Modern Australian

These young Muslim Australians want to meet Islamophobes and change their minds. And it's working

  • Written by Ihsan Yilmaz, Research Professor and Chair in Islamic Studies and Intercultural Dialogue, Deakin University

The political influence of the far-right, along with a more salient national security agenda, has spurred a growing anti-Muslim sentiment and deep social division in Australia.

In fact, a new report from the Islamophobia Register looked at hundreds of Islamophobic incidents in 2016 and 2017. It found that while the number of incidents is steady, the attacks are becoming bolder and more physical, with the overwhelming majority directed at women.

In the face of this growing division, our new research offers hope to our multicultural society.

We looked at the experiences between Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia from the perspective of 28 young Muslim Australians. We wanted to understand how contact between these two groups shape young Muslims’ experiences of discrimination and their perceptions of integrating in Australian society.

Sadly, but unsurprisingly, all our participants said they had experienced discrimination at various times. One respondent said:

The fact that I don’t look Australian, the fact that I look brown, and no matter where I go, the first thing I’ll be asked is where I’m from because of my name and because of the way I look […] I heard things like ‘oh, you have a terrorist-sounding last name’ said to me. I’ve had comments about my skin colour.

Social psychology research on the effects of contact between cultural groups shows interaction isn’t always positive. And when there’s a negative experience, prejudice and conflict between these groups can rise.

Yet, we found Islamophobic experiences didn’t deter these young Muslim Australians from engaging with non-Muslim Australians. In fact, they indicated they were keen on engaging with the very group of Australians likely to be prejudiced against them.

Read more: How to tackle Islamophobia – the best strategies from around Europe

These participants, who said they see themselves as representatives of all Australian Muslims, not only want to be accepted as Muslims, but also say their identity can add value to Australian society.

Breaking down Islamophobia

Our research participants said they’re well aware not all Anglo-Australians hold negative attitudes towards them. But they also understand that certain groups of the population – mostly older in age and based in rural areas with little contact with Muslims – are more likely to have these prejudices.

It’s exactly this group many of our respondents want to engage with. They argue the negative views about Islam and Muslims are largely due to biased media coverage, or when people have never met a Muslim in person.

Some of these respondents even talked about how they seek opportunities to talk to Anglo-Australians about Islam to help break down the barriers between cultures.

These young Muslim Australians want to meet Islamophobes and change their minds. And it's working The overwhelming majority of Islamophobic attacks are directed at women. Unsplash

They’re confident in their ability to change their perceptions after having had positive experiences in the past when encounters started negative, but evolved into something positive.

Often, our respondents didn’t take biased comments they received personally, stating they “do not take negative comments to heart”, “just ignore”, “walk away” and sometimes “laugh at it”. One participant described what he did in response to a woman criticising his political activism:

I approached the lady very nicely and very gently to describe that I consider myself an Australian citizen, and it is my duty to stand up for my community. We had a very short conversation.

At the end of the conversation […] she seemed very happy, she apologised for saying what she said […] at the end it had a positive result.

This was a key finding in our research: although the majority of our respondents anticipate prejudice against them from some Anglo-Australians, they believe in the power of contact, dialogue and exchange to transform negative attitudes and prejudices.

Read more: Why Muslim women wear a hijab: 3 essential reads

Even when such willingness was not expressed explicitly, this “intergroup contact” was still seen to be a good thing.

Diversity isn’t a threat

Diversity has the potential to generate deeper and more sustainable social glue that binds all Australians together through a shared commitment to inclusion, respect and intercultural understanding.

The key condition for this outcome is not suspicion, exclusion and mutual rejection. Rather, as our research shows, the key condition is empathy, mutual acceptance and meaningful contact involving everyone.

Our relatively multicultural policy can improve on mainstreaming the diversity agenda so all Australians – not only migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds – become stakeholders in the social cohesion challenge. This starts with creating the conditions for intercultural contact and exchange at the local level.

In fact, many local councils and cities across Australia are now introducing strategies for building social cohesion on the basis of improved contact, dialogue and exchange between all citizens, and not exclusively involving non-English speaking background migrants.

