The first mention of Muslims in New Zealand dates back to 1874. These were several families from Gujarat (India). By that time, the active colonization of this country by the British began, who exported Indian Muslims to other parts of the world controlled by the British crown.
The first Muslims in New Zealand engaged in petty trading in Auckland, the economic capital of this country. Due to the peculiarities of immigration law, the number of adherents of Islam in this remote region of the world did not exceed one hundred people until the end of World War II. In addition, many of them came here to work, and then returned to their homeland.
In general, the number of Muslims in New Zealand grew slowly throughout most of the 20th century. According to censuses, the size of the Islamic community between 1961 and 1971 ranged from 260 to 779 people.
A relatively rapid increase in the number of Muslims began only in the 1980s. This is due to the influx of refugees from Somalia, Kosovo and Fiji. So, already the 1996 census noted 13,545 persons professing Islam .
About 20,000 Muslims currently live in New Zealand. Of these, about a thousand are indigenous New Zealanders who converted to Islam, including the Maori aborigines. These figures are, of course, approximate, because the number of Muslims in any country in the world is growing every day.
The ethnic composition of Muslims in New Zealand is very diverse, but Gujaratis, Somalis (about 2000), Albanians (mainly from Kosovo), Fijian Indians, Afghans, Turks and Kurds predominate. In addition, about 2,000 Muslim students from different countries study in the country.
Most Muslims in New Zealand live in Auckland. There are also communities in the capital of the country, Wellington, in Christchurch and Dunedin (this is on the South Island), as well as in other cities. Few families live in rural areas.
The first Islamic organization in the country appeared in 1950 in Auckland. It was called ” New Zealand Muslim Association “.
At that time, Muslims prayed in private homes and back rooms of the shops they owned. Large halls were rented for holidays. When the association got stronger, prayers began to be held in the houses belonging to it.
In 1976, when the Association merged with the Anjuman community, it was decided to build the first mosque in New Zealand. She appeared in 1980. Currently, about 500 Muslims gather in this mosque for Friday prayers.
In addition, another mosque was later built in West Auckland. Other places are under construction now. There is also an Islamic center, which gathers an average of 1,000 people for Friday prayers.
Holiday prayers in Auckland are held in parks and in recent years have been gathering 7-8 thousand people.
In 1997, a mosque was built in Hamilton. In 1966, the Islamic Center operates in the capital of New Zealand, Wellington.
On the South Island, in Christchurch , a small association of Muslims also appeared in 1977, and in 1985 the construction of a small mosque was completed. Now she gathers 500-600 people for Friday prayers. It is worth mentioning the community of the city of Dunedin, which is in the very south of the country.
These organizations are leading and most active. In addition to them, there are other, very small communities in the cities of the North Island.
In addition, there are comprehensive Muslim schools “I-madina skuul” (1995, more than 300 students) and ” Zayed College ” (2001, school for girls) operating in the country. Many schools have succeeded in obtaining permission to wear the hijab , although this problem has not been fully resolved. There is even a Muslim sports organization in the country, which in 1999 sent its team to Fiji to participate in a Muslim football tournament.
It should be added to the above that in the life of Muslims in New Zealand, students from various, mainly Arab countries, who are also organized in student Islamic unions, the largest of which is located in Wellington, take an active part.
There is another interesting moment in the life of New Zealand Muslims. The development of the economy of this country is largely associated with the export of halal meat to Muslim countries. Meat (mostly lamb) goes mainly to Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
In this regard, the Halal Food Certification Service is organized in New Zealand . The documents issued by it are recognized all over the world. Without them, New Zealand will not be able to export meat products to Muslim countries.
The slaughterhouses provide jobs for many Muslims, and the certification brings in a lot of income for Islamic communities.
It is simply amazing how a small community has achieved such results by establishing a full-fledged Muslim life in a country far from Islam, surrounded by a society that was initially hostile. Of course, there are also many problems, but in this example we see that strong faith in Allah and following the path of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) always bear good fruit.
Muslims in New Zealand
At present almost one in four persons in New Zealand’s 4.3 million population is overseas-born. Ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity is a reality now, and with an increasing Maori population and 40-50,000 new immigrants from approximately 150 countries entering New Zealand each year, this diversity will continue to grow.
How do New Zealanders respond to this increasing diversity? A national survey of over 2,000 households found that New Zealanders strongly endorse a multicultural ideology (Ward & Masgoret, 2008). Key findings included:
- 89% of survey respondents agreed that it is a good thing for a society to be made up of different races, religions and cultures.
- 80% endorsed the statement that it is important to accept a wide variety of cultures in New Zealand.
- Perceptions of threat were low to moderate with 26% agreeing that immigration increases the level of crime and 21% maintaining that allowing immigrant cultures to thrive means the New Zealand culture is weakened.
- When informed about actual immigrant numbers, just over half of respondents agreed that the number was about right.
However, the research also showed that some immigrants were perceived more favourably than others. Those from Great Britain were perceived more positively than those from South Africa, who, in turn, were seen more positively than those from China, India and Samoa, and all of these were viewed more favourably than those from Somalia.
