ACT News

Muslim naval officer Mona Shindy says hijab makes her a target

Captain Mona Shindy, the hijab-wearing Muslim naval officer who runs the Littoral Warfare and Maritime Support Capability Development Group in Russell, takes being abused over her religion and mode of dress in her stride.

A recent online report after Captain Shindy had been named Telstra's NSW business woman of the year, quickly attracted the comment: "My father was in the navy for nearly 50 years and he served it with pride. He would turn over in his grave [if] he saw this piece of filth".

"That's reality, that's what'sĀ out there. You've got to live with it in the perspective that Muslim people in Australia have lived with varying degrees of comments over the years," Captain Shindy said.

Captain Shindy's other hat, as chief of navy's strategic adviser on Islamic cultural affairs and her more recent decision to wear the hijab with her uniform, has made her a target for vilification on a range of social media platforms.

"Maybe when I was younger those things might bite a little bit and hurt," Captain Shindy said.

"As I've become more philosophical about the issues in the world today I find myself reflecting on why it is people are making those comments."

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Vice chief of defence force, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, appointed Captain Shindy as his cultural adviser while he was still chief of navy in 2013. He also eased restrictions on Muslim women wearing the hijab, ending the requirement for special permission to be sought.

"I got a lot of flak, and I still get a lot of flak, from people who don't agree with this view," he said.

Admiral Griggs said diversity and inclusiveness were capability issues.

"Not only do we get more diverse views and better decision making but the available talent from which we can draw is bigger than it otherwise would be," he said.

Captain Shindy said mainstream Muslims were often the victims of an undeserved backlash.

"There [are] a lot of very barbaric groups out there that would have people convinced their behaviour, which is abhorrent and evil and have nothing to do with the teachings of Islam, somehow relate to that faith," she said.

Education, not outrage, was the answer.

"If you allow hate to be perpetuated through further anger all you do is spiral down into badness."

Muslims were just as saddened by incidents such as the Paris attacks as any other Australians.

"The ramifications that are there for people of the Islamic faith from the actions of these groups are even more significant than they are for non-Muslims," she said. "It is Muslims that are on the ground fighting with their lives against these groups; it is Muslims that are fleeing from the activities of these groups, it is Muslims who are investing time and effort into protecting their children against the lure of these groups."

Captain Shindy's decision to don the hijab last year was a very personal one and not driven by the advisory role she had taken on in 2013.

"I finally got the great privilege to go and do the pilgrimage in Mecca, the once in a lifetime thing that Muslims do," she said. "The first time I put on the hijab was when I left Sydney airport and got stopped by Customs and asked `where is the money?' and `what are you doing?'.

"The pilgrimage is a time of renewal, it is where Muslims ask for forgiveness for all previous life events and how they've lived and they start afresh.

"When I came back I wanted to practice my religion fully and fully meant doing that last obligatory bit and wearing the hijab. I haven't taken off the hijab in public since."

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