My Australian Muslim story


So what is my Australian story? My Australian story began in 1982, with my mother migrating to Australia when she was 11 years old. My childhood memories are filled with stereotypical Aussie pastimes, backyard cricket and playing footy in the middle of the road. I played with my two brothers and what seemed to be countless cousins (and yes I was the only girl).

Simple things like these are what make up my identity. They are what make me Australian. Having a BBQ every AFL Grand Final (watching the footy as a family) makes us Lebanese with a difference: we are also Australian. I laugh when I see my dad (with his broken English accent) talking to the neighbours about how the Blues are going this year and how Chris Judd is an overrated superstar. "Its derr year dis year" he says. Football is a huge part of my upbringing. It was a foreign sport to my dad when he came out here until my mum introduced him to 'Our Game'.

It can be argued that I've had a very Australian upbringing. Yet I've remained respectful towards my Lebanese and Muslim heritage. I fasted the entire month of Ramadan, but also played every round of football last year.

Being a Muslim I do feel like an outsider at times. Why do we constantly have to be portrayed as evil people? 'We're not all like that', I find myself shouting at certain news stories. 'Those extremists should just keep their mouths shut', I tell my mum. They're not talking on behalf of me or my family. At times like these I feel as if there is a great divide between myself and 'Australians'. Just as we get closer to assimilating, something else comes up. I find myself thinking that I'm not Australian. I don't belong. My mum only came here because she had nowhere else to go. She was an orphan at the age of 8 about to head to an orphanage and this was a great land. It was where lives were made.  Sometimes I think to myself 'Why couldn't we just be like them? Why do we have to do things differently? Why can't we eat pork?' Then I think to myself that I should appreciate where I'm from, what I believe in and how fortunate I am.

Yes I am Lebanese. But no, my brothers don't speak like 'Fully sick bros' and they don't walk around as if they own the place. We don't get into any punch-ons and every second word we speak is not a swear word. Yes I am also Australian. But my family doesn't drink VB's and we don't own towels with the Aussie flag printed on them. These images are stereotypes and my immediate family does not fit into them. We are unique. So are the 22 million or so people around this country. We all have a different Australian story.

About 2004, my older brother played in a local footy team. There was an Australian girl in his team. She was blonde and had light coloured eyes. I was 9, had dark features and I'd always wanted to play. But I was a girl. After years of convincing my dad to let me play football, he reluctantly gave in. I played football in an all boys team and this was frowned upon by many cousins and family friends. You're a girl, you shouldn't be playing footy. My dad would cop a lot of flack because he was supposed to be the 'man of the house'.

But this wasn't a village in Lebanon where girls lived in the kitchen. This was Nadine Rabah, the daughter of a modern woman, who from a young age had a passion to play football. From the day I joined I knew that I had a point to prove. At the age of twelve I had to show them all, including my dad that, hey, I'm better than your son at football, and I don't want to live the life that so many Muslim girls and women were used to. I won the Best and Fairest award at the end of that year, in an all boys team, many of whom were Lebanese Muslims. My picture still hangs in the Glenroy Football Club rooms.

From that time I gained the respect of an entire community. They understood that we are no longer just Lebanese. This is Australia and we are Australian. Girls could do way more than just cook and clean. Today, instead of frowning, many older men and women ask me how my footy is going. Or they say 'So I've heard you've started umpiring; you gonna make it to the AFL one day?" They are also full of praise to my parents. I was told that I am a pioneer to many Lebanese and Muslim girls. I have broken many boundaries which girls in Middle Eastern countries would never even have imagined doing.

My Australian story continues. Some days it'll feel like I don't belong. Sometimes I'll get upset that I am Lebanese, I think that life would be way easier to be an Aussie. But hey, if I go to Lebanon they'll call me an Australian, and in Australia they call me a Lebo. So what am I? I personally believe I am an Australian with a Lebanese background.

It is difficult to put a finger on what it means to be an Australian. No one has a country like we do. I love the tapestry of life that is Australia. It doesn't matter where you come from, being an 'Australian' (for me) means wanting to be 'mates' with everyone, harbouring no ill-will towards others. It means wanting to live in peace and harmony (with each other), being free and independent, giving a helping hand when needed, treating everyone fairly and enjoying the great game of football. I can confidently say that I am an Australian. A proud one too. 

Nadine RabahNadine Rabah is a passionate English student in year 11 at Mercy College in Coburg, Vic. She is also an umpire in the Essendon District Football League and aspires to be a journalist. She received Third Prize in the 2011 Margaret Dooley Award for this essay.