The experiences of Muslims in New Zealand
Muslims are the most rapidly growing religious group in New Zealand with the population increasing six-fold between 1991 and 2006. Muslims now constitute about 1% of the population. The majority (77%) of New Zealand Muslims are overseas-born with the largest proportions identifying as Indian (29%) and as members of Middle Eastern groups (21%) such as Arab, Iranian and Iraqi (Ministry of Social Development, 2008).
Although Muslims are a small but rapidly increasing group, there is relatively little empirical research about their experiences in New Zealand. There are however, media discourses that suggest New Zealanders may be uncertain about , if not unreceptive to, Muslim immigrants. For example, Don Brash’s (2006) speech, widely believed to refer to Muslim immigrants, noted:
We can ask and expect people to fit in, but the reality is that many migrants to New Zealand in recent times, and indeed to the West more generally, have come from cultures that don’t share the bedrock values that New Zealanders take for granted….We cannot be indifferent to whether migrants are likely to share our bedrock values. We can’t just hope it’ll work out fine….Put another way, we should not welcome those who want to live in New Zealand but reject core aspects of New Zealand culture
A SHORT HISTORY OF NEW ZEALAND
MUSLIMS AND INTEGRATION
The recent court case of the Australian terrorist responsible for murdering 51
worshippers inside two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, has focused attention
on this South Pacific nation. Nation-building, with its inherent practices of inclusion
and exclusion into the social hierarchy, began here in the nineteenth century and
accelerated throughout the twentieth century. History of Muslims in New Zealand, or
New Zealand Islam, is a rich narrative illustrative of tendencies and biases that are
both common to, as well as divergent from, patterns elsewhere in the English speaking
world and Western societies in general. The integration of Muslim immigrants and
refugees, and converts to Islam, into this complex social bricolage, however, has been
challenging and at times convoluted. This essay will support us to consider why and
how this is the case.
Keywords: Islamic Histoty, Muslims New Zealand; Integration.
In March 2019 an Australian terrorist killed 51 Muslims attending prayers inside two
mosques in Christchurch, the largest city in the South Island of New Zealand. In August 2020
his court trial too place and the miscreant was sentenced to life imprisonment with no parole.
The incident raised many questions about social integration in this small South Pacific country
and in particular, the integration of conventional and essentially well-adjusted ethnic and
religious minorities unfamiliar with the prevailing socio-political system. Modernity is complex
and can sometimes be quite ugly as secular polities are predicated entirely on the values and
driving philosophies of the industrial revolution; in short, they are characterised by manifold
The British scholar Ernest Gellner defined a nation as an ‗anonymous, impersonal
society with mutually substitutable atomised individuals held together above all by a shared
2 Precise notions and practices of integration remain ambivalent and nebulous, and
worldwide no psychologically plausible programme for this transformation has been
appropriately articulated; political speeches and reports on the topic have been as flowery and
ephemeral as the lyrics from a tune by the Cocteau Twins. In New Zealand, despite many
asinine and banal political speeches about the positive features of ‗multiculturalism‘, an exact –
detailed-model of integration into the prevailing societal fabric has never been explicitly
defined.3 Religious pluralism is not new to this country. From its inception as an Anglo-Saxon
Protestant colony in 1840, Roman Catholics and Jews (and others) secured various gains down
the years, mostly clearly symbolised by the establishment of a vague principle of socio-political
secularity. In New Zealand, as in most Anglophone lands, legislation and disinterested
theoretical speculation tended to valorise broad human rights and ethnic minority rights,
without outlining a specific plan of national integration. The polity remained neutral, and it
was widely assumed that the new immigrants and refugees would find a place within a society4
of their own accord and in their own time and manner. Group-based autonomy was assumed.
Methodologically, this essay brings together empirical data collected by the author
predominantly over the past 25 years and an extensive range of secondary sources. Primary
data consist of qualitative fieldwork conducted with Muslims living across New Zealand. It
involved in-depth interviews with various male and female Muslims of various ages,
ethnicities, social classes and protracted participant observation- including but not limited to
conversations at Muslim Association meetings, mosque interfaith events, attendance of the
meetings of Muslim student groups and so forth. I assume that lay Muslim believers are not
merely passive recipients of collective identities and schemata of communal association.
Instead, they are both actors and agents with the ability and desire to utilise such international
networks and resources for their purposes and according to their existential definitions in the
socially reshuffled new New Zealand.
Readers should be aware that, for obvious reasons of confidentiality, individual
informants are seldom cited or quoted. Secondary sources include existing academic research,
policy documents, government reports and statistics, and newspaper articles. Auckland
Muslims account for over 60% of the total New Zealand Muslim population, and therefore,
they represent the natural focus of this text. Whilst not every single reader will locate his or
her own experiences in the accounts of this essay. The author asserts that his broader analysis
does outline the history of the community and provides vital clues to the future social and
cultural trends that cut across the experiences of the majority of the Muslim community in this
An overview is in order.
