Monday, June 25, 2012

De-radicalising Muslim Youth

In trying to understand the potential of radicalisation of Muslim youth in Sydney, I have written some background information that might help to understand the issues and explore ways for preventing youth from becoming radicalised. Today's Muslim youth have a very different environment than that of their parents and have in many ways had more stability in their lives and a greater access to Islamic education. There are however much deeper historical factors that have influenced the way Muslim youth perceive their identity. Resurgence of Islam Islamic resurgence began in the 19th century as a result of the colonisation of the Middle East by European powers. This continued well into the 20th century after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. There was a general feeling that society had lost touch with their Islamic principles of high moral conduct and compassion. Hassan Al Banna who co-founded the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt was one of those who felt this way. He was more concerned about the return to spirituality and morals in Egyptian society under colonial rule. Sayyid Qutb born 1906 was one of several prominent scholars who lived in Egypt and joined the Brotherhood. He was attempting to revive the early concept of armed struggle, in the vain hope to initiate a revolution that would see Muslims unite under one banner and re-assert its domination of the region. He used the teachings of Ibn Taymiyya and Imam al-Shafi to justify his ideas. One of his greatest works was Milestones ( Ar. Ma’alim fi’l Tariq) written whilst in prison in Egypt under Nasser. Nasser and other Arab leaders had other ideas. Theirs was a path towards secularization, the Muslim Brotherhood dispersed throughout the Middle East and went underground. Around this time several scholars who advocated violent struggle had influence in places like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. This resurgence has indirectly led to the current anti-Western sentiment throughout the Muslim world. Since the 1970’s the Islamic resurgence has had to go underground to some degree. The Ikhwan al Muslimeen or The Muslim Brothers as opposed to the Brotherhood has been strong in opposing the governments of Egypt, Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. During the 70’s the Palestinian struggle received world attention and put the Muslims firmly on the media map. In the late 70’s and early 80’s the Islamic revolution in Iran created a new found resentment of Islam in the West. The Ayatollah Khomeini’s fatwa against Salman Rushdie further divided the liberal West with the inflexible Islamic worldview as represented by the Ayatollah. In the past two decades we have seen the collapse of Communism, two Gulf Wars and a number of terrorist attacks against Western targets which have all contributed to the current divide between Islam and the West. The resulting Nation States with their secular or totalitarian governments has caused great discord amongst the intelligentsia in these societies leading to violent episodes in the political development of most of the countries that make up the Middle East including Turkey, Iran and Pakistan. Whilst Islam and the West are historically compatible there are competing interests which are not religiously motivated but due to geo-political reasons have been perceived as a clash between the two. The strategic and economic interests in the Mid East are well known and the struggle for independence amongst some Muslim countries has led to further violent clashes often exacerbated by foreign influence from countries like the USA, France, Britain and Russia. The current War on Terror is only the latest international issue that has created great instability in the world. The emergence of Al Qaeda and other militant groups has led the US to declare a new form of warfare (substituting the Cold War) in which there are no clear enemies or rules of combat, hence making it an indefinite war that can be exploited to suit the needs of the Western Hemisphere. Most Muslims are the victims of terrorism and very few support terror as a mode of struggle. For most Muslims it is contrary to Islamic teachings which restrict the killing of civilians to combat only. Islam and the state: Islamisation ISLAMISATION is a term which describes the process by which communities, political groups and countries seek to accord primary significance to the perceived values and laws of Islam as the laws of the state. This phenomenon is recent and attributed to various independent movements fighting against colonial rule. In the pre-colonial period, Islamisation was not pursued because state and society were perceived to be one, and as long as personal religious beliefs and worship were not restricted by state laws, there was no need to form an Islamic state. It is argued by many that the present appeal of Islamisation lies in the belief that it is an opportunity to regain an authentic Islamic identity lost through colonisation. It has also been suggested that Islamisation has a mass appeal for Muslims as an antidote to the corrupt and dictatorial regimes that have often risen in the wake of the withdrawal of colonial power. Groups that identify themselves as engaged in the project of Islamisation can vary considerably in their ideology and approach. Currently there is the perception that Islamists endorse violent struggle, but this is not always the case. Islamists are to be found on both the right and left of the political spectrum. There is a significant consensus among scholars that the process of Islamisation has not brought Muslim nations in which it has taken place any closer to the Qur’anic ideal of a just and compassionate society. Islamisation has been especially devastating for women and minority groups who are not only often excluded from the political and public domains, but are also subjected to harsh limitations or even abuse in the cultural and educational spheres. Most importantly, Islamisation has created an elite who either through theological credentials or political force that insist their interpretation of Islam is the only legitimate one. Criticism and opposition has become increasingly dangerous where these elites exist. To what extent countries have been legally Islamised varies greatly. While some Muslims passionately support the move toward an ‘ideal’ Islamic state, for others the concept of Islamisation is highly problematic. In some polities (eg. Indonesia, Algeria, the Palestinian Authority), Sharia is virtually ignored as a guide to legislation or policy on many vital issues, while others (eg. Malaysia, Syria, Pakistan) have enshrined it in their legal codes and constitutions to varying degrees or limited it to religious courts with jurisdiction over family law, some succession and moral matters. There are only a handful of countries (eg. Saudi Arabia & Sudan) where some version of the Sharia constitutes the whole of the law. Structure of Islamic organizations in Australia The structure of the Islamic Community in Australia is very diverse and ambivalent. Like many communities there are a number of organisations that cater for religion, youth, women as well as welfare and education. The Islamic community is more complex than an ethnic community per se because it is in fact made up of over 100 different ethnic communities and associations loosely tied together under the banner of Islam. There are many ethnic organizations and societies and several organizations that are distinctly Islamic in