Kim MacDonald, The West Australian (Perth), December 13, 2008
The Islamic community plans to build a Muslim-only housing development and recreation centre as part of a $10 million complex in Rivervale.
Islamic Council of WA spokesman Rahim Ghauri said the group had an architect-designed concept plan for a six-storey housing development, an underground carpark and a hall for weddings, conferences and religious and recreational activities.
Mr Ghauri rejected claims the housing would further isolate sectors of the Muslim community from mainstream society, claiming the venue would be used to teach Islamic youth how to become good Australian citizens.
And the council’s religious adviser, Abdul Jalil Ahmad, said it was useful for different religious or ethnic groups to have separate residential enclaves so their customs and exotic cooking smells did not offend neighbours.
“It’s ideal for any ethnic group because you can deal with each other in an easier way,” Mr Ahmad said.
“In South Africa, because of apartheid, all different communities were set up and it worked well. It kept people separate. We can be together in terms of our contribution to the wider community.”
Mr Jalil, who once tried to set up a sharia court in WA to settle disputes in the Muslim community through an incorporated body, plans to live in the 20-unit complex on the community’s 1280sqm Malvern Street block.
Mr Rahim said it would provide affordable housing for Muslims and be first-stop accommodation for Islamic students and newcomers to help integrate them into society.
The group wants donations from “generous Muslims” locally and all over the world for the complex and so far had $100,000. He declined to reveal who was approached but said all donations would be declared to the Government.
The council hoped to buy neighbouring vacant land from Landcorp to extend the development, possibly with offices, another carpark and sporting facilities.
Mr Rahim said WA’s Muslim community was one of the only religious groups which did not have its own recreation centre. It would offer to rent the hall to non-Muslims.
He said the inclusion of units was necessary to pass local planning laws but the council would include the Muslim-only housing block even if it was forced to move to another area.
Ethnic Communities Council president Ramdas Sankaran supported the development of a Muslim recreation hall but said a separate housing complex for any religious or ethnic group was a “deplorable” idea because it undermined social cohesion and promoted segregation.
He said there was an argument for separate aged-care facilities based on race or religion, but building a general housing complex for families set a dangerous precedent which he believed would not have support in the Muslim or broader communities.
“Self exclusion is just as bad as being excluded by other parties in Australia. It’s not in the interests of any group,” Mr Sankaran said.
Belmont mayor Glenys Godfrey had informal talks with the group but a council spokesman said it could not comment until it saw the plans.