Summit provides practical solutions to problems affecting young Australian Muslims

Following the success of the National Muslim Youth Summit held in Sydney in 2005, more than 85 young Muslims attended a workshop in Melbourne to discuss a range of issues identified by participants at the previous year's Summit.

The Summit was organised by the Australian Multicultural Foundation in conjunction with the Australian Government's Muslim Youth Sub-Group. The Victorian Summit was the first in a series of state Summits due to be held across Australia over the next year.

The Summit was officially opened by Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, The Hon Andrew Robb.

Mr Robb said, "We should seek to participate strongly within mainstream Muslim organizations, foster mutual respect amongst Muslims and other communities. The broader community will benefit from what Muslims bring to the community."

Participants discussed issues from four key areas: employment, education/schooling, mentoring and volunteering.

Executive Director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, Mr Hass Dellal said: "The Summit proved to be a huge success with all participants actively involving themselves in discussions with a view to providing practical solutions to problems affecting young Muslims."

He said: "The overriding message from the young people was that they did not want to be on the fringe of Australian society because of their faith. They did not want to be marginalised. They wanted to play a vital and positive role in society in all areas. The involvement of young people in mainstream activities such as volunteerism can make a major contribution to dismissing the negative stereotypes and misconceptions that currently exist in the community".

Ms Iktimal Hage-Ali, Chairperson of the Engaging with Youth Sub-Group supporting the Commonwealth Muslim Community Reference Group, spoke about the importance of mentoring along with employment, education and volunteering. Iktimal said "these four areas have become priority areas for the Muslim Youth Sub-group in the development of the National Action Plan".

Participants discussed the type of voluntary activities that they were involved in at their local level and recommended the need for young Muslims to have easier access to mainstream voluntary organisations.

The majority of participants felt that there were not enough mentors in the community and wanted to see more programs developed that encouraged peer mentoring.

One of the key points raised at the Summit was that young people felt that the only time Islam is spoken about is in response to the media. Participants recommended that schools should actively seek to introduce more discussion on the history of Australian Muslims and Islam.

In addition it was suggested that seminars be introduced for parents to develop more understanding about school issues aimed at encouraging participation. There was also overwhelming support for more interaction between state, private and faith-based schools with more visitations, exchanges, sporting activities and debates.

Employment was a major area of concern for young people with most expressing their concerns at the levels of discrimination by some employers and workplaces. Participants provided examples of young Muslim women and the wearing of the hijab. Participants suggested that employers be given the opportunity to participate in seminars aimed at breaking down some of the negative perceptions that some employers may have of young Australian Muslims.

The Victorian Summit was convened in partnership with the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs and was held at the CO.AS.IT Conference Centre in Carlton on May 6.