Dr amanda wise & dr jan ali commonwealth of Australia 2008

Post-World War II Muslim Immigration

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Post-World War II Muslim Immigration

After the Second World War, the Muslim population again began to increase in Australia and correspondingly so did Islam. By now Australian governments and businesses realised that in order for Australia to be part of post-war development, the nation had to grow demographically and economically. The sourcing of large numbers of migrants as workers, therefore, was related to the dynamics of the global economic position of developed capitalist societies like Australia (Castles and Miller, 1993). The need for large numbers of migrant workers for Australia was not just a national issue but was directly related to the nature of Australia’s economy and its positioning in the global capitalist world. At this time, Australia was a developing capitalist society that had the necessary preconditions, financial structure, and political and natural resources to develop industrially, however, it did not have the adequate labour resources and capital to achieve this development (Field, 2000).

While the mass migration programme initiated in 1947 sought immigrants from British origins, the ambitious immigration targets soon saw the immigration net expand and gradually become more global and culturally diverse. Subsequently, Muslim immigration was part of this process.

Although Albanians, former citizens of the Ottoman Empire, arrived in Australia in the 1920s and 1930s, their numbers were too minute to make much difference to the Australian landscape (John and Saeed, 2002). Turkish Cypriots, therefore, were the first Muslim immigrants to start arriving in significant numbers in the 1950s and 1960s followed by Turkish immigrants between 1968 and 1972 (Humphrey, 2001). Lebanese Muslims followed, constituting the largest Muslim community in Australia by early 1970 and they continued to grow, particularly after the outbreak of civil war in 1975 in Lebanon (Armstrong, 2000). The period 1950 to 1975 not only saw an increase in the Muslim population in Australia but also a significant increase in the number of arrivals of professional and skilled personnel, ‘such as teachers and engineers from Egypt, doctors from the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent, and tertiary students from Malaysia, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India and Pakistan’ (Ahmad, 1994: 318). Between 1947 and 1971 the Muslim population grew from 2,704 to 22,311 (Omar and Allen, 1997).

The last quarter of the twentieth century saw a steep increase in the growth of Australia’s Muslim population. For instance, in 1991 there were 148,096 Muslims which constituted 0.9% of the total Australian population (ABS Census, 1991); in 1996 there were 200,902 Muslims constituting 1.1% of the total Australian population (ABS Census, 1996); and in 2001 there were 281,578 Muslims constituting 1.5% of the total Australian population (ABS Census, 2002); and most recently in 2006 there were 340,389 Muslims constituting 1.7% of the total Australian population (ABS Census, 2007). Though Muslims live across the Australian continent, ABS data indicates they are mainly concentrated in New South Wales and Victoria (as the table below shows). In all states and territories, Muslims mainly live in the capital cities (Omar and Allen, 1997: 23).

Census Year



New South Wales

140 907

168 786


92 742

109 370

Western Australia

19 456

24 186


14 990

20 321

South Australia

7 478

10 517

Australian Capital Territory

3 488

4 373

Northern Territory


1 089



1 050

Other Territories




281 578

340 392

Table 2: Australian Muslim population by State/Territory
Source: Census 2001 and Census 2006

  • In New South Wales, where the largest Muslim population lives, Muslim-Australians constituted 2.5% of the total state population (ABS Census, 2007).

  • Within New South Wales, over 50% of the Muslim population lived almost entirely within a radius of fifty kilometres of Sydney, making Sydney the most concentrated Muslim population in Australia (ABS Census, 2002, 2007).

This steady increase has been mainly attributed to immigration; however, high birth rates have also contributed to the rapid increase in the Muslim population. The table below prepared by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2004 using 2001 Census data shows that the Muslim birth rate in Australia is a significant factor towards Muslim population growth. Also, it shows that Muslims in Australia are increasing at an unprecedented rate from within. If this trend in the Muslim-Australian population growth continues, it is possible that the second-and third-generation Muslim populace could gradually expand over the years signalling an important factor in Australia’s social, economic, and political reality.


128 906


30 290


23 125


15 961


13 820


13 358


10 038


8 656


96 235

Table 2: Australian Muslims – country/region of origin. Source: Census 2006.

Muslims, in most parts of the world, are not a homogenous people and are divided essentially on sectarian and ethnic grounds. Likewise, Australia’s Muslim population is extremely diverse; the table above provides a glimpse of this diversity. According to Saeed (2003), Sunnis make up the majority Muslims in Australia followed by the various Shi’a sects such as Zaydiyah, Isma’iliyah, Druze, Jafariyah, and Alawiyah. Additionally, there are traces of Ahmadism and Wahhabism in Australia as well as various other minor sects. Between 1975 and 2000 Muslims have come from over seventy different nations and make Muslim-Australians ethnically the most diverse religious group in Australia (Saeed, 2003).

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