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Saturday, 23 February 2019 10:54 pm

Marae and mosque – how Kiwis are attracted to overlapping customs

Numbers of Maori converting to Islam are on the rise, especially in the Hawke’s Bay region. MOHAMMAD NAZAYER finds out why they are taking the step:

Overlapping customs on marae and in mosque. IMAGES: Katie McAlister and Mohammad Nazayer

FOR Jameela Elnewihy, turning 21 was a different experience from the usual Kiwi coming of age.

Jameela had no qualifications after dropping out of school at the age of 15, was pregnant with her fourth child, and faced the reality that her life of parties, alcohol and abuse was not the ideal upbringing she wanted for her four children.

She decided to start the change with her beliefs, and investigated other faiths. After looking at Baha’i, Buddhism, and other Christian denominations, she finally embraced the most unlikely faith a western woman would choose – Islam.

Currently, she is working as the secretary of the Maori Muslim association and Maori Muslim Women’s coordinator.

Similarities between Islam and Maori cultural traditions are one of the factors that led her and many other Maori in the Hawke’s Bay region to take the step.

She says the Maori Muslim community is growing in numbers.

“Within the Hawke’s Bay region alone we have recorded approximately 60 individuals possibly more who have taken Shahadah [converted to Islam] within the past 4 years.”

The most recent conversion took place on March 12 during a lecture held in by an international guest speaker from the Gulf in the mosque.

According to the 2006 Census figures, the number of Maori Muslims increased from 99 to 708 over a period of 10 years to 2001 and to 1074 by 2006.

“I personally believe Islam does not conflict with the cultural traditions and values of Maoridom but rather enhances and revives what was once taught.”

Ms Elnewihy says there are many similarities between Islam and in traditional Maori beliefs, such as the concept of the Supreme God.

Io Matua Kore, the Creator of the world according to the Maori ancestors, has many titles and attributes which are similar to the 99 names of God in Islam.

The name “Io Matua te Kore” meaning Io the parentless, is very close to” Al- Ahad” in Arabic, which is stated in a verse in the Quran which says “He neither begot anyone, nor he was begotten”.

Another example on a long list is Io Matangaro in Maori and Al-Baatin in Arabic, both words mean the hidden face who cannot be seen by his creation.

She says Maori spirituality consisted of the practice of karakia (prayer), which was an important component in this culture, just as salaah (prayer) is a fundamental component in the life of a Muslim and the second Pillar of Islam.

Making supplication was a common practice of the Maori people, and continues to be a thriving practice within Modern Maori Society and is still used during many Maori rituals, same as in Islam.

Whanaungatanga (family relationships) is an integral part of Maori society, same as in Islam, which forbids severing ties with any family relative.

Manaakitanga, which is defined as compassion and caring for others, similarly the teachings of Islam mention the social conduct of a Muslim and the manner they should adopt when dealing with others even animals.

Both of Ms Elnewihy parents held positions within the church when she became Muslim 14 years ago.

“I was not receiving the spiritual fulfilment that I needed from my faith as a Mormon and always felt a sense of not belonging.”

Her husband and the father of her four children, who was studying at university, had noticed the character of one particular student on campus who would disappear into a small room every day at around lunchtime with a prayer rug.

After approaching the student and asking about the reason for the prayer mat, he learnt that this student was Maori and an ex affiliate of the Black Power gang, who had embraced Islam while serving time in prison.

The student introduced her husband to leaders within the Hamilton Muslim community, who gave him an extensive introduction into Islam, clarified all questions he had.

These meetings continued over a course of time until her husband decided to convert without her knowledge, which was very upsetting for her, as she wanted to be a part of this Islamic spiritual ritual.

“So out of pure ignorance I refuted the fact that he had made the right decision and refused to support him in his choice of embracing Islam.

“I had also mentioned that I would never become a Muslim or ever wear that piece of cloth on my head (Hijaab).

“The next day was a Friday, and as we woke, my husband prepared himself for the prayer.

“I felt an overwhelming feeling that I too wanted to become a Muslim and was compelled to embrace Islam and profess my faith as a Muslim five minutes prior to Friday Prayer commencing.”

Now she is a proud mother of six children whom are all Muslims also.

Ms Jameela says despite all the preconceived ideas most women in the west have, women are revered in the highest regard in Islam.

“Muslim women are given a status of nobility, honour, dignity and respect, her role within Islamic society is vital, where it is stated that women make up half of society.”

She says the position of a mother is one of nobility, where she is given three or four times more the devotion over the father.

“Prophet Muhammad has also warned men about the violation of women’s rights and cautioned them that the wife has been entrusted to man on a sacred pledge.”

Muslim women have been given the right to work, seek education, inheritance, selecting her own spouse and the ability to seek divorce, she says.

“The list goes on, so despite the widespread misconceptions that has been propagated by the media who portray Muslim women as subjects of oppression, we can clearly see that Islam in no shape or form condone the mistreatment of Muslim women.”

For her the functions of Marae and the mosque are the same.

She says the Marae is the heart of the Maori community as it is a meeting place for all cultures, ethnicities, whanau, iwi and hapu to come together.

The mosque also functions as a main focal point for Muslims to come together and attend congregational prayers, which strengthens the bonds between them.

TeRata Rangi Hikairo (23, right), a Maori Muslim teacher aide who converted to Islam when he was 17 years old.

Mr Hikairo says he was raised with good Christian values, and studied more than one religion starting from the age of 10.

The media coverage of Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine made him see Muslims as negative people “who chop hands off and oppress women.”

When he was 16 years old, he saw the Quran in his school library in Whangarei, and he read this book to find out the truth about Muslims.

“The very first words in the Quran were ‘in the name of god the merciful the compassionate’ and this was a huge surprise for me.

“How could these Muslims whom I believed to be terrorists, worship a merciful compassionate god?”

He read what he could during the book’s loan period, and when he could not find a text that urges Muslims to oppress women, or to embrace terrorism, he knew he wanted to be a Muslim, but did not know how.

After being distracted from this idea for a whole year, he forgot everything he read about Islam until he moved to Hamilton, when he visited the mosque, he watched the prayer, and he talked with the people inside about different religious topics.

“I said nothing to offend their religion and they said nothing to offend mine, they gave me a book, I gave them my phone number, and I left.”

He meet them a few times after that and started going to the mosque while going to the church at the same time before becoming a Muslim a year later.

“Islam does not clash with Maori values and in fact, they are very much in harmony,”

His daily life did not change much after converting.

“My habits and routines were that of an average student, though I was not a drinker and did not like clubbing that much, so I gave up nothing really.”

Although his family was non-religious at the time he converted, they prepared Halal food for him, and despite he is the only Muslim in the family they all celebrated the last Muslim holiday.

“It is a religion of love and peace, love and peace for the Creator, and for his creation,” he says.

He feels at home in both of the mosque and the Marae and he says those places are different.

He says after explaining that he is still the same person, just a better person, being Muslim, his relationship with friends and family was good.

“On a very superficial level, there was a small minority of people who did not know about Islam and had their judgments of me, but I worked through this.”

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is a Whitireia journalism student. He is a Jordanian who is studying in New Zealand.
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  1. Thanks for writing this amazing story

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