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Muslim Social Activity and Placemaking in Australia

School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University, Penrith 2751, Australia
The Gadigal Centre, University of Sydney, Camperdown 2050, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Religions 2024, 15(1), 6;
Submission received: 27 August 2023 / Revised: 18 November 2023 / Accepted: 24 November 2023 / Published: 20 December 2023
(This article belongs to the Special Issue A Transdisciplinary Approach to the Study of Islam and Islamicate)


For generations, Muslims have engaged in daily life in the West—what this study identifies as Muslim social activity. Through social activity in Western societies, Muslims transform spaces into places by seeking to belong, feel at home, care, materialise religious and ethno-cultural values, and live meaningfully. The concept of place has not been used to explain Muslim social activity in the West. This study addresses this lacuna by explaining it in Australia as placemaking.

1. Introduction

Muslims’ presence in the West and their subsequent engagement with daily life has been met with positive and negative responses from the political, legislative, media, and social spheres of society. On the negative side, Muslims are perceived as cultural pollutants (Ali 2018) whose presence has introduced foreign values and customs to secular societies. Advocates of the Muslim Question discourse (Norton 2013) question whether Muslims should have the freedom to engage in practices such as wearing hijabs, slaughtering animals according to shari’ah (Islamic law), or constructing places of worship. In contrast, Muslim social activity is viewed from a positive perspective and celebrated, or at the very least recognised, when freedom is given to cultural minorities to practice their beliefs and customs in multicultural societies.
Both positive and negative discourses surrounding Muslim social activity in the West consider the Muslims’ presence an issue of space, as such activity occurs in public areas such as parks, beaches, shopping malls, airports, and streets. The issue of space becomes a question of how these spaces are utilised and by whom. This study takes a trajectory of thinking about these issues through the lens of place as defined by human geographers. In human geography, place is perceived as a space given meaning through human actions and emotional attachment (Cresswell 2014). Using this approach to examine Muslim social activity in Australia relates to this special issue topic by being a way of describing the Islamicate diaspora.
The construction of the Ground Zero Mosque in New York City is a famous case that illustrates how space and place can become problematic in relation to Muslim social activity. This physical space, located just blocks away from the World Trade towers that were attacked by terrorists on 11 September 2001, was perceived as a symbol of resistance to Muslim extremism. A proposed mosque was viewed as transgressing the meaning that part of New York City held for many residents and even those who do not reside there. Drawing on the idea that places are contested spaces (Cresswell 2014), it could be argued that some viewed a Muslim place of worship to be out of place because the location was associated with trauma, terror, and a place of national pride or state pride. A mosque seemed to challenge these commonly held ideas and was therefore perceived as an unreasonable structure to occupy the location. Others, namely the organisation that proposed the mosque and those who supported the proposal, saw Ground Zero as a space for resistance to hate. For them, the location became a place of intercultural engagement, hope, and healing; thus, the mosque was felt to be in place.
The concept of place may inform not only how to define spaces and social activity, such as proposed mosque constructions, but also how researchers view such phenomena under study and write about them (Cresswell 2014). In relation to Muslim social activity, place directs the researcher to reflect broadly on its manifestation in the West, and therefore to focus on issues such as belonging and integration.
These issues are experienced and enacted by Muslims in the West through Muslim social activity. Social activity is defined in the literature (e.g., Buchman et al. 2009; Watson et al. 1992) as pertaining to everyday behaviours, namely romantic activity or dating, going out for a drink, running errands, watching television, attending or hosting a party, visiting a museum, a discussion, exercise and sports, going to a movie, shopping, studying, a weekend trip, attending sporting events, playing bingo, community and volunteering work, visiting relatives, and attending church or religious services. These behaviours and interactions are the same as or similar to the phenomena we analyse in this study, namely a Muslim community organisation’s welfare and educational programs, a Muslim aged-care home, an Islamic museum, modest women’s swimwear, Ramadan night markets, a Tabligh Jama’at gathering, Muslim shops, and a Muslim awards ceremony. What makes these phenomena fall under “Muslim” social activity and different from ordinary social activity is that they arise from religious or ethno-cultural and parochial customs. An example of this distinction is contemporary Islamic finance which incorporates economic mechanisms that are anti-usury and draw on shari’ah (Islamic law) in contrast to mainstream financial institutions whose economic mechanisms are based on usury. In this way, an Islamic bank is an example of Muslim social activity, and a mainstream bank is an example of ordinary social activity. Another distinction we make is defining Muslim social activity from Islam itself. Islam is scripture and a scripturally based dogma whereas Muslim social activity is human activity that may be based on the ideals and values derived from Islamic scripture. Muslim social activity emanates from the world, whilst Islam is believed to emanate directly from God.
The study proceeds as follows: First, we review the literature on Muslim social activity in the West to identify the importance for Muslims of engaging meaningfully in everyday spaces. We note that the concept of place is absent in the literature. We see Cresswell’s (2014) theorisation of place as a fruitful way to address this lacuna; thus, following the review, we undertake an analysis of Muslim social activity in Australia by applying the various meanings of place. Subsequently, drawing on Cresswell and other human geographers, we discuss the implications of Muslim social activity and placemaking for Muslims and Australian society. We end with concluding remarks on the future of Muslim social activity in Australia and the West and suggestions for further research on this phenomenon via the framework of human geography.

