Canberra Mosque

The Arabic word Masjid (mosque) literally means a place of prostration. A mosque is a place of worship for followers of Islam and serves as a place where Muslims come together for prayers as well as a centre for information and religious education. Mosques originated on the Arabian Peninsula, but are now found in all inhabited continents as Muslims moved to other parts of the world.

As of 2009, over 1.6 billion or about 23% of the world population are Muslims, making Islam the world’s second largest religion. Of these, around 62% live in Asia-Pacific, 20% in the Middle East – North Africa and 15% in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Islam is one of the three monotheistic religions, along with Christianity and Judaism. Islam in Arabic means “submission” and is derived from the Arabic root salima, meaning “peace, purity, submission, and obedience”. Islam is the submission to the will of God, or Allah.

Islam is a whole way of life based upon the will of Allah revealed in the Holy Book (Qur’an), and in the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Every aspect of life is seen as part of an indivisible whole, literally inseparable from all other aspects. For Muslims, the Qur’an is immediate to Allah. Everything necessary for salvation and the understanding of Allah’s covenant with humankind is contained between its covers. The Qur’an, moreover, is composed not of Muhammad’s words, but of Allah’s words.

Long before white settlement of Australia, Muslims had contact with Australia and her peoples. The Macassans from Eastern Indonesia, fishing for sea slugs, began visiting the northern shores of Australia in the 17th century. Afghan cameleers settled in Australia from the 1860s onwards.

In the early twentieth century Muslims found it difficult to come to Australia because of the government’s White Australia policy. This changed from the 1970s onwards as the government adopted a policy of ‘multiculturalism’. By the beginning of the twenty-first century, Muslims from more than sixty different countries had settled in Australia. While the vast majority come from Lebanon and Turkey, there are Muslims from Afghanistan, Albania, Bangladesh, Bosnia Herzegovina, Egypt, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Malaysia, Mauritius, Pakistan, Palestine and Sudan, among others.

The idea of establishing a mosque in Canberra was initiated in the late 1950s by the then Indonesian Ambassador to Australia, Dr A Y Helmi, who discussed the potential project with Sir Gordon Freeth, the then Australian Federal Minister for the Interior and Minister for Works. Dr Helmi also sought support for the idea and financial contribution towards the project from three Muslim governments which had representations in Canberra.

Canberra Mosque, designed in Melbourne, was built in 1960 for £18,000 provided jointly by the three governments through their diplomatic missions in Canberra – the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia, the High Commission of Malaya (before the formation of Malaysia) and the High Commission of Pakistan – on a block of land located at Block I, Section 22, Yarralumla, ACT. The land was a perpetual grant by the Commonwealth Government at one shilling per annum rental. These three Missions, later became the founding members of the Canberra Mosque Incorporated (CMI).

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