Ehasan and Isaaf El-Helou migrated from Syria in 1969 and 1973.
Ehasan El-Helou migrated to Australia from Syria in 1969. Ehasan's 36 day voyage was on the Greek ship Patris from Beirut, through Gibraltar, Cape Town, Fremantle and Port Melbourne. On the day of arrival his uncle Sheik Fehmi El-Imam welcomed him. He stayed for a couple months in Sheik Fehmi's house.
Ehasan's wife, Isaaf, also from Syria, arrived in 1973. She was working in Hums (Syria) as Arabic and history teacher. When she arrived in Melbourne she was a volunteer in the local municipality, school cantina, and also taught Arabic in the Box Hill Language Centre during 1980s. During the weekends she taught Arabic in the Preston community.
When Ehasan arrived from Syria, standing in the front of the mesjid, he was surprised to see just a small brick house, nothing at all similar to mosques in Damascus, Beirut or Istanbul. However he soon learned that the Muslim community was small and that what he saw was the beginning of the building of a community. He joined the multi-ethnic Muslim community in Melbourne, called the Islamic Society of Victoria, and like many members contributed to its development. He met many friends and cherished friendships with people from diverse Muslim backgrounds including Turkish, Bosnian, Indian, Pakistani, as well as Lebanese Christians and Anglo-Australians.
For many years, Ehasan worked as a mechanic and various other jobs such as delivering bread in north-west suburbs. Ehasan and Isaaf El-Helou remembered the opening of the Preston Mosque which was celebrated in 1977. The then Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, opened the mosque. He commenced his speech with Salam Alaykum - 'it was a very nice and welcoming speech'. Representatives from the Preston Council, the Catholic Bishop, Victorian architects and many friends of diverse backgrounds attended. There was an enormous sense of pride for Victorian Muslims. During the ceremony, Isaaf was seated next to Whitlam. She was very proud to have a brief chat with him and recalled that Whitlam asked her, 'How did you find Australia'? 'The PM was a genuine, good man', she said.
Ehasan was engaged in community activities, most notably in the Preston Islamic Centre. One of his activities was designing Islamic calendars. Although Ehasan's very first Islamic calendar was stencilled, his first printed Hijri calendar (Islamic calendar) was made in 1983 with a picture of Mecca. His calendars also included multilingual explanations and calligraphy design. As a retiree, he is dedicated to his talent and artistic skills in painting. His paintings include Australian landscapes and are exhibited across Melbourne. For his paintings he has received numerous awards and certificates of recognition.
Based on Dzavid Haveric's interview with Ehasan El-Helou, 2017.