Sadia Ali, 20, knows her Australian flag headscarf might be confronting to some Australians, but that’s the point.
The Somali-Australian was one of five young women from refugee families who nervously modelled the “Australian hijab” on the streets of Northcote in Melbourne for Tuesday’s national Harmony Day.
Since the Cronulla riots, she had felt more fearful on the streets in general, Sadia said.
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But she would not let that stop her using the powerful symbol to grab attention and make people aware that her dual identities as Muslim and Australian could happily co-exist.
Sadia said the Aussie flag had been hijacked and used as a symbol of division during the Cronulla riots, “to make it look like it’s theirs, not ours”.
“But the flag represents the whole nation,” she said.
“Everyone has the right to carry the Australian flag and be proud of it.
“I just wanted to show the Australian public that I’m a Muslim and Australian, I don’t want the two to be divided.”
Harmony Day, which coincides with the United Nations International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, encourages Australians to appreciate our multicultural society and recommit to common values of universal respect and goodwill.
“When people get to know each other as people and break away from the stereotypes they have about different races and different cultures, they drop the prejudices they have,” Northern Migrant Resource Centre’s Hutch Hussein said at the community lunch – incorporating halal food, fatayer Lebanese pizza and Anzac biscuits – and modelling session.
Twelve-year-old Idil Mohamud, who was born in Australia to Somali parents, said she was aware of negative attitudes towards Muslims in Australia, but had never personally suffered racism.
“Australia is very tolerant of different countries and cultures – only a minority are racist, not a majority,” she said.
“I don’t think about it much.”
Prime Minister John Howard made headlines last month when he rejected calls from government backbenchers to ban the hijab, but said most Australians found the head-to-toe garment worn by some Muslim women, the burqa, confronting.
“I don’t believe that you should ban wearing headscarfs, but I do think the full garb is confronting and that is how most people feel,” he told Southern Cross Broadcasting.
“Now, that is not meant disrespectfully to Muslims because most Muslim women, a great majority of them in Australia, don’t even wear headscarfs and very few of them wear the full garb.”
The outdoor photo shoot in a neighbourhood with many immigrants didn’t attract too much notice, Sadia said, although she received a thumbs down, while a motorist reacted with anger that could have been racism or just road rage when the young women lingered crossing the road.
Back inside, Sadia said she hoped the trend of wearing a flag hijab caught on, while Idil said she would wear the flag again on special occasions, such as sporting events.
“Just because I’m Muslim doesn’t mean I can’t use the flag as a symbol,” she said.