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Last Updated:  Monday, 31 March, 2003, 09:22 GMT 10:22 UK
Aborigines turn to Islam
By Phil Mercer
BBC, Sydney

A rising number of young Aborigines in Australia are converting to Islam.

Many have embraced the religion for spiritual reasons, while others insist it gives them a way to escape the oppression suffered by the country's indigenous population.

Australian camel train
First contact came via Afghan camel trains crossing Australia's interior
Australia's indigenous people are disadvantaged at almost every turn.

They are far more likely to be unemployed or in jail than any other group.

A small but growing number of young Aboriginal men are now turning to Islam, and it is now estimated there are 1,000 Aboriginal Muslims in Australia, including new recruits and descendants of mixed marriages.

They say it gives them the inner strength to meet the challenges facing black Australia.

The majority of Aborigines are Christians, converted by European settlers.

Indigenous communities first came into contact with Islam more than 150 years ago when Afghan camel trains helped open up Australia's harsh interior.

These two vastly different groups - an ancient native people and Middle Eastern traders - found they shared a similar sense of spirituality.

Many converts believe the discrimination they endured growing up as Aborigines has prepared them well for life as a Muslim in Australia.

Islamic leaders here have complained that abuse, both verbal and physical, against members of their communities, has risen since the bomb attacks in Bali at the end of last year. Radical Muslims are thought to have been responsible for the explosions that killed 88 Australians.

The experience of indigenous converts is not always positive. Some have been ostracised by Aboriginal communities who see them as traitors. Others speak of racism within their adopted Muslim brotherhood.

Anti-Muslim shift in Australia
19 Feb 03  |  Asia-Pacific

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