Topic tags: multiculturalism, Margaret Dooley Award, Nadine Rabah, Muslims, Lebanese



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Existing comments

Well done Nadine! We need to hear stories like yours time and time again. Try to get this published in The Herald Sun especially!

Barbara | 31 August 2011  

Great stuff, Nadine. I spent my childhood being hosted by Lebanese and Chinese and so got to enjoy a lifetime of non-English/Irish cuisine. I think people cannot understand how Muslim terrorists can kill their own people. But I enjoy being hosted by our Muslim friends locally.

Rob | 31 August 2011  

My Australian Muslim story .i enjoyed reading

Augustine (aimale) Sami | 31 August 2011  

What a great story. I congratulate you Nadine on breaking through barriers, your determination and zest for the sport of football. I congratulate your family too, for their support of you, you mum and dad. What wonderful people they must be, to recognise your need to excell in your chosen sport. I think that they would have supported the path you chose, however unfamiliar to their own upbringing, I think that Australia is most fortunate in having you and your family. You bring energy and also an outspokenness, not in an angry way but hoping for better understanding, I hope that understanding and respect of beliefs and backgrounds will grow and flourish replacing fear and ignorance.
I think you will be a very fair umpire Nadine.

Eleanor Berg | 31 August 2011  

"Being a Muslim I do feel like an outsider at times. Why do we constantly have to be portrayed as evil people? 'We're not all like that',", yes, well you're not alone there, Muslim or not.

That is exactly how I feel when I hear every last one of our politicians declaring Australia to be 'a Christian nation'. Every time a PM talks about the great Judeo-Christian backbone' of the nation.

Why do you feel some dis'ease? Esay, because you are officially marginalised as an 'other'. Read Edward Said. Listen to those who claim to represent all Australians as 'a Christian nation', those religious zealots from the Australian Christian Lobby, who hate Muslims and Islam and are supported by official Commonwealth policy via the National School Chaplaincy Program, the official vehicle for pushing Christianity in public schools.

Many 'real' Australians' hate all of that too.

Harry Wilson | 31 August 2011  

I sympathise with Nadine. Anti-Muslim prejudice is, unfortunately alive and well in many parts of Australia. The thing that gets under the skin of so much prejudice is the perceived failure to assimilate by some Muslims and the ravings of a few fundamentalist Muslims. I have met and taught many Muslims and they were no different from any other Australians. Good on you Nadine.

Don Humphrey | 31 August 2011  

Life wasn't meant to be easy Nadine! You did well up till now! Keep at it! Say a prayer for christians in Pakistan or other muslim majority countries and pray that they will experience the freedom you have.

Theo Verbeek | 31 August 2011  

Great story; well told.

RFI Smith | 31 August 2011  

Thank you for sharing your story Nadine. I am a Christian who has taught a few Muslim boys in a state school and have got to know their families. We can certainly learn much from the Muslims about family and community cohesiveness. I also found the morals, values, respect for elders and level of maturity of these boys far superior to those of the young men in my church.

As well, I have been teaching in Pakistan for the last three years and found the vast majority of the Muslims there very friendly and helpful.

Dennis | 31 August 2011  

This was a great story, one of true integration and assimilation. I could not think of a better description of what it is to be a good Australian, human being for that matter, than Ms Rabah's closing paragraph.

Unfortunately the story of all Muslim immmigrants is not so happy. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong, but when I look at Europe I think that Ms Rabah and her family are more the exception than the rule.

There is a growing militant Islam in Western countries that people from all communities must face. The following link shows what happens when it is at its worst. In effect those described in this article are not immigrants but colonists, despising and rejecting local laws and customs. They would also impose restrictions on their own people, fellow Muslims, that are a clear breach of their individual human rights.

I also commend Theo Verbeek for his words about the Christians suffering in Muslim majority lands. The Barnabas Fund is one organisaton, amongst others, that documents the persecution that Christians suffer. Most Christians in Muslim countries do not enjoy the freedom that Ms Rabah and her family enjoyed in Australia.

John Ryan | 31 August 2011  

Thank you, Nadine. Yes, you are a true Australian, and Australia is a better place because you and your family live here.

I have a little story you might like:
I was a hospital Social Worker for a few years, working in the difficult area of neurosurgery. I met a number of good doctors, some of whom were Christains, some Muslims, some Hindus, some Buddhist, and some with no religious affiliation. A young Catholic wife and mother had just died of a brain tumour. When I went to make my final entry in her medical records, the Muslim doctor who had issued her death certificate had just made his entry in her notes. The final words he wrote were "May she rest in peace." I had never seen these words used in the official record by any other health professional.

