Eljam Bardi is an Albanian Muslim who migrated to Australia from Macedonia in 1982 after receiving an invitation from the Albanian Muslim community in Shepparton. He came from Cairo, Egypt, where he had finished his study in Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia law) at the well-renowned Al-Azhar University. Upon arrival at the Melbourne airport, he was welcomed by the President and Secretary of the Albanian Islamic Community of Shepparton and some representatives of the Albanian Carlton Muslim community. He remembers 'It was a warm welcome!'
After his arrival in Shepparton, located 190 km north of Melbourne, Eljam met multiple generations of Albanians. The first Albanians in Shepparton had settled in 1924. Eljam recalls: 'I found Albanians that were generous, trusty and sincere people. Usually, they gathered at the mosque. In Shepparton I also met my future wife, Salie.'
For nearly 40 years, Eljam Bardi has been the Imam of the Albanian mosque in Shepparton which is the oldest mosque in Victoria, built in 1960 and spiritual leader of the well-established Albanian Muslim community there. The mosque is also open to members of other Muslim ethnic groups. Eljam considers the period between the early 1980s and the late 1990s as a 'golden time of our community development,' but the Albanian Muslim community remains strong. During the Friday congregation about 250-300 people gather at the mosque. Eljam states: 'the mosque is opened each day for 24 hours and it has never had a problem - I am very proud of that fact'.
Imam Bardi is teaching a religious subject on Islam in three of Shepparton's primary schools as well as at the Shepparton High School. He is a member of the Board of Imams in Victoria. From time to time, Eljam provides religious services for Albanian and other Muslim communities in various places such as Melbourne, Lilydale, Mildura, Warrnambool, Wodonga and Albury. On a couple of occasions, he travelled to Brisbane and Mareeba where he discovered a longstanding Albanian Muslim community. After visiting these communities he stated: 'I am happy to see Muslim people, including Albanians, attached to this country. They are Australians too'.
Over time, the Shepparton population has diversified - there are migrants from many countries across Europe, Asia and Africa. Eljam is actively involved in Shepparton's interfaith network, and together with his Australian-born friends, Muslims in Shepparton contribute to striving for social cohesion and inter-religious harmony. Eljam states, 'It is always important to maintain good contacts with neighbours.' Albanians in Shepparton through various activities cooperate with residents from different backgrounds but also with local institutions, such as the local council. The Albanian Muslim community organises Eid festivals and traditional Albanian National Day celebrations, and the popular Albanian Harvest Fruit festivals where Albanian farmers, and community members, take their part in offering locally grown fruits and vegetables followed by traditional Albanian music and folk dance. They are also engaged with culturally diverse groups in local multicultural festivals.
Developed drawing on Dzavid Haveric's interview with Eljam Bardi, 2017.