Muslim youth ‘need interaction with average Aussies’

SHAFAQNA - When 18-year-old Numan Haider was fatally shot by police during a stabbing attack last September, Aseel Sammak took to the streets of Melbourne in protest.

The university student was alarmed by the dramatic turn counter-terrorism operations had taken in her city and the escalating tensions between Muslims and non-Muslims. Nine months later, Ms Sammak has watched as a string of teenagers associated with Haider have been arrested for alleg­edly hatching their own terror plots, prompting her to consider what is driving these youth towards their extremist beliefs and how they can be redirected.

“A part of the reason they might feel left out and marginalised is because a lot of these young people perhaps went to Islamic schools or public schools with a lot of Muslims,” said Ms Sammak, who is vice-president of the La Trobe University Islamic Society.

“The interaction with people from outside that community is very minimal. The interaction they do get is what they see on TV, what they hear from the government, and that isn’t exactly positive. If they don’t have an interaction with people who are just average Australians, they don’t have any positive experiences, then it’s easy for them to feel left out.”

Ms Sammak said the problem of enclaves and the need for healthy interaction between Muslims and non-Muslims worked both ways, with more education about different faiths also required: “It’s important for young Muslims to know there is a huge majority in Australia that isn’t Islamo­phobic.

“I also think it’s important for people who aren’t Muslim to get to know what being Muslim is like.’’

La Trobe University boasts the largest number of Muslim students at any Melbourne campus, according to its Islamic Society. Ms Sammak — who is in her third year studying arts/law — fears that the focus on Islamic extremism may further isolate young men already vulnerable to radical beliefs and thinks marginalisation could be reduced if young Muslims’ views were given greater prominence, particularly by community leaders.

“It’s important for them to have a platform to voice their opinions and talk about their experiences,” she said. “A lot of it is up to Muslim community leaders … I feel like perhaps they’re a little bit average (because) they might think a little differently from what the majority of the young population thinks.

“It’s very important for them to make sure they’re in touch with the young population.”

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