There are moments in SBS documentary series The Mosque Next Door that would be right at home in You Can’t Ask That.
If you’re wondering what goes on behind white walls, these Muslim-Australians will debunk myths about their faith and culture, as cameras are given 24 / 7 access to Holland Park Mosque, south of Brisbane.
The three part series films inside Queensland’s oldest mosque which, as it happens, is not far from Pauline Hanson’s electorate. Hanson features prominently here in newsreels as individuals react to her re-election to the Senate, with the catch-cry that they should “go back to where you came from.”
But as 4th generation Australian Janeth Deen says, “She can take me back to the Northern Territory. I was born in Tennant Creek.” Indeed, Janeth’s accent is as dinky-di strine as Hanson’s. One of the misconceptions is that Muslim = Arabic, but there are 20 different nationalities in this community.
Another surprise is the makeshift cricket pitch outside the mosque, which is about to be invaded by the installation of three flagpoles for Australian, Indigenous and Queensland flags. Spiritual leader Imam Uzair is concerned at how the flagpoles will upset their small pitch, and if a ball hits the flagpole is that a 6 or is it out….?
The doco includes everyman explanations about the basics of prayer, it is 5 times a day for men, who pray separately to women. But outspoken women’s advocates Galila described by her daughter as “a bulldozer with a heart” is upset the men have better facilities, including new curtains and carpets, than the women’s small quarters. “Downstairs is not like a mosque…,” she complains. ” It’s not even a storage area.”
Sharia Law is also presented as non-threatening. Nothing in Australian law stops Muslims from following Sharia Law, and vice versa, says community fix-it man, Ali Kadri.
“It doesn’t mean chopping hands and hanging people…. it’s how you treat your parents, how you deal with your friends. It also means how you pray.”
He tries to offer “Halal Snack Packs” to shoppers in Logan as a gesture to talk about his faith, but he is met with some resistance. Not everybody wants to be on camera, no matter how spirited your intentions.
The opening episode also features anti-Muslim Facebook user Jason invited to the mosque to experience the community first hand -a strategy which seems to work. There’s no hatred, no bombs being assembled, shock horror….”It’s a lot more casual than I thought,” he admits.
Some moments are so quintessentially Australian that it reinforces the idea we have more in common than the points that separate us. Janeth, waiting for Ali to arrive at her flag raising ceremony explains that the men in the community are always late because they get up so early for prayers. “They go back to bed so it takes them a little bit of time to get organised,” she sighs.
But the first episode also ends with one man complaining he is on a police terrorism watch-list. How will the community respond?
The doco from Southern Pictures is heavily sympathetic (question: will it address religious views against homosexuality, oppressive treatment of women, extremist behaviour?) and I’m not sure 3 episodes is mandatory in order to be enlightened.
But The Mosque Next Door is an accessible hour should you be curious about a heavily-maligned part of our society, and may well give rise to an anthology franchise for SBS to debunk other institutions.
8:30pm Wednesdays on SBS.