Alcohol creates 'barrier' for Muslims
Alcohol, food and gender relations are the key barriers to social interaction between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians, a study suggests
The findings emerged from a study commissioned by the federal government to develop better community-based integration programs.
The project focused on Muslims who have experienced racism since the 2005 Cronulla riots.
To determine social barriers, researchers interviewed a group of 10 Muslims who socialise predominantly with other Muslims. They also spoke to 10 non-Muslims from the Cronulla area who did not mix with Muslims.
Among the non-Muslims, it was not well-known that drinking alcohol is forbidden under Islam.
The concept of halal - denoting what is permissible under Islam - was also little understood.
Female Muslim interviewees said they could not understand how drinking by non-Muslims can be seen as responsible behaviour.
Their male counterparts said they would refuse invitations to events where alcohol was consumed to shield the women from it.
Some of the respondents said they felt morally compelled to avoid alcohol, even if halal food was provided.
Experiences of racism, language barriers and social demographics also made the Muslim participants more hesitant to mix with non-Muslims.
The study also looked at community-based programs designed to promote integration and socialisation between the two groups.
It found local councils were doing relatively little to build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The non-government sector was found to be the leader in building relations. And activities that encouraged contact, like sport, were the most successful.
"There is great scope for greater participation by councils in this area," the study says.
It said local, state and federal governments should do more to engage mainstream community groups with Muslim organisations, fund documentaries that feature positive stories of Muslims, and undertake a "public myth-busting" campaign to promote peace and tolerance.
Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs Laurie Ferguson welcomed the report.
"It is by undertaking and evaluating research such as this that we become more responsive to our community's changing needs," he said in a statement.
"We all have a role to play in making our communities more inclusive and stronger for the future."
In 2006 there were 340,000 Muslim Australians, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
NSW has the largest Muslim population, close to 170,000, of whom most live within 50km of the Sydney city centre.