Muslims in New Zealand

10 September, 2010

"Plans are afoot to build a massive mosque meters from Ground Zero. This tribute to Islamic terrorists…is not an issue of religious freedom, but an issue of Muslim dominance over the “dhimmis”—Christians and Jews who do not share their religion."

A disgruntled New Yorker on the eve of 9/11? No—a letter to the Dominion Post Weekend (21/8/10).

This excerpt may be a far cry from the vicious knife attack on a Muslim taxi driver in New York City or the call by Pastor Terry Jones for Koran burning in Florida, but how tolerant are our attitudes towards Muslims in this country?

A study by the Centre for Applied Cross-cultural Research (CACR) has shown that New Zealanders view Muslim immigrants less favourably than immigrants of other faiths. Kiwis are also less likely to have positive perceptions of Asian immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries, such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan, than those from neighbouring countries, including India, China and the Philippines.

The study was based on the postal survey of 302 New Zealanders drawn from the electoral rolls. The results also showed that 44% of the respondents believed that Muslim immigrants increase the threat of terrorism in this country and 44% said that they would not want a mosque in their neighbourhood.

Despite these negative attitudes, research by Professor Colleen Ward, Director of CACR, shows that Muslim youth are adapting well to life in New Zealand. A survey of 180 Muslim youth showed that they had fewer behavioural problems, better school adjustment, higher levels of life satisfaction and fewer psychological symptoms than both their Māori and New Zealand European peers. The research also demonstrated that these positive outcomes were associated with a strong Muslim identity and engagement in Muslim practices.

Professor Ward believes that our major challenge is to ensure the maintenance of a tolerant and inclusive environment that gives immigrant and minority groups the space to maintain their religious and cultural traditions and to participate in the wider society.