identity as well as a number of peak bodies or umbrella oragnisations in each state. The Muslim community in Australia is directly affected by the various perspectives shared by scholars based in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe and the USA. What is occurring outside the country in a macrocosm is also mirrored here as a microcosm. Therefore, the biggest hurdle facing Muslims in Australia currently is the process of unity and co-operation. In fact, it is quite misleading to occur to one Muslim community but rather many Muslim communities based on the different schools of thought and ethnic backgrounds. The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) now called Muslims Australia The Islamic community in Australia was, in 1964 only a very small community of Turkish-Cypriots, Egyptians, Lebanese, Albanians, Bosnians, Chinese, Malays, Indians, Fijian- Indians and Pakistanis. The community was not yet large enough to form any associations by ethnicity. There were, however, enough people concerned about preserving their faith to begin a loose federation of the various communities across the country. The Australian Federation of Islamic Societies (AFIS) was formed and this small organisation administered the affairs of the community, especially in terms of raising money to build mosques and schools. By 1974 the Turkish community with the help of AFIS built the first mosque in Australia since the post war immigration boom. Which was an old Presbytarian church in Erskineville (in Sydney), converted to a mosque. Mosques followed swiftly with the building of the Lakemba Mosque (1976) and the Surry Hills Mosque (1978). These mosques catered for the small communities which existed in and around Redfern and South Sydney. The first plane loads of Turkish migrants were housed in hostels around Zetland and the inner city. These communities in the early eighties moved out to western suburban centres such as St Marys, Mt Druitt, Blacktown and Auburn. The Indo-Pakistani community also moved out to Rooty Hill and Blacktown. Today there are two large mosques in western Sydney ( Mt Druitt which was built by the Turkish community and in Rooty Hill built by the Indo-Pakistani community). In 1974 several professional Muslim members of AFIS decided to form a peak body called the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC). This was based on a three tier structure of federal council, state councils (9 councils including Christmas Island and Canberra) and local societies. Although the original aims of the body indicated a wide sphere of influence especially in areas of halal certification, mosques, schools, and youth, it has in the last ten years lost some of its relevance to Muslims living in Sydney and Melbourne and possibly in most states. The peak body has become largely redundant because of the loss of its Halal Certification monopoly and costly and time consuming court battles against other Islamic bodies. However, in recent months, AFIC has tried to reinvent itself with a name a change, now called Muslims Australia. It has also expanded its school network to have 8 campuses three in Sydney and one in every state except Tasmania and Darwin (there are plans for a school in Darwin though). Muslims Australia is slowly regaining some credibility amongst the Muslim community nationwide, although, there are many young people who have established their own networks based around University and social media networks. For many young Muslims, Muslims Australia is too distant to understand or to engage with. NSW The Islamic Council of NSW (ICNSW) was incorporated in 1976. AFIC was incorporated in 1980 as the peak Islamic body in Australia. ICNSW represented a collective of Islamic societies and organisations in NSW and was a member of AFIC up till 1999. In 1996 a dispute had erupted between the ICNSW and the AFIC board. As a result of this the dispute the two organizations ended up in court. On 29 August 1999 ICNSW was suspended and a caretaker situation was sought. There was no resolution and subsequently ICNSW was expelled permanently from the Federal umbrella organization. AFIC then created a new state body in 2000 to offset the ICNSW and called it the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW. It did not come into effect until early 2001. The SICNSW had been operating as the state body for almost 2 years until another court dispute arose in mid 2002. SICNSW sought to remove a society from the council and in August sought to amend its constitution, AFIC said it was unconstitutional and once again the SICNSW was expelled and a new body was formed calling it the Muslim Council of NSW (MCNSW). The Executive committee, during the 2003 Congress elected a new state body calling it the Muslim Council of NSW. The MCNSW was also suspended and a new NSW body was created calling it Muslims NSW and it is currently AFIC’s representative body in NSW. One of the largest Muslim migrant communities to emerge in Sydney was the Lebanese community. They congregated in Canterbury-Bankstown and built their first mosque in Lakemba in 1975. The Lebanese Muslim Association (LMA) manages the affairs of the mosque ranging in services from funeral and burial services to Arabic and Quran lessons and youth activities. These were the primary services provided by other associations and mosques. They were largely unskilled first generation Muslims who could not speak English with any fluency. The leader of prayers at the mosque is Sheikh Taj Al din Al Hilali, of Egyptian origin. Recently, the LMA opened its large multi-functional youth centre. Other relevant organisations (this is not an exhaustive list) There have been for the past decade groups operating alongside the community but not directly involved with the peak bodies. These amongst others: Islamic Charitable Projects Association (ICPA Habashi and Lebanese), Hizb-u-Tahrir (HT), Tablighi Jamaat (mixed mainly sub-continental), Ahlu-sunna wal-jamaat (ASWJ) (mixed salafi groups), Milli Gorus (Turkish - National Vision), Nur jamaat (Turkish) and Ikhwan al-Muslimeen (Muslim Brotherhood mainly Arab), Earlwood Islamic Centre (Shia) as well as many small sects such as Alawis (Turkish and Syrian), Ahmaddiya (Qadiyyanis) and Ismailis (sub-continental). In general these groups are small in numbers, however, some of these groups, such as the ASWJ and HT draw large crowds to their events and activities as many Muslims attend but do not necessarily support their ideologies but have some association (usually ethno-cultural). Both Ahlu-sunnah wal jamaat and Hizbut-Tahrir receives a disproportionately high amount of media coverage which magnifies the perception that they are an important part of the mainstream Muslim community. Within the Ahlu-sunna wal jamaat are a number of organisations; United Muslims Association (UMA), Global Islamic Youth Centre (GIYC), Federation of Muslim Students and Youth (FAMSY), Islamic Cultural Centre (ICC) and the Islamic Dawah and Culture Association (IDCA). These groups are increasing their sphere of influence and are highly organised and motivated. Although, only a small proportion of the general Muslim population in Australia, they are much more active in community affairs and have their own youth clubs, converts support, women’s groups and bookstores. The only way to combat their growing influence is to promote more mainstream traditionalist groups to take positions of leadership and to establish organizations that promulgate a “traditional” interpretation of Islam. Sydney is a complex conglomeration of ethnic communities