Thursday, July 20, 2017

Australia: Perth Imam Kamran Tahir tackling Islamophobia over coffee


"That was, one can say, an epiphany to me that we need to go out and we need to do this because day by day we are seeing there is more Islamophobia."

Times of Ahmad | News Watch | AU Desk
Source/Credit: ABC News
By Claire Moodie | July 20, 2017

"I'm a Muslim, ask me anything"

Australia's youngest Imam doesn't see the need for Muslim schools, and he'd rather shake a woman's hand than cause offence.

He's even happy for cameras to be installed in his Perth mosque and has pledged to resign if there's any trace of extremism.

Kamran Tahir is flat out trying to break down the negative stereotypes he believes are contributing to growing Islamophobia in Australia.

The 26-year-old was sent to Western Australia from Sydney three months ago by his Ahmadiyya community to set up a new mosque at a disused ice rink in Perth's southern suburbs.

There's still a lot of work to do and there's been some community opposition.

But this Muslim leader is on the front foot.

"I invite people who have questions about Islam to look me up and find me," he told 7.30.

"And I will meet them at a coffee shop of their choice. Coffee is on me."

'We are seeing there is more Islamophobia'

His #CoffeenIslam initiative, which invites members of the public to book in for a one-on-one coffee, is now part of a national campaign launched this week by the group Muslims Down Under.

Mr Tahir is also the face behind the I'm a Muslim, Ask Me Anything campaign where volunteers take to the streets to answer questions about their faith.

It started in Perth after the May terrorist attack in Manchester.

"That was, one can say, an epiphany to me that we need to go out and we need to do this because day by day we are seeing there is more Islamophobia," he said.

"If I am not going to do anything about it, as an Imam, as a leader of a community here in WA, how can I expect anybody else to do anything about it?"

"We have these so-called Muslims doing these atrocious and vile attacks but I can guarantee you, they have probably never opened the Holy Koran."

'Why is there a need for a Muslim school?'

His family is originally from Pakistan but Mr Tahir was born and bred in the English city of Leicester.

He only arrived in Australia 18 months ago and said he would be sending his own children to a state school.

"Why is there a need for a Muslim school?" he said.

"I personally don't see the need for them.

"I have studied in a normal, secular school. I turned out to be OK. I'm an imam today, you know.

"But monitor them if you have a concern about what is being taught there."

His attempts to rebrand the Muslim faith come after research showed women cop the brunt of Islamophobic attacks in Australia.

Mr Tahir says the threat to Muslim women is one of the reasons there were none at the I'm a Muslim, Ask Me Anything team's latest public appearance in the regional city of Bunbury last weekend.

"There are women on our team but when we go to new areas, we have to be a bit more protective," he said.

"Have our guards up, in a sense, because we don't know what the response is going to be."
Respect 'goes both ways'

At the Bunbury event, which 7.30 attended, the response was positive.

There was only one heated exchange about the need for Muslims to assimilate.

"The majority of what they know, they've read online or they've seen it on the news," Mr Tahir said.

"We're trying to eradicate those misconceptions that some people might have."

But he argues tackling Islamophobia hinges on mutual respect.

And he's critical of both activist Yassmin Abdel-Magied's Anzac Day Facebook post and the backlash she encountered.

"I myself take part in the dawn service," he said.

"These heroes of ours have given their lives for us, fought for this beloved country.

"And I think there should not be anything that takes that away from them.

"But the opposition that has been shown to her I think is a bit harsh as well.

"I think respect is something which goes both ways."



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