Muslims in Sydney experience discrimination and verbal slurs at three times the rate of all other Australians, a study that is the first of its kind in the country has found.
Nearly two thirds of Muslims surveyed had been subjected to racism, with one in 10 reporting such encounters as happening “often or very often”.
Despite much higher rates of experiencing racism than the Australian average, nearly 86 per cent felt that relations between Muslims and non-Muslism were friendly.
The survey of nearly 600 Muslims in Sydney was commissioned by Western Sydney University, the Islamic Sciences and Research Academy Australia and Charles Sturt University and was presented at the Australasian Conference on Islam on Monday.
The study is an Australian first and is unique in its scale, random sample and specific focus on Sydney’s Muslim population
Professor Kevin Dunn, the lead researcher from Western Sydney University, said that despite the high levels of racism experienced, the survey ultimately revealed the “ordinariness of Muslims”.
There was little evidence of widespread alienation among Australian Muslims, Professor Dunn said, and higher levels of religiosity were positively associated with national belonging and a sense of Muslim integration.
“The surprising elements are the non-sensational mundane aspects of the data. It reveals the ordinariness of the Muslim experience and aspiration in Australia,” Professor Dunn said.
“Counter to what people might mistakenly believe from media coverage and a lot of debate and commentary, the vast majority of Muslims are very ordinary Australians.”
The majority of Muslims surveyed ranked education and employment as issue most important to them, identified themselves as Australians and felt a sense of belonging to Australia, frequently mixed with non-Muslims and felt Islam was consistent with Australian norms and society.
Ninety seven per cent agreed that it was a good thing for a society to be made up of people from different cultures, compared to the national average of 87 per cent.
Thirty-four-year-old Asma Fahmi, an international aid worker and Muslim who lives in Horsley Park, said she was not surprised by the survey’s finding of racism and she had been physically assaulted by strangers twice.
“I was on my way to work, on the phone talking to a friend, when I felt something push me from behind … I didn’t really know what was happening and a man was shouting at me, ‘f–king terrorist’,” Ms Fahmi said.
“It was one of those situations where you couldn’t see coming. He pretty much attacked me from behind. He was so enraged he was spitting.
“Hearing stories like this is something we have unfortunately become accustomed to as a community.”
Despite such traumatic experiences, Ms Fahmi said “ordinary” was a good descriptor. “Some of us are exciting, but most of us are boring like everyone else.”
Islamic Friendship Association of Australia founder Keysar Trad said while nearly all Muslims he knew had experienced racism, relations between Muslims and non-Muslims were largely unproblematic.
“If you look at Reclaim Australia and their rhetoric and some of the other nasty groups they would give a different impression, but generally relations between Muslims and non-Muslims are fairly good, they are not perfect and could be better overall, but they are good relations,” Mr Trad said.
Mr Trad blamed politicians and sections of the media for creating the impression that Muslims were not ordinary and that relations between Muslims and non-Muslims were strained.
Professor Dunn said he would use the findings to support his conference presentation that there was no empirical link between Islamophobia and radicalisation. If there was a link, he said, there would be high rates of radicalisation and dis-satisfaction among Muslims, which the survey results do not reflect.