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Imam and AFL fan Alep Mydie thrives in diverse Katanning community

Religion leader, Alep Mydie stands proud in front of a mosque located in Katanning, Western Australia
Alep Mydie is Imam of the Katanning Mosque and president of the Katanning Islamic Association.

ABC Open: Suzannah Lyons

Alep Mydie is not your typical Imam, if there is such a thing.

For starters, he is an avid fan of the US television show Game of Thrones.

During the AFL season he is likely to be seen donning the navy and gold of his beloved West Coast Eagles as he leads the service at the local mosque.

"Even my grandchildren have been baptised to be Eagles or Dockers supporters," Mr Mydie said.

"Everybody knows if the Eagles win … but vice versa if another team wins and we lose, the Eagles supporters keep quiet about it; not a word."

Mr Mydie's all-embracing view of the AFL mirrors his approach to life more broadly; that religion should not be everything — involvement in the wider community and other activities is important too.

It is a philosophy he lives and breathes. As well as being the local Imam, Mr Mydie is a councillor with the local shire, and runs a busy coffee shop.

In between keeping up with the latest Game of Thrones episodes, that is.

"I always look forward to coming to work, every day, seven days a week, including public holidays," he said.

"People say 'oh, you're crazy' but I enjoy it."

Alep Mydie, Imam of the Katanning Mosque and President of Katanning Islamic Association wearing a Richmond scarf
Alep Mydie stands proud of his cultural heritage and AFL team

Supplied: Wendy Thorn

Family was part of the first wave of migrants

Mr Mydie, who is of Malay origin, has been a key part of Katanning life since he moved to the sheep and wheat farming area three-hours south-east of Perth 42 years ago.

He was just 13 when his parents packed up their life on Christmas Island to move to Western Australia, where the local abattoir needed halal slaughtermen.

"We were in the second group of families [which] packed up and in 1974 we moved here to Katanning and here we are," Mr Mydie said.

He said he quickly learned to adapt — and thrive — in the small town where he looked and sounded different to everyone.

"When we first arrived, people wondered 'where did these people come from'," he said.

"We were called 'chocca boys', or 'samboy', because of our dark skin.

"Gradually we learned the lingo, we learned the language. We never shied away from anything, and we learned along the way.

"We tripped and fell and then we learned, and in the end, at the end of the day, we know who we are."

Katanning has had huge success as a cultural melting pot with migrants from 42 different nationalities living in the town of 3,800 with one in 10 are Muslim.

20 flag poles with various nation's flags stand in a line at Katanning Lions Park
There are more than 20 community sponsored flags representing diversity in Katanning Lions Park, Western Australia.

ABC News

Fears around anti-Islamic sentiment

One of the most significant things the growing Malay Muslim population of Katanning did was building a mosque.

The light orange brick building, adorned with silver minarets, opened in 1980 after years of collecting small donations.

"I was a young boy and my grandfather and my other elders sat down together and asked how can we go forward to build a mosque," he said.

"Looking back to see and to hear how hard it is to build a mosque 30, 40 years [on], how grateful we are."

Mr Mydie worries about uncertainty created by the global wave of anti-Islamic sentiment.

"Throughout life, you build something of tolerance in life and then it [gets] knocked a bit.... That's worrying me a lot," he said.

"Katanning is really, really special. It's like a magical place, where people accept you. We know how lucky we are."

The mosque has long been a part of the Katanning community, and regularly sponsors different sports teams in town, like cricket, soccer, basketball and netball.

Friendly AFL rivalries unite community

Each year, as the AFL season nears, Mr Mydie is well prepared.

"I've bought my AFL mugs, I've got the television ready for home games, for any games," he said.

"You know the Muslims — they are really, really passionate about their teams.

"Maybe other scholars might not agree with me, but I believe that we are not alone in this world, we're not just a Muslim minority.

"Being an Imam is a very high status [role] in the community; it's quite an important responsibility.

"But I want to see what is out in the world, away from the religious activities in the mosque — I want to be able to reach to other people, to talk to them.

"I don't just confine myself to the mosque every day, day in day out. No, that would be boring."

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