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Australia’s forgotten Islamic roots

Australia Day; a day of progress, a day of fireworks and laser shows, a day of communities gathering, unified in celebration of what makes Australia great – or so they would have us believe.[1] The truth of the matter is that Australia Day marks the anniversary of conquest, slaughter and invasion. For the indigenous people, January 26th is Invasion Day and marks 229 years of genocide.[2] It is a Day of Mourning.

For the British powers, Australia was terra nullius – land belonging to no-one (read: no one important), and they therefore felt justified in colonising the country without a treaty or any recognition of the rights of indigenous people to their land.[3] In 1788, the First Fleet of British Ships arrived, and Captain Arthur Phillip raised the British Flag in a symbol of British Occupation.[4]

On this day, 229 years ago, British fleets invaded what is now known as Australia, beginning a systematic extermination of its indigenous people that was to last hundreds of years. Like other victims of Western imperialism, the indigenous people were regulated under legislation until the 1960s and legally hunted like animals. Their children were also often taken from their families and put into abusive residential schools to ‘integrate’ them into ‘modernity’ and instil within them ‘superior’ Western values.[5]

In an abhorrent display of their colonial blood-lust, Britain stole the indigenous people’s land, exterminated the indigenous people’s identity and repressed the indigenous people’s independence. With a global history of foreign relations such as this, it is no wonder that people view the idea of a borderless world with such trepidation. “They come because they hate our freedom; they come because they want to change our way of life; they come because they want our jobs, our resources, our land; they come with malintent.” It sure does sound like you’re projecting, oh Saintly Colonisers. But, I digress.

In an article titled ‘Black History did NOT start with Slavery’, Dawwud Loka emphasises the rich history of a native people before colonial rule.[6] Such is the case with the indigenous people of Australia. Theirs is a history of tradition, beliefs, progress, foreign trade and hospitality. Trade? Hospitality? Who would deign to trade with the ‘lowly natives’? Which naval fleet would come upon this terra nullius and see people, deserving of their own land and equals in terms of business, and leave without propping up their flag? It was the Muslims. Anthropologist John Bradley from Melbourne’s Monash University explores the success of their international relations pre-British colonisation.

“They (the Muslims and the Aboriginal people) traded together. It was fair – there was no racial judgement, no race policy.”[7]

Few Australians are aware that the country’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had regular contact with foreign Muslims long before the arrival of Christian colonisers. Muslim fishermen rode over on Indonesian fishing boats from the trading city of Makassar.

They made annual trips to gather the sea cucumbers, which fetched a high price because of their important role in Chinese medicine and cuisine.  The Makassan Muslim cucumber traders stayed, married Aboriginal women and left a lasting religious and cultural legacy in Australia. Alongside cave paintings and other Aboriginal art, Islamic beliefs influenced Aboriginal mythology.[8]

The first Muslims to settle permanently in Australia were the cameleers, mainly from Afghanistan. The Muslim camel men worked the inland tracks and developed relationships with local Aboriginal people. Intermarriage was common and there are Aboriginal families with surnames including Khan, Sultan, Mahomed and Akbar. Muslim Malays worked as labourers in the pearl-shelling industry. They, too, formed longstanding relationships with the indigenous people they met. A significant number married local Aboriginal women, and today there are many Aboriginal-Malay people in the top end of Australia.[9] Unfortunately, Muslim trade with the indigenous people ended when heavy taxation and government policy restricted non-white commerce.

John Bradley describes his findings of the Aboriginal tradition infused with Islamic heritage, a memento of a peaceful, progressive time before Western Colonisers took their land, took their women and established themselves as superior.

“If you go to north-east Arnhem Land, there is [a trace of Islam] in song, it is there in painting, it is there in dance, it is there in funeral rituals… It is patently obvious that there are borrowed items. With linguistic analysis as well, you’re hearing hymns to Allah, or at least certain prayers to Allah.”