Read more: Morrison wants Muslim leaders to do more to prevent terrorism, but what more can they do?

Similarly, some Australian schools have led the way in incorporating intercultural understanding in curriculums to help their students develop the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours to respect others from different communities.

Australia must go beyond accepting diversity, a well-established demographic fact, to enshrining the foundations for a genuinely inclusive and harmonious society.

Authors: Ihsan Yilmaz, Research Professor and Chair in Islamic Studies and Intercultural Dialogue, Deakin University

Read more


how cities across the globe are going back to coronavirus restrictions

The World Health Organisation reported more than 230,000 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday — the world’s largest daily increase during the pandemic. The surge has forced governments in many places...

'Vertical cruise ships'? Here's how we can remake housing towers to be safer and better places to live

After 3,000 people in nine public housing towers in Melbourne were placed under the harshest coronavirus lockdown in Australia so far, acting Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly referred to...

Ultraviolet radiation is a strong disinfectant. It may be what our schools, hospitals and airports need

ShutterstockYou may remember when US President Donald Trump suggested exposing coronavirus patients to UV (ultraviolet) light – or “just very powerful light” – to help treat them. The use of...

1 in 5 PhD students could drop out. Here are some tips for how to keep going

ShutterstockDoctoral students show high levels of stress in comparison to other students, and ongoing uncertainty in terms of graduate career outcomes can make matters worse.Before the pandemic, one in five...

what if we took all farm animals off the land and planted crops and trees instead?

Kira Volkov/ShutterstockCC BY-NDClimate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.If you have a question you’d...

What Spike Lee's Da 5 Bloods gets wrong about veterans returning to Vietnam

NetflixSpike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, out now on Netflix, tells the story of five Black US veterans who return to Vietnam to hunt for gold and recover the remains of...

despite the tough talk, the closure of Tiwai Point is far from a done deal

Marc DaalderAnother year, another round of hostage-taking by the owners of the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter.As always, Rio Tinto has made the first move, threatening to close New Zealand Aluminium...

More deaths in Victoria, as NSW COVID cluster triggers reactions in Queensland and South Australia

Uncertainty surrounding a cluster of COVID-19 cases linked to a Sydney hotel has prompted reactions from the Queensland and South Australian governments, as the Victorian situation continues to be critical.Victorian...

'Palace letters' reveal the palace's fingerprints on the dismissal of the Whitlam government

Independent AustraliaThe “palace letters” show the Australian Constitution’s susceptibility to self-interested behaviour by individual vice-regal representatives. They also reveal the vulnerability of Australian governments to secret destabilisation by proxy by...

'Palace letters' show the queen did not advise, or encourage, Kerr to sack Whitlam government

AAP/EPA/Toby MelvilleFor more than four decades, the question has been asked: did the queen know the governor-general, Sir John Kerr, was about to dismiss the Whitlam government, and did she...

What is love?

ShutterstockFrom songs and poems to novels and movies, romantic love is one of the most enduring subjects for artworks through the ages. But what about the science?Historical, cultural and even...

Cutting taxes for the wealthy is the worst possible response to this economic crisis

Australia’s response to the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic is rightly considered one of the world’s best. At their best, our federal and state politicians have put...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Every Thing You Need to Know Before Going to Aftershock FestivalCapture the Moment - Why it's so Important to Cherish the First Year of ParenthoodHow to supercharge your immune system for cold and flu season9 Reasons Sydney Is the Best Place to LiveWhat Do Pool Cleaners Do?ULTIMATE GUIDE TO STUDENT ACCOMMODATION6 Tips For Setting Up a Beautifully Functional Home NurseryPruning, What Is It And Are You Doing It Correctly?Fantastic Fishing Destinations Around AustraliaAre 4wd wheels expensive?What Actually Do Stamp Collectors Do?How to find affordable steel blue work boots in Australia for safety6 Ways To Get Quality Sleep When It’s HotThe Dangers of Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure7 Tips for Renovating a Heritage Home