In May 2010, a new foundation was launched in Australia, with the 2013 goal of opening the Islamic Museum of Australia, the first museum of its kind. The project is spearheaded by Ahmed and Moustafa Fahour, two prominent Muslim Australian businessmen. The focus of the museum will be to dispel stereotypes about the Muslim Australian community and Islam in general. It will also highlight the contributions of Islamic civilizations to the world.
As I mentioned in another post, Muslims have been a part of the Australian landscape for several centuries. According to the museum’s website, Muslim fishermen and traders from Indonesia came to Australia in the 17th century, possibly earlier. Muslims continued to arrive in Australia in the centuries that followed. A 2006 census recorded 340,000 Muslims in Australia, of which 128,904 were actually born there.
This initiative is indicative of the trend that is occurring in other Western countries where the history of Muslims and Islam in those nations is being explored, as well as the contributions of Islamic civilizations overall. The International Museum of Muslim Cultures in Jackson, Mississippi, is an example of a similar project in the United States.
Museums can be constructive places to show connections between cultures, which is why I think these Muslim Australians are choosing this route to show the contributions of their community to Australia. The museum has already received the support of Victoria’s Multicultural Affairs and Citizenship Minister Nicholas Kotsiras who said,”It will educate all Victorians on the complexity and diversity of Muslim identities. It will dispel myths and misconceptions, and work towards creating an understanding, compassionate and cohesive society. It is a noble vision; it is a worthy vision.”
The point of many of these kinds of projects is to emphasize that Islam is not foreign to Western countries. Rather, like other faith traditions and cultures, it shares in the history and is part of the diverse make up of these societies. Projects like the Islamic Museum of Australia can go far toward alleviating misunderstanding and conflict.
What do you think about this project? Can museums change people’s attitudes? What else can Muslims do to highlight their contributions to the countries in which they live? Please share your comments below.