Being a Muslim in New Zealand 50 years ago was easier for Mohamed Mussa than it is today.
And as conflict rises in Iraq and other parts of the Islamic world, the 66-year-old, believed to be the first Muslim born in New Zealand, does not see it getting better.
Mr Mussa told more than 300 people at the first national Muslim conference held in Mangere yesterday that as a child growing up on Matakana Island he was never knocked for being a Muslim.
“About 90 per cent of the people on Matakana were Maori and they gave us no problems at all. In fact we’ve never had any problems up until everything that has happened in Iraq,” he said.
“A lot of people think we are terrorists and suicide bombers, but all genuine Muslims have no time for violence. Islam actually means peace and it is our belief that no one has the right to kill any person.”
Mr Mussa’s grandfather and three uncles migrated from Western India to New Zealand in 1910. “They did not come here as refugees. They came here as young men looking for adventure,” Mr Mussa said.
Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said at the conference that Muslims faced more hurdles than other migrants because their religion was associated with conflict.
“This conference is very timely because the whole world is talking about Islam in an attempt to understand what it is and is not about,” Mr de Bres said.
Panellist Jamaal Green, of England, said that since becoming a Muslim he had come across no extremists.
“We are a peace-loving people. We [Muslims in New Zealand] might not be able to stop the conflict in Iraq and the Middle East but we can make a start here by getting to know our neighbours.”
Organised by the Afghan and Somali Muslim communities and the Umma Trust, the event aimed to give Government workers a greater insight into cultural and religious issues affecting Muslim immigrants.
Islam in New Zealand
* 35,000 Muslims from more than 40 countries (most live in Auckland).
* 3500 Muslim refugees.
* 18-20 Mosques/Islamic Centres.
* 7 Muslim associations.
* 2 Muslim schools.
Source: Federation of Islamic Associations of NZ