Islamic Studies Islam in Australia
Rachel Woodlock
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0191


Australia is a religiously and culturally diverse society with an ancient indigenous “Dreaming” spirituality. European settlement brought a wide variety of Christian churches, and large-scale migration of peoples from diverse non-Christian backgrounds. Islam’s introduction to Australia predates European colonization, through waves of contact and settlement including Macassan interaction with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples along the northern coast; Muslim sailors, convicts, and settlers arriving with European colonization; the opening of the interior assisted by Muslim “Afghan” cameleers; settlement of Muslim migrants in the 20th century and an influx of Muslim refugees arriving from various parts of the globe. For many, the settlement of Islam and Muslims positively contributes to the multicultural and multi-religious nature of Australian society. For others, however, it has sparked questions over Australian identity and values. The most pervasive of memes that exists in the discourse about Islam in Australia is that there exists a monolithic religion adhered to by a homogenous group of Muslims. At the broadest level there does exist a nebulous concept of a Muslim community, yet Muslims in Australia belong to a diverse range of ancestry groups, language groups, cultures, theological and religio-legal denominations, sects, classes, political orientations, and other sociological divisions.

General Overviews

There are only a few general introductory works on Islam and Muslims in Australia, which is unsurprising given that permanent, sustained settlement of Islam and Muslims has occurred only since the last few decades of the 20th century. Omar, et al. 1996 provides a community profile, albeit based on older census data. Saeed 2003 and Saeed 2004 are similar texts covering basic Islamic beliefs and practices, as well as containing descriptions of the settlement and diversity of Muslims in Australia. In addition, they introduce topics facing the Muslim community such as questions of leadership, access to halal food, and debate over Islamic dress, among others. The main point of difference between the two texts are the intended audiences: the general reader, and the high school student, respectively. Cleland 2002 takes a historical approach mixed with critical commentary, covering the period from before European settlement of the continent (when Macassan Muslims made annual contact with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on the northern coast while fishing for trepang) up to the 1990s Gulf War, which brought with it increased experiences of racism and xenophobia for Arab-ancestry Muslims in particular. Included in this section is Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2009, which features a variety of prominent Australian Muslims who work in various roles and careers in the community, challenging the stereotypical presentation of Muslims as ultrareligious. Furthermore, Colan 2007 provides a useful visual accompaniment to the above-cited texts with interviews and documentary commentary.

  • Cleland, Bilal. The Muslims in Australia: A Brief History. Melbourne: Islamic Council of Victoria, 2002.

    Written by a prominent Victorian Muslim, this covers the history of Muslim contact with Aboriginal peoples in the north before European colonization, through to the early 1990s Gulf War, with a focus on Muslim experiences of settlement. Useful undergraduate text. Excerpts are available online.

  • Colan, Almir-Almir, dir. Muslims in Australia since the 1600s. DVD. Civic Square, Australia: Ronin Films, 2007.

    Documentary presenting the history of Islam in Australia. Although apologetic in tone, it is useful for including interviews with converts, migrants, academics, visitors to a mosque open-day, politicians at a halal exhibition, the former president of the Broken Hill Historical Society, a shaykh, and a Macassan-ancestry descendent, among others.

  • Department of Immigration and Citizenship. The Australian Journey: Muslim Communities. Canberra: Department of Immigration and Citizenship, 2009.

    Short biographies of prominent Australian Muslims in a variety of fields including local government, music and arts, business, medicine, emergency services, education, defense, sport, media, theater and film, fashion, and cuisine. Has a useful historical timeline.

  • Omar, Wafia, Philip J. Hughes, and Kirsty Allen. The Muslims in Australia. Religious Community Profiles. Canberra: Bureau of Immigration Multicultural and Population Research, Australian Government Publishing Service, 1996.

    Covers the settlement of Muslims in Australia and analysis of census data as of 1991.

  • Saeed, Abdullah. Islam in Australia. Crows Nest, Australia: Allen and Unwin, 2003.

    Generalist text that introduces basic Islamic beliefs and practices for those with little prior knowledge, as well as issues pertinent to Muslims in Australia, including community leadership, food, dress, and integration of Muslim migrants. Includes selection of small vignettes from Australian Muslims.

  • Saeed, Abdullah. Muslim Australians: Their Beliefs, Practices and Institutions. Canberra: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Australian Multicultural Foundation, and the University of Melbourne, 2004.

    Similar in tone and scope to Saeed 2003, addressing basic Islamic beliefs and practices as well as the diversity of Muslim experiences in settling and integrating into Australian life. This text is aimed at high school–age readers and is more accessible, seeing as the full text is publically available on the Internet.

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