|“I can’t deny my culture,” she said. “But I feel more Australian now than before. It doesn’t matter how people think or how they treat me, I feel Australian. I identify as Australian. It doesn’t matter what other people say. My personality makes it not a problem for me because if I’m singled out I don’t accept it, I come, I mingle, I speak to people.”
Hayat, who has a teaching degree and two diplomas in community welfare and case management, has been shocked by insults about her appearance. Unfortunately, this is something she has experienced more than once.
She recalls a time when her children were younger, walking along the street in Dandenong and being sworn at and called abusive names because she was wearing the hijab. She was shocked that other people watched but said nothing.
However, recently some bystanders did speak out against racist behaviour, defending Hayat as she was lining up for a table in an Italian restaurant.
“Out of the blue I heard a man going past me swearing and suddenly his girlfriend hit into me as she went past. It happened so quickly, but the nice thing that happened was the waitress saw it all and she came and apologised. Then another nice thing happened ‐ a man and his wife came up to me and said, ‘I saw how she went out of her way to hit you’. They said, ‘We apologise on their behalf’. So you know how I felt? I wasn’t angry anymore because there may be bad people but not everyone is like that.”
Hayat believes ignorance is at the core of most racist behaviour. In accordance with Islam, she believes in tolerance and embraces multiculturalism. She is a member of the Casey Multi‐Faith Network, which brings together representatives of various religions and faiths committed to working together toward the promotion of peace, harmony and understanding within the community.
She is also the founder and president of the Al‐Emaan Muslim Women’s Support Group which meets regularly at the Springvale Neighbourhood House and Dandenong and District Netball Association, Greaves Reserve. Members enjoy being included in community events, as long as the socialising doesn’t require the women who are covered to shake hands with men.
“Al‐Emaan is my vision for helping women and saying to everyone, ‘we are here and we are like any other women – we live our life like any other woman, we have our issues and our problems and we have our capacities. We are Muslim women, but this is the only difference.”
Words by Natalie Filmer
Pictures by Dulce Amor Temporal