Open doors, open hearts: One year on from the Christchurch attacks
More than 20 mosques and Islamic centres across Victoria will open their doors to the wider community on 15 March 2020 for the annual Victorian Mosque Open Day. On the first anniversary of the Christchurch attacks, it’s an important event that community leaders hope will promote harmony and encourage open communication between Muslims and non-Muslims.
Director of Education & Community Engagement for the Islamic Museum of Australia Sharene Hassan said the open day aims to open lines of communication and help break down misconceptions about Islam and the Muslim community.
President of Albanian Australian Islamic Society (AAIS) Urim Balla said the open day will have a relaxed, welcoming vibe.
“It’s an opportunity for those who don’t usually visit a mosque to just come in. It’s open for everyone to just come inside,” she said.
Sharene agrees, saying a mosque isn’t much different to any other place of worship.
However, during the Open Day you can join guided mosque tours, hijab tutorials, jumping castles, sausage sizzles and talk to experts about Islam.
Last year’s Victorian Mosque Open Day was held two days after NewZealand’s Christchurch terror attacks. Fifty-one people died and another 49 were injured at Al Noor Mosque and Linwood Islamic Centre after a terrorist opened fire during peaceful Friday prayers. Like Muslims around the world, Muslims in Victoria were shaken to the core – but were more determined than ever to open their doors and their hearts.
“It was very, very, very confronting. It was a really, really tough time. At first, we weren’t sure whether or not we were going to go ahead [with the open day], but in the end, everybody agreed,” said Sherene.
“There are people that hate, but they’re a very, very small minority. And we need to do whatever we can to combat hatred anywhere we see it.”
What followed was an outpouring of support from the wider Australian community, far beyond expectations.
“There were people queuing up outside, hordes of people and most of them just wanted to come to show their support and to express their sympathy. They had flowers and they had cards and then they just wanted to hug the first Muslim they saw,” said Sharene.
“I had mascara on and I was doing my best Alice Cooper impersonation by the end of the day. It was like nothing I’ve ever experienced before.”
This year the Victorian Mosque Open Day will fall on the first anniversary of the Christchurch attacks. “It gives people another opportunity to get together and to hopefully put this terrible incident behind us,” Sharene said.“It just reminds us of the terrible, devastating consequences of hate speech, and what happens when we allow hatred to go unchecked.”
Imam Mohammed Edwars said the anniversary of the Christchurch attacks is a time to stand together.
“By doing the open day on 15 March [the anniversary of the Christchurch attacks], we will make the stand that we are against
hatred and intolerance,” he said. Farheena Ahmad, a volunteer who leads youth groups and other education programmes, is encouraging visitors to the open day to bring their ‘prickliest’ questions.
“When there is an open day, to the local community it feels like, ‘Hey, now we can come and ask, and now we can meet the Muslims.’ You can just approach on a personal level and you can ask the most prickly questions you can find,” she said.
Farheena believes the open day is a growth opportunity for the Muslim community too – to open themselves to both non-Muslims, and Muslims from other ethnic backgrounds.
“We are so closed up as a community, so it’s a growth process for us to open ourselves and be part of the Australian Muslim community rather than just in our own groups,” she said.
Celebrating diversity and similarities
While the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims are often highlighted in the media, Mohammed says visitors to previous the Victorian Mosque Open Days have often been surprised at by the similarities.
“There are lots of similarities between us. And this is something that we should celebrate more,” he said. President of AAIS Urim Balla said many people aren’t aware that Islam shares a history with Christianity and Judaism.
Open doors, open hearts
One year on from the Christchurch Attacks
“It’s understanding that we are of a similar religion – or the same religion, really – just with different timelines,” he said.
“The Victorian Mosque Open Day allows for something powerful and important – connection.
“I think that’s what we need more of today: more human connection, more conversation and more discussion.”
Victorian Mosque Open Day
Sunday 15th of March
10 am – 4 pm