Captain Mona Shindy is the most senior Muslim serving in the Royal Australian Navy and director of the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies at the Australian Defence College in Canberra.
Mona was born in Egypt and moved with her family to Australia when she was three years old. Her dad died when she was 14. She joined the Royal Navy in 1989 as an undergraduate engineer and graduated with a degree in weapons engineering.
Mona started wearing the hijab in 2014 and says about that decision “I finally got the great privilege to go and do the pilgrimage in Mecca, the once in a lifetime thing that Muslims do. The pilgrimage is a time of renewal, it is where Muslims ask for forgiveness for all previous life events and how they’ve lived and they start afresh. When I came back I wanted to practice my religion fully and fully meant doing that last obligatory bit and wearing the hijab. I haven’t taken off the hijab in public since.”
In 2015, Mona was awarded the Conspicuous Service Cross for her work as Strategic Adviser on Islamic Cultural Affairs to the Chief of Navy. She was named 2015 Telstra Business Woman of the Year for her dedication to build bridges between the Muslim community and the navy.
But with the recognition Mona started receiving abusive comments online. One person wrote “My father was in the navy for nearly 50 years and he served it with pride. He would turn over in his grave if he saw this piece of filth”.
Mona says that Muslim people in Australia have lived with varying degrees of comments over the years and that she has to live with that reality: “Maybe when I was younger those things might bite a little bit and hurt. As I’ve become more philosophical about the issues in the world today I find myself reflecting on why it is people are making those comments.”