The first Muslims to visit New Zealand were Asian sailors, lascars who worked on
board European ships. The British colony of New Zealand was created over 1840-1841 when
the Colonial Office sent Captain William Hobson to claim sovereignty and negotiate a treaty
with the native Polynesian tribes.5 Established under Queen Victoria, the territory was briefly
part of the British colony of New South Wales, Australia, until July 1841 when it became an
independent colony. European, especially British, immigration increased and in 1852 a
legislative chamber was voted in. From 1856 the colony was effectively self-governing in all
domestic affairs, and in 1907 King Edward VII proclaimed New Zealand a Dominion within
the British Empire. Forty years later, the nation adopted the Statute of Westminister,
confirming loyalty to the British crown but total autonomy of the New Zealand parliament6
The first Muslim family to reside permanently arrived in 1854, when Wuzerah and his family
left India and settled in Cashmere, in the Canterbury province, to work for Sir John Cracroft
Wilson. Wuzerah was involved in transporting stone from the Port Hills to the (Anglican)
Christchurch Cathedral when it was constructed in the 1880s. He died in 1902. From the
1890s onward men from the Punjab and Gujarat regions of India came to work across the
After the 1930s some of these men or their sons began to bring out wives and
children. In 1950 the first Islamic organisation was created when the ―New Zealand Muslim
Association‖ (NZMA) was formed in Auckland, the largest city in the land. At the time there
were around 200 Muslims in the entire country.7
In 1951 the MS Goya brought in dozens of
Muslim refugees from Europe, including Albania and Yugoslavia. In 1959 the NZMA
acquired a property for use as the first Islamic Centre and the following year Maulana Ahmed
Said Musa Patel (1937-2009) arrived from the Gujarat to serve as the first official Mullah; for
three decades he operated regular Quran classes and provided Islamic education in central
Auckland. The Association erected the first purpose-built mosque in New Zealand over 1979-
1980, in Ponsonby, central Auckland. Over the 1960s and 1970s there was a modest trickle of
migrants, refugees and students who helped create new Muslim organisations in the regions
outside Auckland. For instance, over 1962-1964 the Wellington-based ―International Muslim
Association of New Zealand‖ was created and in 1977 the ―Muslim Association of
Canterbury‖ in Christchurch. In 1979 there were around 2000 Muslims across New Zealand
and representatives of the regional Islamic Associations assembled to form a new nation-wide
Muslim organisation to co-ordinate communal affairs at a national level; in April 1979 the
―Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand‖ was formed with MS Goya refugee
Mazhar Krasniqi (1931-2019) as the inaugural president.8 This was a statement of power,
autonomy and agency. In 1984 the Federation secured its first annual Halal meat contract with
the New Zealand Meat Producers Board; henceforth New Zealand meat exported abroad was
examined and certified to ensure it was Halal and acceptable for Muslim consumption. In
1982 Sheikh Khalid Kamal Abdul Hafiz (1938-1999) from India arrived to serve as Imam in
Wellington, the capital. Over 1984-85 the Muslim Association of Canterbury erected the first
mosque in the South Island, on Deans Ave in central Christchurch. According to the 2018
census there are presently 57,276 Muslims in New Zealand9
In August 1992, several Muslim immigrant families and teachers grouped together to
create the ―Al-Madinah‖ primary school in South Auckland. Many were associated or linked
to the Tablighi Jamaat organisation, which has its roots in the Gujarat, India. Later that year,
in December, the school was fully registered with the state. In 1995 a secondary section was
added to the extant school, to accommodate older pupils. The following year, the school was
integrated into the official education system of New Zealand and now receives state funds.
Presently, Al-Madinah has over 500 students and 30 staff. Another group of Muslim parents
established the ―Auckland Muslim School‖ in the early 1990s, elsewhere in the same city, but
this project did not succeed and was closed by the end of the decade. In 2001, the Zayed
College for Girls was created by folk associated with the Al-Madinah School after receiving
funding from the United Arab Emirates. However, we must note that over the years there
have been several complaints directed at the Al-Madinah school–largely over financial
irregularities and staff recruitment. In May 2016 the New Zealand Education Ministry
imposed a statutory manager; his report, the following year, revealed serious concerns about
expenditure and compliance with New Zealand legislation regarding school management. In
April 2019 the Ministry dissolved the school’s board of trustees and appointed a commissioner
for similar reasons.
Just as New Zealand identities have changed and recalibrated over time, so do have
local Muslim identities. Over two hundred years ago, most New Zealanders were Polynesian
tribesmen. A hundred years ago, following decades of Anglo-European immigration, most
were Caucasian in genomes10. Over the past thirty years, from 1990 onwards, a significant
minority of Asian and African groups have settled in the country. What has emerged alongside
‗religious‘ Muslim identities in places like Australia and New Zealand are socio-political
‗associational‘ identities, where increasingly self-identification of Muslims in New Zealand as
Muslims reflects a complicated wider narrative of socialisation in New Zealand. This is a
sociological dynamic that is not unique to the South Pacific and relates much to what
individuals perceive and strive for within their own aspirations and capabilities. Perhaps
unsurprisingly, recent research demonstrates that most New Zealand Muslims conceptualise
and construct their ideas about integration and citizenship, their heuristic biases regarding
participation in the wider host society, on their own terms and according to their own
priorities. These hermeneutical paradigms are usually above and beyond official government
policy proclamations and idiosyncratic goals. These invariably correspond to their own
education and comprehension of matters involved.11
There is a larger socio-political context for this and our starting point in History is
Biology.12 How are decent and ordinary citizens transformed into heartless beasts accused of
violence? The answer is not attractive. In fact it is very personal and for many, challenging.
