WE WOULD like to believe that Australia is a modern democratic society where citizens enjoy equal rights, including the right to access facilities of various types and natures.
As such, since its inception about seven years ago, the Islamic Society of Ballarat has been toiling to establish a facility where its members can gather for both social and religious purposes.
The vision of the society has always been that such a facility would also serve to remove misconceptions and promote tolerance via open days and other community-orientated activities.
The ISB is registered as an incorporation and functions according to a constitution approved by Australian Consumer Affairs.
About 65 Muslims families live in Ballarat and 150 Muslim students are studying in Ballarat University and there isn't a single Muslim community centre or a mosque in Ballarat.
The residents and students offer Friday prays in the university prayer room, which is not big enough to accommodate all at one time.
Also, the big gathering for annual festivals like Eid is becoming difficult to organise because of limited space.
To have a community centre along with a mosque has become a necessity for a Muslim population living in Ballarat and, finally, Islamic Society of Ballarat has purchased the property. The Ballarat City council has issued a planning permit for the property to be used as worship place and community activities.
We reject the scare-mongering, racist agendas promoted by far-right groups. These types of agendas can only incite ugly violence against the Ballarat Muslims who are overwhelmingly peace-loving, non-violent individuals.
The Muslim community in Ballarat is filled with well-educated, well-trained professionals contributing to the society through organisations like Federation University, base hospital, VicRoads and Ballarat Technology Park.
Indeed, the reaction of Ballarat residents to the recent negative comments, expressed by a far-right group against our plans to establish Ballarat's first mosque, has touched our hearts and assured us that goodwill and kindness do prevail in this beautiful city of ours.
We are grateful to the large number of people who demonstrated their support and understanding by leaving a comment on The Courier website, by an email to one of our members or even by a word of encouragement uttered at a private conversation.
As much as we value the support of our friends, we would like to suggest to others that we are happy to engage in dialogues and various
activities intended to remove misgivings and promote friendliness and harmony.
Muslims have been a part of the Australian life since the 18th and 19th centuries, from when the first camel rider from Afghanistan/Pakistan arrived to help open up the outback, and there have been mosques in many Australian cities for just as long.
Currently the number of international students in Australian universities is decreasing, same effect at Federation University.
Developing a community centre and a mosque here will not only increase the multicultural capability of the City of Ballarat, but, in turn, attract more professionals and international students to the city of Ballarat and this will ultimately contribute to the sustainability of the Australian economy.