It’s 10.30 am on a Monday and in the Goulburn Valley Turkish Islamic Cultural Centre and Mosque the Imam Recep Ay is making coffee for his guests.
He lays out the cups, each on a saucer with a tiny teaspoon and two individually wrapped sugar cubes laid on top of a folded serviette.
He recently moved from Eskisehir in north western Turkey and will be the imam at the Turkish Mosque and Cultural Centre for the next five years.
“Eat”, he says with a broad smile, placing down a small white plate of Turkish delight.
He is the latest imam to come to Shepparton via a placement program funded by the Turkish Government.
Over the years he hopes to share his knowledge of the Quran, while he and his family experience life in a non-Muslim country.
He wants to demonstrate Islam’s peaceful virtues and show the broader community how it welcomes diversity and encourages respect.
“I want to be here to answer any questions people have about Islam,” he said.
At the mosque his duties range from teaching scripture to visiting the sick and elderly in their homes as well as organising the funeral processions.
He explains that the Friday prayers are the most important prayers of the week for the Muslim community.
“On Friday people will leave work early for prayer time and it makes me really happy to see the mosque full of people,” he said.
Since arriving with his wife and two young children he has been overwhelmed by the warm-heartedness of the community.
Shopping can be difficult with his limited English, but he notes that Sheppartonians have been helpful in translating and explaining the English language for him.
He hopes enrolling in an ESL TAFE course next February will help him interact with the community at a deeper level and take part in religious council meetings.
“As English is spoken everywhere it will be good for my kids to learn it while they are here,” he said
“For them to see a multicultural nation like Australia will show them a lot of diversity at a very young age, which is a positive.”
He only wishes there were more halal restaurants.
Outside of work, Imam Recep is a keen soccer player. He plays as a striker, hungry for goals.
Last weekend he competed in a tournament in Melbourne with a team from the mosque.
The Shepparton lifestyle has been a real change of pace for Imam Recep. Having moved from a city of nearly one million people with a large Muslim population, now he has to drive a bit further to find a mosque.
“When I was in Melbourne recently I had to drive 40 minutes to find a mosque at prayer time,” he said.
But the way he practises and teaches the faith remains the same.
He encourages anyone of any faith to come and visit the mosque.
“Our doors (at the mosque) are open to anyone. We’re happy to serve tea and coffee or cook food for people if they need,” he said.
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