Vandalised Islamic Centre
ACT policing investigate the Canberra Islamic centre in Monash after it was found vandalized on Sunday. Photo: Melissa Adams
A fourth-generation Australian who was instrumental in the establishment of the Canberra Islamic Centre has detailed a history of vandalism that includes the dumping of a dead kangaroo outside the centre's entrance.
Diana Abdel-Rahman, who is the chair of the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum and an original committee member of the Canberra Islamic Centre, said vandalism had been common at the centre since its opening in 1993.
Diana Abdel-Rahman. Photo: Lyn Mills
“People used to come by the centre and throw things through our windows even before we had finished the construction of the building,” she said.
“In many cases it was just local children but we were still raising funds for construction and had to spend this money fixing the windows.”
Ms Abdel-Rahman said there had been a significant spike in vandalism and threats following the September 11 attacks in 2001. The incidents also became more serious in nature.
“One morning a dead kangaroo was left at the front driveway of the centre,” she said.
“At the time we had a man living at the centre who woke to find the animal – he had to dispose of it himself.
“It was around that time that people started to drag their rubbish bins to the centre and empty their contents outside the entrance.”
Ms Abdel-Rahman said people often had to walk through the rubbish when they entered the centre for evening meals and prayer.
She said the centre’s website had been rendered useless by hackers who had targeted the Islamic centre and that members often received threatening phone calls and letters.
It was around this time the Canberra Islamic Centre played part in a “condolences and healing” event with leaders of various faiths, attended by the United States ambassador Bob Schieffer.
“This was one way that we as a Muslim community could say that we don’t condone what has happened, that we don’t accept it, and that we too are hurting,” she said.
“We wanted to say that we can’t be tarnished with the same brush every time an incident happens overseas.”
Ms Abdel-Rahman said vandalism at the centre became less frequent "once things settled down" in later years.
"The newer residents in the area might not have even realised it was an Islamic centre," she said.
The period of relative quiet was ended on April 4 when a burglary was reported at the Islamic centre. ACT Policing are still investigating the incident and are hoping to speak with people who saw suspicious activity in the area.
Sergeant Jo Cameron, who is in charge of the Tuggeranong Police Station, said “the police and the broader community should be quite disgusted with the people who have committed this crime”.
But Ms Abdel-Rahman said Sunday’s attack on the centre was different to earlier incidents, as this time vandals had managed to get inside.
“I feel this latest attack has been specifically organised because to go inside that building and cause such destruction is criminal – they wanted us to suffer,” she said.
The vandals reportedly cut holes in the centre’s fence on Sunday before ripping several Islamic paintings from the wall and punching holes in others.
Ms Abdel-Rahman said the overwhelming support received by community members this week mirrored the support received following the 9/11 attacks.
“After 9/11 there were a group of local women who called to say they were concerned for women at the centre who may be feeling threatened,” she said.
“The women said they would be happy to walk with the women at local shopping centres if they felt too scared to do so on their own.”
Ms Abdel-Rahman said the books of the National Islam Library, which now lay scattered across the centre floor, were a key focus of the centre from its beginnings.
“The original logo of the Canberra Islamic Centre was an open book,” she said.
“They were books contributed by a couple who spent their entire lives collecting books. They believed books and education were the only way to breakdown racism and intolerance.”
The Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn Christopher Prowse has condemned the attack as totally unacceptable.
“Catholics throughout Canberra and beyond send our prayers and sentiments of solidarity to our Islamic friends,” he said. “We must re-double our efforts to ensure that all religions represented in Canberra feel safe and secure to practice their faith without fear."
The Member for Canberra, Gai Brodtmann, described the vandalism of the centre as a "horrific act" and called on Canberrans to help the centre with its clean up in following days.
“Canberra has zero tolerance for this kind of malicious behaviour, and as a community we must now come together to rally behind the centre," she said.
“The vast majority of Canberrans are decent and tolerant – this is our chance to send a message to the perpetrators that this type of behaviour will not be tolerated."
Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture executive director Stephen Pickard said the crimes against the centre were not representative of the wider Canberra community's views.
''I don't think this reflects where this community wants to be and where it is going in the future,'' he said.