and religious sects. The most significant aspect of the Muslim population in NSW compared to other states is the very large proportion of Lebanese people in Sydney. There are roughly about 70000 Lebanese Muslims in Sydney alone. Many of the Lebanese fled the strife of the 1975 civil war and have settled in South Western Sydney and in western Sydney in such places as Lakemba, Bankstown, Rockdale, Liverpool, Campbelltown and Auburn. There are many problems facing Lebanese youth, particularly around marginalisation and disenfranchisement leading to high criminality. This is reflected by the relatively high numbers of prisoners of Lebanese descent (both Christian and Muslim) in NSW gaols. However, there are other complexities. Sydney, has traditionally been built around the development of enclaves of various ethnic groups such Italians in Leichardt, Greeks in Marrickville, Vietnamese in Cabramatta and so forth. The level of integration in Sydney has been very slow and some communities are still isolated. The high volume of migrants has also contributed to their high visibility and there has been some discomfort expressed by some elements in the mainstream community and the media reporting has accentuated this discomfort. In 2005 the Cronulla Riots highlighted this growing tension and Sydney will remain for the immediate future a city which is not well adjusted to the high concentration of multicultural groups in various pockets of Sydney. The latest group, with high visibility and controversy has been the Sudanese both of Christian and Muslim backgrounds. VIC Likewise in Melbourne, the first emerging communities were led by Albanians, Bosnians Cypriots, Lebanese, Egyptians and Turks. It was not until the early 80’s that schools were established and a number of Mosques were built. Sheikh Fehmi Naji El-Imam was one of the pioneers in Melbourne (migrated in the 50’s) and is based at Preston Mosque. The Islamic Council of Victoria is also a strong institution that provides a number of services to the Islamic community. In the past decade a number of women’s organizations have emerged providing urgently needed services for women. We have also witnessed a new wave of migrants originating from the Horn of Africa (Somalia, Eritrean, Ethiopian), Iraq and Afghanistan in the past decade. The needs of these emerging communities has been focused on settlement, welfare, employment and English training. The Islamic Women’s Welfare Council of Victoria is active in dealing with domestic violence and counselling and a number of initiatives led by the council has been very successful. Islamic community relations in Melbourne have been slightly smoother than in NSW and to this day there is only one Islamic council. There are also a number of Islamic schools which all have produced high achievers with excellent academic results. The Turkish community has produced four schools in Melbourne and currently both King Khalid College (now known as Australian International Academy) and Minaret have developed into large and prestigious institutions. Other schools are Ilim College and Isik college run by the Turkish community. The Islamic Co-ordinating Council of Victoria has also become a strong performer in Halal certification and overseas trade with the Middle East and South East Asia. There are over 30 mosques in Victoria. The emergence of competent Muslim leaders in the past decade have made Melbourne’s Muslim community a model for others to learn from. People like Yasser Soliman, Waleed Aly and Professor Abdullah Saeed as well as comedians such as Nazeem Hussain and Aamer Rahman. Melbourne’s Muslims have successfully used comedy and the arts to break down barriers and promote positive community engagement. The lack of conflicts has helped a continuous pattern of growth and success. Both Melbourne and Sydney have been very successful in Interfaith dialogue and this type of activity has multiplied since September 11 2001. WA The community in Perth is ironically much older than Sydney or Melbourne, although far smaller in number. The early Afghan cameleers settled in Perth and in 1905 built the Perth Mosque. This mosque is still used by the new generation of Muslims in Perth. Broadly speaking, the community is dominated by South Africans, Somalis, Turks, Lebanese and Indonesians. There are four main mosques with a number of smaller centres. The main mosques are situated in Mirabooka, Perth, Thornlie and Marylands. The University of WA and Curtin Universities have a number of Muslim scholars who are also active within the community. Of course the Islamic Council of WA acts as the peak body for Muslims in Perth but does not enjoy enough support from the main part of the community. The large success story for Perth is the Australian Islamic College which has over 2000 students and three campuses. There are three more Islamic schools in Perth. Like most states there is a Muslim Women’s Association. There is also a very active and dominant Salfi group which has its own dawah centre, school and mosque. Muslims in Perth are quite integrated into the mainstream society and West Australians seem to have readily accepted Muslims new and old alike. This could be attributed to the long history of relations which started with the early Afghan and Pakistani migrants in the 1800s. QLD Brisbane is another unique situation where Muslims have integrated well into the broader community. There are less than 15000 Muslims in the whole state and much of the activity is run by the Islamic Council of Queensland. However, there is a strong presence of individual Muslims who work on a variety of matters ranging from welfare, halal certification, women’s issues and academia. Most have some affiliation with the Council. The new force in community issues is the Islamic Research Centre which is partly funded by Griffith University and the Islamic community in Brisbane. The centre is run by Muslim academics and has its own media centre. The Kuraby mosque which was burnt down in 2001 after the September 11 attacks in the US, has now been rebuilt and is a focal point for the community’s activities. The oldest mosque is in Holland Park and was built by the Afghan Cameleer/Indian community. There is also a new mosque in Durra. There are two Islamic schools in Brisbane; Karawatha and in Gooloongabba. There are a number of Muslims living in the Sunshine Coast, Mackay and Rockhampton. Some of these Muslims are of mixed heritage with Makkasan and Malay blood, remnants from the Makassan sea-traders who arrived in the 17th century and onwards until the early 20th century and the Malay pearl-divers who were operating in the early 1900’s. SA In Adelaide for many years there has been no central body and therefore the community has been generally disparate. The oldest mosque in Australia is situated in Little Gilbert Street and was built in 1888. There are a number of smaller organizations which run educational facilities and welfare groups. The main women’s organization is the Muslim Women’s Association of SA. There are as in other states populations of Lebanese, Turks (in Murray Bridge), Afghans, and the largest community of Uygur people (from Western China) in Australia. The community is very small and still developing its institutions. The Islamic College of SA is now 12 years old and there is an Islamic centre in Park Holme and a small community school. South Australia could be regarded as the hub for the Afghan cameleers and today there are several thousand descendants still in the state, with their biggest concentration in Port Augusta and Adelaide