2. Literature on Muslim Social Activity in the West

Muslim social activity has positioned Muslims as an important social group within Western societies. There has been increased academic interest in the connection between belonging, identity, and Muslim social activity in the West and how these facets of Muslim life are constructed. The research extensively explores the activities that shape Muslims’ sense of belonging and identity, such as mosque construction and attendance (Bouma 1994; Dunn 2001; Harris 2013; Haveric 2019; Jamal 2005; Kabir 2005; Karimshah et al. 2014; Peace 2015), Islamic schools (Abdalla et al. 2018; Buckingham 2010; Diallo 2016; Hassen 2013; Hussain and Read 2015; McCreery et al. 2007; Shah 2012; Shakeel 2018), clothing (Khamis 2010; Pardy 2011), organisations (Haveric 2019; Peucker 2017; Peucker and Akbarzadeh 2014), clergy (Ali 2020), shops and businesses (Yusuf 2022), digital and virtual/online platforms (Aly 2010; Bahfen 2008; Bunt 2018; Eickelman and Anderson 2003; Whyte 2022), and civic engagement (Kaiser 2020; Ozalp and Cufurovic 2021; Peucker and Kayicki 2020).
These studies demonstrate that Muslim social activity can promote a sense of belonging and meaning for Muslim individuals and organisations. Given that Muslim social activity manifests in numerous forms, this section will review studies that focus on specific forms, namely Islamic schooling, clothing, and digital/online activity. The purpose of this review is to highlight the importance of the use of space in Muslim social activity to emphasise that the concept of place, which defines a place as the outcome of the purposeful and creative use of space, may be a valuable analytical approach to examine Muslim social activity.
Islamic schools play an important role in facilitating Muslim belonging, as demonstrated by the data that shows Muslim enrolment more than tripled over a ten-year period between 1996 and 2006, making it the highest growth in Australia’s independent education sector (Buckingham 2010). Hassen (2013) revealed that an important facet of Islamic schooling is the utilisation of space and structure to help Muslim students shape an Islamic identity. There is a consensus amongst scholars that the process around parents choosing an Islamic education for their children involves careful consideration influenced by multiple factors. Extensive literature (e.g., Parker-Jenkins 2002; Short 2002; Valins 2003) suggests that faith-based schools can cultivate a sense of belonging, boost confidence, and enable individuals to maximise their abilities. Islamic schools play a role in facilitating these outcomes by instilling cultural and religious values in students (Shakeel 2018) while offering a protective environment against Islamophobia (Shah 2012). McCreery et al. (2007) reveal that parental concerns regarding belonging and identity significantly contribute to the choice of Islamic education for their children. Several studies have explored how Islamic schooling influences social cohesion and participation. Hussain and Read’s (2015) analysis of qualitative data gathered over 20 months of fieldwork within three Islamic schools based in the United Kingdom and the United States indicates that participation in Islamic schools leads to increased engagement in non-Muslim spaces. Diallo’s (2016) Australian study, involving 61 participants from community schools in South Australia and the Northern Territory, used a mixed methodology to analyse the role of community Islamic schooling and faith. She found that Islamic curricula address the religious and contextual needs of Muslim students, which indicates Islamic schooling is cognisant of the immediate socio-cultural environment. Overall, these studies find that Islamic schooling helps Muslim children maintain cultural and religious ties and their religious identity by providing them with meaningful experiences.
In addition to Islamic schooling, Muslim social activity may involve the wearing of specific kinds of clothing (Khamis 2010). Lewis (2007) observes that clothing holds significance beyond its practical use. People’s dress intersects with the time and space they occupy, such as the fact that there is a connection between clothing and the different norms attached to different spaces. Supporting Lewis’ (2007) point is Pardy’s (2011) observation that the acceptance of various practices and ideas is influenced by factors such as societal norms. To illustrate this point, she refers to an incident at a swimming pool in Victoria, where Muslim women requested permission for a specific dress code for an event. Their request sparked debates on the Islamisation of public spaces. Similar controversies exist regarding the utilisation of public spaces by Muslims in Western countries. For instance, several European nations have banned the niqab (face veil) in public areas, leading to debates about religious freedom.
Virtual space is also entwined with Muslim social activity. In an increasingly globalised world, online digital platforms have become powerful tools for helping Muslims shape their identity and communicate Islamic knowledge. Bunt (2018) refers to these platforms as “cyber-Islamic environments”, which include YouTube, Islamic apps like Go Pray, blogs, books, podcasts, websites, and social media. In Australia, Whyte (2022) explored how technology is utilised by religious leaders to convey Islamic teachings within Muslim communities. The study involved in-depth interviews with 40 religious leaders and surveys completed by 300 Muslim participants. His findings reveal that the internet is widely embraced by Muslims in Australia as a source of trusted knowledge. Moreover, online spaces contribute to increased unity among various Muslim groups, particularly those who feel excluded or alienated and may find it easier to engage with others digitally. Aly’s (2010) research correlates with these findings and observes that virtual spaces are crucial forums for marginalised young Muslims post-9/11 in that they can engage in religious discussions in those spaces without the fear of condemnation. Towards this line of inquiry, Bahfen (2008) focuses on the driving factors behind the emergence of online platforms within Muslim communities, such as shared injustice, while Eickelman and Anderson (2003) focus on how online platforms can empower Muslim people. Such empowerment occurs via online forums including the Muslim Village and Aussie Muslims that both provide an inclusive environment for religious discussions, sharing ideas, and networking with others.
The above studies highlight an important facet of Muslim social activity: the desire to immerse oneself in their physical surroundings through meaningful engagement. Islamic schooling, public swimming pools, and online and digital platforms serve as important spaces influencing how Muslims live their daily lives and form a Muslim identity. The literature does not draw on the concept of place as found in human geography to analyse these phenomena. Given the close connection between space and place (Cresswell 2014), we see place as a useful concept that may unpack the nature and implications of Muslim social activity in the West. The terms space and place and the relationship between them are elaborated in the following section.

