Dream immigration tale tarnished

Reza Abdul-Jabbar has made a name for himself as the leader of the world’s southernmost mosque....
Reza Abdul-Jabbar has made a name for himself as the leader of the world’s southernmost mosque. PHOTO: NZME
As a Harley-Davidson-riding imam, Reza Abdul-Jabbar is not your typical dairy-farm owner.

He has become a poster boy for Southland’s rural diversity, a champion of sustainable farming and trail-blazing leader of the world’s southern-most mosque.

And he has not been shy of the publicity, giving interviews to the nation’s major news organisations in the last five years, as well as appearing on Country Calendar and a host of niche websites.

But a damning Employment Relations Authority judgement has shown over that period, he took advantage of workers brought in from his homeland of Indonesia.

Abdul-Jabbar paid the workers $64,387 once proceedings against him gathered pace, but was ordered to stump up more than $50,000 more after the authority found his company, Rural Practice Ltd, failed to keep records of wages or holidays.

And that sum might balloon further.

The Labour Inspectorate has sought penalties of up to $360,000 — a final figure is yet to be determined by the authority.

Abdul-Jabbar has always stressed his Muslim faith fit perfectly with the farming lifestyle.

"The best of mankind are the ones that give out the most to others," he told Stuff in an interview just weeks after the court hearing took place.

Abdul-Jabbar told the Otago Daily Times in 2019 that he came to the country from West Borneo at 17 and completed a masters in agricultural science at Massey University.

While there, he met his first wife Silvia, the daughter of a diplomat, who was studying accountancy.

Abdul-Jabbar became an assistant manager on a dairy farm in Hamilton before stints sharemilking in Rotorua and Winton.

The couple, who had five children together, eventually bought two farms (totalling 450ha) in Mokotua, east of Invercargill.

"I can’t describe the feeling when we got here. I was speechless. Our dream had finally come true. I wanted to kiss our piece of land," he told the ODT.

They were also involved in founding the Southland Muslim Association in Invercargill, which bought a small industrial building in Hawthorndale and converted it into a mosque at which Abdul-Jabbar became the imam.

"The religion teaches us to be kind to all creation and do things with excellence," he said at the time.

"We were very fortunate to be able to achieve our goal in this beautiful country. Muslims have an obligation to give back to their communities, so that’s what Silvia and I do."

Silvia died from a terminal illness in September 2022.

Months later, Abdul-Jabbar married Khadijah Peggy Melati Sukma, an actress, presenter and author of eight books, whose humanitarian work included her representing Indonesia as a United Nations spokeswoman.

"We share the same similarities and love of serving others," Abdul-Jabbar told Stuff.