as well as a symbolic presence in Marree where the Camel cup is held every year in July. Tasmania The Islamic Society of Hobart is very small. It is one of the members of the AFIC system and holds the same voting power as Sydney and Melbourne. The community is so small, there are very few incidents to report. However, sadly, in recent times the Islamic Sufi library was deliberately burned down and many valuable books destroyed. The new Hobart mosque was officially opened in 2005. Canberra A vibrant and professional group of Muslims reside in Canberra. The Islamic Society of Canberra is an important member of AFIC. Also AFIC has opened a new school. Outside of this system is the independent group, the Canberra Islamic Centre which has built its own centre fully equipped with sports hall/ prayer centre, the largest Islamic library in Australia, a radio studio, computer room, an art gallery and function centre. The group are actively involved with interfaith, media, the performing arts and political lobbying. There is also a new mosque in North Canberra. Darwin The Islamic Society of NT is a very small group of Muslims numbering under 1000. They are actively involved in interfaith and media. The community is mainly a mixture of Indo-Pakistani, Malay-Indonesian, new arrivals from Africa and some Chinese Muslims. There is only one imam in Darwin. The significant others This is a fairly small body of concerned Muslims who are generally educated and come from an eclectic mix including many converts who are running their own organisations and involved at grassroots levels of the community. Their activities range broadly from welfare, women and education to interfaith, da’wah (inviting people to Islam) and media. These groups are led by mid-level professionals, who are ‘home-grown’ and possess an “Australian” mindset. These people are generally less embroiled in the politics of the peak bodies and tend to get much more done, particularly, in establishing grassroots movements and programs. The main problem for this group is that they are under-resourced and lack enough funds. They tend to be inwardly focused and have specialised areas of interest and operation. For example interfaith, welfare and counselling, religious education, media relations and Islamic education. Key groups at risk of radicalisation and some possible solutions The Muslim community is really a conglomeration of very diverse groups of ethnic, doctrinal and sectarian factions, in which there are overlapping religious ideologies and cultural factors. In Australia the Turkish community, just for example, is made up of the socialist left and Alevis, on one side and in the centre, the religiously observant Muslims who could belong to one of the following groups: Diyanet (Turkish Department of Religious Affairs), Milli Gorush (National Vision), Nur group, those who follow Fetullah Gulen such as Affinity Intercultural Foundation and Australian Islamic Society, and a number of Sufi Orders and on the right it is mainly nationalists and secularists. Religiously, Turks are Sunni Muslims and follow the Hanafi school of jurisprudence. Take another totally different group as an illustration of the complexities of understanding and dealing with Islam; the Lebanese community is broadly made up of the socialists, the business and gentrified elite, the nationalists and pro-government groups, then on the religious spectrum there are staunch Sunni Muslims who follow the Shafii school of jurisprudence, the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan il Muslimeen), the Habashi, the Wahhabi, Tablighi, several Sufi orders and of course the Shi’a, who are predominantly Jafari 12th Imam sect and come from southern Lebanon. There are many family and regional divisions and where you come from determines your politics, for instance, many Lebanese Australians are from Tripoli, others are from al-Minya, or Beirut and there are those from the South as well as others from Akkoura and various mountain or valley regions. The Lebanese in Australia generally follow Sunni orthodoxy and are in line with mainstream Muslims around the world. However, small factions exist between the minority extremist groups. Most Lebanese are fairly lax and behave as cultural Muslims who observe the main practices and traditions. Of course a very telling factor about Lebanese Muslims is that most who arrived in Sydney in 1975 were from uneducated rural areas with very limited skills and understanding of modern societies (a large number arrived just from the Tripoli rural area alone). There are too many groups to mention that belong to the colourful and vibrant Muslim community, in fact it is more accurate to say Muslim communities and to be more accurate there is no one Muslim community in Australia. For example Turks rarely mix with Lebanese, they rarely mix with Africans and Bosnians tend to do their own thing although close to Turks. South Africans are quite aloof too and Indians tend to also mix with their own. This evidenced by the many mosques which operate in their own ethnic languages. The Muslim community is about 500000 in total. While we must be aware of the needs of the community, by and large the Muslim population is well adjusted to Australia and pose no real threat. From this population only about 50-60% are active and observant Muslims. Within this half of the population there is, however, a small percentage (approximately 2-5%) who are in a precarious position and at risk. Besides the well known groups there are now some new and emerging communities such as Afghan, Sudanese and Somali, which are under-developed and little is known about their structures and politics. Yet, they are very much an active element of the overall Muslims in Australia. There are three important and at-risk groups that will play a significant role in the future of Islamic affairs in Australia: 1. The Motivators - The mainstream moderate community of Muslims makes up over 90%. Only about a fifth of this population are active within the community and it is this group that needs to be motivated to act and empowered to do so. Their efforts to act as a counter to extremist or fundamentalist groups will be the only feasible way to diminish their relevance and influence over marginalised fringe groups. 2. Young Guns - The second group for focus is at-risk youth. It is here where it is most likely that young men will experience a change of view and attitude and are more vulnerable to persuasion. There are two types of at-risk youth; those disenfranchised and marginalised youth (usually involved in criminal activity) in contact with religious figures; or sophisticated and developed members of a dissident organization with strong views, mostly professional members. 