3. Conceptual Framework: Space and Place

According to human geographers, the connection between space and place lies in the transformation of a physical location or terrain (space) into a meaningful, inhabited area (place). This transformation occurs through the implementation of material objects and meaningful practices that symbolise something significant (Cresswell 2014). A space becomes a place through the meaning and emotion attached to it, making it a site for “value” and “belonging” (Cresswell 2014, p. 35). More specifically, “places are gatherings, or assemblages, of material things (walls, trees, roads etc.), meanings (stories, narratives, ideologies) and practices (the many things we do)” (Cresswell 2014, p. 186). Of course, physical spaces within Australian society are transformed into meaningful places daily by people other than Muslims. However, in this study, the primary aim is to explore and analyse Muslim interactions with Australian spaces, or Muslim placemaking.
The philosophy of place can be traced back to ancient Greece, as seen in Aristotle and Plato’s works. Throughout history, place has been analysed using different theoretical perspectives. Some human geographers such as Henri Lefebvre (1991) have adopted a Marxist approach to explain how “places were socially constructed in contexts of unequal power relations and how they represented relations of domination and exploitation” (Cresswell 2014, p. 55). Places are shaped by complex power dynamics and the interactions and perspectives of those who inhabit them. Nielson (2020) argues that society plays a crucial role in determining who belongs within certain spaces. Cresswell (1996) refers to this notion as ‘doxa’—where public spaces maintain order and social expectations through “commonsense” guidelines that can shape behaviour via the legislation or rules that often exclude those perceived as the ‘other’. Thus, the way a space is socially constructed as a place and the extent to which those with more power control different spaces may lead to inequality and marginalisation. Nevertheless, one way to combat the negative societal trends concerning space is to engage in social activities within those spaces. The subsequent Discussion section will delve into these aspects of space, place, and social activity.

