ACT News

Islamic leaders praise Canberra's strong multicultural spirit after Sydney siege

Islamic community leaders have condemned the actions of self-styled sheikh Man Haron Monis and praised the multicultural tolerance and strength of the Canberra community.

Diana Rahman, the president of the Canberra Multicultural Community Forum and a practising Muslim, said the vast majority of Canberrans understood the actions of one disturbed man did not reflect an entire community.

She was saddened to learn two innocent people, Tori Johnson, 34, and Katrina Dawson, 38, had lost their lives at the hands of man she described as having serious psychological and mental health issues.

Like many Canberrans, Ms Rahman was contacted by strangers who have offered to accompany Muslims to work should they feel threatened or uncomfortable after the day's events.

With the siege still unfolding on Monday night, a social media campaign celebrating community harmony began to trend worldwide using the hashtag #illridewithyou.

"It put a smile on my face and I had this overwhelming sense of 'Oh my God, that is just so nice'," Ms Rahman said.

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"For the majority of people in Canberra, that kind of behaviour is just the accepted way to act and considered the right thing to do."

Ms Rahman, a former president of the Canberra Islamic Centre, was not surprised by the show of support, because Canberra had routinely proved itself to be a tolerant, understanding and compassionate community.

"I'll always remember that after September 11 a number of women called up and offered to walk with our women around town if they had any issues," she said.

"It was then I came to realise that Canberra stands above many other cities and is a different place to live.

"The fact that someone like me, who wears a hijab, can become the president of a peak multicultural forum says a lot about this city and that's something we should celebrate."

Canberra Interfaith Forum secretary Willie Senanayake said the ACT has always been a harmonious community in comparison to other cities in Australia.

"Even when there have been a couple of minor incidents here with the Islamic or Sikh community being targeted, there has been a lot of support and co-operation extended from the community," he said.

Canberra Islamic Centre president Azra Khan said "as a community, we're all praying".

"I think as a community we all should be very conscious that this is a criminal act and no particular community should be looked upon to answer for it," she said.

Minister for Multicultural Affairs Joy Burch said Canberra had a strong, safe multicultural society and police were working with the government to ensure safety.   

"The tragic, criminal events in Sydney overnight have underscored the importance of maintaining a socially cohesive community, where people of all cultures and faiths are respected and respect each other," she said.

On Tuesday, Ms Burch met Canberra faith leaders and representatives of the Human Rights and Discrimination Commission and announced the membership of a new committee tasked with promoting cultural harmony in the capital.

She said there was a pointed discussion about the deadly siege, which has dominated media and political debate.

"Criminal activity is not to be tolerated in any community and we here in Canberra are a strong, multi-faith, multicultural community that will work as one.

"We come together in times of need, but we've got a good plan in place for progressing One Canberra."

She called on Canberrans to stand together regardless of faith or ethnic background.