3. The Mushrooms- The third reassessment begins with addressing the same issues of radicalisation of Muslim youth from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds by examining ethno-cultural factors as well religious. We need to give more attention to at-risk groups based on their ethnic identities like Lebanese, Pakistani and Somalian communities and not solely on religious identities. The Muslim community at large supports the government’s initiatives to protect the nation from a terrorist attack. They support most of the measures taken to strengthen the laws and increase powers of law enforcement agencies, although like many Australians, Muslims are suspicious of giving too much powers to intelligence agencies fearing the general loss of civil liberties and persecution and harassment. This was highlighted by the Haneef and Izhar ul-Haque cases in 2007. Many of the so-called ‘extremist’ Muslim groups believe that the laws are targeting them anyway and are indifferent to what is happening. Countering radicalisation and extremism amongst Muslim communities There are three areas of concern regarding the mainstream and more moderate groups: • Operating at mid-level groups such as FAIR or Affinity, engaging leaders and managers and working with them to strategise initiatives to empower adults and youth, such as Media Training and awareness, job skills training and counselling programs, leadership programs and educational programs including after school tuition, positive role modelling and careers expos. • Language training and mentoring for new and emerging communities. • Crime reduction and prevention programs including building bridges and awareness of rights and responsibilities for marginalised communities. The main objective behind working with mid-level organizations and in assisting with skills training and crime prevention is to NORMALISE Islam and Muslims. Obviously, one of the very negative media issues is crime and whenever Muslims are involved whether it is rape or terrorism, it gets highlighted and usually with extensive coverage. Once again, this comes back to the community leaders, mid-level professionals and parents to become motivated to take responsibility and action to counter anti-social behaviour and criminal tendencies. By normalising Islam we will see Muslims engaged in everyday activities and be seen as a healthy part of the system of society. We are already seeing much more activism on behalf of many Muslims and as a result there has been much more awareness about Muslims and a willingness of the broader community to help and engage. There are four areas of concern regarding marginalised youth and religious groups: • Poor training of religious leaders and lack of facilities for mainstream organisations • Marginalised/disenfranchised youth with disadvantaged backgrounds such as low employment opportunities and high recidivism • Disaffected sub-professional Muslims and on-Campus Muslim Students • Religious training of youth abroad in Saudi Arabia, Middle East and Pakistan The problem of fire-brand imams and leaders will not simply go away, every religious community has their radicals and fundamentalists. The challenge is to minimise their influence and to keep them above ground so that one can monitor their activities. This creates a problem in that they tend to grow in popularity and influence. Therefore, it may be more advantageous to give these organizations some incentives to deal directly with the government and to monitor and curb some of their links with organizations abroad. The training of religious leaders is also a contentious issue as has been experienced in setting up an Islamic Centre for Excellence in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. The real need is not an academic course as this will only provide courses of interest to mainstream Muslims and non-Muslims and will be only a cosmetic solution. Instead, young Muslims in Australia have to have an option to remain in Australia to learn the traditional training and pastoral care of being an Imam. They also have to be given a first preference to attend any overseas training under a reputable institution in a country like Malaysia or Turkey. Finally, for close to three decades the conundrum of disenfranchised youth has weighed heavily on the “Muslim” communities. The problem is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy and a generational cycle of disempowerment. Many Lebanese youth for example have low literacy, a strong accent and a ‘foreign’ sounding name which disadvantages them in all aspects of life especially employment and socialising. They then tend to take low skilled jobs or end up working with a relative or for the family business. Many youth have resorted to organised crime and end up in prison. The most serious challenge is to bring the standard of educational achievement to a better level and to improve employability. It is important to reduce crime and give young Lebanese men a chance to do better than their parents or their older mates and uncles. It is also vital that we promote more contact with mainstream institutions and organizations, get youth to volunteer and see the benefits of working with others for their own community and to create a better sense of good citizenship and moral responsibility. The greatest problem that I have experienced amongst Muslim youth especially of Lebanese extraction is that there seems to be no real hope or incentive to want to help the broader society. Instead, there is a culture of taking and not giving. Recommendations 1. To counter the first problem we need to motivate and empower existing Muslim organizations and ethnic groups with resources to assist the at-risk target groups. This could start with general information sessions and open forums on the relevant topics with community members. It could also involve supporting and opening projects that enable the community to further understand the issues and problems and to plan ways about dealing with it by offering professional development and training programs. 2. This is a continuation of the first solution and is about educating and raising awareness of issues amongst community and trying to combat apathy. 3. Provide strong foundations in schools and youth organizations and encourage Muslim youth to volunteer with mainstream organizations. 4. Promoting a more prominent role amongst smaller mosques and diminishing the prominence of controversial mosques and their committees. For instance in Sydney working closely with mosques such as Rooty Hill or Minto, Auburn or Bonnyrigg. 5. Putting more pressure on “peak-bodies” with funding incentives to work with mid-level reliable and effective groups who are under-resourced but more switched on with the issues, forcing them to work more effectively with the grassroots and distribute resources. 6. Provide stronger Islamic imam and religious training opportunities in Australia or connecting with reputable institutions which offer short courses in Malaysia. With the help of the government it would be a great achievement to establish the first Islamic Sciences Imam training seminary. This would entail employing an Arab scholar (fluent in English) to work in Australia for a minimum of four years to train and mentor young Muslim men who desire to be imams. 7. Work with mosques and schools in developing programs to assist youth such as leadership programs, mentoring projects and job skills training and sports and recreation programs. 8. Conducting research on Prisons and radicalisation of inmates and their progress outside the system 9. Conducting research on understanding radicalisation and the current trends in training religious leaders. 10. Working with specific ethnic communities and diluting the focus on Islam. This would be a deliberate attempt to lessen the focus on Islam and Muslims and assist the normalising process. The key at-risk group is within the Lebanese population. This may involve an extensive program targeting parents, community leaders and youth which essentially educates and motivates them to take a more proactive role and a sense of ownership and responsibility for their future. 11. Working with Lebanese youth on reducing/preventing crime. 12. Working with Lebanese and Pakistani youth and cultivating effective media savvy leaders. 13. Working towards maintaining strong links with on-Campus Muslim student bodies.

