I rise to express my profound sadness and shock at the loss of a wonderful Australian, a man of faith who has made an outstanding contribution to our country and to our community.
The imam of Cairns mosque, Abdul Aziz Mohammed, passed away last night after a long illness, surrounded by family. He was 84 years old. I have known the imam for longer than I have been in this parliament. He was a driver of community unity, a dear friend and somebody that I have always looked up to and respected.
His family is a key part of the multicultural fabric of Far North Queensland. His father, of Pakistani heritage, travelled to Cairns in 1900 to work in the cane fields before becoming a spiritual adviser to the small Muslim community in Cairns.
The imam was born and raised in Cairns and counted himself as thoroughly Australian, even speaking with a very broad Australian twang. He represented the Cairns junior soccer team when he played as a youngster in 1948.
He spent many years on various Cairns Show and farming committees and has been described as a stalwart of Rotary. He took over his father and brother's spiritual work and was instrumental in establishing Cairns's first mosque, which opened in 2010. There are 40 families or more, of more than 12 different nationalities, who regularly attend.
He was always accepting and welcoming to those interested in his Islamic faith in the Far North, and for the vast majority of the community the interaction was very positive.
I recall an incident back in November 2013 when the mosque was vandalised with graffiti calling for worshippers to integrate or return to their homelands. It was certainly a laughable statement.
When I visited the mosque after the incident to show my support, the imam, then 81, was puzzled. He said, 'How can we integrate more than I have done?' He was talking about how, for about five generations, he has contributed. In his very Australian voice, he then went on to ask, 'I would like to know what these people have done for their community,' compared with his own service.
Fortunately, as he said at the time, 99.9 per cent of the district has always been very supportive and, like me, agrees that Muslims are part of our rich culture in the Far North.
He showed love and respect and, in return, was truly loved and respected. He had a great sense of humour, a great sense of responsibility and the courage to speak out against acts that were not in line with his faith.
I know that the imam's good work and legacy will carry on, and I will continue to support the Muslim community however I can.
I pass my sincerest condolences to his children, grandchildren and extended family. Rest well, my friend.