Muslims in New Zealand

Published: 2011. Contact: Colleen Ward


At present almost one in four persons in New Zealand’s 4.3 million population is overseas-born. Ethnic, cultural, linguistic and religious diversity is a reality now, and with an increasing Maori population and 40-50,000 new immigrants from approximately 150 countries entering New Zealand each year, this diversity will continue to grow.

How do New Zealanders respond to this increasing diversity? A national survey of over 2,000 households found that New Zealanders strongly endorse a multicultural ideology (Ward & Masgoret, 2008). Key findings included:

  • 89% of survey respondents agreed that it is a good thing for a society to be made up of different races, religions and cultures.
  • 80% endorsed the statement that it is important to accept a wide variety of cultures in New Zealand.
  • Perceptions of threat were low to moderate with 26% agreeing that immigration increases the level of crime and 21% maintaining that allowing immigrant cultures to thrive means the New Zealand culture is weakened.
  • When informed about actual immigrant numbers, just over half of respondents agreed that the number was about right.

However, the research also showed that some immigrants were perceived more favourably than others. Those from Great Britain were perceived more positively than those from South Africa, who, in turn, were seen more positively than those from China, India and Samoa, and all of these were viewed more favourably than those from Somalia.

The experiences of Muslims in New Zealand

Muslims are the most rapidly growing religious group in New Zealand with the population increasing six-fold between 1991 and 2006. Muslims now constitute about 1% of the population. The majority (77%) of New Zealand Muslims are overseas-born with the largest proportions identifying as Indian (29%) and as members of Middle Eastern groups (21%) such as Arab, Iranian and Iraqi (Ministry of Social Development, 2008).

Although Muslims are a small but rapidly increasing group, there is relatively little empirical research about their experiences in New Zealand. There are however, media discourses that suggest New Zealanders may be uncertain about , if not unreceptive to, Muslim immigrants. For example, Don Brash’s (2006) speech, widely believed to refer to Muslim immigrants, noted:

We can ask and expect people to fit in, but the reality is that many migrants to New Zealand in recent times, and indeed to the West more generally, have come from cultures that don't share the bedrock values that New Zealanders take for granted….We cannot be indifferent to whether migrants are likely to share our bedrock values. We can't just hope it'll work out fine….Put another way, we should not welcome those who want to live in New Zealand but reject core aspects of New Zealand culture
Brash, 2006

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