De-normalising Racism

Islamaphobia is nothing new. European Orientalism demonized Muslims and perceived them as the ‘other’ during the 18th and 19th Centuries. Now over 200 years on and we are still trying the same thing albeit through our modern communication mediums. The sad thing is while it may suit the agenda of some, it is people on the ground who suffer. The media and our politicians are much to blame and of course some of our religious leaders add fuel to the fire. But this type of stereotyping and marginalization has ensured that Islam remains outside of the norm. It is viewed as a mysterious, seductive and cultic faith which aims to undermine our righteous Christian values. “The bearded Muslim awaits around each corner and school yard ready to pounce on our innocent youth, to viciously rape and debase our women and to wage a jihad against our western democracies”. William Muir (1891) in The Caliphate, Its Rise, Decline and Fall, states: “the sword of Muhammed and the Qur’an are the most stubborn enemies of Civilisation, Liberty and the Truth which the world has yet known” French philologists Ernest Renan who wrote L’Avenir de la Science in 1848, said “the Semitic race (Arab and Jew) appears to us to be an incomplete race, by virtue of its simplicity. This race – if I dare use the analogy- is to the Indo-European family what a pencil sketch is to a painting; it lacks that variety, that amplitude, that abundance of life which is the condition of perfectibility.” What Renan tried to do was to reduce the Orient to a kind of human flatness, which exposed its characteristics easily to scrutiny and removed from it its complicating humanity. Edward Said in his seminal work “Orientalism” describes the Orientalist as one who: “constructs, and the very act of construction is a sign of imperial power of recalcitrant phenomena, as well as a confirmation of the dominant culture and its ‘naturalisation’.” Analysis of contemporary media will show one common thread. The negative stereotype, this thread is aimed at de-normalising Islam, making it alien and threatening. The Muslim is the antithesis to everything that we enjoy as a part of a healthy democracy. The cartoons of the 19th C and early 20th C depict Muslims and Turks as evil and blood-thirsty murderers. The recent Danish cartoons lampooning the Prophet Muhammad although offensive is nothing new. This existed in the late 1800’s and aimed largely at ridiculing the Ottoman Empire which was basically the Islamic world at the time. If we look at the television and movie industry for example, we observe in Arnold Schwarznegger action movies where he kills the Arab villain and saves the world from Islamic domination. In programs like ‘24’ our all American hero Kiefer Sutherland comes across a Turkish family who has lived in the states for 7 years going about their business yet even a normal family as this one is actually embedded in to the society as a sleeper cell awaiting orders. When their orders are finally made they wreak havoc upon the innocent Americans although good finally triumphs over evil. If we take an even closer look at seemingly innocent children’s programs like “The Simpsons”, a very clever satirical look at American society. The program makes fun of just about everything and everyone: The Christian fundamentalist next door, the Jewish entertainer with a triple heart by-pass and a smoking addiction, his over-bearing Rabbi father, the Hindu Indian Kwik-e-mart owner changing used by dates on food items, the eccentric Scottish gardener, the nerdy school principal who still lives at home with his mother, the stingy polish bartender, the alcoholic lay about, the corrupt police chief and the shonky mayor, the Italian mafia boss, the escaped convict, black plant co-worker, and of course the evil white millionaire nuclear plant owner who exploits his workers and his faithful assistant with latent homosexual tendencies. The program has covered Freemasons to sending up celebrities and presidents. Yet what is missing, in this all-American city of Springfield? De-normalising Islam has been a part of the agenda for over three centuries. Possibly, things could change, when we start to see Muslim characters on Home and Away, or Muslims reading the 6 o’clock news and when Muslims are not associated with terror and anti-social behaviour and instead with positive stories. Islam then would begin its path to normalization but there is a very long road ahead of us. The Muslim experience of racism is very real. It varies in form; women who wear the head scarf are open targets and have faced varying degrees of racially motivated attacks, such as verbal abuse, physical assaults including the pulling off of head scarves and intimidation in public spaces, by staff in hospitals, medical surgeries and shopping centres and particularly at work. Cases of women being bullied or treated unfairly at work are rising too. Most of these incidents go unreported because women do not want to lose their jobs, they do not know what complaints mechanisms are available to them or they are fearful of reprisals. Only last month a Muslim woman was physically attacked in broad daylight, in the main street of Sydney CBD, whereby two men crept up behind her and pulled off her headscarf. Then intimidated her and no-one came to help. Another case where a student teacher was regularly made fun of because she wore the head covering and made to feel unwanted and inferior. Racism is an ugly thing. Yet, we all know that it exists and to a certain degree we accept it. The fight to eradicate racism is not nearly strong enough in Australia. Because of our very long history of racism in this country, we have grown very complacent and many always assume that it will not happen to them so why should they be concerned. But that is because most Australians live in places where they are sheltered from the real effects of racism. In the multicultural heartlands of Sydney and Melbourne, you will find that a very different environment and Muslims, as well as Chinese, Indians and Pacific Islanders are a dominant feature. In suburbs like Lakemba, Fairfield and Auburn, we find that Islam is very normalised and accepted. Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Christians co-exist, harmoniously and with very little tension. In Coburg and Broadmeadows, there is a nice balance between the so many diverse cultures that are sprinkled along Sydney road, from Greek, Italian, Slavic, Asian, Indian, Turkish and Arab as well as new cultures emerging from Africa and Afghanistan. For many, who are isolated from these places, see a different world, where they rarely mix, rarely have contact with the other, and know of only negative stereotypes reinforced through the media, these racist inclinations continue until it is manifested in the form of abuse or physical assault. The Cronulla riots reminded us of just how relatively minor tensions can blow out into an all out war. However, Muslims are not just sitting on their hands and doing nothing to address the issue of racism and particularly Islamaphobia. They are taking various measures to breakdown the barriers. The youth movements are extraordinary and there are several groups emerging. A new initiative called Y-factor has really taken a strong step towards that path through the use of Facebook and online radio broadcasts. Another group calling itself Justice and Arts Network (JAAN), is using art to address social justice and discrimination. The Sydney Refugee Advocacy Network are a bunch of motivated Muslims taking up the fight for the rights of refugees. And the Australian Muslim Womens Association is addressing Muslim women’s issues in employment. This month, they are holding a Q and A style forum hosted by local Muslim personality Waleed Aly and panelists include successful business woman Miriam Silva and Race Discrimination commissioner Helen Szoke. The project also involves workshops which will explore the Muslim woman’s experience at work and ways to address this, this includes barriers to promotion, direct discrimination, inadequate provisions for religious practices and cases of bullying, harassment and intimidation. Project co-ordinator Zaynab Hawa, says, “We are excited about this initiative because firstly its long overdue and this issue needs to be raised and discussed but also we are at a stage where we have successful Muslim women in employment, who can be role models and speak out against these practices of discrimination and prejudice.” The program will look at situations like Mariam’s who experienced racism during her student teaching practice; Mariam, expresses how she was made to feel inadequate and unaccepted during her training. She said, “My building confidence was tarnished, I was given no sense of hope and instead of professional constructive criticism I was the victim of derogatory names and continuous scrutiny. I went into this prac with a high sense of willingness to learn but was blocked at every opportunity through consistent negativity. Furthermore working in an environment where I was evidently discriminated and subjected to racial taunts was not helpful in my experience. I do not wish for any student to undergo the same treatment as I did and feel traumatised and deeply affected by my first experience in the teaching realm.” In general, these types of experiences and many more serious ones are affecting both women and men who adhere to the Muslim faith. For men it is not as obvious but finding time to pray or a clean place to pray is often met with antagonism and refusal. For many men who are looking for work, there are difficulties because of their Islamic names, such as Mohamed or Abdullah. So often today, many are anglicising their names just to fit in or get ahead. Mohamed becomes Michael or Mick and Abdullah is Alex or Andy. For others they are discouraged for working outside of their local community and tend to stick with their own ethnicity, this does very little for community cohesion and harmony and only promotes further alienation and isolation. The longer these trends continue, the more potential there is for a divided city. To address these issues local Muslim youth have to take ownership and responsibility to become catalysts for change. Breaking down barriers and stepping outside of their comfort zones.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

My Visit to Mogadishu (Somalia) to observe the relief efforts there

In late 2011, I visited the famine-affected areas of Mogadishu in Somalia. The visit was organised by IR Worldwide office.

Mogadishu is a vibrant city, with the hustle and bustle of any capital, however it is evident that the decades of war and neglect have left its mark on a city still in a state of stagnation. There is very little government control or any signs of development. It seems like Somalians are getting by on their own steam and doing what they can to create a sense of normalcy in their lives. Our first visit was to the IR Somalia head office for a briefing attended by about 20 personnel.
This included a detailed overview of works occurring in and around Mogadishu. There are approximately 110 IR staff in Mogadishu alone.

After the briefing we visited an old military factory, which was being used as a distribution centre to IDPs (Internally Displaced Person) for food relief and NFI (Non-food Items). This was a very extensive operation which used a docket system for families who were assessed as most in need.