4. Muslim Social Activity and Placemaking in Australia

The national and cultural contexts of the West are vast and beyond the scope of this study, thus the analysis that follows focuses on Muslim social activity in Australia only. As practitioners of a cultural way of life, Muslims contribute to Australia’s multicultural mosaic. The processes of identity formation, belonging, and placemaking among Muslims in Australia have a long and complex history stretching back to centuries ago when Muslims from Makassar, in the Indonesian archipelago, were the first visitors to Australia to encounter the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who have lived there since time immemorial (Clarke 1994; Clarke and Frederick 2011; Cleland 2001; Stephenson 2010). Muslims interacted with the Indigenous peoples of the northern Australian coastline and impacted their social and cultural practices (McIntosh 1997; Russell 2004; Warner 1969; Worsley 1955). Since those initial visits, Muslims have been regular visitors to Australian shores, with Malay fishermen (Manderson 2001) and Afghan cameleers (Jones and Kenny 2007; Stephenson 2010) arriving in the 1860s to participate in the nation’s economy and infrastructure. Muslim migrants from the Middle East and Turkey began arriving in Australia in the 1950s and 1960s. They were followed by waves of thousands of migrants and refugees from around the globe each year who now call Australia home. Since settling in Australia, Muslims have participated in the country’s political, social, economic, and cultural spheres, being active members of government, civic associations, business, education, and popular cultural platforms. Whilst pursuing such activities, Muslims have retained their Islamic identity and customary practices. In this way, Muslims have a legacy of contributing to Australian society whilst also being committed to the Islamic faith and customs.
Places hold great significance for individuals and communities, often enhancing social interactions while serving as a backdrop for cultural and religious traditions. Cresswell (2014, p. 39) notes that a place is commonly thought of as a home: “Home is an exemplary kind of place where people feel a sense of attachment and rootedness. Home, more than anywhere else, is seen as a center of meaning and a field of care”. An example of Muslim social activity in this sense is the Gallipoli Home, an aged-care facility in Sydney. The Gallipoli Home is the first of its kind in Australia and is designed to meet the needs of the elderly Muslim population by creating an environment that evokes a sense of meaning and familiarity (Ahmad 2018). It is built upon a foundation of care centred on Islamic values, and thus is a place where people can maintain their cultural identity, connect with others, and find meaning in their surroundings. A strong Islamic influence is seen in the architecture and implementation of the Islamic practices and activities within the Gallipoli Home, making it easier for residents to transition to a new space. For example, by providing halal (permissible), the home enables individuals to live in accordance with Islamic principles. When viewed through a human lens, it is evident that the significance of the space extends beyond its physical structure and serves a greater purpose that is shaped by the interactions of those invested in it. Indeed, many individuals have a strong emotional connection to the Gallipoli Home, with one staff member expressing that “we consider it to be a home” (Noone 2018). According to Cresswell (2014, p. 135), a place is “a felt and cared for center of meaning”. The staff member’s statement reveals that the Gallipoli Home has transformed a physical location in Sydney into a place of care and meaning and a home for those who interact within it.
The idea of place as a centre of meaning extends into the community work of Muslim organisations. One important Muslim community organisation in Australia is the Lebanese Muslim Association based in Sydney. Established in 1962 to provide recreational, educational, and religious programs, it continues to play an active role in shaping public spaces and catering for the needs of the Muslim community (Mahoney 2023). The overall vision of the organisation is to establish and maintain a Muslim community within Australia that actively contributes to society and has a positive, long-term impact. Through a diverse range of programs including camps, community initiatives, and youth programs that occur in a variety of settings the organisation transforms everyday spaces in Sydney into places by enabling Muslims to gain a sense of identity and belonging whilst engaging within them. The spaces in which these activities occur become welcoming places that promote community engagement while encouraging individuals to feel connected with their surroundings.
Cresswell (2014, p. 116) notes that “Places are never finished but are produced through the reiteration of practices—the repetition of seemingly mundane activities on a daily basis”. The Imam Ali Mosque, located on Wangee Road, Lakemba in Sydney, that the Lebanese Muslim Association runs allows individuals to perform congregational prayer and socialisation with friends and acquaintances. During regular visits to the mosque, one of the authors has seen the same group of elderly men sitting together and chatting before and after congregational prayers in the prayer hall or in the car park underneath the prayer hall. This seemingly mundane activity is meaningful for providing individuals with a routinised way of life.
The author mentioned above recounts here the sense of place it evokes for them: I enjoy visiting the Imam Ali Mosque. Its green dome is always a welcome sight, one I first witnessed around thirty-five years ago. Since then, I always look forward to seeing the dome set against a bright blue Australian sky with its fierce sun reflecting off it. My feelings towards the mosque tie in with the research that found that in Australia mosque architecture shapes attendees’ identities and the physical structure of a mosque can evoke a feeling of familiarity for Muslims (Harris 2013). The mosque structure aids in constructing my Sydney-Muslim identity in which my religious practice ties in with the city’s physical location, such that I feel a sense of belonging to both the Muslim and Sydneysider social groups.
To establish these points further, I recount an instance of visiting the Imam Ali Mosque on a particular evening in 2014. The reason I visited the mosque that evening was to attend a talk given by the Islamic revivalist group known as Tabligh Jama’at (Conveying [the message of Islam] Group). The Tabligh Jama’at undertakes itinerant preaching to Muslims wherein they visit Muslims in their homes to invite them to attend a Tablighi talk at the local mosque or musalla (prayer centre). The Tablighi talk is called bayan, which literally means “sermon”. In bayan, a Tablighi speaker usually discusses the importance of faith in Allah and of the daily practice of Islam, especially salah (ritual prayer), the remembrance of Allah, inviting others into an Allah-centred life, and good conduct with others.