Peter Downie | 31 August 2011  

This was a great story, one of true integration and assimilation. I could not think of a better description of what it is to be a good Australian, human being for that matter, than Ms Rabah's closing paragraph.

Unfortunately the story of all Muslim immmigrants is not so happy. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong, but when I look at Europe I think that Ms Rabah and her family are more the exception than the rule.

There is a growing militant Islam in Western countries that people from all communities must face. The following link shows what happens when it is at its worst. In effect those described in this article are not immigrants but colonists, despising and rejecting local laws and customs. They would also impose restrictions on their own people, fellow Muslims, that are a clear breach of their individual human rights.

I also commend Theo Verbeek for his words about the Christians suffering in Muslim majority lands. The Barnabas Fund is one organisaton, amongst others, that documents the persecution that Christians suffer. Most Christians in Muslim countries do not enjoy the freedom that Ms Rabah and her family enjoyed in Australia.

John Ryan | 31 August 2011  

Thanks, Nadine. A great story well told.

John Ryan, I think it's easy to just say that there are militant Muslims spreading throughout the west but you haven't asked the question as to why that is happening. Perhaps they feel marginalised and forced into extremism because the societies they live in don't accept them.

I live in Indonesia and the Muslims I live and work with are not extremist. They are sickened by the way in which their faith has been hijacked and their voice is not acknowldeged by a press only to happy to talk up the jihadis and ignore those who say "That's not Islam."

ErikH | 31 August 2011  

Well said, you're a trailblazer for others not born yet who will not know the benefits bestowed on them by people like you.

Spread your positive story through the Muslim communities!

Ben Davies | 31 August 2011  

We use different names: YHWH, God, Allah, for the same Creator.
We are one race.

Laurie | 31 August 2011  

Thanks Nadine, I'm fourth generation Australian and have lived here for seventy years. I often feel that I just don't belong. It is to be expected in such a diverse country, and I suspect it is really one of our strengths.

Margaret McDonald | 31 August 2011  

Erikh, if I may respond to your points. First, I think that you too easily excuse violence from Muslims who are allegedly marginalized. Even if they are marginalized, they have no excuse to respond with violence. We are not talking about children here in playground tiffs, but adults. We must demand better behavior from all members of our communities whenever they perceive themselves slighted.

Second, the practices referred to in the article are standard practices in Islamic countries. They include, no alcohol, segregation of the sexes, compulsory head-covering for women and no gays. These in effect mean that elements in these Islamic communities are supplanting the law of their adopted land with those from the old countries. They not only choose to live by the old standards, but force them on others.

Finally, you said I did not ask where extremism comes from and suggested that they answer lay outside Islam. Perhaps the answer lies within it. Passages like 9.29 from the Quran, may have something to do with it. “Fight those who believe not in God nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by God and His Apostle, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth , (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” I know not all Muslims see this as a command to combat Christians and Jews, but enough do to make it a concern.

John Ryan | 01 September 2011  

A good thought provoking story, Nadine. Although most Australian people are decent, hardworking and generous people, most of them have a poor knowledge and understanding of the different cultural and historical backgrounds of immigrants and indigenous people. Sectarianism is alive and well. In previous generations we had sectarianism with some hostility between Catholics and Protestants. We now have sectarianism between the various religions and secular people. Our education system and media has failed to provide us with a sophisticated knowledge and understanding of the different multicultural groups. The issue of what is an Australian is an interesting question? There are issues of birth, residency, expats., immigrants from all countries, refugees etc. Is my sister who is married to a Canadian and has lived in Canada and England for more than 35 years any less an Australian than a person who has only lived in Australia. I am not sure that there is too much difference in the theology, ideals and stories of both the Koran and the Bible and we should always be wary of literal and fundamental interpretations.

Mark Doyle | 01 September 2011  

Brilliant Nadine. Thanks for your inspiring story. Keep on playing footy, shouting at the telly and being a wonderfully passionate human being.

spiritedcrone | 02 September 2011  

Great essay. Keep your passion alight. I have some notion of your dilemma around religious extremism - feel the same way about the lunatic christian right - they have [or tried to] co-opt the name of my religion. As an expatriate Aussie, I feel ashamed when I read of the anti- Muslim attitudes and actions in Aus (and in the U.S. where I live), but my 70 years have helped me understand that these struggles are never over. Keep up your courage. Australia is the better for having you as a citizen.

