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Muslims immigrants and being Australian

By Abe Ata - posted Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Australia has an outstanding record, perhaps beyond any other multicultural society, in displaying tolerance and in accommodating an incredibly diverse population.

Like other Western multicultural societies, the Australian community by and large continues to look for ways to act on behalf of the common good, but it takes time to appreciate its diversity and discover common values between its disparate groups.

Clearly the cultural and historical differences between Christian and Muslim communities worldwide are too wide to make a complete reconciliation, but, given the alternatives, a creative dialogue must continue.


Just as in mixed marriages, certain differences between the two faiths may be identified, even if they are not fully reconciled. First we should identify misconceptions, misgivings and the roots of grievances.

People who advocate and promote a mono-religious and mono-cultural Australia may be motivated by a kind of loyalty, but they are hindering the development of a newly emerging Australian identity.

The Australian Bureau of Census (2011) puts the number of Muslims 476.3 thousand (out of 21.5 million ) or 2.2 percent of the population; with a growth of 61.5% between 2001-2011. So I estimate that in 2013 there are about 500,000 Muslims living in the country.

It is my hope and indeed my belief that the new Australian identity will come to see Muslim-Australians as Catholic-Australians, Italian-Australians, Irish-Australians, etc.… that is, both Muslim and Australian.

In Australia, the separation between one's religious and public identities is a cultural and political given. Many Australians may have been influenced by Christian values, but, unlike citizens of many Muslim countries, their identity is not exchangeable with their religious affiliation.

Muslim participants in a study I conducted in Us and Them (Australian Academic Press, 2009) identified with their particular religious group as a main part of their identity, but fewer Christian partners did.


The Muslim/Arabic press in Australia, (e.g El-Telegraph;al-Watan, Saut al-Mughtareb) has succeeded in helping to perpetuate the keeping of a native cultural tradition in a host society, perhaps more so than any other migrant press. With time this isolation may give way to strengthening integration, no doubt with the second generation maturing as bi-cultural citizens. It may provide the community , most of whom hail from the Middle East, the Asian sub-continent and Eastern Europe, with increasing confidence, sufficient comfort and psychological bonding to open up to bicultural values and put aside defensive reflexes.

The flow of information and sense of fair play is a two-way street. The ethnic Muslim communities and their press were less sophisticated and more cut off from the mainstream cultural life during the last three decades. Today I see more second-generation migrants writing and editing for the mainstream media, which should speed up this process of greater integration.

Australia's Muslim communities want to live in Australian society and not live apart from it. Muslim thinkers are tilting in the direction of increased integration and participation in civic life.

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About the Author

Abe W Ata was a temporary delegate to the UN in 1970 and has lived and worked in the Middle East, America and Australia. Dr Ata is a Senior Fellow Institute for the Advancement of Research, and lectures in Psychology at the Australian Catholic University (Melbourne). Dr Ata is a 9th generation Christian Palestinian academic born in Bethlehem.

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