To understand any religion against a modern landscape, you first need to understand the landscape itself. New Zealand is a country with large scale immigration throughout its comparatively brief history, the Maori people arrived by sea followed by the Europeans.
In the modern era we have drawn in people from the south east pacific islands, so much so that twenty per cent of Aucklanders originated from the Pacific Islands. Also, a fast growing east Asian population, mixed in with refugees and an ever-increasing migration from the Middle East means that we truly are a nation with a wide spectrum of beliefs, cultures, customs and religions.
As a multi-cultural nation, New Zealand has many religions, but if you, like I believed that New Zealand was a predominantly Christian country then you’ll be surprised to hear that it isn’t. As of the 2013 census the number of Kiwis that identified as Christians has fallen to 48% of the total religious population, meaning the majority of are in fact, not a recognised Christian denomination, with Islam as one of our fastest growing religions that many MuslimKiwis practise. It is possibly equally surprising then that while the Christian, Jewish and Islam faiths are unique in their religious beliefs, customs and practices, they all share in a central figure in Abraham who is the common forefather that shows the religions have a lot more in common than what some may think.
Islam’s history roughly dates back to the seventh century, making it surprisingly young in comparison to the rest of the world’s religions. Beginning in Mecca in a modern day Saudi Arabia during the time of Mohammad, a Prophet who founded Islam, the religion’s followers are Muslim that worship an allknowing God, called Allah. Muslims aim to live a life of complete submission to Allah and believe that nothing in life can happen without Allah’s permission and all humans have free will.
Much like the Bible, The Quaran (or Koran) is their Holy Book, and outlines the five basic pillars that are essential to Muslim Faith. The second of these pillars is Salat- to pray five times a day at dawn, noon, early and late afternoon and sundown.
In 1959, the first Islamic centre opened in New Zealand, and years on, there are several mosques around the nation, alongside three Auckland Islamic schools.
Sadly, the legacy of New Zealand’s first mosque has now been altered by the horrific events of March 15, 2019. The Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch first opened its doors in 1985 by founder, Hanif Quazi who moved to Christchurch with his wife, Rozia in 1967 where they made contact with the Muslim community. As there was no Mosques in New Zealand during the era of the sixties and seventies, the few Muslim communities that lived in Christchurch prayed at a small house made available to them. The Muslim Association of Canterbury was then formed from that same Muslim community who then raised enough funds through those years to finally build Al Noor Mosque.
From there, major cities and small communities throughout New Zealand has seen growth with Muslim Kiwi communities, groups and mosques, with the largest per cent of Muslim communities spread throughout Auckland.
Paasha Restaurant Owner, Mustafa Gundogdu has proudly been calling Pukekohe home for the last eighteen years. As a Muslim he says New Zealand is one of the easiest countries to be a Muslim because of how easygoing Kiwis are.
“We love the people, and in all the years we have lived here, we’ve never had a problem. Everything is good.”
Coming from a Muslim family, Mustafa’s father was an Imam- an Islamic leader in one of the Mosque’s he grew up attending. As an Imam leader, their role consists of leading worship services, serving as community leaders and provide religious guidance to others.
When Mustafa and his family moved to New Zealand he says finding other Muslim groups in the community was easy to find, although small.
According to the 2013 Census, the number of Muslims living in New Zealand was 46,149, an increase of 28% from the 2006 Census statistic of 36,072. A significant jump in numbers, but ever since the 1980’s, those statistics have continued to grow, in part due to the large number of political events in the world and a result in change in New Zealand’s immigration policy, specifically The 1987 Coup D’etat in Fiji that caused a considerable influx of Fijian Indians, many of them Muslims to the Auckland area. Since 1993 at least two thousand refugees have come from Somalia, and Somalis currently form the single largest Muslim ethnic group in at least two centres, Christchurch and Hamilton.
As a Muslim Kiwi, Mustafa says life here in Pukekohe took some getting used it and becoming integrated with Kiwi culture, and says even after the recent events in Christchurch, it hasn’t changed his opinion on being a proud Kiwi Muslim.
“Nobody could have known this was going to happen and it is a tragic event, but I believe (my family) and I are more Kiwi now than before this attack happened.”
He says seeing how everyone has come together to support one another has made him and other Muslim families feel more safer and happier living in New Zealand.
“It’s a stronger connection now with all communities coming together and it makes me happy,” says Mustafa.
There are many different religions in New Zealand and as a country that has always been inclusive of religion, we are not defined by singular beliefs, nor do we feel we need to conform to a religious majority and part of that is what makes New Zealand an attractive place for many ethnicities to live and still retain their own cultures and beliefs, making Islamic communities no different to any other in New Zealand and especially in a rural town like Pukekohe.
“We all worship the same kind of God and as a Muslim, it is a gift to be able to do so,” says Mustafa.