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Australian Fashion Show Promotes Islamic Culture

A fashion parade to promote understanding of Islamic dress for women has opened in Australia's biggest city, Sydney. Its aim is to challenge the hostile and ill-informed views many non-Muslims have about Islam. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

The clothes exhibition is called "My Dress, My Image, My Choice." The Muslim women who organized it hope to break down barriers and challenge pre-conceived ideas the wider community may have about Muslim women and Islam in general.

Organizers paint a disturbing picture of what life is like for Muslims in Australia after the attacks in the United States in September 2001 and subsequent atrocities around the world that have been blamed on radical Islamic militants.

Militants were also responsible for the bombings on the Indonesian island of Bali in October 2002, which killed 202 people, including 88 Australians. Muslims in Australia felt an immediate backlash. Mosques were attacked and the Islamic community felt besieged.

This event's organizers say Muslim women wearing traditional dress have been assaulted and even had their clothing set on fire while on public transport. Others have faced open discrimination at shops and restaurants.

Exhibition organizer says the show hopes to portray Muslims as ordinary people.

"I can understand why people are afraid of Islam. If I was a non-Muslim I'd be afraid too if I was listening to all the things too that were happening in the media," she said. "What we're hoping to achieve is basically is telling people that we're just as human as anybody else and we have the same ambitions and desires as anybody else and to judge us for ourselves not just our outer appearance and definitely not take the actions of a minority in the world reflective of what our faith stands for. That's what we hope to achieve."

The Islamic fashion show aims to challenge that suspicion and hostility by helping non-Muslims understand a little more about Islamic culture. The display features full dresses with elaborate trains, wedding attire and sleek gowns with decorative headscarves and jewels.

Australia's 300,000 Muslims often complain of victimization and marginalization.

A national study has found that fear continues to isolate many Australian Muslims. The study, funded by the Australian Research Council, has also said that there's a growing mistrust of the government within the Islamic community.