And Islam continues to exercise an appeal for some Aboriginal peoples today.[10] Muslim conversion is growing in indigenous communities. In the 2001 national census, 641 indigenous people identified as Muslim. By the 2006 census the number had climbed by more than 60% to 1,014 people.[11] In a research paper on Islām and its role in returning pride to the indigenous Australian people, Dr Peta Stephenson, Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne, found,

“The Indigenous Muslims […] perceive a neat cultural fit between their traditional Indigenous beliefs and the teachings of Islām. Many hold that in embracing Islām they are simultaneously going back to their Indigenous roots.”[12]

A participant in Stephenson’s study said that Islām does not just say “you’re Muslim, that’s it. It recognises we belong to different tribes and nations. So it doesn’t do what Christianity did to a lot of Aboriginal people, [which] was try and make them like white people.”

Stephenson continues,

There are also gender-specific reasons why Islām appeals to indigenous women and men. Indigenous women have long been stereotyped as sexually available, and suffer disproportionate levels of abuse. Wearing the hijāb is a practical as well as symbolic deterrent to unwanted attention. As a public expression of the importance Islām accords the family, it also appeals to indigenous female converts who, against the backdrop of a long history of family break-up, want to offer their children security and stability.

A similarly nuanced set of arguments surrounds the appeal of Islam for indigenous men. The Islamic notion of “universal brotherhood” and its disavowal of racial distinctions lead to a growth in self-esteem that has a significant influence on the way they think about their roles as husbands and fathers. The attraction of Islām for many indigenous men is that it recognises the importance of defined leadership roles for men in their families and communities. These roles have largely been lost through racism and the ongoing legacy of colonisation.[13]

For some Aboriginal converts, Islām offers a fresh start; a detachment from the horrors that have stripped them of their inheritance and the crisis of identity and dependence they experience as a result. One gentleman was once homeless and an alcoholic, but he found the Islamic doctrines of regular prayer, self-respect, avoidance of alcohol, drugs and gambling all helped him battle his addictions. He has now been sober for six years and holds down a steady, professional job.

“Where is my culture?” he asks. “That was cut off from me two generations ago. One of the attractive things about Islam for me was that I found something that was unbroken. When I found Islam it was the first time in my life that I felt like a human,” he says. “Prior to that I had divided up into ‘half this, quarter that’. You’re never a complete, whole thing.”[14]

Regardless of whether it is the new hope it offers people now, or the goodness it brought in the past, what is clear is that across generations and across land and sea (Australia included), Islām has existed as a light; a beacon of peace, progress and enlightenment. It was not Islām which left a legacy of enslavement and exploitation; this is the legacy of Western Colonisers. Islām left a legacy of tolerance, integration and trade. Skin colour was not an issue for the Muslims; this was a sickness which existed in the minds of the Western Colonisers.

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) taught the Muslims,

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a white [person] has no superiority over a black [person] nor does a black [person] have any superiority over a white [person] except by piety and good action.”[15]

The Muslim people honoured the indigenous people in pre-colonial Australia, and the Muslim people mourn with them today. Australia Day, by all moral accounts is not a day of joy. On this day we mourn the stripping of their independence, the loss of their land, the violation of their rights, and we condemn the celebration of their suffering.

Source: www.islam21c.com


[1] http://www.australiaday.org.au/australia-day/about-our-national-day/

[2] https://www.islam21c.com/special/web-posts/australia-day-celebrating-228-years-of-genocide/

[3] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27260027

[4] http://www.australiaday.org.au/australia-day/history/beginnings/

[5] https://www.islam21c.com/special/web-posts/australia-day-celebrating-228-years-of-genocide/

[6] https://www.islam21c.com/islamic-thought/black-history-did-not-start-with-slavery/

[7] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27260027

[8] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27260027

[9] http://theconversation.com/long-history-with-islam-gives-indigenous-australians-pride-3521

[10] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27260027

[11] http://theconversation.com/long-history-with-islam-gives-indigenous-australians-pride-3521

[12] http://theconversation.com/long-history-with-islam-gives-indigenous-australians-pride-3521