On the evening which I visited the Imam Ali Mosque, the bayan began after Isha (evening prayer). It was just after 7 p.m. when a group of around sixty people began taking their seated positions on the prayer hall floor in front of a man seated on a chair with a small microphone attached to his shirt. Next to him, also seated on a chair was another man—he also held a microphone. The first man began speaking in Bengali. The second man translated what he said into English. The audience came to know that the first man was from Bangladesh and was visiting Australia on a preaching tour with the Tabligh Jama’at. He had been invited by the Sydney Tablighi leadership to give a bayan. As the talk continued, the man spoke about the importance of “making effort” to spread the message of Islam to people in Australia and around the world. He emphasised that it is essential to practice what one preaches, not only for attaining salvation in the Afterlife but also for ensuring that one’s words hold weight when conveying the importance of faith and piety to others.
I sat just outside the circle of people in front of the speaker. My gaze travelled between the speaker and the people seated in the inner circle. Most of these individuals wore Islamic clothing: a prayer cap or turban with a long gown. The Islamic clothing was familiar to me, as I sometimes also wear it and see others wearing it in public. Around the walls of the mosque, people were seated and chatting with each other or reciting the Qur’an. I had the impression that the people seated immediately in front of the speaker were Tablighis and those seated around the extremities of the mosque were non-Tablighis who were regular mosque attendees and lived locally. This division of people in the mosque points to the dynamics between identity and space. Certain spaces within the mosque became Tablighi spaces and other areas within it non-Tablighi spaces. This dynamic between space and identity was underpinned by another dynamic which was that the entire mosque was a space for Muslims or the Muslim umma (nation or community). This aspect of the situation was pointed out by the speaker, who mentioned that all Muslims are “ummatis” (members of the Muslim umma), and therefore the Tablighis should undertake their preaching to Muslims politely and compassionately.
As the speaker continued, the transnational nature of the gathering became clearer. A brief history of the Tabligh Jama’at’s emergence into the world illuminates this point. The Tabligh Jama’at’s representing the institution of Islamic revivalism in Australia has occurred via networks that extend beyond Australian shores, to the group’s origins and headquarters in India and to Tablighi communities around the globe (Ali 2012; Ali and Sahib 2022; Sahib 2022). The Tabligh Jama’at was founded by a Muslim scholar named Maulana Ilyas in Delhi in 1927. Since then, its preachers have traversed the globe, visiting Muslims in villages, towns, and cities, and inviting them to a pious, religious way of life. These aspects of the group came to the fore that evening in Sydney. The Bengali speaker’s presence in the mosque and the preaching group from Bangladesh signified the intersection of the local and the global. The gathering illustrated the idea that “places need to be understood as sites that are connected to others around the world in constantly evolving networks which are social, cultural, and natural/environmental”, and that “places are tied into global flows of people, meaning and things” (Cresswell 2014, p. 75). The Imam Ali Mosque as a space for Tablighi bayan could be seen as connected to the flows of practices and peoples from Muslim societies via its hosting of an ethno-cultural tradition from regions abroad, especially the Sub-Continent. As much as “places are produced, through mobilities, by their connections to a world beyond” (Cresswell 2014, p. 84), the Tablighis in Australia are evidence of the mobility of places in which Tablighi spaces connect Australian Muslims to the global Muslim umma (nation or community).
After the bayan, I saw someone whom I had known for a few decades but had not seen in quite a few years. I approached him and the look of surprise on his face upon seeing mine made me smile. We exchanged greetings, and he said to sit with him and “catch up”. We spoke for some twenty minutes, then he left to join the Tablighi preaching group he was staying overnight with at the mosque. I left the mosque after our conversation. Driving home that evening, I felt a sense of happiness from the reconnection with an old friend. It was the mosque that provided the opportunity for the meeting and my feelings to occur. This point ties in with the findings in the United Kingdom that those who attend mosques increase their chances of establishing friendships outside their cultural or religious group (Peace 2015). On this evening, the Imam Ali Mosque provided the scene for the same phenomenon to occur.
An activity such as attending mosques, and the presence of mosques, raises questions about how Muslim social activity is perceived. Studies reveal there is conflict surrounding mosque activity in the West, particularly in the increasing number of mosques that are frequently perceived as a threat to the Western world rather than viewed as an effort by Muslims towards finding meaning and belonging (Dunn 2001). Muslim social activity has been met with hostility from some quarters of Australian society that label Muslims in derogative ways and malign and stigmatise them via racialised and criminalised rhetoric (Abdel-Fattah 2017). Gale (2004) found that the visibility of Islam in Western society through mosque construction has led to conflicts due to the differing ideas about space utilisation. An Australian survey found that almost 25% of participants would support policies preventing the construction of new mosques (University of South Australia 2015). In an exploration of mosque development in Sydney, Dunn (2001) reveals that opposition often stems from the misrepresentations present in media coverage. He explains that the divisive perception of space that labels unconventional or different spaces as ‘other’ contributes to these conflicts. These points lead us to offer the notion of mosques as spaces of conflict because for some, they are a space for belonging and meaningful activity, yet for others, they are a symbol of the presence of an undesirable Muslim ‘other’.
Another facet of Muslims’ use of space in Australia is creative cultural expression. One example of a creative cultural practice is the Islamic Museum of Australia in Melbourne. The museum serves as a platform to showcase the diversity of the Australian Muslim community and express the connection between their culture and creativity. It was initially established to share the contributions made throughout history by diverse Muslim groups in various fields, including art, history, literature, and science (Buckley 2012). By highlighting Muslims’ historical impact and their significant contributions to civilisation and progress, the museum provides a way for Muslims to share their cultural and religious identity and the positive aspects of Islam. Such use of space may be described as placemaking as “places are created by cultural practices such as literature, film, and music” (Cresswell 2014, p. 116). Moreover, as a public space that increases the visibility of Islam, the museum challenges hostility towards Muslims by facilitating inter-faith and inter-cultural social interaction and inclusion. As an educational institution with deep cultural roots, the museum offers insights into how cultural and religious factors shape certain spaces in the West and how these factors reflect the identities and values of different groups. The museum seeks to create a bridge between the different cultures occupying Australia. Aside from its exhibitions, one of the most notable features of the museum is its female-dominated board of directors (Buckley 2012). This aspect of the museum demonstrates a shift in gender dynamics in the Muslim community and underlines the fact that Muslim women in the West play an active role in Muslim placemaking. The museum is an effective way to counteract the negative connotations associated with Islam, especially the belief that Muslim women are oppressed. Muslim social activity, therefore, seeks not only to help Muslims establish a sense of place but also to facilitate positive interactions with and perceptions within the wider community.
