DISPELLING MYTHS: 'I grew up with a thirst for religiosity'.
WHILE his height and stature command attention, Ahmad Mohib Siddique said he wanted to make clear he was not as scary as he looked.
"I don't think I smile enough, my wife agrees,” Imam Mohib laughed as he unlocked the door to a recreation area underneath his home, where a ping-pong table is next to a bookshelf filled with Korans and other religious texts.
Admittedly, 27 years of age is fairly young for an imam but it is a current case of supply and demand for this line of work.
"Imams are a bit hard to come by in regional Australia,” he said.
But having grown up in a religious family it seems he was destined for the role.
"My grandfather was an imam, so was my uncle and now my older brother,” he said.
"I grew up with a thirst for religiosity. I wanted to learn as much about Islam as I possibly could.”
Mr Mohib grew up on the Central Coast in NSW and said while it boasted a larger Muslim community, the lifestyle was similar to Mackay.
"What some may not know about Mackay is that Islam has deep roots here,” he said.
"There are historical references to Islam as far back as the 1800s - many of the first canecutters were Muslim.
"Whichever canefield they were working on at any given time, the Muslim workers would build a hut for prayer and we still have members of our community that are descendants of those original Muslims.”
Growing up post-September 11, Mr Mohib said he was aware of how important it was to dispel myths surrounding Islam.
"People who don't know much about Islam can sometimes become uneasy about what happens within the walls of a mosque,” he said.
"It's nothing to be worried about, of course, but it's also my job to show the greater community there is nothing to be concerned about.
"This is why we hold an annual open day - to break down barriers.”
The open day is a chance for the community to learn about Islam, experience traditions, tour the mosque and "bring an appetite” because there will be plenty of free food.
Local leaders, including Mackay Mayor Greg Williamson and MP Julieanne Gilbert, will also speak.
"We extend an invite to the larger community each year but rest assured there is an open-door policy every day here,” Mr Mohib said.
"And I welcome contact through Facebook - we get a lot of private messages with questions about Islam. There is no question too offensive. When you ask with the intention of learning, the answers will come from an open heart.”
- The Islamic Society of Mackay's open day is Saturday, August 3, from 2pm at Mackay Mosque, 6A Flinders Ct, Bakers Creek. Visit the society's Facebook page for more info.