SYDNEY, August 28, 2005 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – The number of Australians embracing Islam has dramatically increased since the 9/11 attacks, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).
"Once I started researching for myself and making my own decisions in regards to research and reading I come to my own understanding and realize the beauty of Islam," said Omar Boswood, once Catholic Ryan Boswood.
Like Boswood more than 15,000 Australians in Queensland have embraced Islam since 9/11, according to the ABC.
"I will be honest, but the Bible basically pushed me to Islam because I had so many unanswered questions, and I found the answer in the Qur'an," said Boswood, who embraced Islam last year.
There are some 300,000 Muslims in Australia, making up just 1.5 percent of the country's population of 20 million.
Boswood, who used in the past to refer to Muslims in bad names, thought of joining the army to take revenge from all Muslims following the 9/11 attacks.
"After I watched September 11, I did go to join the army, unfortunately I was asthmatic and so I didn't get let in, obviously.
"But at the time I didn't really understand Muslims or Islam, and I wasn't… I had no way of knowing what Islam was about."
The terrorist attacks prompted many Australians to seek more information about Islam and Muslims.
"It is sad what is happening in the world but the events are allowing us to break those boundaries and jump the obstacles, so we're getting a greater opportunity to speak to the people about the religion Islam," said Uzair Akbar, a Muslim imam in Queensland.
Despite the rising number of Muslims in Australia, they feel they are being targeted more than ever.
Akbar lamented that people tend to generalize in their judgment about Muslims.
Following the July 7 terrorist attacks in London, Australia has been contemplating tougher anti-terror legislation.
Australian Premier John Howard has defended his government's right to spy on mosques and Islamic schools under claims of fighting terrorism.
Australian Federal Justice Minister Chris Ellison has proposed amending laws to enable security authorities to prosecute imams involved in religious preaching and writing "inciting violence".
Australian Muslims have decried anti-terror measures, which include detaining people on terror-related suspicion for up to seven days and questioning them for up to 48 hours without charges.
They maintain that security measures create a climate of fear and apprehension among the Muslim minority in the country.
Akhbar, however, asserted that Australian Muslims are determined to fight extremism and violence.
"We can't be complacent. We have to look out, we have to be very careful. If we see anyone talking about violence, or backing up the acts of violence, then we will inform the authorities."
Australian Muslims are preparing for an all-inclusive meeting to consider a plan of self-policing young Muslims in the country.
In another development, Australian Education Minister Brendon Nelson rebuffed calls to ban hijab in state schools, the ABC reported Sunday, August 28.
"As far as the Government is concerned, we defend the rights of all Australian children to be able to go to schools which their parents think best meet the needs of their own children and, in doing so, to wear the symbols of their own religious conviction and affiliation, so long as they are consistent with broader school's uniform policies," he said.
The comments came ahead of a meeting between Nelson and the principals of the Islamic schools about the teaching of Australian values.
Federal Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop earlier called for banning hijab in schools.
"The headscarf is being used as a sort of iconic item of defiance," Bishop told Channel Seven.
"I'm talking about in state schools. If people are in Islamic schools and that's their uniform, that's fine. In private life, that's fine."
The hijab ban call was also slammed as extreme and running counter to the Australian values of religious freedom.
"These are very extreme statements from Bronwyn Bishop and Sophie Panopoulos and if John Howard has the respect that he espouses for recognizing the difference of religious beliefs and customs in this country then he'd pull these two into line," said Labor education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin.
The issue of hijab has recently taken central stage in a number of European countries.
France triggered the controversy after adopting a bill banning hijab in state-run schools and public institutions as of March 15, which was branded by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) as "discriminatory".