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Bekim Hasani: The Albanian imam who speaks six languages

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Dr Hasani says being an imam is a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week job, and he has to be available for the community at any time.

ABC News, Erwin Renaldi

Carlton North is home to one of the oldest mosques in the city of Melbourne, built in 1969 by Albanian migrants.

On any given night during Ramadan, the mosque is filled with worshipers from many different cultural backgrounds to perform the Tarawih prayers. 

Albanians have migrated to Australia many years, including the mosque's imam Dr Bekim Hasani.

His sermons are mostly spoken in English, but using the six languages he has mastered he is able to connect with many other members of his community.

Dr Hasani spoke with Australia Plus' Erwin Renaldi about his journey with Islam.

When did you first want to become an imam?

When I was 14 years of age I didn’t know anything about Islam. My family were Muslims, but they were not religious back then. Just like any other Albanian families under communism, they didn’t know much about Islam. As soon as I finished my primary school, I decided to go to study medicine, but an imam came to visit my father and suggested I go study religion.

Something within myself was telling me to go and study Islam. I went to Islamic high school for four years, and after that I got a scholarship to go and study in Brunei Darussalam to do my degree in Shariah law at the University Brunei Darussalam. Then I went on to do my masters.

The Minister of Education and Minister of Religious Brunei then supported me to stay there and continue a PhD at the Sultan Sharif Ali Islamic University. I became the first student to complete the doctoral program at the university. I was 27 years old. I came to Australia in 2010 to become an imam.

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Hasani says that he didn't really know much thing about Islam when he was teenager.

ABC News, Erwin Renaldi

Tell us about the languages you've mastered.

I can speak Albanian, Bosnian, Arabic, Turkish, English and Malay, which I am still learning. People from different cultures come here, so I thought if I could speak the same language with them, they would feel welcome to come to this mosque. Learning the Malay language, I've made a lot of students from Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei feel welcomed here.

What are the challenges of being an imam in Australia?

Being an imam is a challenge. Every day someone is sick, has died, gotten married, or needs consultation. So from when I wake up in the morning until I go to bed, my phone never stops ringing.

Being an imam for me is an honour... to lead the prayer, delivering the Friday sermon, be involved in interfaith dialogue, and teaching children about the Muslim religion.

- Dr Besim Hasani, Imam Masjid Albania


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Dr Bekim Hasani, the imam for Albanian mosque in Carlton North, Victoria.

ABC News, Erwin Renaldi

How did you feel when Islam became more controversial in Australia?

Being an imam you have to be careful with what you say and disclose. If we follow the Quran and Hadith, we will never go wrong. I am always giving statements about Islam but also condemning evil actions taken place in the name of Islam. The newspapers and the media only talk about the bad things to do with Islam, to attract people's attention. But they do not acknowledge when the Islamic community are doing good things.

What is life like for Muslims in Australia?

Living in a non-Muslim country like Australia is a big challenge. When we open our front doors there are many temptations everywhere. So if we are not strong enough, or do not have a strong faith, we can easily slip into things that are not allowed in Islam. But the biggest challenge is education for our children and the next generation.

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Masjid Albania, in Carlton North.

ABC News, Erwin Renaldi

Is it difficult to live as a Muslim in Australia?

Living in western countries is very difficult but at the same time it can also be more rewarding, because we mingle with other religions and beliefs. Australia's population is only made up of two percent Muslim. Hence we must continue to come together, and help each other.

This article originally appeared in Indonesian here.

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