SHAFAQNA – Inviting people to look beyond her hijab, an Australian Muslim woman aims to raise awareness about her culture and faith through an interfaith project whose aim is to promote understanding of others.
Organized by Mordialloc and Springvale Neighborhood Houses, the program, titled, “Learning and Living Together” aims to unite women of different faiths.
The eight-week program is slated to include visits to mosques and churches, sharing stories and cooking recipes.
Immigrating from Lebanon 35-years ago, Hayat Doughan has been trying to counter misconceptions about her faith by making others see her as a normal person who just happens to also run an interfaith project while donning a headscarf.
“We are women like any other women, the only difference is we follow our religion, we do prayers, we cover ourselves — this is the only difference between us and any other woman in Australia,” Doughan told the Herald Sun on Thursday, April 30.
“We consider ourselves Australian, our children are Australian…we are citizens like any other.”
“The project aims to promote understanding, respect, appreciation and co-operation between all members of the community,” Mordialloc Neighborhood House member Amna Janjua.
Islam views hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
Throughout the 25 years that Doughan has worn her headscarf while living in Australia, she recalls numerous abusive encounters.
Doughan explained how she was abused while going about her everyday life, including during a road rage incident three months ago when she was told: “Maybe if you take the f—-ing thing off your head you’d be able to drive better.”
“Being a migrant always makes you different, but being a covered Muslim, people straightaway think you’re dumb, you’re oppressed, you have no voice,” Doughan said.
Yet the Muslim woman affirmed that she has noticed people beginning to change their attitude towards Muslims.
“Before, everyone used to turn a blind eye if they [saw] someone abusing a Muslim woman; no one [cared], no one [listened],” she said.
“Now we get some positive responses; some people are standing up to defend a Muslim woman who is being abused, so it’s not all negative, but the challenges are there.”
In the post-9/11 era Australian Muslims have been taunted by suspicion and their patriotism questioned.
A recent national survey found that a quarter of the Australian population has a negative attitude towards Muslims, amid increasing racial attacks against the religious minority.
The survey further found that people over 65 and educated to year 11 are the most likely to be highly intolerant towards Muslims, unlike young people, between the ages of 18 and 44, who have the least negative opinion.
Younger residents of Victoria are among the groups that have the most positive attitude towards Muslims, according to the survey.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country’s second largest religion after Christianity.