Duo of Dialogues: Melbourne
The cultural capital of Australia is a great place for cosmopolitan Muslim women to fully explore their personal, professional and spiritual sides. As told to Patricea Chow-Capodieci.
Rita Narangala, in her late 20s, is an environmental engineer. She manages a small team at a water utility plant that plans and designs sewerage works for different areas in Melbourne.
I am an Australian-born Chinese. My family is not really religious, even though I attended a Catholic primary school. Apparently when I was eight, I begged my parents for permission to take the Holy Communion.
I knew nothing about Islam until at university when my Sri Lankan boyfriend (who is now my husband) introduced me to its teachings. As an engineer, its scientific aspects such as human embryonic development (see box) amazed me, and I converted.
The knowledge that our fate is in the hands of our creator comforts me. As humans, we just need to do what we know is right, and have faith that God will take care of the rest.
Then We placed him as a sperm-drop in a firm lodging. Then We made the sperm-drop into a clinging clot, and We made the clot into a lump [of flesh], and We made [from] the lump, bones, and We covered the bones with flesh; then We developed him into another creation. So blessed is Allah, the best of creators.
There is a misconception that Islam oppresses women. This oppression is actually driven by political and cultural manifestations. The arrival of Islam in 7th-century Arabia brought about significant improvements in women’s rights, and its principles are still relevant today.
Many non-Muslims I meet are genuinely interested in hearing about Islam from a Muslim convert’s perspective. I share what I know about the seerah (see box) of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), for I think his integrity, compassion and beauty of character speak volumes about Islam.
I am with Benevolence Australia, a group that works with the youth and women of Melbourne’s Muslim community. We hold events with the aim of creating a non-judgemental and comfortable environment where women can nurture their Islamic-Australian identities.
One of my biggest practical challenges is finding places for salat. There are a number of mosques—alhamdulillah—but most are a 40-minute drive from my home. But this also means that I have prayed in some of the most beautiful places like the Royal Botanic Gardens Melbourne and on isolated beaches.
If money were not an issue, I would buy up large tracts of forest and protect them as native habitats. Then I would buy an apartment in Paris for my mother—although I am not sure whether she wants to live in France. But I can look after the apartment for her.
A typical workday involves leaving home after fajr and cycling 25 minutes to my office in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs. Most of my projects are done there, although sometimes there are site visits and community meetings as well. Alhamdulillah, it is a relaxed and friendly work environment, and I get home at around 7pm. Once a week, I attend spiritual classes at the masjid. During summer, when Maghrib is at around 8pm, I spend time outdoors and train for an annual triathlon event that I participate in.
At weekends, my husband and I often go away to the Wilsons Promontory, about three hours from Melbourne. Its beaches, with a gorgeous backdrop of forested mountains and stark granite boulders, are perfect for swimming. My favourite book is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and my favourite quote is ‘don’t blow it – good planets are hard to find’.
There is a misconception that Islam oppresses women. This oppression is actually driven by political and cultural manifestations
I worry about raising children, and I do not even have any yet. It is a scary prospect when you think of how little you can do to protect them from the world’s negative influences.
I would like to learn Arabic properly, so that I can appreciate the Qur’an more fully, without relying on the English translations. I would also like to write a children’s novel one day; at the moment I only have a couple of paragraphs, three characters, and a vague plot.
I once saw, hanging in a Chinese restaurant, a beautiful painting of Xinjiang, where the Muslim Uighurs are from. It showed brilliant blue lakes and lush plains. Maybe the artist had taken some liberties with the colours, but if it really exists, I would love to go there.