Waikato Muslims hope for a multicultural New Zealand

JONATHAN CARSON
Last updated 07:09 25/07/2011
Connecting to NZ - Despite experiencing verbal and physical harassment in their adopted city, these members of WOWMA happily regard Hamilton as home. From left, Anjum Rahman, Radiya Alim, Eman Hepburn, Khatra Omar, Aaminah Ghani, Afreen Azfar. Photo: CHRIS HILLOCK
CHRIS HILLOCK/ Waikato Times

Connecting to NZ : Despite experiencing verbal and physical harassment in their adopted city, these members of WOWMA happily regard Hamilton as home. From left, Anjum Rahman, Radiya Ali, Eman Hepburn, Khatra Omar, Aaminah Ghani, Afreen Azfar.

Connecting to NZ: Despite experiencing verbal and physical harassment in their adopted city, these members of WOWMA happily regard Hamilton as home. From left, Anjum Rahman, Radiya Alim, Eman Hepburn, Khatra Omar, Aaminah Ghani, Afreen Azfar.
CHRIS HILLOCK/ Waikato Times
"For me it's about people adapting to the fact that New Zealand is now a multi-cultural society and that we all have to learn to get along," says Anjum Rahman.

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A group of Waikato Muslim women, who have been verbally and physically abused because of their religion, say New Zealanders need to be more tolerant.

Their comments follow widespread media coverage and controversy about a Saudi Arabian student who was refused entry on an Auckland bus earlier this month because she was wearing a burqa.

Women's Organisation of the Waikato Muslim Association (WOWMA) founder, Aliya Danzeisen, told the Waikato Times she has been physically pushed in Westfield Chartwell mall, called a "f**ing Muslim" in public, and shouted at from passing cars.

She also recounted a time when an "executive looking man" queued at a Hamilton store said he was planning to help carry her basket because he thought she was a Catholic nun, but said he would not help a Muslim.

The burqa debate

Ms Danzeisen has made a personal decision to wear the hijab, a headscarf that covers her head and neck, and said she was "exhausted" by the burqa debate.

"Please ask yourself, does the way I dress hinder your ability to live your life? Does seeing my uncovered arms, my chest, my hair or my mouth, make me more acceptable to you?

"Does it make me smarter, more honest, more trustworthy? I personally don't think so," she said.

WOWMA was established four years ago to help Muslim women integrate into New Zealand society. Ms Danzeisen said discrimination in the region was high, with Muslim women the target of harassment.

The women had been verbally attacked on the bus, physically pushed in public, shouted at on the street and told to go back home, but for this group of young Muslim women, Hamilton is home.

Ms Danzeisen started WOWMA to help Muslim women connect with each other, New Zealand culture, tradition and history.

She has worked with more than 75 young women aged between 14 and 25, introducing them to Maori crafts and Kiwi activities including raranga (weaving), native plant studies, waka ama on Lake Karapiro, and a recent trip to Mt Ruapehu.

"These kids are out abseiling, caving, they're connecting to New Zealand. They're learning about the traditions of the Maori, probably more than the average New Zealander."

Connecting to New Zealand

President of WOWMA youth, 17-year-old Radiya Ali, also wore hijab. She said she has faced racism in Hamilton, and has been pointed in the direction of the nearest airport and told to go home. "We're human beings like you. Yeah, we might have different colours, yeah we might have different backgrounds but we're all the same at the end of the day.

"We're happy in New Zealand, and I think New Zealand will get used to us one day."

Islamic Women's Council spokesperson, Anjum Rahman, said it was an issue of respect.

"My sense is that you don't have to understand why they're doing it. You just have to think about whether it harms anyone else and if it's not causing harm, then let them follow their own practices.

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"For me it's about people adapting to the fact that New Zealand is now a multi-cultural society and that we all have to learn to get along.

"And the best way to get along is to learn to respect people that we disagree with."

- Waikato

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