Aussie Muslim Lifesavers Spread Harmony

The first Muslim lifesaving team hit the waves of the Cronulla beach in Sydney promoting ethnic harmony and encouraging Australians from diverse cultural backgrounds to follow in their footsteps.

Aussie Muslim Lifesavers Spread Harmony

"I think that it kind of shows that a lot of people regret what happened on the beaches of Cronulla," Lee Howell of Surf Life-Saving Australia told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

He was referring to the 2005 riots in and around Cronulla between white Australians and youths of Lebanese and Middle Eastern origin.

The clashes were triggered after Lebanese youths had beaten a beach guard for snatching the hijab of a Muslim beachgoer.

Howell said the unprecedented move shows that Australians are determined to let bygones be bygones.

"I think racial integration is going quite strong. I think as a whole, the broader Australian community is quite integrated and quite multicultural," he said.

As thousands of Australians flocked to Cronulla and the adjoining beaches on a sparkling Sunday, there was little reminder of the racial unrest of 14 months ago.

While several women sported bikinis featuring the Australia flag and kids bought ice drinks in the Australian sporting colors of green and gold, other women in Muslim headscarves watched their children in the water.

Nineteen-year-old lifeguard Melissa Miles, who was patrolling the beach Sunday, said the rioting was largely fuelled by uninhibited drinking on the alcohol-free beach and had cast an unfair light on the sandy strip.

"There were bad things that happened, but it wasn't as bad as it seemed," she said. "People got scared to come down to Cronulla, and that's just ridiculous."

Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.5 percent of its 20 million population.

The 2005 riots have cast a pall on ethnic harmony in Australia with right-wing media outlets and politicians playing a key role in fanning anti-Muslim sentiments.

A recent governmental report has revealed that the Muslim minority in Australia is facing deep-seated Islamophobia and race-based treatment "like never before."

Most Australian Muslims blame Howard for fostering an image of the minority as the enemy within through his hard-line policies and unbalanced remarks.

"For All"

Howell said as Surf Life-Saving Australia celebrates its centenary in 2007, it was important to remember that "the beach is there for all the share".

With around 115,000 lifesavers patrolling the country's beaches and more than 300 clubs, Surf Life-Saving Australia is the nation's largest volunteer movement.

The club has been regarded as all-white citadel and there was a perception among many immigrants that they would not be welcome.

Muslim lifeguard Mecca Laa Laa, who will wear a full body covering known as the 'burkini' when patrolling the waves, said she felt as entitled as any other Australian to enjoy the country's iconic beaches.

"What I wear doesn't make me any different," said Laa Laa, who passed an extensive four-month training course.

The 'burkini', a two-piece swimsuit incorporating a head covering, a loose-fitting chemise and leggings, was designed in Australia to allow women and girls who wear traditional Islamic dress to go swimming.

The word is derived from the words burqa (a head-to-ankle dress) and bikini.

Another Muslim lifeguard, 18-year-old Malaak Mourab whose parents immigrated from Lebanon, said going to the beach was just part of growing up in Australia.

"I've always been at the beach. I love the beach," she said.

Güncelleme Tarihi: 20 Eylül 2018, 18:16
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