Muslim Community Volunteering: An Underestimated Contribution to Social Cohesion?
In last week’s federal budget, the Turnbull Government put aside $5 million for the new Fostering Integration Grants program aimed at supporting social cohesion and integration of migrants into the Australian community.
According to the Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs, Alan Tudge, this will assist migrants “to integrate into Australian economic, social and civil life, while promoting Australian values.”
Leaving aside that integration is a blurry and not uncontested concept – not least for its perceived or actual proximity to assimilation – the government seems to be following a particular idea of how integration works.
What we found is that most of these Islamic community groups are anything but inward looking prayer holes; they serve as multi-purpose community hubs offering a range of services including cross-community outreach activities (85% of all surveyed groups), religious and non-religious educational programs (80%), and various recreational (80%) and community welfare services (75%).
Through these Islamic community organisations’ regular cooperation with our Muslim and non-Muslim civil society groups, government and other institutions (for example, schools, police and media), Muslim community volunteers often expand their social networks both within and beyond the Muslim community – at least according to representatives of these Muslim groups.
In a nutshell, Muslim community organisations tend to foster their community members’ social and civic integration and human capital, and those actively engaged as volunteers benefit even more extensively.
These two studies provide empirical insights into the many positive integrative effects of Muslim community volunteering and the role Muslim community organisations can play in promoting social cohesion while empowering communities. Such potential has not been fully recognised and remain largely untapped.
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