Listen to a radio programme about speed dating
What can you do to change the minds and sway the hearts of people living in a town with a reputation – true or not – for supporting anti-Islam politics?
According to a metropolitan Melbourne restaurateur and human-rights activist, you pack 22 Muslim women on a bus, send them to the location in question, and ask the locals out on a date.
The non-romantic meet-up that results is ‘Speed Date A Muslim’ and it just occurred in Shepparton, Victoria, a town located in the federal seat of Murray belonging to Pauline Hanson's One Nation party.
Speed Date A Muslim is the brainchild of Hana Assafiri, who launched the event in 2016 from the upstairs dining room of her Brunswick cafe, the Moroccan Deli-cacy.
“I was just hoping people will be respectful and interested,” says Tuna.
But as the people of Shepparton began to file into the event, it became clear that this dating night was to be peaceful.
For a city apparently battling racial tension, Shepparton locals displaced strength in solidarity.
“When I first converted, my family were scared,” says Coskun.Born in Australia but raised in Morocco and Lebanon, Assafiri adopted the ‘speed dating’ format to provide a safe and respectful space for local non-Muslim to meet and ask Muslims all the curly questions they were otherwise too shy to.The overall aim is to provide people who want to explore, challenge or better understand their racial and religious perceptions with an opportunity to do just that."It also takes a lot for a student to tell a teacher ‘Mum won’t let me study’, or ‘Mum won’t let me work so I can look after my husband’ - and if there’s an eye roll, a step back, or a look of dislike on your face, they will retreat back into their shell again.” Ross nodded and took notes, hanging on the young law student’s every word.
As the crowds relaxed and personal stories were shared, the mood began to feel like old friends catching up.Those attending, it appeared, had come to learn about Islam and Muslim 'others', with a proverbial olive branch in hand.