The disappearance of a 46-year-old mother has stirred up claims of Islamic extremists targeting Christians in Melbourne, claims which have disappointed Muslims.
Police have rejected suggestions that Zahara Rahimzadegan, also known as Mandy Ahmadi, could have been taken by religious hardliners as retribution for her role in converting Muslims to Christianity.
But the accusations have continued from her support base, especially Catch the Fire Ministries.
‘I’m hoping that I’m completely wrong and that she’s found alive,’ said Pastor Danny Nalliah, who says he has been in regular contact with the missing woman for several years.
‘But in case it is a religiously motived abduction, then I’m very very concerned for her life.’
On December 16, Ms Rahimzadegan left her Ashwood home in the city’s southeast without her purse or wallet.
Her mobile phone is missing and her husband and two sons, aged 11 and 15, have not heard from her since.
The family arrived in Australia as refugees from Iran in 1999 and the couple later converted from Islam to Christianity.
Ms Rahimzadegan has since been actively involved in helping new arrivals learn English and new skills through Christian groups. She also encourages conversion to Christianity.
The day before disappeared, she was quoted in her community newspaper, talking about helping migrants learn English and new skills through Christian-based groups.
‘It’s so important to pull people out of isolation – particularly asylum seekers,’ she told the Dandenong Leader newspaper.
‘This has really helped them integrate.’
Her husband has supported claims that Islamic radicals may have targeted his wife. ‘Maybe somebody kidnapped (her),’ he told Network Ten.
On Thursday, the head of Victoria’s homicide squad made it clear he gave no weight to that theory.
‘We’ve certainly looked at that particular allegation,’ Detective Inspector John Potter told reporters. ‘We don’t believe that suggestion has any foundation.’
A spokesman for the Islamic Council of Victoria said it would be hoping and praying that Ms Rahimzadegan turned up safe and well.
‘There is also the disappointment that people are capitalising on an underlying fear, or trying to stir some level of intolerance about Muslims in the community when there is no evidence to suggest this,’ council director Nazeem Hussain told AAP.
‘It’s not in the benefit of a multicultural society.’
Police say Ms Rahimzadegan’s husband, who reported her missing 48 hours after she disappeared, is not considered a suspect.
While she has previously disappeared for a couple of days at a time, which police have linked to issues at home, she has always contacted her children.
But this time she missed Christmas, has never called and there has been no activity on her Facebook page, her phone or her bank accounts.