harriet gleeson | 03 September 2011  

Harriett Gleeson, could I trouble you to provide a few examples of the extreme actions and attitudes of the extreme, lunatic, fringe, Christian right? As far as I am aware, no Christian of any ilk has lately, in the name of Christ, flown planes into buildings, blown up bars with incendiary devices, tried to blow up Times Square with a car bomb or sent suicide bombers onto London buses and underground trains. If they did so, how could they justify their actions, if they look at the words and life of Christ? "Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Father forgive them, they know not what they do." How does this compare to the words one find in the Quran, the very words of Allah himself? (Qur'an 5:73) "They are surely disbelievers who blaspheme and say: 'God is one of three in the Trinity for there is no Ilah (God) except One, Allah. If they desist not from saying this (blasphemy), verily a grievous penalty will befall them - the disbelievers will suffer a painful doom." Considering also the imprecation to attack Christians that John Ryan included in his post, it is clear that Christian are cursed by Allah for their unbelief and are fair game for Muslims.

Laurie's assertion that we are all one but simply call the Lord by different names seems untenable to me.

Patrick James | 03 September 2011  

To me, this is what multiculturalism is all about. It's not assimilation, but a joining of cultures. A few family members and friends have issues with certain religions and races. Sometimes it's based on a personal experience, often it's based on the culture of fear that is propagated by the media.

I've come across good and bad from most every race and religion, and take people for who they are, not their background.

My Dad is Greek, so while my summers still involved cricket on the TV and BBQs by the pool, we had tzatziki instead of tomato sauce (okay, we had both!) We had two easters, one with chocolate eggs and another with hard boiled dyed eggs and a whole lamb on the spit. While my Dad grew up watching soccer, even going to see Pele play when he lived in Brazil as a child, it was to rugby league games we went as a family.

I feel like I got the best of both cultures, which is how it should be. People change countries they're escaping to or from something, and it makes no sense to bring what they're escaping. Bring all the good and embrace the good you find.

Steve | 04 September 2011  

I thought I had known you well Nadine and I always praised your ambition and determination but I did not know that you hold this kind of extra civilised, peaceful and uniting balanced attitude. Keep going and you will have the many positive commentators and my support and ignore those divisive negative comments which deserve to be shouted at like the ones you mentioned in your encouraging article.Please share this believe with your peers and community members to make our Australia the best in the world.I wish you all the best in your sport , journalism and life in general.I'll continue to be proud of you

Dr.A.Wassouf | 04 September 2011  

Thankyou Nadine for an insight into the life of an Australian-Lebanese Muslim girl. You are a wonderful example to other young girls and your parents should be proud. Tolerance and respect for others, despite our differences, is integral to the success and cohesiveness of a society. The foundation of this country was laid by migrants who probably felt not much different to you. You are challenging the stereotypes. Well done!

Juliette Hooper | 04 September 2011  

Great, absolutely great story Nadine. You are the definition of what it means to be Australian. We need more people like you and who have the same outlook on not just diversity but life altogether. I can really see you becoming someone in the future. Keep it up champ!

Mitchell | 07 September 2011  

Nadine I feel your parents'pride would be tangible. Any person who has a migrant background can empathise with your story, as do I [Croatian]. Thank you for allowing me to share your story.

Patricia Rowe | 11 September 2011  

In this stereotypical world that we live in, individuals are quick to judge one another; even myself. I can honestly say that the views you've pointed out of people towards your background.. I too had that view until I met individuals who weren't anything as I expected them to be.

I'm Asian and not even Australian but with Australian citizen and even I'm judgemental. I read this and it makes me feel appalled that I view myself as higher than everyone else but in truth, I'm not.

It's a beautiful piece. Brave words that some people would be afraid to express in the fear of being judged.

Well done Nadine!

Patricia | 17 November 2011  

Brava, Nadine! I have worked alongside some fine individuals who were Muslim and taught children in high school who were Muslim (Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Indonesia). They were not at all unlike students of other religious or ethnic backgrounds. I remember reading the Koran in my late teens and being surprised to find all the stories and characters I knew from the Bible within its pages. The same, I thought! Australia is a country where we should be able to see beyond the outer wrapping of difference - be that skin colour or clothing style or private belief to see each other as fellow human beings. Your article/story helps bring that hope closer! Thanks!