Place is not only a fixed, physical location but a dynamic space that “provides the conditions of possibility for creative social practice” (Cresswell 2014, p. 71). This aspect of place pertains to individuals re-creating their social environment and how they interact with it. For Muslims, such re-creation in the public sphere can be problematic because of the anti-Islamic narrative that dominates the West (Eid and Karim 2014; Norton 2013). For example, there has been ongoing controversy surrounding Islamic attire, particularly the burqa (long gown worn by women), and whether this is an acceptable form of expression in public. There is much debate over whether the burqa is incompatible with Western values or an important way to maintain religious identity (Arlt 2021). Those in favour of religious expression argue that clothing can challenge the negative ideas held about Islam and make public spaces more accessible to Muslim women. This argument pertains to Australia, which is known for its beach culture in which certain clothing practices associated with the culture conflict with Islamic values. A cultural clash may make Muslims feel excluded from public spaces like beaches and swimming pools. The confrontation between Australian social norms of swimwear and Islamic norms of modesty led to the creation of the burqini, a two-piece swimsuit that allows Muslim women to access the beach while upholding their cultural and religious values (Khamis 2010). Khamis (2010) argues that the burqini enables Australian beaches to integrate Islamic customs and cater to Muslim women who wish to blend their religious observance with recreational activity. The burqini illustrates the way that spaces provide the opportunity for Muslims to re-establish their identity through creative social practice, which transforms those spaces into meaningful places. Importantly, materiality is a key component of the production of place (Cresswell 2014). The material of the burqini could be said to consist of threads of nationality, religion, and gender. Through these threads, the burqini challenges the belief that Islam has no place in Australian society, and it instead becomes a way for Muslim women to redefine the space.
Cresswell suggests that “all around us there are efforts underway to make places more distinctive and visible and to provide a sense of pride and belonging” (Cresswell 2014, p. 95). The Ramadan night market in Lakemba is an example of how this can be done. Ramadan is a sacred month for Muslims in which they fast during the daylight hours. Fasts are broken with a meal that is usually shared with family or friends. The night market provides an opportunity for a breaking-fast meal through the provision of numerous food stalls which are open until the late hours of the evening. This annual event was initiated 14 years ago to address the increasing Islamophobia directed at Muslims and to create greater awareness of Islamic practices (AMUST Media 2023). Over the years, the event has experienced increased popularity, growing from a small gathering of a few hundred people to an event attracting over a million visitors each year. The event allows Muslims to share their custom of breaking fast and socialising with a wider audience, and in doing so facilitates peaceful relationships. However, there are also negative implications associated with this type of placemaking, with some Muslim individuals expressing concern that the event has become overly commercialised and lost its meaning. Despite this notion, it is apparent that by making Islamic custom more visible, preconceived ideas about Islam and Muslims may be challenged.
Some of the simplest yet most powerful ways to describe places are as “spaces which people have made meaningful” (Cresswell 2014, p. 12). This aspect of place is often implemented through the attachment of cultural and religious practices to public domains. In addition to the Ramadan markets, Dandenong, Victoria, Australia’s most culturally diverse area, provides an example of how Muslims perform this aspect of place. Mansouri and Marotta (2012) found that the presence of Islamic shops and market stalls in Dandenong transformed the urban landscape and, in doing so, empowered Muslims to maintain their religious identity. In contemporary society, local marketplaces facilitate an increased participation in public life, a sense of belonging, and connections with others—aspects of marketplaces that are often overlooked (Mansouri and Marotta 2012). For Muslim people in Dandenong, having easy access to halal (permissible) food and Islamic clothing helps maintain religious values and attain a greater sense of attachment to their environment. A community like Dandenong, which embraces faith-based culture through the establishment of Islamic shops, makes for an inclusive place where halal grocery stores, Islamic bookshops, and other outlets contribute to the visibility of Muslim identity within the urban landscape. These findings are corroborated by a research study conducted in Sydney, which discovered that incorporating Islamic terms into business signage not only imparts knowledge but also serves as an expression of religious identity (Yusuf 2022).
In addition to shops and businesses, Australian Muslim pride, in transforming Australian space into place, is showcased by the Australian Muslim Achievement Awards (Ahmad 2022). The awards have been running for 15 years, and they recognise Muslims’ social activity in Australia, illustrated in awards such as ‘business of the year’, ‘community organisation of the year’, ‘best new community project’, ‘volunteer of the year’, ‘creative artist of the year’, ‘media outlet of the year’, ‘professional of the year’, and ‘sportsperson of the year’. The number of nominations and variety of recipients shows that Muslims take pride in their daily life in the country and that this life is an active one.
The examples of Muslim social activity discussed in this section demonstrate that Muslims in Australia value where they reside by turning city and suburban spaces into areas of belonging and meaning that may also contest the negative sentiments about Muslims. These aspects of Muslim social activity indicate its placemaking intention and nature, such that Australian Muslims live in a “place-oriented world” (Cresswell 2014, p. 131).

