Demystifying the world of Australian Muslims in SBS series The Mosque Next Door

Denise Eriksen – The New Daily 8 Nov 2017

The director of Queensland’s Islamic Women’s Association, Galila Abdelsalam, isn’t one to miss an opportunity.

She spotted One Nation’s Pauline Hanson during a trip to Sydney and shook her hand.

“We are doing a great job for the Muslim community and the mainstream,” Ms Abdelsalam told her.

Then she asked for a selfie and Senator Hanson said “of course”.

This story featured in the first episode of SBS series The Mosque Next Door, which aired on Wednesday night.

Its aim is to demystify the world of Muslims in Australia. It was set in the Holland Park Mosque in Brisbane – a 20-minute drive from Senator Hanson’s former fish and chip shop in Oxley.

It’s the first time cameras have been allowed in an Australian mosque and filming began as Senator Hanson was re-elected to Parliament in 2016. Escalating anti-Muslim views form the backdrop for the series.

The participants, like Ms Abdelsalam, are keen to show that even Senator Hanson, with her “go back to where they came from” speech about Muslims, are welcome in their world.

“We’re open-minded. We love her,” she said, much to the bemusement of her daughter Maryam.

“She’s a bit like a bulldozer – a bulldozer with a heart,” Maryam says of her mother.

The series is full of characters like these two. Mosque leader Imam Uzair and his right-hand man Ali Kadri took the decision to open the mosque to filming and work hard to open a comparatively closed world to other Australians.

Mr Kadri takes a Halal food van into a shopping centre popular with those with anti-Muslim views. He offers a free lunch and a chat after briefing the volunteers who will accompany him.

“Some people believe that by eating Halal you turn Muslim,” he laughed.

They did face some resistance.

“Youse are taking up housing, youse can have as many wives as you like,” said one man.

But talking clearly helped with one woman saying she had avoided Halal butchers in the past because she thought they were cruel.

“Now I know different, I will probably buy meat from them now,” she said.

We also meet tattooed, muscular youth worker Robbie, once a bikie with a criminal background, who converted to Islam and found a “reason for being”.

He showed anti-Muslim blogger Jason around the mosque. Jason emerged saying he was “quite surprised by the openness, the amount of love and support they show for one another”.

However, he wasn’t comfortable with the segregation of the sexes at prayer and it’s something that clearly troubles Ms Abdelsalam and Maryam as well.

They point out that in the Prophet’s time, men and women prayed together.

The film followed Ms Abdelsalam as she heads upstairs to where the men pray – for the first time in her 35 years at the mosque.

She and five other women are clearly angered by what they see – new curtains, new carpets and a peaceful, spacious area for worship. Unlike the cramped, shabby room the women use downstairs.

“So this is indirect discrimination. Hopefully the Imam will listen to my advice.”

But he shows no sign of that when she confronts him at an official function. He all but brushes her off and the voiceover reveals the women’s space is “a work in progress”.

The Mosque Next Door may well be slammed as pro-Muslim propaganda by the likes of Senator Hanson – but it’s an honest attempt by SBS to showcase a world many Australians haven’t had a chance to experience.