Wellington Islamic Centre Imam Mohammad Amir talks about growing up in India, fishing and how women are treated in Islamic society.
Where are you from?
I'm from northern India and have been in New Zealand more than 20 years.
What made you decide to come to New Zealand?
I came for studies and my wife was already here, so to accompany her.
Did you settle in Wellington immediately?
Initially I lived in Porirua for a few years, then moved to Wellington
What did you study when you arrived?
I studied English and did an introductory computer course. I also did a diploma in creative writing at Whitireia.
Do you have to do any sort of study to become an Imam?
Yes, to assume the position of the Imam you have to study Islamic theology and jurisprudence. I studied these in India so when I came to New Zealand I was already qualified.
How long did you study theology for?
Eight years, starting at the elementary level through to a bachelor's degree, which includes Arabic language and literature.
How did you become the Imam?
Since there was a shortage of qualified Imams, I fulfilled this role when I lived in Porirua. In 1999 the Imam of the Wellington Islamic Centre passed away and the community asked me to take up this role.
How long have you been the Imam of the Kilbirnie mosque?
I formally assumed the role in 2000.
Is your life very different here from what you grew up knowing in India?
Yes, naturally. The culture and customs are different. And the environment is different as well, whether you look at it socially or geographically. There we have an established family and heritage while we are starting afresh here.
What did you want to do when you were growing up?
I had a great admiration for the teaching profession as well as roles involving guidance and consultation. I was also very interested in writing and speaking. Literature and poetry were among my favourite subjects.
When you came to New Zealand, what did you know about the country?
We used to hear mostly about the New Zealand cricket team as cricket is very popular in India. We also knew that it is a nice, clean country.
Was it what you expected?
Yes, even more so.
How has Wellington changed over the last 20 years for you?
People are more understanding about different cultures and backgrounds. People are learning about living with different communities. It's become more cosmopolitan.
Have you struck much prejudice in Wellington?
Not a great deal, but one or two incidents happen every now and then. Some people yell driving past in cars, or make harsh comment on the street, but fortunately these are few and far between. This is not the norm of New Zealand but the odd behaviour of certain individuals, and people from their own race do not appreciate them. We try not to take it too seriously.
What do you think about the Islamic exhibition in Lower Hutt?
The thing is, this is something designed for women. It has no relevance for men and people should appreciate that. I would not mind if some New Zealanders designed an event for girls only. We should respect that and have that level of tolerance. If women want to get together and do something without men looking at them there should not be an issue, specially when it is something that is unique to them. It is hardly a threat to freedom.
Do you think Muslim women are treated rightly within Islam?
Within Islam, of course. Islam has given women more rights than they previously had. Some of those rights were not granted to women in the West until very recently.
Her well-being and livelihood is taken care of whether she is a daughter, wife or mother. If women want to work that is their choice, and of course in Islam the woman is free to study and get an education.
It's very important in this age and time as people have been misled about Islam. Because of what many have wrongly portrayed, people have got the wrong notions and ideas of Islam.
So has the media portrayed women in Islam wrongly?
Absolutely. They sometimes conclude on the basis of certain traditions practised in certain countries, rather than what Islam teaches. For example, if the Romans had treated their women badly, I cannot blame Christianity for that.
Similarly, if certain people do not practise or give the due rights of women then Islam cannot be blamed for that. Unfortunately, what people practise does not always necessarily reflect what Islam teaches.
Do you ever meet with other religious leaders in Wellington?
We have an interfaith group which interacts with different religious groups to establish good terms and understanding, as well as to discuss issues of common concern that require attention.
What do you do outside the mosque and being an Imam?
I like fishing and boating. I go to the Miramar wharf from time to time. I have been fishing ever since I was child in India. There we had ponds and rivers, here we have the ocean.
- The Wellingtonian