These are the young Aussie women changing the face of Islam

March 22, 2016
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It’s said to be one of the fastest growing religions in the world, but Islam sure has had its fair share of controversy in the media. Terrorism. Oppression. Violence.  These words are all synonymous when Islam is mentioned, but is there more to the religion than meets the eye? And why is it uncommonly attracting Australian-born women?

According to the most recent stats, there are over 475,000 Muslims in Australia. And a report by the Pew Research Centre predicts that the worldwide population of Muslims will expand rapidly by 2050, nearly equalling Christianity.

These Australian-born, intelligent women are at the forefront of this growth, changing the face of Islam by living progressive lifestyles, and challenging the stereotypes.  

Meet Sarah Price

Sarah Price is a 23-year-old journalism student and fashion enthusiast. She converted to Islam in 2014, after a trip to Malaysia inspired her to learn more.

Dressed in a beige-toned hijab perfectly wrapped and pinned around her face, Sarah is glowing with passion and enthusiasm. She projects confidence and charm.

Islam wasn’t the first choice for Sarah. Like many others she admits being confused about the message.

“I met these beautiful, strong, empowered women wearing colourful hijabs, and I was like, ‘Is this what Islam is? Why is it so different to what I thought?’ It completely blew my mind,’’ she says.

Sarah was distracted by the headlines and politics surrounding Islam. The negativity made her hesitant to fully embrace the religion at first, but it was the idea of the hijab that pushed Sarah to make the final decision. Her choice to convert to Islam wasn’t always easy, but Sarah says she’s still the same person she was before her conversion.

You’re suddenly looked at differently, so it’s heightened my curiosity and my empathy for others.

“Being a hijab-wearing journalist isn’t always easy, but to me it’s given me more drive,” she says. “It’s given me a perspective on things, because you’re suddenly looked at differently, so it’s heightened my curiosity and my empathy for others.”

Confident, passionate and driven, she doesn’t let the stereotypes get in her way. Sarah wants women to have the freedom to be themselves, and hopes sharing her story will give somebody the confidence to embrace their own choices.

“I guess I feel like I’m a role model because I’m really confident and out there, and I want to inspire women, and empower women,” she says. “I want them to look up to me, and think if they want to wear hijab, that they can do it.’’

Sarah believes choosing to wear hijab nowadays is especially hard.

“I’ve talked to so many women who want to wear hijab but don’t because they’re scared, and I thought, ‘You know what? If a woman can walk down the street half naked, then we can wear hijab and not feel scrutinised,’’ she says.

An avid traveller, Sarah has never let her religion hold her back.  She hopes those that scrutinise will learn about the religion before making up their mind.

“It’s perfectly OK to not agree with hijab or Islam, as long as you’re educated about it,” she say. “I feel like the biggest problem today is a lack of education. There’s good and bad in every society, and the majority of the Muslims who live here are good, happy people.”

Meet Robyn Nguyen

Robyn Nguyen studies counselling, and embraced Islam three years ago.

Robyn says the greatest challenge she’s faced so far is coming across people who see Islam as a negative religion.

While choosing to wear a hijab, Robyn, too, has faced discrimination for her choices.

"I’ve been told to go back to my own country and bomb it,” she says. “[I thought], ‘Hello, I was born here, this is my country.’”

Despite all the negative feedback she’s received, she practises Islam and still maintains a progressive lifestyle.

Robyn believes it’s important not to judge all religions by the practice of a few.

‘’Women of Islam are not always oppressed, and I’m not biased,” she says. “Look at Saudi woman who are not allowed to do so many things. But then fly over to Indonesia, [and] you have Muslim woman who are pilots.”

As a counsellor, Robyn hopes to help women who are going through a rough time to get back on their feet. She believes that no woman should feel alone, no matter her religion.

Zena Chamas

Zena is a final year Master of Journalism student, who is enthusiastic about the Middle East and foreign affairs. She has peviously been published at ABC, Maggie Journal of Live Art, and The Australian Times. She also runs her own blog called Haq News.