5. Discussion

The analysis in the previous section showcased Muslim social activity in Australia and placemaking. The discussion in this section elaborates on the implications of Muslim placemaking in Australia by drawing on human geographers’ insights about human activity in relation to space and place.
Cresswell (2014, p. 51) sees a place as “a construction of humanity but a necessary one—one that human life is impossible to conceive of without”. A place is constantly constructed and enacted; it is not a fixed, frozen backdrop of human activity, but changes with people’s actions. Places are always “becoming” through “what takes place ceaselessly, what contributes to history in a specific context through the creation and utilisation of a physical setting” (Pred 1984, p. 279).
In applying these ideas and concepts to the present study, Australian physical settings since time immemorial have been the places of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customs and culture. These peoples can rightfully claim ownership of the Australian continent as their place. This notion is reflected in the Acknowledgment of Country, a practice that is carried out by Indigenous or non-Indigenous persons at social events and meetings. This act recognises that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are custodians of Australian land. Another pre-event ceremony is the Welcome to Country, which must be conducted by an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. Historically, the Welcome to Country was undertaken to signify the safe passage of people belonging to a certain tribe into foreign tribal territory. In contemporary Australia, the Welcome to Country signifies the acceptance of non-Indigenous peoples’ presence in a tribal area. This aspect is necessary given that most of Australia’s population is non-Indigenous.
The Indigenous peoples of Australia were the first to transform Australian spaces into places of cultural practice. The Makassan Muslims were the first foreigners to do the same. In the late 18th century, colonialists from Britain began settling the country. Their practices and use of space have influenced and shaped Australia into the nation it is today. Since the middle of the 20th century, an influx of peoples from around the globe has transformed Australian physical spaces into vibrant multicultural places through those peoples’ expressions of cultural practices. Australia has become a site for churches, mosques, gurdwaras, temples, synagogues, and community halls and centres used for a diverse range of cultural activities. Consequently, Australian space today no longer possesses a singular identity.
This mix of peoples and melting pot of cultures means that Australia has become the site of what Doreen Massey (2005, p. 141) calls “throwntogetherness”, in which the presence of multiple human and non-human phenomena (e.g., rocks and trees) in one space contests notions of a single collective identity or community. Our emphasis here is on the dynamic nature of Australian space. In the past, Australia was predominantly characterised in relation to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their customs. However, today, any description of Australia must encompass the diverse activities of its inhabitants which include their education, worship, culture, civic engagement, and more. Muslim social activity is a significant element in this ongoing evolution of Australian space and its varied uses.
The relevance of this discussion to this special issue topic lies in the observation that Muslim social activity in Australia is an outcome of the migration and transnational relationships through which Muslims express their identity as part of a global umma (nation or community). Australian Muslims connect to the umma through a variety of social activities, including the ones analysed in the previous section. This process can be described as the localisation of the Islamicate which, in an Australian context, tries to capture the idea that Muslims’ religious beliefs and values and ethno-cultural customs are actualised in Australia differently from how they are in the Muslim-majority regions of the Middle East, North and Central Africa, Southeast Asia, and parts of the Indian Subcontinent. The localisation of the Islamicate arises through the social processes that emerge from Muslims residing in secular societies where Islam must be manifested in certain ways. For example, the act of praying on the side of a road in Sydney may not be as feasible as praying on the side of the road in Karachi, Cairo, or Aceh. Moreover, the processes involved in working with the local, state, and national governments to establish Islamic practices in Australia may differ from the processes involved in establishing such practices in a country like Pakistan, Egypt, or Indonesia. In this way, Muslim placemaking in Australia may differ from Muslim placemaking in other countries.
The emergence of Muslim social activity through the connections between Australian people and spaces and foreign cultural trends presents a challenge for those political pundits and social commentators who attempt to describe the Australian space as a singular identity. This portrayal leans towards an Anglo-Celtic identity, but also towards a secular and liberal identity, as illustrated by the Australian government’s requirement for migrants to learn Australian values as part of the citizenship test. This legislative move is what Massey (1994) observes to be a reactionary sense of place that aims to fix a given space to a singular identity to safeguard the meaning of that space. This can be seen as the fear of encroaching globalisation, which in one form can be interpreted to be a fear of immigration and the entry of people with foreign customs or senses of place. In Australia, the Muslim Question discourse and Islamophobia (Akbarzadeh 2016; Poynting and Briskman 2018) are examples of a reactionary sense of place. Anne Norton (2013) describes the Muslim Question as a discourse that questions the presence of Muslims in the West and is sceptical of Islamic values. The Muslim Question, espoused recently in Australia by far-right groups like Rise Up Australia, Reclaim Australia, and the now defunct Q-Society (Hutchinson 2021), aims to displace Muslims discursively and symbolically. At times, these extend to physical actions such as people protesting mosque constructions. Perhaps the most extreme example of displacing Muslims is the amount of hate crimes carried out against them via verbal and physical attacks, which the Islamophobia Register (Iner 2017, 2019, 2022; Iner et al. 2023) has shown are numerous and widespread.
Poynting and Briskman (2018) point out that Australian far-right organisations draw on writers like Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Muslim turned anti-Islamic activist, who practices the placing out of Muslims in the West. Take the following quote from her book Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now:
[We] who have the luxury of living in the West have an obligation to stand up for liberal principles… And we must say unambiguously to Muslims living in the West: If you want to live in our societies, to share in their material benefits, then you need to accept that our freedoms are not optional.
This statement deems Muslims to be intruders and out of place in the West due to their values and way of life. In the same book, Hirsi Ali posits that Muslims live in a state of cognitive dissonance and feel trapped due to a so-called clash between the Islamic and the secular, liberal norms. She proposes the idea that to escape this situation, Muslims retreat to enclaves or ghettos. In making these points, Hirsi Ali positions Muslims outside of what is considered conventional Western society and, in doing so, suggests that Muslims who insist on maintaining their Islamic identity can, at best, occupy a parallel space in a Western city.
Views like Hirsi Ali’s deem Muslims who practice Islamic or ethno-cultural customs to be transgressors of what is expected in Western secular, liberal spaces. Her views illustrate a phenomenon associated with space and place, which Cresswell (2014, p. 166) notes is the idea that “when people, things, and practices are seen as ‘out of place’ they are described as pollution and dirt”. In the West, including Australia, Muslims are sometimes perceived as a cultural pollutant (Ali 2018). Given this perception, Muslims may not view their home in the West as a safe or positive space. In other words, despite the positive examples of Muslim social activity and placemaking in Australia discussed in this study, the Muslim presence in the West should not only be viewed through an optimistic lens. In the same way that Gillian Rose (1993, p. 55) points out that the home is a negative space for many women due to domestic abuse and restrictive gender roles if, for many Muslims, the West is a site for the oppression of Muslims, there seems little reason for them to celebrate a sense of belonging to this home, or to see the home as the “ultimate sense of place” (Cresswell 2014). This argument notwithstanding, even in a negative environment, social activities, as bell hooks (1990) observed, may transform unjust spaces into places via a spirit of resistance. Indeed, some Muslims make their daily spaces in the West meaningful via civic practices intended to be counter-Islamophobia activity (Carland 2022; Cheikh Husain 2020; Peucker 2019, 2021). Thus, for Muslims engaged in countering hate, the home is viewed as empowering. In this context, the place becomes the foundation to manage feelings of injustice and provides a space in which one can address wrongs.
Whilst the Muslim Question and Islamophobia discourses and practices aim to displace Muslims symbolically, discursively, and physically, the fact that Muslims have made roots in Australia highlights that such displacement ultimately fails. Like a tree that becomes fixed to a physical location once its roots are set in the soil, Muslims see Australia as a permanent home due to the meaningful activities and institutions—the root-building—that they have undertaken in the country for decades. Via social activity, Muslims have symbolically and materially found a place in Australia and in doing so, have set themselves in place.
Aiding Muslims in feeling in place in Australia is the country’s multicultural logic, or rules and regularities of its fields or spheres of action. Multiculturalism entails that a Muslim individual with religious and ethno-cultural customs finds the opportunity and freedom to practice them. This point affirms Massey’s (2005) progressive sense of place, which sees places as sites of multiple identities and histories. Take her (i.e., Massey 1994) description of Kilburn in northwest London, her hometown, and the site of Muslim, Hindu, and Irish cultures. In her vivid description of Kilburn High Road, she celebrates the suburb’s multiculturalism, openness, and permeability. Hers is a global sense of place, one that sees Kilburn as a “mixture of wider and more local social relations” (Massey 1994, p. 156). Australian towns might be seen in a similar way. For example, the suburb of Bankstown in Sydney is marked by flows and connections that extend well beyond Australia, especially to the Middle East and Asia. Bankstown is home to thousands of first- and second-generation Muslim immigrants. It is this feature of Australian space that the present study highlights to say that Australian space cannot be accounted for without the consideration of Muslim social activity and that such social activity emerges from Muslims’ lived experience of Australian space.

