Hope Renewed: Malcolm Turnbull’s Visit To Islamic Council Buoys Hopes For Better Future


On Monday, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made good on a promise to build better relationships with the Muslim community, during a visit to the Islamic Council of Victoria. A grateful Junaid Cheema, vice president of the ICV, issues his heartfelt thanks.

The moment was surreal for Australian Muslims, as Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull said in his address to the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) earlier this week, “I believe in acknowledging the enormous contributions that Muslims have made to Australian society”.

It was only a year ago when former Prime Minster Tony Abbott gutted the Muslim community by his choice of words: “I wish more Muslim leaders would say that (Islam is a religion of peace)… and mean it,” implying the community was dishonest and disloyal to this nation.

Those words flattened Australian Muslims and helped inspire a myriad of anti-Muslim groups to prominence.

Words are powerful, and here I was only a year later, listening to some of the most powerful words I have ever heard from an Australian leader.

I looked across the room staring at the young faces of the diverse Australian Muslims who stared back at the Prime Minister. Young fresh faces, which were white, black, yellow and brown, heads which were covered and heads which weren’t, clothes which were conservative and clothes which were not, faces with thick beards and blue eyes, and faces which were clean shaven.

I could almost hear their thoughts, as Turnbull acknowledged Muslims as an integral part of the ‘Australian family’, saying words they had been yearning to hear.

He also acknowledged the valuable contributions Muslims have been making to this nation for over 150 years; contributions which have been immortalised in the Islamic Museum of Australia.

They knew, as I did, this was no mere rhetoric. The PM showed a deep understanding of Islamic civilisation and history beyond the cheap headlines that continually litter our news.

He recalled the openness, pluralism and inclusiveness inherent to Islam and Islamic societies, quoting the phenomenal achievements of the Umayyad’s of Spain, the Abbasids and the Ottomans, acknowledging that openness, diversity and tolerance make a society great.

The Prime Minister’s predecessor did inspire. For one, he inadvertently inspired me to take up a leadership role at the ICV, by his message that Muslim’s don’t really mean Islam is a religion of peace.

Listening to the community, it is also evident that his approach inspired others to take a more regrettable path. Needless to say, the current method of inspiration is much more preferred by the Muslim community and should also be preferred by the level headed; it’s an approach that makes us all much stronger and much safer.

Swinging wild blows to beat down radicalisation doesn’t defeat radicalization. It inspires radicalisation, because those blows inevitably land on the innocent.

Last year, Muslim youths felt collectively punished for crimes not of their doing and were confused as to why their faith was indiscriminately being held accountable for the wrongs of 0.001% of the Muslim population; crimes which are even more abhorrent to Muslims, as the perpetrators masquerade as Muslims.

However, this confusion has been replaced with clarity… at least for this group. Assurance was given to the youth that the Muslim community will not be solely viewed through the prism of security, and this is precisely what the community has been longing for.

A fresh approach which unifies rather than divides, doesn’t collectively punish or presume guilt, and which treats all Australian’s equally, is what is required.

This fresh approach of the Prime Minister has given renewed hope, inspiration and motivation to Muslims who equally love this country and are equally Australian.

Junaid Cheema is an IT executive, writer and activist. In addition to his career, Junaid volunteers management consultancy services to help not-for-profits, including foster care agencies, and philanthropy startups.