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In Australia, the network of support for the indigenous (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Muslim community is set to expand and diversify, according to its founder, Chinese and Aboriginal woman, Eugenia Flynn.
The network has recently gained enough momentum, Flynn says, to plan events with other Muslim organizations and to consider training and appointing an Aboriginal Imam and scholars who will understand the unique challenges facing the Aboriginal Muslim community.
Flynn began searching for a more meaningful profession after the loss of her mother. Her first stop was a role in the government, working on social policy particularly with regards to Aboriginal youth, health and economic disadvantage, always with a focus on the arts. After becoming disenchanted with the government, she found her next role among her volunteer interests, specifically the Kurruru Youth Performing Arts Inc, of whom she is now Company Manager.
Flynn founded the Indigenous Muslim Support Network out of both selfish and philanthropic interests: “I was a little lonely as I wanted to maintain myself culturally as an Aboriginal woman, but I also wanted it to be easy for me to practice my Islamic faith... I figured this must be the same for others and I started the Network to try and get a sense of community.”
As an Asian/Aboriginal Muslim woman, Flynn faces some unique challenges: “...There is the general racism stuff,” she says, “but there are also some really complex issues surrounding the perception by wider society that I would be ‘easy’ or ‘promiscuous’ or that I need to be ‘rescued’ from Aboriginal/Asian men.”
“I think the added pressure for myself as an Aboriginal woman is my role in the struggle for justice – how I work to achieve that and the stress that continued injustice places on my life.”
However, as with Muslim communities all around the world, racism from other Muslims is the “number one challenge”, according to Flynn. “It is alienating for us to experience racism from people who are supposed to be brothers and sisters in Islam.”
The day-to-day battle for justice, culture and to rise up out of poverty also takes a toll and are yet another barrier of understanding with Australian Muslims, says Flynn. “Muslims do not appear to understand these aspects to our everyday lives and the challenges this presents to the practice of our faith.”
However, Flynn seems hopeful for the future as the Aboriginal Muslim community grows and changes. As Aboriginal Muslims marry and have children, the unique challenges of the next generation will be preserving both the Aboriginal and the Muslim culture.
For now, the IMSN has taken the first steps towards addressing the issue of racism and rebuilding that sense of community in partnership with other Muslim organizations. “These [our events] will be about creating a discourse on racism in Islam and facilitating solidarity between non-Indigenous Muslims and Indigenous Australians.”