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Diversity in action

Following the trail of diversity in the Australian Capital Territory.

Mohammed Ali

Wendy Dawes

Mohammad Ali is a name that for some, conjures images of red gloves, boxing rings, heavy blows, and provocative jibes. But this unassuming, slight and wonderfully polite gentleman is Mohammed Ali, president of Forum Australia, Canberra.

Mohammed Ali comes from Pakistan, and carries himself in a way that is reminiscent of the manners of yesteryear, there is no big-noting himself or chest thumping here.

"Firstly, I love being identified someone coming from the East. I feel that that part of the world is still holding on to the old traditions," Mohammed says. "My sense of cultural identity pops up from the long traditions of the sub-continental society, that puts men before material.

"I love my mother language, Urdu, and I love Urdu literature - particularly its poetry. I write Urdu poetry myself and have also written short stories in Urdu."

"Secondly, I am a member of a global Muslim fraternity," he says. "I am a Muslim and I believe being Muslim means to respect difference and give every other belief its space. I also equally respect atheists as I believe that while they may not follow any divine doctrine, they do have doctrines of their own, principles of their own. And any principle based on fairness and truth cannot be wrong."

Mohammed came to Australia in 1991, moving directly to Canberra.

"I have never moved anywhere else," he says, proudly. "Why should I have moved? Canberra is such a nice, loving and caring place that I or my family never ever thought of moving elsewhere.

"In the last 25 years here, the day is still to come in my life when someone points out afinger to me or my kids, or my hijab-wearing wife, just because we are Muslims or just because our skin colour is different, or just because I am from Pakistan. 

"All my friends in Canberra love me and I love them. Love means harmony, love means togetherness and love means care. So, I have never experienced any negativity in Canberra," Mohammed says. "However, we were at the Gold Coast once and waiting behind me in a queue was a rather impatient guy. He called my wife and I, 'queue jumpers'. I didn’t mind it - actually, we bumped into the same guy as we were going out, so I asked him if we had done anything wrong. He said no, not at all, it was just an adrenaline rush, and amazingly, he said sorry to me and my wife!

"I love Australia, it is a lovely place," Mohammed smiles. "And I love Canberra - it is the loveliest place! Canberra is a place that does not know how to hate any person on the basis of his or her race, religion or culture."

"Of all the places I have lived in or visited, Canberra is the most tolerant," Mohammed explains. "And the places I have lived so far include Pakistan, Nigeria, Germany, United Kingdom, and have visited USA, UK and France. Even Karachi, Pakistan - where I come from - is not that tolerant.

"In all of Canberra's suburbs you find people of many different ethnicities living in perfect peace and harmony," Mohammed states proudly. "My street in Gungahlin has people from Afghanistan, China, 'True Blue' Aussies, and people from Italy and Greece."

Mohammed finishes with a suggestion. "The ACT government should build a monument near Lake Burly Griffin to tell all those who come to Canberra that they are welcome in here," he laughs, possibly not realising that he himself is a living monument to diversity and inclusion.