Built in 1999, the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque was constructed to meet the needs of Sydney’s Turkish immigrants who settled in Australia under the assisted migration scheme of 1968, put in place by the Australian and Turkish governments. The mosque’s name honors the relationship built between Australian and Turkish troops in Gallipoli during World War I.
Today, the domed mosque, a prominent landmark in Sydney’s north west, brings together up to 1,500 worshipers at a time from many different backgrounds, including Muslims from Turkey, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Somalia and Algeria. Each week the mosque is open for the five daily prayers, Qur’an classes, counselling, and marriage and funeral services. It also runs a youth center, particularly for vulnerable young people, and various social activities like picnics, fishing and camping.
Ergun Genel, one of the mosque’s staff, said when the government restrictions on places of worship were put in place the mosque went into lockdown. “All internal and external services… [were] put on hold.” Like other religious institutions they have been using Facebook to stream some activities, such as the call to prayer, daily recitations of the Qur’an and lectures, but still they have felt the impact of the mosque’s closure acutely. Ergun explained, “the social and psychological impact on the community is of course unprecedented… seniors and children have been confined to their homes… [and] their day to day socializing and daily routine has been severely restricted.” For many this has resulted in boredom and “in some cases depression.”
The lockdown fell during Ramadan this year, Muslims’ month of fasting and spiritual reflection. Usually, Muslims would break their daily fast by eating and sharing food with friends and family members and evening congregational prayers at the mosque. This year, Ramadan was “a lonely time” for many. Ergun reflected that the month was harder because it was so different from the norm. “Communal religious reflection is very important in Islam… the very essence of a Muslim’s spiritual well-being.” Yet, one positive is they can keep in touch via social media.
Although the mosque has been severely financially impacted by its closure, with mosque expenses usually funded through donations from attendees, the community has been working hard to meet the needs of those in their local area through Muslim Kindness Boxes, which they are delivering in Sydney. Ergun noted, “Covid-19 has had a social impact on everyone regardless of [their] social or religious orientation in Australia.”
Thinking about this time, he reflected that it has led to a deeper sense of gratitude. “As the proverb goes, the fish does not understand the importance of its environment until it’s out of the water. We have always taken for granted all the bounties Allah (SWT) has blessed us with.”
While they wait for the mosque to reopen, “patience and perseverance will have to prevail [as we] hope and pray to Allah (SWT) for this calamity to be over as soon as possible.”