Although the number is still small, Islam has become one of the fastest-growing religions among Maori. ABDULLAH DRURY explains why.
Waitangi Day provides us with an excellent opportunity, or an excuse, to examine the spread of Islam in Aotearoa among the Maori population. According to Statistics New Zealand, Islam is one of the fastest-growing religions among the tangata whenua, leaping form 99 in 1991 to 708 in 2005. The figure may now be over 1000.
Historically there have been sporadic if uneven attempts by immigrant Muslims to proselytise the Islamic faith here in the 1980’s. In 1990 the national Muslim organisation, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand, organised a First Official Meeting of Muslims and Maori at a Wellington marae. This was initiated by Dr Hajji Sandhu, then president of the federation, who went on to pioneer Muslim-Christian interfaith dialogue. Since then many Maori converts to Islam have been chosen for Islamic training courses in Malaysia or for free haj, or pilgrimage, trips to Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Closer to home the Muslim Association of Canterbury organised an Aotearoa Maori Muslim Day in February 2003, partly at a mosque in Riccarton and partly at the Aranui marae. Several Maori converts form the North Island were flown down, including prominent members of the Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association, which was set up in Hamilton in 2001.
The Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association was itself, for a period, active in mission work in prisons and evidently had some success in winning over some gang affiliates to Islam. This was famously derided by Winston Peters in 2005 during his election campaign.
Perhaps of more pertinence is that some Maori converts vocally perceive tino rangitira akin to the theological paradigm of defensive jihad.
Can Islam, or radical Islam, become a vehicle for Maori nationalism?
Tino rangatira is often defined as Maori self-determination or political sovereignty, while jihad simply means struggle or a jihad of the sword.
In a 2005 interview, the chairman of the Aotearoa Maori Muslim Association expressed support for Osama bin Laden in his campaign against US foreign policy.
Where is all this leading one may ask?
Strictly speaking, from an Islamic theological perspective, it is hard to see the Waitangi Treaty holding much weight among Muslims. Essentially, it is a piece of paper with ink on it – only as important or unimportant as this society chooses to determine. Composed and signed by Christian missionaries, Maori tribal chiefs and representatives of the British Crown, the Treaty itself has little bearing on or relevance to local Muslims beyond a few vague legal formalities that all citizens are obliged to observe. On the other hand, the intent of the Waitangi Treaty – as an agreement to share in the wealth and government of New Zealand by the Maori and its newer non-Maori residents – fits in nicely with many aspects of traditional Islamic political philosophy.
It is difficult to see the spread of Islam here among the Maori leading to a violent social confrontation within New Zealand and, despite the more paranoid critics, Islam in New Zealand is simply too peaceful in culture and spirit, and the overwhelming majority of Muslims here – both immigrant and converts – are by inclination too pacifist.
* Abdullah Drury is the author of Islam in New Zealand.
2019: ‘One of us’ with bus packed with explosives.
2018: Kiwi teenager radicalised planned mass killing in Christchurch ‘for Allah’.
2015: A foreign assessment of NZ’s contribution to the Islamic State
2014: Aotearoa Muslim is proud to support Isis < – a dozen more radicals ID’d right there!
2014: A Kiwi lad’s death by drone – Daryl Jones
2014: The Deans Ave facility was partly funded by a $460,000 gift from the Saudi kingdom.
2009: Mark Anthony Taylor visits Daryl Jones in Yamen.
2002: THE ROCKING OF THE DOME.