[13] http://theconversation.com/long-history-with-islam-gives-indigenous-australians-pride-3521

[14] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-27260027

[15] https://www.islam21c.com/islamic-thought/islam-is-the-cure-to-racism/

About Ayshah Syed

Ayshah Syed studied English at Goldsmiths University of London, followed by a Masters in Comparative Literary Studies. During her years at university she became involved in da'wah, volunteering for various Islamic organisations. She has studied Arabic and works as an English-Spanish translator. She recently edited 'Meadows of the Divine: 40 Prophetic Traditions on the Virtues and Rulings of the Qur'an' by Sheikh Alomgir Ali, as well as other projects and publications for MRDF. She is currently working as Editor for Islam21c.


  1. This article and the comments are terribly biased, and indicate a strong kuffarophobia

    In fact, Muslims practiced invasions, plunder and slave trade just as much as non-Muslims: they may have missed Australia, but mostly for practical reasons

  2. I want/request islam21c.com to put latest comment at the top. Some vicious trolls (hector, tom and their ilk) like to linger in this web page since long time. I am really tired and sick of their biased words. I really don’t want to see them when I start reading comments.

  3. The only reason Islam was never able to exploit Australia was largely due to logistics. Islam has never spread peacefully and this is factually proven in the regions that have been subjugated and thrown into slavery by Muslim invaders. Under different circumstances the Muslim traders would have gladly captured as many Aboriginals as possible in order to feed their slave machine.

    • HAHAHA what a pathetic, desperate attempt to try and smear others with the sins of caucasians…
      You can’t get away with that kind of white supremacy anymore when there’s researchers like this guy knocking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pR50Lw_16zo

      • Yes , Why don’t you tell us about the peaceful treatment of Hindus and Buddhists in Asia by these peaceful Muslim traders?

      • Epic Fail – I would imagine that many of the Muslim slave traders were light skinned . Some of them were black as well. Areas like India actually finally were able to come out of the darkness of Islamic rule when the British took over.

        • Epic Fail on your part white boy. British committed a genocide of over 1.8 billion people in its 200 year occupation of India. That’s more than any other race genocide in case you can’t count. Your white parasitic race is a disease on the world that needs to be taken not. You Neanderthals wipe out the natives where ever you go. Either all of you need to be wiped out or build a wall around your europe and lock your genocidal ethnocentric worthless race inside. Only then will we see peace in the world. Even your pathetic europe ass was taken out of its dark ages from Islamic Golden age, otherwise, according to your own historians you’d still be living in dark ages like the mongrels you are. Go educate yourself before spur more s*** about how great you losers are.

          • As the population of India is now 1.34 billion, and its population increased from about 155 million in 1750 to about 350 million when India became independent, this must be the most unsuccessful genocide in history.
            Or perhaps you show the ability to think and reason we have come to expect from muslims.

            • Your genocide concept is this: If population is increasing, there is no genocide. Really? Who divided Indian Continent in to countries and left problem areas to let bloodshed continue among people? What is the function of Kashmir there? You biased ba-tard, are trying to decieve like what damn Brit did and do years long all over the word! But nobody is eating it anymore. Okay. Just keep it your dirt to yourself.

              • You don’t know much about Indian history, do you?
                The Indian sub-continent had never been politically united until the French and Portuguese enclaves were absorbed in the 1950s. These were so small as to be irrelevant, however. Effective unity came about under British rule. Islamirama speaks of a “200 year occupation”. In fact, British rule lasted for ninety years – from 1858 to 1947.

    • It wasn’t Muslims who killed Aboriginal Australians en masse, or were responsible for the “Stolen Generation”, who treated them worse than animals , etc. No, it was the British who did that. But no, somehow morons like you, dear Tom, miss all of that…

    • Troll alert , no one cares for your comments. Move on

  4. Brilliant piece, well-written informative and an awesome display of the mercy of Islam in comparison to the Western moral-compass (or the lack of it).