However, the answer is indicative of humanity and the degree to which we all subsume our
souls within social conformity and consensus. However, if we think deeply and clearly –
conscientiously–there are inescapable conclusions. To begin with, human beings are biological
organisms. We are all motivated by two compelling and fastidious biological impulses –
survival and reproduction. All History revolves around this Darwinian fact and these twin
imperatives of natural selection. All past events can be explained by recourse to this science
and any interpretation of history that ignores the basic human compulsion to live and
reproduce, fails to adequately inform the reader. To survive, all social units collaborate and
compete for resources. Humans have been undertaking this path for many millennia now and
the evolutionary scientists argue convincingly that it is an integral part of our essential biology.
Societal competition and cooperation leads to the rise of capable leaders and hierarchies: the
most capable and competent individuals within any social unit rise to the top of the hierarchy,
whilst the less able do not. Successful leaders pursue a path of prosperity through law, order
and justice. However, this process necessitates some measure of discrimination in terms of the
allocation of resources – the social group that treats all members absolutely equally over a long
period of time (the achievers and under-achievers) will perish. The same, or similar, applies to
social and political units. Those at the top of any given social order have better opportunities
to find mates and choices with regard to reproduction. The levels of competition and
discrimination can be fierce, unpleasant even. Aggression and incandescent rage is human;
peace time is an opportunity to prepare for conflict. Long before testosterone became a
subject of scientific study, Thomas Hobbes even simplified the concept down to an easily
remembered Latin axiom: bellum omnium contra omnes (war of all, against all).13 Most anxieties
about race and religion can be partly explained through this mundane theory. With regard to
human biology, culture, neurology and physiology, we know that shared group activities foster
a sense of collective group identity; group violence, directed at other ‗outside‘ social units,
equally fosters a deeply narcissistic sense of group identity, purpose and accomplice. Most
modern societies and nations are a conglomerate of multiple overlapping hierarchies.
Consequently, in summary, a complex network of interwoven hierarchies and social tensions
are inevitable and ubiquitous.
Some folk will argue that such hierarchies are only social constructs, created
intellectually by rigid ignominious political elites to govern other more malleable or pliable
societal groups. This is either a partial truth or a perceptual rubric. The reality is that humans
exist and function best in hierarchies. We have a nervous system finely attuned to status, one
that revolves around levels of serotonin (a brain chemical mostly associated with feelings of
happiness). The higher up a hierarchy a human clambers, the more this brain mechanism
helps produce more serotonin. The more serotonin, the more personal happiness. Conversely,
the more defeat and setbacks experienced, the lower the supply of serotonin. Lower levels of
serotonin are frequently associated with negative emotions. There is no avoiding our desire for
serotonin or our participation within some form of hierarchal structure(s). Unfortunately,
since Karl Marx, we live an era when many folk believe that these hierarchies and forms of
discrimination, this process of jostling disputes over dominance, are exclusively political and
intrinsically ideological in nature; this is to argue that men only seek power and discriminate
for its own sake, out of pure malice or the simple desire to tyrannise other social groups for
their own personal gratification.
Dominance hierarchies may not seem very nice and they may not appear to be a polite
manner in which to structure an idealised society. Proximity to authority and power leads to
discussions about hegemony and a desire to influence decisions. To overpower or be
overpowered that is the question. This point of vacuous bifurcation and cognitive dissonance
hints at an agonistic ontological relationship. The uneven unhappy or unsatisfactory nature of
any given dominance hierarchy is something fundamental to the nature of reality. It allows a
disenchanted individual to become indifferent and numb to the suffering of others, those in
classes or orders below our own. Only a small minority of individuals will ever preserve their
moral autonomy intact and this may be at the cost of engaging in personal stratagems and
patterns of behaviour that allow them to evade a sense of direct responsibility. However, a
knowledge of biology and hierarchies provides a useful teleological framework for critically
connecting together and evaluating the cumulative impacts of the human behaviour and
Capitalism and social hierarchies are sometimes brutal and heartless but equally very
efficient and effective, especially in the reliable provision of produce and services. More
importantly, humans cannot seriously re-structure society in a way that is radically at odds with
our biology. The various utopian experiments of the last century (Socialism, Communism,
Nationalism, Fascism and so forth) all failed horribly, violently. Ideological systems that ignore
biological confluences and continuities will always fail. In our era, Feminism struggles to
constantly re-assert itself because it posits an imaginary tyrannical patriarchy as a privileged
class enemy and consequently spends much time tilting at windmills. In order to really
understand the past, we need to comprehend that all human behaviour can be attributed to
the survival and reproduction impulses and that the subsequent hierarchies are an inescapable
part of this. Optimally, our minds are chemically rewarded and punished for our level of
competence within any given hierarchy. On the flipside, the positive point here, is that
humans can participate in several distant, related or overlapping hierarchies at the same time –
we compete and collaborate in multiple hierarchies and not just one huge one. This is a core
feature and prime function of human biology and has been for centuries. It enables us to
function in complex, evolving societies and nations. Unfortunately, in New Zealand at least,
hyperbole and sensationalism draw attention and win votes. The success of the glutinous
political Left-wing ‗intelligentsia‘ in harassing this reality and the long term effects of their
activism has been remarkable.14 Whilst many may have started with a genuine concern for
minority groups and issues, much of the contemporary Left has morphed into a remarkable
extremist lobby group accountable to no one person or agency, to no higher authority or
reference point other than their own self-appointed ‗committees of virtue‘ (to borrow the
phrase from Dostoyevsky.) They actively create and foster problems attacking natural
hierarchies predicated on hard work, talent or skill but offer no solutions beyond a narrow
scope of concocted, unrealistic and often absurd ideological platitudes.
