What is Islam’s appeal to Māori?


As demonstrated by census data and various academic studies, conversion to Islam has been on the rise in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Following the 2019 Christchurch attacks, three to five people a day were converting at a Wellington mosque, according to the International Muslim Association of New Zealand.

Among Māori, there is a particular interest in the religion, with the Qur’an translated into Te Reo Māori in 2008 and Māori Muslims organising halal hāngī and ‘Matariki at the Mosque’ events.

Plans have even been made to build a mosque-marae hybrid in Christchurch that brings together Islam and Te Ao Māori.

So what is the particular appeal for Māori? And what do these developments mean for Islam, the Muslim community and Aotearoa New Zealand?

Conversion in different parts of the world is attributed to a search for spiritual fulfilment, racism, colonialism, secularisation and disillusionment with Western values and Christianity.

For Māori, there appear to be similar reasons.

But my research so far also highlights striking cultural similarities between Muslims and Māori, in terms of respect for the elderly, family values, storytelling, the resemblance between a mosque and a marae, and between tikanga and Islamic law.

Initial conversations with Māori converts also show conversion has improved their wellbeing and sense of empowerment, and some Māori have converted to Islam from gangs and in prisons to find peace and solace.

As a Muslim scholar from Turkey, these developments are important for me to understand. But they are just as important for all New Zealanders, given Islam’s increasing local and global importance, the current global social and political climate that stigmatises Muslims, and the lack of ethnographic studies on Muslims in this country.

Apart from media stories and a very few narrow studies, conversion to Islam in Aotearoa New Zealand remains an overlooked topic – especially with regard to Māori. Continue reading

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