    Looking forward to more from sr. Ayshah

  5. ‘“They come because they hate our freedom; they come because they want to change our way of life; they come because they want our jobs, our resources, our land; they come with malintent.”
    …as the Spaniards, East Europeans, Indians and North Africans knew from experience.

    • Absolutely correct! It happened in Australia, the Americas, Africa, and even Asia. These colononists, invariably always European, stole the resources, culture , land and the God given freedom these indigenous inhabitants had , before these greedy Godless paleskins raped and pillaged their way across the world claiming ownership wherever they set foot. They came with a gun in one hand and their brand of worshipping the One true Creator.

      • Take a look at muslim chronicles of the invasions of North Africa, Asia Minor, Persia, India, Spain and just about anywhere else they went to get an account of what muslims considered suitable ways of bringing the benefits of islam to other countries.. They stole the resources, culture , land and the God given freedom these indigenous inhabitants had and if they were later driven out have whined about the injustice of their treatment ever since. If Ayshah Syed’s account is correct, the encounter of traders from Makassar with Torres Islanders and other native Australians was unique in muslim history in that they did not take the opportunity to conquer and enslave the natives as a means of bringing them dawah.

        • Seriously? I’ve got to admire this guy’s persistence at least. Either he is incredibly committed to these delusional doctrines about non-Europeans, or he is being paid handsomely for trolling.

          • Come on now, Ritchie, my ignorant little chum: are you seriously trying to say that muslims treated the inhabitants of North Africa, Asia Minor, Persia, India, Spain and just about anywhere else they went anything like the way Ayshah Syed says they dealt with the Torres Islanders?

            • ignorant? European colonization has left so-called commonwealth countries scared… nothing can compare to the ‘white men who condescendingly approached the so-called barbarians to civilize them’ because you know… enforcing the western way to live and treating those who refused worse then slaves that live only to serve the betters is an act of mercy while anything related to islam or muslims is just BAD cause they are BAD people.

              Look around you… continents flourished with wealth and beauty and unique cultures until they were literally raped by the colonizers and left to recover for centuries to come.

              The least people can do is to stop acting like one can google and hold a phD about the world.

              You can never know everything… and maybe that is for the better.

              Stop blaming ideas, religion, culture, skin colour, race for anything.

              People are rotten to the core alright? And instead of appreciating one good thing… you trolls think you can spend your free time spreading as much negativity in the world as you possibly can.

              You know what’s happening in the real world? A muslim doctor and a christian nurse up for 48 hours straight to save the lives of dozens of patients being rushed to the ER because of a massive accident.

              A muslim student and her atheist best friend wishing their christian best friend Merry Christmas.

              A hindu girl being by her muslim best friend’s side on her wedding day weeping in happiness.

              I’ve seen prejudice from an Asian and an act of pure love from a white Australian and vice versa.

              These labels are just labels… people are responsible for everything they do and that’s how it should be.

              • ” continents flourished with wealth and beauty and unique cultures until they were literally raped by the colonizers and left to recover for centuries to come.”
                Do you literally mean “literally”?
                You’ve been listening to Mr Modi, haven’t you?

                “I’ve seen prejudice from an Asian and an act of pure love from a white Australian and vice versa.”
                …and we see prejudice here. Ayshah Syed assumes that islamic expansion was free of “colonial blood-lust” and that one anomalous instance was the norm.

                • Yes very clever; surely the muslims have to prove that they were not european in their history…since whiteness is so obviously iconic and representative of everything in the universe… Whilst you conveniently free yourself from the burden of proving any of your fanciful propositions. Because it’s so “obvious” that they must have acted like the white man.

                  • What are you gibbering about? Quite a few muslim were European in their history. How else would you describe the invasions of Spain and the Balkans?

          • Lawal zakari jalingo

            Who pays who, be objective whe reading any articles don’t be subjective, I summit.

    • Troll comments just ignore them. They are low life’s

  6. Jzk for an informed, detailed and well researched article on an issue I was never aware of.

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