So our starting point in any analysis of New Zealand history and the topic of
integration of the Muslim community is the point that the hyper-successful and productive
folk are always a minority within any given social unit. Folk groups come into contact with
one another, collide, coalesce, discriminate, disengage, and separate in corporeal reality. Hence
the ongoing accusations of racism, bullying and favouritism a few of these are real in New
Zealand, and deserve to be taken seriously, however most are facile or futile upon
examination. The multidimensional forms of hierarchies can lead to an obsfuscation of reality
and a promiscuity of the application of related terminology. For instance, in 2017 Rafik Patel
wrote an academic essay exploring the migration of his forefathers from India to New
Zealand in the 1910s.
15 His account is a fascinating and well written one full of intimate detail,
covering several decades of family experience. However, he repeats some minor anachronisms
and historical errors. He produces no personal anecdotes from his own family to demonstrate
episodes of racial discrimination, but he does mention several popular but fallacious
assumptions ‗misunderstandings‘ of New Zealand history. Until 1936, Patel indigently states,
ethnic Indians in this country were not entitled to Social Welfare. This will come as a surprise
to students of New Zealand legislative history: the Social Welfare Act was passed in 1935 and
all New Zealand citizens were eligible. The idea that Indians were excluded before this date on
the basis of race, or that the state charity was only granted to Anglo-Europeans, finds no
reality in well-grounded history. It is easy, however, to see how the miscomprehension arose.
Life exists only within the boundaries of communal tension and competition. Individuals may
well ‗sense‘ racial discrimination and jaundice when they are, in fact, simply experiencing this
wider contest.16 The contingency of human existence inside this socio-political crucible directs
that we are born into one social unit or another, into one side of any given dispute or tension.
Although precise social borders may be somewhat fluid, we cannot really select our ethnicities;
nor can we choose the corporate body – the nation or nationality – to which we might prefer
to belong. The question of whether our social unit is the ethically or morally “good” one is
entirely moot. Even when the collective memory of communal myths and legends is
undertaken by Historians and is tracked into some distant past to demonstrate the moral high
ground, to capture or emphasise the moment of folk group or class unity, it transpires that the
horizon keeps waning and the accomplishment loses its lustre. There is no escape from the
history of social tensions and hostilities, the empirical reality is overwhelming. However, it is
vital that such tension and hostility be confined and converted to forms of cooperation if it is
not to dissolve society itself or destroy the land in endless warfare; such tension can expand
only within specific limitations.17 There is no real synthesis – the appearance of synthesis is
invariably the triumph of one side, one faction, in the contest. (The conqueror may well
indeed adapt or adopt aspects of the conquered but one should not be deceived by
THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF INTEGRATION
The previous section focused on the manner in which biology situates history and
human behaviour at the interface of our cognitive limitations and contextual circumstances.
The idea – and ideal – of peaceful integration into the prevailing social hierarchy remains at
the core of New Zealand notions of multiculturalism. Nation building, with its inherent
practices of inclusion and exclusion into the nebulous social hierarchy, began here in the
nineteenth century and accelerated throughout the twentieth century. It is closely tied to idea
surrounding societal cohesion and labour division.18 For instance, during the 1999 Kosova
crisis, the New Zealand government agreed to accept hundreds of refugees. Albanians in
Auckland received them arriving at the airport and on one occasion Mazhar Krasniqi, a
former president of both the New Zealand Muslim Association and the Federation of Islamic
Associations, welcomed them a short speech:
You are lucky … New Zealand guarantees you all the rights. There is law here … there
is no discrimination here. You have double responsibility, as Albanians and citizens of
Zealand. Here you will be respected and welcomed … together we will overcome all
Clearly the Albanian Muslims did not perceive New Zealand to be a land of ubiquitous
racial oppression or systemic tyranny, but they did anticipate the challenges inherent in
migration and integration into another society.
The terrorist attack on the Christchurch mosque highlighted the real and perceived
tensions in New Zealand multiculturalism and societal integration as an objective. As with the
11 September (2001) terror attack in the USA, it seemed to highlight Samuel Huntington‘s
provocative sketch of a permanent ‗clash of civilisations‘ between the East and West, between
the world of Muslims and the world of Christians or ‗the West‘. A large coterie of academics,
journalists and politicians has articulated an interest in the Huntington thesis, one way or
another, and the exact position of Muslims and Islam inside Western societies. The United
Kingdom of Great Britain plays a curious role in these discussions. Historically the British
Empire governed millions of Muslims during the colonial era, and indeed many of the earliest
Muslim settlers in New Zealand came through those lofty channels from British India.
