she did finish school she would be the Prime Minister. We didn’t always have financial security, and there would be times we didn’t even have money to buy dishwashing detergent for example, but my Mum would always find money to send me to private tutoring. Education was so important to us.

We are three girls. We have all graduated from university and we all have jobs. I am utterly grateful to my parents for pushing us when it came to education. My Mum and Dad were always working so I was forced to have responsibility. It wasn’t an option. I was 12 years old and calling Telstra to set up internet deals. So having to be so responsible at such a young age has been a key factor in allowing me to be 22 years old and manage studying, working, and my marriage.

 

Umugulsum

Beray Uzunbay

Umugulsum’s Journey, 2020

Soft pastels on paper

66cm x 46cm

In this soft pastel drawing, the artist draws from Umugulsum’s recollection about her mother supporting her tutoring during financial hardship. The artist compares this to the deep love that her family members show her.

As I write this, I think about how Allah shines His beautiful light through those who care for us. It is a miraculous thought to behold, and a reality that leaves me speechless. 

I created this piece, the way that I create all my pieces, namely by allowing the guiding light of my intuition to manifest upon the paper that I worked on. As an intuitive thinker and artist, I don’t strategically plan so much. I let the feelings within me create the details and paint the painting

Beray Uzunbay is a Melbourne-based artist who specialises in Modern art, namely Post-Impressionism. She depicts nature using soft pastels and watercolours, making commentary on her emotional and spiritual experiences through each piece. Beray teaches art, exhibits her work, curates, and organises community events for creatives.

 

Portrait of Aly

When I was seven years old, I came back to Australia after living in Lebanon during the war. I thought Australia was heaven on earth. To have running water all the time, electricity all the time, to not feel threatened. A car backfiring used to make me feel like, “Oh my goodness, is that a gun shot?” But it wasn’t. It took me a while to understand that there was absolute safety in Australia, and it was abundant.

I fell in love and got married really young. Three years after I got married, my beloved husband was involved in an accident and passed away. This occurred before my 21st birthday. I was left with a newborn child and a two year old. Coming to terms with grief, loss, anger, hurt, abandonment, and all the other natural emotions you go through when you come across such a sudden loss and heartbreak helped me to unpack everything.

I remember taking up yoga around this time. The true meaning of yoga, and the root word “yoga” which is thousands of years old, means union. The reason why we get you to connect to the body, to connect to the breath, to do meditation is because we want you to explore all the different aspects of yourself and bring it all back to the state of union. Then, from that state of union, you’re in a state of union with your creator. So for me, finding yoga was a beautiful journey of healing. My teacher said to me, “It’s time for you to unpack your bags and start living. Not just surviving but living. This is when the journey will start, you’re going to take this and introduce yoga to other Muslim women.”

 

Alythaa (Aly)

Betul Kuyruk

Abandoned Spaces, 2020

Acrylic on paper

69cm x 49cm

This artwork depicts the intersection of Alythaa’s past and present.

The artist depicts a scene from Alythaa’s contemporaneous experience; a snippet of her domestic life. Something as simple as sitting down to drink coffee. However, even the most mundane of moments can be painful when living with grief and a traumatic past. Alythaa is sitting alone due to her recent loss, an empty chair and untouched glass opposite to her, while the smoke of a past war seeps in sinisterly through the window.

Betul Kuyruk is a Melbourne based emerging artist and designer. She explores and employs vastly different mediums, ranging from painting to rug-making, in order to most appropriately convey her intended meanings. She is currently fascinated by the crossroads of modernity and tradition in relation to culture and identity.

 

Portrait of Salim
I never really pushed myself to my full potential in school. Well, not until I started Year 12.
 
At my high school, nominations for school captain were put forward by teachers, not the students themselves. It was really unique because if a teacher saw potential in someone they would nominate them, and then students would vote for the captain. So when a teacher nominated me, I thought it was a prank because I was very shy, I was very quiet and kept to myself. Then another teacher nominated me, and I was like, alright… why? And she said, “I see a lot of potential in you, you’re a natural leader, everyone respects you, gravitates towards you.
 
Later, the majority of the cohort voted for me, and I thought that was a prank too. And then, I got voted as the school captain. That was the turning point for me. That was the moment where I felt like I had a bigger purpose.
 