6. Conclusions

This study has explored and discussed how Muslims have established roots in Australian spaces and expressed a desire to make a permanent home in the country. Through various institutions and activities, such as an aged-care facility, a museum, the burqini, community organising, Ramadan night markets, awards ceremonies, religious talks in mosques, and shops and businesses, it is evident that placemaking is central to Muslims’ daily lives. Through these diverse activities and the creative use of space, Muslims actively engage in a meaningful way. As such, Muslim placemaking has the potential to reshape the social landscape while challenging stereotypes and creating a stronger sense of belonging and cultural identity.
A place is continually being constructed and re-constructed, demonstrating that Australia is not a finished place. It will continue to undergo transformation as per the practices and activities of the people inhabiting its lands. This notion extends to the West more broadly and prompts consideration of the way in which different spaces in the West—different countries—undergo different kinds of transformation in lieu of their Muslim residents. Future studies can draw on the conceptual framework discussed in this study to conduct a comparative analysis of Muslim social activity. This will enable a more in-depth understanding of how Muslim placemaking is impacted by socio-political structures and processes such as the legislation and the ideological and discursive elements of a society’s institutions. Such studies would greatly contribute to the geography of Muslim social activity and the comparative analysis of Muslim placemaking.

Author Contributions

Conceptualization, R.S. and V.K.; writing—original draft preparation, R.S. and V.K.; writing—review and editing, R.S. and V.K. All authors have read and agreed to the published version of the manuscript.


This research received no external funding.

Informed Consent Statement

Not applicable.

Data Availability Statement

No new data were created.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflict of interest.


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