However the critical aspect that had transformed former subjects of a cosmopolitan empire
into full citizens is the established presence of Islam in most New Zealand urban centres.
Presently, with over 50 mosques and Islamic centres, plus various special spaces for Islamic
prayer across the land (on university campuses and so forth), Muslim immigrants and refugees
have made New Zealand their new home. Former colonial subjects, lascars, itinerant hawkers
and sojourners have transformed into acknowledged citizens. They have introduced a
distinctive Islamic character to some suburbs, with Islamic dress hijabs and skullcaps – no
longer an unusual feature of the social landscape. Muslims can now be found in every
However, the internal diversity of the Muslim minority in New Zealand today does
make it problematic to write about a specific singular ‗Muslim community‘. Is it pragmatic or
superfluous to discuss the Muslim community here as a coherent totality? The daily realities in
which New Zealand Muslims live are complex, diverse, fluid and porous. Such a facetious tack
will homogenise the experiences and views of individual actors who differ enormously along
ethnic, linguistic, gender, national, political and theological lines. An overly simplistic image of
a singular monolithic ‗Muslim community‘ ignores the reality of clusters of single individual
agents competing and/or cooperating within multiple hierarchies across variant socioeconomic configurations; complex forms of spirituality are compressed into political theatre.
While, presently, most New Zealand Muslims are ethnically ‗Asian‘, a significant number are
‗Arab‘ (either African or Middle Eastern) or sub-Sharan African, especially Somali. Less than
half were born in New Zealand, although a significant number hail from Fiji. There are a
substantial number of local converts to Islam drawn from the indigenous (Maori) population
or the Anglo-European (Pakeha) population. Intermarriage, especially across generations,
makes accurate categorisations increasingly difficult. For instance, according to the 2013
census, there were 4,353 Muslims among the Anglo-European population; this adds up to
approximately 9.5% of the total Muslim population figures (so, almost one in ten New
Zealand Muslims may be classified as ‗European‘).
20 However most of these are married to
immigrants of differing ethnicity, nationality and so forth. What category to their children fill?
Furthermore, Muslims in New Zealand affiliate across several Islamic spiritual and theological
sub-groupings, denominations and Mazhab (schools of legal thought). Most are Sunni but
there are vocal Shia community groups. Overall the Muslim community includes active
members of various Ahmadiyah, Salafi and Sufi expression of faith.
Naturally, there are significant differences in how religiosity and confessional
practice is conceptualised and undertaken by individuals. The personalised feature of
religiosity in the modern era, especially in New Zealand, suggests a departure from custom
and tradition where robust spiritual experiences and religious proclivities were mediated by
shared, collective activities (in the form of a faith that is specifically communal in orientation
or highly institutionalised by state agencies for example21.) In an existential sense, being
Muslim in a Muslim minority context does not end with an inveterate religious identity in
Islam alone. Rather, being Muslim is typified by variant articulations and manifestations of
identity and multifaceted kinds of individualised processes of spirituality and religiosity that
help individual Muslims to make sense of the world around them (through lectures, literature
or online activities.) The obvious sociological and historical complexities inherent in
describing and designating a collection of folk tied by faith, ethnicity or any other type of
similarity cannot be underestimated. Attaching a default spiritual or theological identity to all
members of all Muslim communities is particularly problematic in New Zealand and risks onedimensional reification and injudicious myopia.
Whilst academics and researchers should not underestimate or misjudge the subjective
permeability and subtle nuances that typify a social aggregate like the New Zealand Muslim
22 I suggest that a broadly shared set of core spiritual and religious beliefs does
make it meaningful to study New Zealand Muslims as a distinctive and holistic social
grouping. We must avoid the monomaniacal postmodernist trend to dismiss such complexities
as a mere discursive construction. The tyranny of social hierarchies evolve slowly and oblige
individuals to retreat–morally–incrementally. However, every such retreat betrays the
conscience and only serves to increase the probability of another; every rationalisation reduces
resistance and serves to increase the probability of further tyranny. (This is especially marked
when some individuals gain from such steps23.)
Under these circumstances, the Muslim communities of New Zealand – in view of
their small numbers, economic status and intrinsic internal ethnic and linguistic diversity –
have not actively participated in the wider processes of nation-building in this country but they
have been present within the prevailing, evolving societal hierarchy. If anything, Muslim
leadership has mostly resisted nationalism and parochialism, advocating instead for an
amenable, universalist conceptualisation of the faith and a collectivist organisation of all
believers. This has contrasted with popular atheist and secularist tendencies towards the
nation-state. This has proved challenging for integration but not impossible. The absence of a
clear strategy for the inclusion and integration of Muslims has allowed non-Muslim political
leaders much wiggle room to negotiate societal boundaries and ideas revolving around the
collective identities contained within the polity. Compassion slides into contrivance. The most
significant components in this direction have been institutions such as governmental
relationships with minorities and public education.
