Canberra’s Ahmadiyya community and their long journey to a mosque

Lucy Bladen

Ahmadiyya Muslim Association Canberra director of community outreach Ahmed Munir with Imam Ahmed Nadeem. Picture: Elesa Kurtz

There are two phrases on the door to the entrance of the temporary mosque for the Ahmadiyya Muslim community in Fyshwick that stand out.

In large block letters there is a sign that states “love for all, hatred for none” alongside “visitors welcome”.

These phrases are splashed across the entrances to Ahmadiyya mosques worldwide, with an estimated 20 million members across 210 countries.
There are about 6000 Ahmadiyya muslims in Australia, with 150 in Canberra.

It may be a small community in the nation’s capital but as Ahmed Munir director of community outreach at the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association ACT, said “it’s dynamic”.
The Ahmadi community is nearing the end of a decade-long search for their own mosque in the Canberra. In November, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association of the ACT submitted a development application for a purpose-built mosque in Narrabundah.

Our mosques are open to all, they will always have very loving statements written all over the mosque and they will feel at home when they enter the parking lot.
Imam Ahmed Nadeem

The Ahmadiyya community, who have been in Canberra since the late eighties have worshipped out of temporary settings in that time.

They currently hold prayer services at an industrial site on Barrier Street in Fyshwick, and prior to that they worshipped out of the Griffin Centre in the city.
The application came as the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association in the ACT welcomed a new president, Imam Ahmed Nadeem who came to Canberra three months ago.
For Mr Nadeem, he wanted people to visit both the temporary mosque in Fyshwick and the one in Narrabundah when it’s completed.

“Once they see and they visit the mosques, they understand what a mosque actually is,” he said.

“A lot of people think and consider it as a place of worship but a mosque is also a community centre, a mosque is a place where people gather for education and even sports.
“It’s also a shelter house whenever needed and you’ll see wherever our mosques area, whenever there are any catastrophes and trials in the area we always present our mosques as shelter houses where anybody can come.

“Our mosques are open to all, they will always have very loving statements written all over the mosque and they will feel at home when they enter the parking lot.”
Mr Nadeem said they were used to being met with hesitation, but it quickly subsided once they had embedded themselves in the community.

“I don’t think the people themselves have bad intentions, sometimes it’s the lack of knowledge about Islam, and particularly the community,” he said.
“Like I said, once they know the community and see how big a help a mosque is, they find it beautiful.

“You’ll find some people in the community in the beginning are reluctant to come but slowly slowly, once they start coming to our programs, they’ll find people from different backgrounds so they integrate themselves and they love that environment.

“In the beginning these things for us, it’s a norm, especially in Western countries or Australia, but we don’t worry about it too much because we always turn to God whenever there is any obstacle.

It has been a long journey to the development application.

In March 2014, the ACT government approved the sale of a block in Rivett to the ACT branch of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Association.

The block was located near the Rivett shops but residents and shop owners were hesitant. They expressed concerns about vandalism, parking and construction.
In early 2015, it was the Ahmadi community who abandoned the proposed mosque.

“Looking at a number of factors we sort of pulled ourselves out because of where it was located and we were gauging some uneasiness with the shop owners around the block where the mosque would have been built,” Mr Munir said.

“Henceforth we pulled out ourselves and kept going on the journey to look for a block.”

Another site was identified in Hume and was offered to the group later that year. But the ACT government later pulled out of this deal and cited the reason that staff found a development application for the mosque would be unsuccessful.

The Ahmadiyya community were left in limbo again.

The ACT opposition criticised the ACT government’s handling of the sale. In 2016, Liberal MLA Giulia Jones accused the government of “a complete lack of respect” for the group. She told the legislative assembly they were “far from welcoming” to the community.

Another site was identified in 2017 when the ACT government proposed the sale of a 4000-square-metre site near Narrabundah Ball Park. In 2018, community services minister Chris Steel confirmed the sale, pending development application approval, at an annual reports hearing.

If the application is approved, it would be a case of third time lucky for the Ahmadiyya community.
Public consultation for the development application closed on December 11.

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