Moving to the Goldfields, Muhammad Baqir never saw a grocery store as something he would venture into – until circumstances left him with no other option.
- Community members say traveling long distances for certified Halal meat is not economical
- Pandemic restrictions have made sourcing halal more complicated than ever
- A local entrepreneur has started a business to help Muslim communities in the WA region
âDuring the lockdown, no one was allowed to leave the Goldfields,â he said.
âWe had no intention of adopting grocery shopping or online food as a profession.
“When we saw this requirement in the community that we really need, we embraced this idea.”
Mr. Baqir, originally from Pakistan, moved to Australia in 2018 and moved to Kalgoorlie the following year, working as a project manager while running his e-commerce business.
Arriving in the West Indies, like many other Muslims who settle in regional towns, he faced the major problem of not knowing where to get halal products.
âIt was the first thought I discussed with my family and close friends: How do we bring our races from Perth? ” he said.
Impacts of COVID-19
For a while, Mr Baqir had no choice but to go the conventional route to regularly drive six and a half hours to Perth to do his halal groceries.
But when COVID-19 restrictions were put in place, it became difficult to get a G2G pass.
It was around this time that he decided to convert his then electronics business into a grocery store so he could help his struggling Muslim community in Kalgoorlie.
“I wanted everyone to have the opportunity to spend their life or enjoy life according to their rituals and customs,” Baqir said.
Why sourcing halal meat is so difficult
Reports from the Bureau of Statistics show that approximately 3,199 Muslims live in the Western Australia region, with that number increasing every year.
One of the biggest issues they face in regional cities is the supply of halal meat.
Despite several slaughterhouses in regional areas like Albany and Katanning producing halal meat, access for personal use is not as easy as it looks.
And in the absence of halal butchers and most of the local butchers unwilling to advertise halal products due to the stigma associated with it, it is almost impossible to get the products.
For those who can’t drive long distances, some up to 5 p.m. at places like Port Hedland in upstate Washington, going vegetarian has become standard practice.
Andrew Stewart and Mimi Hyland run a cafe in Kalgoorlie. They too have had to resort to difficult alternatives to obtain halal meat for their growing Muslim clientele.
âI was looking for different suppliers, different locationsâ¦ it was quite a challenge to find the halal product,â said Mr. Stewart.
“Once a month [Muhammad] showed me what he was doing, we went from there; it made it so much easier. “
Mr Stewart said the online store made sourcing culturally appropriate foods not only convenient but also affordable.
âIt just takes away any worry we have that it’s not what it is supposed to be, not halal,â he said.
Support from the local community
Without a plan or relevant experience to run a grocery store, Mr. Baqir’s business was made easier with the help of local cafe owner Umer Saleem, who stores his perishables in his fridge and refrigerator.
“I don’t charge him anything, I just do it to help the community; he helps the community and I help him and that’s it,” Mr. Saleem said.
For Muhammad, keeping the business going despite not generating much profit is his way of helping his struggling community and he hopes a similar approach can be taken across the country.