MUSLIMS IN NEW ZEALAND: AN INVISIBLE HISTORY
The nefarious events of March 2019 in Christchurch – as with those of 11 September
2001 in the USA, Madrid in 2004, London in 2005, Paris in 2015, Brussels, Nice and Orlando
in 2016 – have distressed, ruptured and mutated Muslim-Western societal relations. To reverse
the observation by Ernest Gellner about nations and nation-building, what once resembled a
painting by Amadeo Modigliani now looks like one by Oskar Kokoschka24
. The weird threat
and Nietzschean abyss posed by the cognitive bias of violent jihadists and Western policies
against terrorism (not to mention foreign interventions in the Muslim countries) have all
served to polarise social attitudes regarding ideas about Muslim integration and the
monotheism of Islam. Under such auspices, widespread suspicion about cultural ‗diversity‘
abound everywhere men think and it can be said to provide a certain measure of naïve
psychological security. Certainly both academic and non-academic agents have responded to
the real and perceived fears of terrorism, whether Muslim or otherwise. In the decade
following September 11, there was a marked increase in literature on Islam, Muslims and
terrorism in all languages. Various aspects and features of the Islamic faith have been studied
and analysed with a microscope. This has also initiated overdue research on the contemporary
place of Islam within Western societies such as New Zealand. Some of the new literature has
been of poor quality, some masterly. In our era, both academic and lay readers have no few
excuses to explain their ignorance of the social history and settlement of Muslim communities
in Western countries.
It is easy and tempting to contemplate the past as an overarching meta-narrative of
saints and sinners, cowboys and Indians, but that serves as propaganda, not serious History.
Even when we read literature of quality Dickens, Dostoyevsky, Selimovic, Shakespeare the
ongoing moral struggles are never between pure evil and pure good; the best reading material
reflects upon the reality of the complicated, incongruent and often enigmatic conflicts
between individuals trying to cope with a life that proffers both aspects. The temptation to
allocate all virtue and all evil to one side or another is unrealistic and such an approach only
appeals to unreliable ideologues seeking to supplant the truth of life with their own utopian
agenda (often of semi-Marxist provenance). If we agree that some kind of deep introspection
is needed to secure genuine moral progress then we must avoid the allure of oversimplification in History.
Muslim community leaders have long been aware of this convoluted problem. For
instance, some years ago a local convert to Islam named Nizam Flynn wrote in a regional
Our community is made up of number coming from various parts of the world,
people coming from many different backgrounds and bringing with them many
diverse cultures. In general, similar events may be handled in a different manner when
the event takes place in another part of the world. To understand one anothers culture
is very important when a multicultural society or community is trying to establish unity
or trying to form one community. It is very easy and to a certain extent natural that
splinter groups will arise within a community when its members try to impose their
own cultural ideas on others in matters concerning mutual community affairs…… By
the same token, a particular grouping should not lose their composure if their
suggestion is not adopted by the Shura25
In Australia, academics have produced excellent analyses and studies of the local
Muslim communities and their histories. These educational resources have been buttressed by
a thin quasi-professional material supplied by various media (newspapers, television, radio and
so forth.) This nexus point all adds up to a form of interdisciplinarity that combines questions
of efficacy with broader questions of ethics and purpose. Unfortunately, in all honesty, the
experiences of New Zealand Muslims have been consigned to the more obscure corridors of
academia. A faith that garners the affiliation of only 1% of the population has been mostly
invisible to scholars studying New Zealand history. Most of the existing academic corpus on
Muslims in New Zealand relies on research of three or four academics, all operating in
Anthropology and Religious Studies: Dr William Shepard, Dr Erich Kolig and Dr Jacqueline
Leckie. (A pertinent reminder of the tendency of secular and atheist New Zealand society in
general to marginalise religion and religious experiences. It is also extraordinarily germane that
none are Muslim.) These three have proffered significant contributions to public education
and the comprehension of New Zealand Muslim identity, community and cultural
negotiations, albeit with an almost exclusive focus on the Asian element of the minority. Little
of the literature currently in circulation expresses an in depth history of the New Zealand
Muslim community and their integration issues or indeed a specific perspective on Muslims
qua Muslims in New Zealand. In light of the increasingly instrumental place of Islam (however
defined) within both the Muslim communities themselves and the wider society, a
concurrently historical and holistic view of Muslim history in New Zealand is long overdue.
The markedly New Zealandish stories recounted by several newspapers concerning local
Muslims following the March 2019 shootings, ought to be supplemented with a thorough
analysis of the history of the wider Muslim communities. New Zealand is a society that has
often been romanticised as some kind of social justice paradise, however the Darwinian reality
has always been more complex, less sanguine. This essay gives a voice to these historical
Underneath our cognitive and social architecture, is a layer of symbolic and dramatic
narrative representation that instantiates the same ideas and ideals but within a multidimensional and multifaceted context. Religion provides a rich mode of power that an appeal
to human reason cannot seriously match, and brings art, architecture, music, literature and
basic societal organisation to all humanity. Over time, religion and faith act as a bulwark or a
buttress–a cognitive structure against the various forces that would produce chaos and destroy
society from within.