Jim KABLE | 19 February 2012  

I'ts great to have Nardine as an Australian. She would understand the plight of the original custodians of this land we call Australia

Francis Brown | 29 May 2012  

Congratulations Nadine.My ancestors came all out in the middle of the 19th century so I am a 5th generation australian aged nearly 80. I cant say I am in the least interested in football but I have been involved in Catholic/Muslim relationships and saw the strong similarities in our beliefs. Both groups unfortunately have their members with tunnel vision who cannot admit that we all worship the one God and if really trying to follow the teachings of Jesus or Mahommad we should try to make this world a better more loving place as both of them advised. I've been called Mrs R. Miss C, and the various shortened forms for Patricia but they all refer to me (even 'that woman up the hill with all those children) but they all refer to me so I can not see why God would mind being Allah, God or even The Ground of Our Being or Ultimate Truth, They all point to the same Divinity though none defines it,

Patricia Ryan | 04 June 2012  

so true exactly like my family lol love your story about Muslim background i am Muslim and have so many people saying to me how come u don't go to receive communion and conformation and all this stuff it gets annoying but oh well ans also exact same to me a boy at my primary school says oh muslim people are so mean and arragent what an idiot so look up to u try to get this published !!!!!

HEy_habibs_yeh_im_lebo_got_a_problem | 21 June 2012  

Nadine you are wonderful!As you said "those (Muslim) extremists should keep their mouths shut". So should 'extremist' Christians (all denominations). I'm catholic, Welsh descent, third generation footy-loving 'moderate' Aussie who abhors all extremists as such. I'm nearly 70 and my generation has lived in a predominately Christian Australia and European immigration. The large Italian and Greek post-war immigrants did not bring religious 'differences' with them but it still took time for them to be 'accepted'. Sad really. I'm not certain what Muslims see as extreme in their culture but I would see Sharia law as an absolute no-no in this country and I do like to see a face when I talk to someone! There is plenty wrong with 'us' catholics by-the-way so we all need to re-examine who we are and who we truly represent. All the best to you Nadine.

Jack Bowen | 02 July 2012  

What I value about stories like yours, Nadine, is that, in essence, they're repeated over and over in the history of this country. The gender, the nationality, the context varies, but they're all about someone who steps out of the crowd and does something which draws people together regardless of ethnic origins and religious beliefs into a community (temporary of longer lasting). Bit of a dearth of stories like this recently, So I find yours very reassuring. My compliments to your mum and dad - they did a good job. Best wishes to you and your family. They'd be great to have as neigbhours.

Philip Armit | 04 July 2012  

Well done Nadine. I loved your article and I think we need to hear more stories like yours to help break down the stereo typing that goes on in our society.

Brenda kennedy | 09 July 2012  

Great Story... you sound like a wonderful person. It saddens me that muslims don't speak out more loudly against extremists.

Brian | 13 February 2013  

Nadine,thank you for your forthright views. It is so refreshing to read them. You have endured a lot because you are not Anglo-Saxon. Thank you for the patience you've shown with so many negative remarks. You are a woman of spirit. We are so glad to have you here. We need to break out of the old stereotypes. Marie

Marie O'Connor sgs | 28 August 2013  

I shared your story on my FB page. Thanks for a great story :D You are so right. We are all Australian. No matter what our background.

Robbie | 20 May 2014  

Hi Nadine! I found your story so inspiring. I am doing a speech on valuing differences especially racial and religious differences. I too have experienced flack for being a foreigner, and I truly relate to your story. I am year 12 and also want to be a journalist. I wish you the best of luck with your Footy and especially your studies. Kind Regards.

Hannah | 05 September 2014  

Well written Nadine. Although not Muslim, I am also from another country so have a small understanding of what you face. However, it is people like you that are now making up our country and will only make things better for the future. Be proud.

Sue Webb | 21 December 2014  

Well said Nadine, But don't feel you need to prove you're a good person, nutjobs come in all race and Religion (eg Adrian Bayley,Martin Bryant etc). Although I do sympathise with Muslims (mostly Palestinians),I believe God will hand out the punishment in due time. Cheers from a Christian friend.

Robert Martoccia | 22 December 2014  

Hello Nadine. I also of Lebanese background - and Irish. Our family are Christian; came to Australia in 1886. I just read your story and I am very proud of you & your family. Congratulations on your football career and I wish you well in your journalistic ambitions. Good luck & God bless.

Lesley | 22 December 2014  

Be a proud Aussie, Nadine. Good people like you are what we need. And be proud of your heritage. Very proud.

Chrstopher Woulfe | 22 December 2014  

Thank you Nadine, for sharing your story and your feelings. May your story and life be an inspiration to all young people trying to find their place in society. Your story gives all Australians some wonderful principles. Respect cultures, follow your passions and love your country. I wish you all the best for your aspirations in journalism and also for your umpiring. Best wishes for the future John E

John E | 23 December 2014  


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