By William Shepard
Although the New Zealand Muslim community is small, of relatively recent origin, and remote from the main centres of the world Muslim population, it has grown greatly in numbers in the last fifteen years and has made considerable strides in developing and organizing its life.
It should be of interest to all who are concerned with Muslim minorities in Western countries. The purpose of this article is to introduce this community by describing the main features of its development and organisation.
New Zealand is an island nation located in the South Pacific about 1400 miles Southeast of Australia. A member of the British Commonwealth, its population of three to three and a half million is predominantly British in language and culture. Maoris (the pre-European Polynesian inhabitants) and immigrants from the Pacific Islands, however, make up about 15% of the population, and Chinese and Indians (including Pakistanis and Bangladeshis) are small but recognised ethnic minorities, numbering about 0.6% and 0.4% respectively.
New Zealanders commonly refer to themselves as “Kiwis” and those of European origin are called “Pakehas”.
According to the 1986 census, the Muslim population was about 2500, but estimates from within the Muslim community at that time were about 4000. Since then there has been considerable increase resulting from immigration, particularly from Fiji since the military coup, and community estimates currently range from 6000 to 9000. They are predominantly of Indian origin, many having come from the Indian community in Fiji in the last thirty years, but Muslims from other areas and a small number of Kiwi converts also contribute significantly to Muslim community life.
A fair proportion of the community consists of relatively transient residents, such as overseas students and their families, embassy personnel and immigrants who move on after a few years, but these often make a major contribution while they are here.
The Muslim population is young by comparison with the general New Zealand population. The majority of resident Muslims are married couples in their late twenties to forties and the young children of these families. Relatively few are elderly people or teenagers.
Geographically, they are concentrated in the six-main urban centres, with Auckland, New Zealand’s largest city, having by the far the largest number. The second largest concentration is in Wellington, the capital, and smaller groups are found in Christchurch, Hamilton, Palmerston North and Dunedin.