Indigenous Australians and Muslims

A History of Micro and Meso Dialogue prior to the 20th Century.

  • David Sneddon ACU
Keywords: Islam, The Dreaming, Indigenous Australia, Dialogue, Macassans, Baijini


For many years, Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had a long history of contact with the regions to the north of Australia. This preceded European contact by many years and led to fruitful dialogue and levels of social cohesion between Muslims from the Macassan and Malay region and the Indigenous people of Arnhem Land and beyond. The area of contact was widespread, encompassing around 3,000 km of Australia’s northern coastline. Initial contact was most likely with the people known as the Baijini, referred to as “followers of Allah”, followed by the Macassans. This article has two fundamental arguments concerning the nature and level of dialogue between Muslims and Indigenous Australians prior to the 20th Century. Firstly, there are established links that dialogue occurred in this era, as is evident by the linguistic traces, syncretic absorption of rituals and beliefs and the transference of technology. Secondly, whilst the primary objective of the interaction and dialogue was trade focussed, some of the Baijini and Macassans used this contact and trade as a vehicle for the purpose of da’wah (proselytizing or invitation to Islam, The syncretic nature of this dialogue has left a lasting legacy with many Indigenous peoples in Arnhem Land, including ceremonies and rituals reflecting certain concepts or ideas from Islam and other Macassan beliefs. Ultimately, this long term dialogue declined following the banning of the Macassan trepang fleets in 1906, however, the legacy remains to this day.