I remember the first meeting that myself and the vice captains had with the new school principal. He had started during the middle of a term. He was very stern, and everybody was kind of scared of him. His first announcement was, “Starting next week, I’ll be changing the uniforms.” The vice captains were on board, but I said, “Nah, that’s not going to work.”
 
The reason why I said that? A lot of the students were from low socio-economic backgrounds and in very difficult circumstances. To change the uniform with minimal notice and threaten suspension or expulsion if students couldn’t comply was going to put intense pressure on families who were already struggling. I think that may have come from my experiences when I first came to this country. Knowing what it’s like to go a whole term without uniform and strategically buying books; if you’re in the same class as your cousin, you buy the maths, he buys the science, and you share. I kind of understood what the situation was like for young people.
 
The principal then said that he was impressed because nobody had ever stepped up to him in his 20-30 years of being in the role. Everybody had said yes to him, and this was the first time somebody said no to him. He applauded me for that and my two vice captains were kind of shocked. They were like, “Okay, the quiet guy is now all of a sudden the one who puts his foot down.”
 
That was a great experience. I built a lot of confidence in myself and I’m a lot more outgoing. That was a time in my life where I realised I have a responsibility to not just go through the motions in my life, but to actually go after every opportunity I get.

 

Salim

Anisa Sharif

Becoming…, 2020

Art glass mosaic

1200cm x 900cm

Does a caterpillar know it’s going to metamorphose into something new? Or does it simply strive to grow a little more each day?

We spend our childhood ‘becoming.’ We become braver, stronger, and bolder. We challenge authority, we learn, we develop, and we change. That amazing journey of developing your own independence, your own opinions and having confidence in yourself.

This mosaic abstracts Salim’s journey from childhood through to adulthood and reflects the physical and personal development of becoming who you are meant to be. This piece has been painstakingly created with dichroic art glass and additional detail has been added by painting in the white grout.

Anisa Sharif was born Melissa Jayne Bilston in north-eastern Victoria in 1968. Her mother Judy was extremely creative and wielded a tremendous influence on all her daughters. After meeting her husband Mohamed Sharif, Anisa found Islam, and subsequently noticed a great need to break down religious barriers, particularly after September 11. Working with the Australian Federal Police as a Community Liaison Officer, she develops mosaic art programs encouraging communities to mix and begin rebuilding open and trusting relationships. Anisa specialises in glass mosaics with influences drawn from Indian, Moroccan, Persian and Art Nouveau.

 

I started Community Care Network in 2014 with a friend. We were going out, identifying the needs of the community, and asking them questions. I’d give out water and hot food, but also ask what they wanted. I started making pasta from my kitchen in secret, because what I understood about my religion is that it’s good to do charity in secret. This was until I met Sr. Saara from Benevolence. When she found out about the initiative, she said it’s good to do charity in secret, but that it’s good to share these initiatives and activities for the right reasons – to inspire other people to do good. It’s the best form of happiness.

I’ve done some fun things in my life; I’ve jumped out of a plane, travelled, seen a lot of amazing things, and it’s been very joyful. But, nothing can compare to the feeling of giving.

I grew up in the largely Muslim-dominated northern suburbs. I was surrounded by people that looked like me, so it was super confronting when I was taken out of my community and placed in a university environment where, all of a sudden, I was the outlier. I felt like I had spent my entire life in an echo chamber of ideas, protected from the jarring and unfamiliar, and felt that I had only grown within my comfort zone. Growing out of it – absorbing new ideas but also being mindful of my identity and my fundamental moral compass – was a real challenge. I was also dealing with a fair deal of domestic violence and family trauma, so my challenges were intersectional, and I often felt like I was barely growing. There was a lot of self-reflection and unpacking and unlearning. A lot of forgiveness – forgiving others and forgiving myself. Extending myself the grace I often extend to others unconditionally.

I’m doing a Master’s of Secondary Teaching now, with a Bachelor of Arts (History and Literature) under my belt, but I feel like my greatest achievement was how close I am to my family. It could’ve been so easy for me to detach from everything that was triggering. I could have stepped out of being parentified from a young age and formed my adult identity under the framework of western individualism. But my family are my pride and joy. Sometimes I see my Mum choose a different way of approaching a discussion, sometimes I see my brothers reflect on their actions (before and after they do it), and I feel pride, because in our collective betterment, I see growth. I see achievement, I see success, and I see pride.