The processes and relations of integration – identity and identification in particular –
are never static. To start with, identification is a complex intra-subjective process that involves
drawing distinctions–that is to say, a selective choice of particular cultural aspects and features
with the aim of fostering specific identity. In many respects, the objectivity of identity and
integration is then partially an intellectual abstract or construct, but partially a reflection of a
concrete empirical reality. The intellectual aspect remains a subjective experience, an imagined
reality. We must bear in mind that New Zealand society has always been a complicated
bricolage of segments drawn from diverse ethnic, class, confessional and cultural origins.
Denying the biological context within which behavioural affairs are governed or conducted
then closes off core moral discourses and reduces the scope within which actors can
determine or discern the role of forces shaping observed behavioural patterns. The myth of
monoculturalism and social homogeneity is a popular idea for nation-states but is not
predicated on reality. There is a need for further education and a better comprehension of this
history of mutual interaction and tolerance in modern New Zealand in order to avoid conflict,
build consensus and negotiate compromise. This must be the wiser move for the integrity of
Ultimately, the emerging connections that can be made between Biology and History –
and our comprehension of irrationality, social hierarchies and levels of discrimination – signal
critical contributions that science can make to the analysis of the past. These are contributions
that not only draw attention to emerging studies on the patterns of human thought and
behaviour, but also the boundaries of rationality. To these ends, Biologists can undertake a
significant role in exposing the arbitrary assumptions related to reason that flow from social
Modern New Zealanders are not a nation drawn from a singular source but instead a
spectrum of semi-independent/confederal social units (one might almost write ‗tribes‘) with
similar but differing cultures and language skills. The absence of an academic book on the
history of New Zealand Muslims constitutes a curious lacuna in the growing corpus of
scholarly literature examining the development and integration of Muslim communities in the
social hierarchy of this country. The main objectives of my essay were to address this omission
and to provide some sort of account. The meaning of this history has been shaped by both
the domestic and global shift in public attitudes towards Muslims and infused by the cultural,
social and political means of relating to religious minorities, diversity and integration that are
peculiar to secular societies. This essay tried to view of the history of interaction between
Muslims and non-Muslim society in New Zealand. I was keen to explore how such businesses
both inform and influence Muslim identities and community structures and redefine New
Zealand sociocultural boundaries. I have located the explicit challenges of discrimination that
Muslims face within the wider social context and hierarchy. The culture of adaptation
employed by Muslims includes strategies of religious survival guided by both a shared notion
of a collective global unity the ummah as an international religious brotherhood rather than a
narrower tribal or village association–and a growing attachment and sense of allegiance to
New Zealand. As we have seen in the Auckland Muslim schooling projects, Islam in this social
hierarchy is extraordinarily complicated and multifaceted. It presents unique challenges and
opportunities to New Zealand society; due to the peculiar economic, (quasi-) legal, political
and social features–in addition to purely spiritual concerns–the question of how a secular
country can best accommodate this faith necessitates in-depth consideration. The issue of how
Muslims as individuals and private citizens can reside within New Zealand is also complicated,
but less so.
The essay also tried to underline the ongoing changes that have occurred within the
Muslim community structures. These serve to move beyond former ethnocultural orientations
and towards a distinctly New Zealand experience of Islam. The Darwinian historical
intersections of ethnicity, faith, religion, and nation in the construction of Muslim identities in
New Zealand all serve to highlight how Islam ties together an ethnically heterogeneous
mixture of peoples who affiliate both globally and locally. I have argued that, although not
perfect, the predominantly civic orientation of New Zealand identity inherited from the
British colonial era has served all citizens well and has facilitated the integration of Muslims
from a variety of foreign countries. Furthermore, my text linked the ongoing discussions
about the inclusive, open and tolerant nature of Anglophone New Zealand. It examined the
explicit cultural, social and political aspects of the land that colour Muslim perceptions. Whilst
there is room for improvement, I believe New Zealand Muslim history demonstrates that this
country can serve as a model of Muslim integration for other non-Muslim societies. Both
Muslims and non-Muslims here have challenged local discrimination and global stereotyping
through acts of resilience and mutual engagement. The ethos of inclusion and cultural history
of tolerance, both real and perceived, has made New Zealand a very successful place for
comfort and belonging –a refuge where Muslims can freely articulate or manifest their visible
diversity in ethnicity, faith, dietary and codes, languages, political orientation and so forth.
Finally, my essay envisions a model of local pluralism predicated on free speech, capitalism,
and a community tied to a set of collective civic values. Such a model is held together by the
recognition of fundamental human rights and naturally located within the New Zealand
tradition of justice inherited from our British colonial past. In the final analysis, this paper
proposes that Biology offers History a valuable insight into human actions and motivations.
Abdyli, Sabit R. Bijtë e Shqipes Nё Tokën e Reve Të Bardha. Auckland: Universal Print &
Belich, James. Making Peoples: A History of the New Zealanders From Polynesian. Penguin Random
House New Zealand Limited, 2007.
Bredekamp, Horst. Thomas Hobbes – Der Leviathan: Das Urbild des modernen Staates und seine
Gegenbilder. 1651-2001. Walter de Gruyter, 2012.
Buang, Ahmad Hidayat. ‗Islam and Muslims in New Zealand‘. Jurnal Usuluddin 16 (2002): 135–
Darwin, Charles. On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection: Or the Preservation of Favoured
Races in the Struggle for Life. D. Appleton, 1869.