Islam is a religion based on the idea of one God, Allah, and on the prophethood of Muhammad, who began to preach a new religion in AD 610 in Mecca. Like any other religious tradition, Islam has several groupings: religio-political, theological and spiritual. These groupings are represented in Melbourne.
Muslim contact with Australia began with Macassan fishermen who came to the north of Australia fishing for trepang in the 17th century. These contacts were fleeting; it was the Afghan cameleers who were the first significant Muslim settlers in Australia. They began to arrive in 1867 and played a major role in the camel transport industry until the beginning of the 20th century.
With the establishment of Federation and the White Australia Policy early in the 20th century, Muslim migration to Australia was curtailed dramatically. It only began to increase again from the 1960s, with Turkish migrants in particular. Most of these people settled in Sydney, followed by Melbourne. Approximately 40% of Australia's Muslim population now lives in Melbourne. At the 2001 census Australia's Muslim population numbered 221 856, of which approximately 72 000 had been born in Australia. The Muslim community in Australia is ethnically and linguistically diverse, with more than 70 groups represented, including Turks, Lebanese, Egyptians, Malays and, latterly, Somalis, Afghans and Bosnians. Arabic, Turkish, English, Farsi and Urdu are the main languages.
Melbourne's Muslim community is scattered throughout the metropolitan area but is particularly numerous in the northern suburbs. The suburbs with the highest numbers of Muslims (according to the 2001 census) are Meadow Heights with 5195; Reservoir, 2467; Dallas, 2462; Noble Park, 2283; Coburg, 2176; Thomastown, 2149; St Albans, 2067; Broadmeadows, 1935; Lalor, 1861; Dandenong South, 1833. There is also a Muslim presence in Brunswick, Preston and Doncaster. Almost all these areas have businesses ranging from halal butchers and restaurants to other ethnically based enterprises.
Muslim religious life in Melbourne is centred on more than 25 mosques and a large number of prayer rooms at university campuses, workplaces and other venues. The best-attended mosques are at Preston, Broadmeadows, Newport and Doncaster. Melbourne also has five Islamic schools, established from the 1980s onwards: King Khaled Islamic College (Coburg), Minaret College (Springvale), Islamic College (Werribee), Darul Uloom College (Fawkner) and Illim College (Dallas). Islamic weekend schools operate in most mosques and Islamic centres. These weekend schools are often ethnically based, with the basics of Islamic education and the language of the dominant ethnic group in the area being taught. Melbourne is also host to Australia's first Islamic financial institution (the Muslim Community Cooperative of Australia), which functions as an interest-free Islamic financial institution. There are also welfare and youth organisations, and media outlets.
The peak body for Muslims in Victoria is the Islamic Council of Victoria, established in the late 1960s. Many Muslim societies are part of this Council, although a significant number of societies and organisations do not belong. The Islamic Council of Victoria, despite its limited resources, is involved in a range of activities to help the Muslims of Melbourne, including settlement of newly arrived refugees, dialogue with other faiths, and chaplaincy services to Muslims in prison and remand centres. The Council also co-ordinates the activities of the Board of Imams of Victoria.