What do I want to achieve through my creativity? A lot of things. I want to translate the language of my soul through my art. To give people an insight of who I am. To invite people into my world. To be seen as me, rather than the stereotypes or assumptions that people and society place on us. After all, isn’t that something we all want in one way or another? To be seen.

I want to use my art to change harmful social narratives. Art is a very powerful communicator, and I believe that so much justice can happen through it. We must do right by others and the world. These are non-negotiable things.

I want to communicate to the world about my love for Allah. My artworks seek to examine the beauty that Allah creates. We must fall in love with Allah, as Muslims, and I think that art helps us do this.

I am an artist, illustrator, nurse and midwife. I have always been fascinated by the miracle of birth and absolutely love what I do. There are seven of us in the family and I was always part of a loving and caring environment. My grandmother would always say to the family, “Love each other“, which is probably why I am such a caring person.

I have always loved drawing. Initially, I would draw by hand, and then I started creating digital artwork. My artwork involves representing visible Muslim women. It’s something we don’t see in the mainstream. I also wanted to show emotions, especially sad emotions because we aren’t encouraged culturally to talk about sadness. I want to portray sadness in my artwork but I don’t want people to feel miserable looking at my artwork so I use vibrant colours. If you see something dark and eerie, you tend to feel that way, but if you look at something that is a bit colourful and sad, I feel you are able to connect with it a lot differently and on a much deeper level. It makes you feel hopeful. That’s what my intention is. My artwork encourages people to say, yes I may feel sad but there is hope and you won’t be stuck feeling this sadness forever. Unfortunately, there’s a stigma attached to mental health in the Muslim community and people were a bit confronted by my artwork, but over time there has become a lot more acceptance and now appreciation of the conversations it provokes.

I looked after a baby that was very unwell in palliative care. The parents were from a Buddhist background. So, when I do take care of a family or baby, I always make sure I offer an open discussion: “Let me know anything about your culture, about your faith, that we can do as nurses or our team, our unit, to be able to provide that for you.” Because that’s important. I would want that to be said to me when I’m in there. This family had a Monk that came in to lead the prayers. They had particular prayer beads beside the baby. They had a blanket in a specific colour. These things that you have to uphold; it’s not about you as an individual, your role in there is as a nurse. You’ve got to identify that. When you’re walking into a shift, your identity comes with you; your values, your passion and your love, but also who you are outside stays out the door.

I have always been active and loved riding bikes. I used to love the outdoors, playing footy and downball with the other kids. Highlight of my day growing up would be at 6am I would be in front of the TV doing Aerobics Oz style. Now, I am a personal trainer. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing the women I work with transform. So going from being in the back of the class, baggy clothes, really shy and withdrawn to being confident, moving closer to the front of the class saying hello to others, that’s a big thing. It is just amazing to witness that change and it is so rewarding.

When I am with my Aussie friends, sometimes I feel like an outsider, and then when I am with my Lebanese friends, you’re an Aussie. And you think, I’m a wog one moment, and then an Aussie the next. You ask yourself where do I really fit in. I feel I can connect to all kinds of people. It was a challenge working at different gyms wearing a headscarf. Some didn’t want to participate in my class. Others questioned why was it women only. I would say there are 30 classes to choose from and this is the only one that is women only so surely that is not a big deal. No males come in at 9:30am anyway. I am much happier now that I have my own business.

Missing Voices is supported by:

Curated by:

The Islamic Museum of Australia

 

Videography by:

Reuben Street, Blue Print Studios

 

Artwork photography by:

Pongky Nataatmaja, Radiant Studio

The Islamic Museum of Australia would like to acknowledge and thank the following people, creative companies and businesses for their contribution to Missing Voices:

All individuals interviewed as part of the exhibition

Tamirat Gebremariam*

Ahmed Ibrahim

Soraya Abidin

Beray Uzunbay

Samia Khan

Mirela Cufurovic

Mohamed Nazeer

Betul Kuyruk

Ayesha Huq

Sara Mohammad

Anisa Sharif

Tamara D’Mello

Bahriye Apok

Stephanie Arturi

Moemina Shukur

Ian Potter Museum of Art

James (Ned) Nedham

SDWM Advertising and Design Agency

Mohammed Daghistani (Standout Signs)

Brian Scales

Cliff Burtt

Arif Malellari

Creffield Digital Print

*In memory of Tamirat Gebremariam who passed away in June 2020.

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