Spotlight: A brief history of Muslims in New Zealand

A gruesome terror attack at two mosque leaving 49 persons dead at Riccarton and the Linwood in Christchurch region of New Zealand has put the Muslims on this Pacific Ocean Island country into spotlight.

On Friday, March 15, 2019, an Australian man targeted worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch leaving 49 of them dead. According to reports

49 Muslims people were killed in total, including 41 at the Al Noor Mosque in Riccarton, and 7 at the Linwood Islamic Centre. The attacks took place on a Friday afternoon, when worshippers inside the mosques were gathering for Jumu’ah, the mandatory Friday prayers.

One of the perpetrators of the attack was identified as an Australian white nationalist who intended to create an “atmosphere of fear” against Muslims. The shootings highlighted the presence of Islamophobia in New Zealand, especially within online communities and also brought the Muslims under spotlight.

Here is a brief history of Muslims in the New Zealand

It is believed that Islam was brought to New Zealand by India travellers close to 170 years ago. Many sources suggest, the Muslims to settle in New Zealand were an Indian family who settled in Cashmere, Christchurch, in the 1850s. The 1874 government census reported 15 Chinese gold diggers working in the Dunstan gold fields of Otago in the 1870s.

In the early 1900s three important Gujarati Muslim families came from India. The first Islamic organisation in New Zealand, the New Zealand Muslim Association (NZMA), was established in Auckland in 1950. In 1951 the refugee boat SS Goya brought over 60 Muslim men from eastern Europe, including Mazhar Krasniqi who would later serve twice as president of the New Zealand Muslim Association. These Gujarati and European immigrants worked together in the 1950s to buy a house and convert it into an Islamic centre in 1959. The following year saw the arrival of the first imam, Maulana Said Musa Patel, from Gujarat, India. Students from South Asia and Southeast Asia helped establish the other prayer rooms and Islamic centres elsewhere from the 1960s onwards, although New Zealand had a relatively tiny Muslim population until many years later.

In April 1979, Mazhar Krasniqi brought together the three regional Muslim organisations of Canterbury, Wellington and Auckland, to create the only national Islamic body – the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ). He was honoured for his efforts by the New Zealand government in 2002, receiving a Queens Service Medal. Later Dr Hajji Ashraf Choudhary served as president (1984–85) before pursuing a political career and entering the New Zealand parliament in 1999.

Large-scale Muslim immigration began with the arrival of mainly working class Indo-Fijians in the 1970s. They were followed by professionals after the first Fiji coup of 1987. Early in the 1990s many migrants were admitted under New Zealand’s refugee quota, from war zones in Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Kosovo and Iraq. There are also a significant number of Muslims from Iran who live in New Zealand.

In 1981 Sheikh Khalid Hafiz was appointed Imam of Wellington, a post he held until his death in 1999, and was employed as imam by the International Muslim Association of New Zealand. Soon after his arrival he was also appointed senior religious adviser to the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand.

The majority of New Zealand Muslims are Sunnis but there is a large number of Shias who live in New Zealand, concentrated mainly in Auckland (the largest city of New Zealand). In recent years Shia Muslims have become active holding Ashura commemoration programmes in Auckland parks. The first of these was conducted by the Fatima Zahra Charitable Association on 19 January 2008.

The number of Muslims in New Zealand according to the 2013 census is 46,149, up 28% from 36,072 in the 2006 census. New Zealand now has a number of mosques in the major centres, and two Islamic schools (Al Madinah and Zayed College for Girls).

The community is noted for its harmonious relations with the wider New Zealand community, with various interfaith efforts from all sides contributing to this situation. FIANZ established the Harmony Awards as part of Islam Awareness Week in 2008 to recognise the contributions of New Zealanders to improving understanding and relationships between Muslims and the wider community.

The Muslim Students and Youth Association of NZ was formed in 1997. It is affiliated to Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand. It is primarily run by university students and other youth. They undertake regular activities including lectures, sports tournaments and Muslim youth camps, and work with FIANZ who organise the annual Islam Awareness Week (IAW).

There are significant communities of Muslims from the Middle East (Turkey and Lebanon), South Asia (Pakistan, India and Bangladesh) and Southeast Asia. There is also a large Indo-Fijian Muslim community and an equally substantial Somali minority in New Zealand. Contrary to popular assertions from various community leaders, no one single ethnic group can claim to contribute more than half of the New Zealand Muslim population. The majority of Muslims in New Zealand are concentrated in the major cities of Auckland, Hamilton, Wellington, and Christchurch. In recent years an influx of Malay students from Malaysia and Singapore has increased the proportion of Muslims in some other centres, notably the university city of Dunedin. Dunedin’s Al-Huda mosque is reputedly the world’s southernmost, and is further from Mecca than any mosque in the Southern Hemisphere.

Islam is estimated to be the fastest growing religion among the Māori, with census figures showing the number of Muslims of Māori ethnicity increasing from 99 to 708 in the 10 years to 2001, and to 1,083 by 2013 census data. The Aotearoa Māori Muslim Association (AMMA), the most influential Māori Muslim movement, views tino rangatiratanga as a form of jihad, and Islam the perfect vehicle for Māori nationalism. The leader of the AMMA, Sheikh Eshaq Te Amorangi Morgan Kireka-Whaanga was recently identified among the top 500 most influential Muslims. In 2004 Sheikh Eshaq led the Quran Tilawat at the “National Islamic Converts Conference” at the Canterbury mosque in Christchurch. The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has translated the Qur’an into the Māori language, Te Reo.

While the overall Pacific Islander community grew 15% according to census data from 2001 to 2006, Muslim Pacific Islanders grew 87.43%. According to 2013 census data, there were 1,536 Muslims among the Pacific islander community (a little under 3.5% of New Zealand’s Muslim population). The most famous Muslim from this community is rugby player and heavyweight boxer, Sonny Bill Williams.

According to 2013 census data, there were 4,353 Muslims (about 9.5% of the total Muslim population) among the European community (Pākehā)


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