Wagga Wagga City Council’s unanimous approval of the region’s first mosque means a lot to the Muslim community in the Riverina.
After several setbacks and some ideological objections that delayed approval of the mosque’s development application, the Muslim Association Riverina Wagga Wagga Australia (MARWA) believes the project will help them open a dialogue with the community.
MARWA vice-chair Dr Sajid Latif said Wagga’s Muslim community had been overwhelmed by the positive support it had received.
“It was wonderful to see council agree unanimously in favour of the mosque,” Dr Latif said.
“It demonstrated how supportive the majority of the Wagga Wagga community has been. It showed that people can be open and accepting.”
While the majority of submissions made to council were supportive, a handful contained racially discriminatory comments and negative critiques of Islam.
“It was quite disappointing to read,” Dr Latif said.
“We want to live wonderfully and in association with the community. There is no hate from us towards anyone.”
Once the mosque is completed, Dr Latif said they would open the doors to the wider community and invite some of those who objected to discuss their concerns.
“I think it is essential that we have conversations with people who have questions or criticism about our faith,” he said.
“If you have any questions, please talk to us. We are more than willing to answer any questions people have.”
After years of meeting in homes and community halls, the mosque will provide Muslims in the region with a permanent home to gather for prayer and worship and to build community.
“We would like to have the mosque built as soon as possible, however these things take time,” Dr Latif said.
“Until it is complete, we will continue to pray and worship in other places like the CSU recreation centre and the Glenfield Community Centre.
“We are thankful to CSU and their Islamic Study Centre. They have supported us in trying to create a permanent location.”
Dr Latif said the lack of facilities to practice Islam in the city had been a barrier for some Muslims looking for new opportunities in regional communities.
“I have spoken to many families who have wanted to move here but ultimately choose not to because there is no mosque,” he said.
“A lot of people ask, ‘Is there affordable housing?’ yes, ‘Are there job opportunities?’ yes, ‘Is there a mosque?’ no. Because of that, they have chosen somewhere else like Canberra or Griffith.
He says the Riverina has a vibrant and open Muslim community that is contributing to the region and he hopes that the new mosque will help them to grow and for migrants to feel welcomed.
“We have networked with several other mosques and communities from Sydney about what has worked with them and how they have gone about it,” he said.
“Each immigrant brings their opinions and their own experience.
“We want to listen to them and create a positive space here in Wagga so that other Muslim families who are considering moving here can do so.”