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10 December 2012

The AFL’s Richmond defender, Bachar Houli. The AFL’s Richmond defender, Bachar Houli and Kelvin Grove Urban Village’s eXchange group in Brisbane have been named the inaugural winners of the Award for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding.

In a partnership between the University of South Australia’s International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding and the Australia Day Council, the awards were established to highlight the efforts of people around the nation who are contributing to social harmony and community cohesion. 

Director of the Centre, Professor Salman Sayyid says nominations have come from most Australian states and reviewing the many entries was inspiring.

“There is a lot of great work being done in the wider community to enhance cooperation, understanding and community strength,” Prof Sayyid says.

“The choice was not easy but we are very proud to have two wonderful award winners in Bachar Houli and the multi-faceted community group the eXchange.

“They should be proud of their efforts and their engagement.”

The eXchange

Nestled in the heart of Kelvin Grove Urban Village some 2.5 km from the Brisbane CBD, the eXchange, is a thriving community centre that has changed the lives of Muslim and non-Muslim members and visitors.

The centre opened its doors in 2009 and in response to a growing representation of Muslim people in the neighbourhood, worked to develop services, groups and programs that would encourage community engagement, promote health and well-being and reduce social isolation.

The local community includes large populations of Muslim students often with spouses and young children as part of a wider community of non-Muslims in Kelvin Grove and its surrounds.

The eXchange has developed a range of successful and invaluable programs that host this engagement.

There is an English language buddy program – Let’s get talking, designed to bring adults together to practice English and help participants to make adjustments top living in a new cultural environment. About 50 Muslims have been buddied with locals to develop orientation and social interaction and conversational skills as part of the program.

There are also women-only beginners English language classes where 10 to 20 women meet weekly to improve their English and socialise.

There are mixed gender language classes for written and spoken English run by volunteer TESOL qualified teachers which include students from Muslim and non-Muslim backgrounds in an atmosphere of sharing respect and understanding.

The strong spirit of engagement at the eXchange has seen activities grow to include homework tutoring for Muslim children whose parents may be studying or researching at University, a special community based Eid Al-fiter Festival that encourages Muslim and non-Muslim participation, a knitting group attended by Muslim and non-Muslim knitters to make blankets for the Save the Children charity, sporting activities and a range of other supports, classes and services.

Bachar Houli

As the first devout Muslim to play AFL, Bachar Houli has become a leading influence for many young Australian Muslims; his dedication and commitment to his AFL career has enabled him to become a role model in his Muslim community.

He works one day a week as an AFL multicultural ambassador and has been credited with tremendously increasing the awareness about his religion among AFL, AFL clubs and the mainstream community.

He was instrumental in the recent announcement of fulltime prayer rooms at MCG and Etihiad stadium. Houli believes that he has a responsibility towards his fellow Muslims and fellow Australians to bring them closer to each other.  

Houli was born in Australia to Lebanese parents. His football journey started at the age of 11 with Spotswood in the Western Region Football League. Although his parents were initially not very supportive, his talent soon convinced them to come to an agreement that he could continue to play on the proviso that he kept his grades up at school.

As a boy he played with Spotswood and the Western Jets, where he won several best and fairest awards, as well as a number of other awards. He also represented Victoria at under 15, under 16 and under 18 level, captaining the under 15s and under 16s, and serving as vice-captain of the under 18s.

Despite injuries and a few setbacks in the 2006 AFL National Draft he was selected by Essendon and in debut season, played four games.

He has recently launched his own website which helps answer questions about football and faith and attracted much traffic during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which month Channel 7 also did a segment on him once again highlighting his role within the community and creating awareness about the Muslim faith among the audience.

A softly spoken ambassador for cross cultural harmony, he recently ran an inter-Islamic schools football competition called the Bachar Houli cup attended by Islamic schools across Victoria and followed it up with the formation of the Bachar Houli academy which would not only help these young talented kids improve their footy skills and offer a rare insight into an AFL club’s inner sanctum but also help to create greater religious and cultural understanding at the club.

While he believes his faith is a deeply personal part of his life, he is happy to put it in the public domain to open an avenue of interfaith dialogue and is ready to listen to and answer any positive or negative feedback that comes his way.  His profile as AFL multicultural ambassador can be viewed at http://www.aflcommunityclub.com.au/index.php?id=638, while his own website and blog is at http://bacharhouli.com.au.

Prof Sayyid says he hopes the awards will encourage initiatives and inspirational role models and act as a catalyst for public debate and engagement across the Australian community.

“We do live in a richly multicultural community and it is understanding that will ensure we get the most advantage from that – the cultural depth and breadth - that will build stronger and happier communities,” he says.

The awards will be presented at an official ceremony at UniSA’s City West campus on December 10.

About UniSA’s International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding

The International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding (MnM) seeks to understand the root causes of the differences between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities and to pioneer ways of bridging the divide that these differences seem to produce.

The centre promotes critical scholarship and research that helps to improve understanding and relations between Muslims and non-Muslims. It is socially engaged and contributes to both academic and public debates. It presents new ways of thinking about contemporary communities and cultures, offering us the chance to re-imagine our world.

About the Australia Day Council of South Australia

The Australia Day Council of South Australia (ADCSA) is an independent, non-profit, membership based association. Funding and support comes from the Australian Government (via the National Australia Day Council), the Government of South Australia, our membership base (including all Local Councils, Corporate Club and Individual Members), sponsorships, grants, merchandise sales and partnerships with like-minded organisations.

Media contact: Michèle Nardelli office: 08 8302 0966 mobile: 0418 823 673 email: michele.nardelli@unisa.edu.au

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