VET Community Services students gained valuable insights into the lives of Bendigo Muslims on Wednesday with a visit from members of the Bendigo Islamic Association. Dr Aisha Neelam, Community Development worker Nasrin Shah Naaz, and Physiotherapist Omer Rizan helped debunk many misunderstandings and myths around the Islamic religion.

“This valuable insight into Islamic beliefs and values will assist our students to work in the community services industry in a culturally inclusive way,” teacher Sue Pickles said.

The presentation helped to break through the Muslim stereotype and gave students a clearer understanding of Islam and the challenges faced by Muslims. Students learned that the Muslim world comprises 1.6 billion people of all races, languages and customs and were surprised by the similarities between Islam, Christianity and Judaism.

In Victoria alone there are around 200,000 people drawn from many ethnic groups. Forty percent of Australian Muslims are born here while immigrants are predominantly from Indonesia, Lebanon, Turkey, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Malaysia, Iraq, Iran and Somalia. Bendigo’s Muslim population numbers approximately 350, most of whom work as health practitioners.

Valuable insight were given into the pillars of Islam, prayer rituals, Ramadan fasting, Hajj, dress codes and women’s rights under Islam. Dr Aisha Neelam explained often misunderstood terms such as “Halal” food, “Sharia” law, and “Jihad” in a context that was easy for students to understand.

The Community Services students asked some really pertinent questions at the end of the session which generated some valuable conversations.

“To be an effective worker in the community services industry, students need to appreciate the practices of diverse cultures to ensure they can implement culturally safe and inclusive practices,” Sue Pickles said.