The Albanian Australian Islamic Society (AAIS) mosque is situated in a blink-and-you-might-miss nook in North Carlton. This stands as an interesting metaphor for the seamless integration of the Albanian Muslim community into Australian life.
The AAIS is a religious space that aids cultural assimilation and provides education for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It has wholeheartedly contributed to the formation of the Yarra’s rich and multi-layered identity.
At an early age, Vahid’s family migrated to Australia. His parents hailed from the coastal Ulqin (pronounced Oullchin).
“I was actually born in Rome (Italy) where my parents resided in an estate mainly for European refugees and migrants planning to travel abroad,” Vahid says.
“My parents and I (11 months old at the time) boarded the Italian ship named Galileo, which was on route to Australia, and after a 30-day voyage by sea we docked at Port Melbourne on December 3rd, 1970. This also happened to be my very first birthday,” Vahid says.
Vahid and his family are no strangers to cultural shock and ennui. Shortly after they arrived, his family joined the AAIS.
On being asked about the best method for combating alienation, he prescribed socialising.
“Such activities bring you closer to other people in the community, it creates an environment for individuals to interact and meet with other people, then gradually friends can be made,” Vahid says.
The AAIS’s social activities and educational programs encourage people to group together. As a result of the interaction, they learn from one another and move to achieve goals that benefit the larger community.
In 1997, Vahid joined the AAIS Executive Committee as a volunteer.
Some of the society’s standout events include the annual Kid’s Bayram Eid Carnival and Bayram Eid Dinner Celebration. Eid, also called the “Sacrifice Feast”, is a Muslim holiday celebrated worldwide.
Both of these events fall on an important day of the Muslim calendar and are particularly loved by the Albanian Muslim community.
Vahid recalls the 2003 Building and Renovation project. The project aimed to restore the beauty of the Albanian Mosque and also expand to aid the increasing number of attendees. This is a brilliant example of an ambitious vision that ensued due to the support provided through the collectivised AAIS community.
Donations and time contributed by volunteers played a massive factor in the success. Moreover, dinners and BBQ’s helped raise funds. Vahid calls this a triumph for his community and a brilliant exposition for general society.
“I can still recall the sense of happiness we all felt when the project was finally completed,” Vahid says.
Vahid became president of the AAIS in 2006, initiating the successful set up of The AAIS Youth Center. The center has a café, social corner, sports facilities, recreation area and educational space.
Vahid claims that the biggest achievement is the bloom of multigenerational interaction – a true rarity in these isolated, technology fuelled days.
“We have kids, teenagers, parents, and grandparents all visiting The AAIS’s Youth Centre and spending their time there together,” Vahid says.
The AAIS have laboriously worked to conserve the Albanian Muslim faith, language, and tradition and have initiated multicultural relationships in the Yarra area.
The Albanians are very hospitable people – they are quick to welcome you in and accommodate you in their community. This is also reflected in their interactions around non-Muslims hoping to be exposed and educated about their culture.
“Being a good host – be that to a member of the family, a friend or even a total stranger – is held in high regard in our community,” Vahid said.
“The AAIS has always supported harmony and social cohesion among all members of the community. As a society, our doors are open to others from various backgrounds,” Vahid says.
The AAIS is open to school tours, public events and interfaith collaborations such as the Friendship Walk that aims to form cross-religious friendships.
“I believe that many people in the Yarra have enjoyed their experience at our society and also had a pleasant time meeting community members and learning from one another,” Vahid says.
The AAIS is a cultural institution that has aided assimilation and celebrated the richness of the Albanian Muslim community.
Written by Devana Senanayake