In 2013 New Zealand was home to more than 46,100 Muslims. Three-quarters had been born overseas, with significant groups coming from the Pacific Islands, Asia, the Middle East and Africa.
Origins of New Zealand Islam
Individual Muslims have lived in New Zealand since the 19th-century gold rushes, and Gujarati Indian Muslim families settled here after 1910. However, New Zealand Muslims totalled less than 100 until after the Second World War. After the Fiji coups in 1987, 2000 and 2006 restrictions on immigration were reduced, and an influx of refugees from conflict zones saw Muslim numbers almost double between 2001 and 2013, to become over 1% of the New Zealand population.
What is Islam?
Muslims follow the religion of Islam and believe in one god, Allah, whose revelations were given to the prophet Muhammad (born about 570 CE) in the holy book of the Qur’an (or Koran). Moses, David and Jesus are also important Muslim prophets. Devout Muslims pray five times a day. Most Muslims, in New Zealand and worldwide, belong to the Sunni branch of the faith. There are also small groups, especially from Iran and Afghanistan, who follow the Shia branch.
Each local community is centred on a mosque (place of worship), and provides prayer facilities, particularly for Friday communal prayers (salat al-jummah), religious instruction, marriages, funerals and communal festivities. Major cities and towns have shops that provide halal meat (slaughtered in a religiously prescribed fashion) and other products. Increasing numbers of New Zealand Muslims make pilgrimages (hajj) to the holy city of Mecca in Saudi Arabia, and there is a quarterly Muslim periodical, Al Mujaddid.
In April 2010 a Māori-language translation of the Qur’an, the Muslim holy scriptures, was presented to the Māori King Tūheitia at a marae near Hamilton. The translation was made by Shakil Monir, a Pakistani Muslim who spent 20 years teaching himself Māori from textbooks. It included the following verse, 49:11:
Tuturu, he tuakana, teina nga tangata whakapono ki a ratou ano; no reira me hohou i te rongo ki waenganui o o koutou tuakana, teina, me te wehi ki a Allah, kia tohungia koutou.
(Surely all believers are brothers. So make peace between brothers, and fear Allah that mercy may be shown to you.)1
In 1979 a national umbrella organisation was established, the Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ). The National Islamic Women’s Council and the Ulama Council, which gives advice on religious matters, are affiliated to FIANZ. There are two Islamic schools in Auckland: Al Madinah School and Zayed College for Girls. A number of Muslim communities, such as the Mount Roskill Islamic Centre (Masjid Umar) in Auckland, are not affiliated to FIANZ.
Profile of Muslims in New Zealand
In the 21st century Muslims have become more prominent in New Zealand life. Eid al-Fitr, the feast at the end of the annual fasting month of Ramadan, is celebrated in Parliament. An Islamic Awareness Week is held annually and mosques around the country host open days. The profile of Muslims was also affected by the 11 September 2001 suicide bombings in New York and Washington, and, closer to home, the Bali bombings of 2002 and 2005. The imprisonment and trial of Algerian politician Ahmad Zaoui under counter-terrorism laws also brought the ‘war on terror’ home to New Zealanders.
In 2002 Ashraf Choudhary became the first Muslim MP.
Problems faced by Muslims
New Zealand Muslims have experienced religious and racial abuse and assault, and damage to property, including an arson attack on the Hamilton mosque in 1998. In 2019, 51 Muslims were killed and 49 wounded when a terrorist gunman attacked two Christchurch mosques. Muslims have also experienced difficulties at work, especially over the wearing of the hijab (headscarf) and provision for prayers. Schools such as Hagley Community College in Christchurch have prayer facilities for Muslim students.
In 1980 Muslims objected to screening of the television documentary Death of a princess, about the execution of a Saudi princess for adultery. In 2006 they objected to the republication of anti-Muslim cartoons originally published in Denmark. A meeting hosted by the Human Rights Commission agreed on a joint statement undertaking not to publish the cartoons in New Zealand.