AUSTRALIA’S first Islamic museum is to be built in Thornbury and will work to dispel stereotypes of the often misunderstood religious minority.
The project is spearheaded by a group of Melbourne Muslims, including prominent business figures Ahmed and Moustafa Fahour, and will seek to showcase the community’s cultural contribution in a mainstream museum setting.
Modelled on ventures such as the Chinese Museum, the Museo Italiano in Carlton and the Jewish Museum in St Kilda, the idea for a precinct emphasising heritage and art drawn from the more than 60 ethnicities who identify as Muslim here was developed by Macquarie banker Moustafa Fahour and his wife Maysaa.
“I am a very proud Australian Muslim,” says Moustafa Fahour, 29, one of eight children born to Lebanese migrant parents who settled in Melbourne in the 1960s.
Maysaa Fahour, 27, a teacher who has assumed the chairmanship of the board that will oversee the museum and raise funds for the construction, approached her brother-in-law, Australia Post chief Ahmed Fahour, at a family barbecue and he agreed to become the museum’s patron.
The venture has recently been granted charity status by the Australian Tax Office and has the personal endorsement of Victoria’s Multicultural Affairs Minister Nick Kotsiras.
Land has already been acquired at a Thornbury industrial site. While plans to refit the former factory will have to go through council approval processes, the Darebin Council had signalled that an Islamic museum would be welcome in the neighbourhood, Moustafa Fahour said.
The museum will include a permanent exhibition featuring basic information about Muslims’ religious beliefs provided in a digestible form to the public.
School groups are also expected to tour on a daily basis.
”As a mother, I love the NGV and Scienceworks and have my kids participate in knowledgeable activities. Nowhere was there something about Islam … It struck me as something to really strive for,” said Mrs Fahour, who settled here as a child-migrant from Lebanon.
Apart from a six-member board, which has been collaborating on the idea for about two years, an advisory committee includes SBS board member Hass Dellal, Immigration Museum manager Padmini Sebastian and ABC personality and politics lecturer Waleed Aly. Islamic art expert Phillip George is among the arts advisers.
At the 2006 census there were more than 340,000 Muslims in Australia, of whom 128,904 were born here.