This site included donated goods from all donor countries such as USA, UK and others. Basic supplies included cooking oil, flour, soap and rice, which would last a month on average. There were very many happy people in the compound. Those who we spoke to expressed satisfaction and joy that they would receive relief for at least the next month. Unfortunately, there were thousands of others who missed out, many waiting outside in the vain hope that they would get in. What was very impressive was that the staff were highly professional and efficiently co-ordinated with other staff and personnel. They were well organised and followed the system. They were very courteous and acted humanely towards the recipients.

The few staff, with whom we we spent some time were highly qualified and well trained and all except for a small percentage were from Somalia or Somalians from Kenya. They all spoke a high level of English. The conditions at the moment have stabilised in most of Mogadishu. While there are reports of instability in the rest of Somalia, particularly in Somali Land and in the north and also skirmishes with the Kenyan army in the south, this has not affected the current population of refugees nor created new flows of IDPs. Most of the IDPs have been in Mogadishu for several months now. It also appears that the height of the drought has passed and there has been some temporary relief with heavy rains falling in the months of October and November.

However, there is still a long way to go. Many recipients have nothing to fall back on. Long-term sustainability is a major concern, as there is no employment and many of the recipients are cattle herders or farmers and have no means to continue their livelihood or to return to their places of residence.
The next area that we visited was Corasan IDP camp. This was a winding maze of tents and huts, in a small pocket of Mogadishu. The place, while relatively clean, was set on a dusty area with no sealed streets or any form of sanitation for the IDPs.
However, most were staying in tents, which provided adequate shelter. Inside, people slept on mats on the hard floor. On average there were between 4-7 children per family.

The main problem in the camp was disease and sickness. There were in just the eight tents I visited in a matter of an hour, four people who were seriously ill with some sort of paralysis and fever. There were many reports of children who had some debilitating illness and no doctors or clinics available for any relief.
There was a common trend that the husbands were out of work with nothing to do. Some had died, gone to look for work or even some had lost their sanity, leaving the mother to tend to the children and the household chores.

Children looked quite malnourished and most were poorly clothed and most did not have shoes. Although, school services were being provided not all children attended school. There were Arabic and school facilities being provided but very few teachers and the ones who were available were unpaid volunteers. The IDPs are relatively stable and it appears that at least at this camp they are well provided for.

After documenting my trip to Mogadishu, I believe that organisations like IRW have to look at long term projects that will prevent the disastrous affects of drought in the future. There are thousands of IDPs in camps in Mogadishu and more are still coming on a regular basis, where there are problems are in health care in the camps. There are thousands of children and elderly who are suffering from treatable illnesses such as ear-infections, flus, eye and skin disorders. There are also thousands of people with disabilities including injuries from the conflict or from polio and other preventable diseases. IRW needs to invest in a clinic and supply qualified medical staff to attend to the camps and villages. I strongly recommend that IR Australia provides funding and facilitates a contingent of doctors from Australia to visit Mogadishu for a month program. We could work with the Australian Muslim Doctors Association and also the Australian Medical Association in sourcing doctors.

The situation in Somalia is far from over and due much to international efforts the immediate future looks positive for the many displaced people. Their prospects and hopes are not much beyond daily survival, however, with more support, IR can play a pivotal role in giving the good people of Somalia a sense of hope and motivation to build their future. The focus should no be on health, education and long term sustainability programs.

Mahmoud and Michael

Once there were two brothers who were identical twins. They lived with their family in the leafy suburb of Greenacre in Sydney’s south west. The family migrated to Australia in 1975 after the war in Lebanon and the twins were born in Bankstown Hospital.

Mahmoud and Michael were in their third year at university and they were both excited about what prospects lay ahead for them as they searched for internships. Mahmoud wanted to work in I.T. and Michael in law.

Mahmoud sent his CV to many companies requesting an internship and Michael did the same with different legal firms. Michael received ten replies and of the ten, five requested an interview. Mahmoud sent out twelve letters and got no replies whatsoever.

After another year, Michael went on to work at one of Sydney’s prestigious legal firms and is now in his fifth year with the firm and they have offered him a position as partner.

Mahmoud, dropped out of his course and changed his name to Mark and is now working at an IT company as a trainee technician. He is doing well and hopes to work his way up to management.

What’s in a name?

Shakespeare once asked in ‘Romeo and Juliet’;

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose,
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Was he so visionary that he knew that one day Michael and Mahmoud would have this experience?

The sad reality is that many young Muslims are compelled to change their names so they can fit in or get ahead in life.

Identity is so important in one’s life, especially a young person, who is full of vitality and motivation, who needs to have a sense of belonging and acceptance.

In Australia we have many young Muslims, born in Australia but living between two worlds. At home they are the obedient Muslim, who speaks Arabic to his parents and outside, he is another person altogether, doesn’t speak about his religion or his culture, dresses and acts like his mates and shortens his name or Anglicises it altogether. Mohamed becomes Mo, Mustafa, Mus, Abdullah, Ab and Rabih – Robbie and so on.
The problem is serious but it is one that most adolescents must invariably experience on some level at one stage in their development. Yet, for Muslim kids it’s becoming increasingly different with the rise in Islamaphobia and anti-Islamic sentiments filtering through the media and into politics and society.

There is an ‘us and them’ mentality and many young Muslims prefer to hang out with their own, where their accents wont be mocked, they wont be stared out or ridiculed and where they feel accepted. The divide will only grow wider as young Australians who live in the northern beaches or in the Eastern suburbs, will rarely have met or know any one of Middle Eastern origin, unless they happen to be Lebanese Christians who attend the same Catholic school.

I grew up exactly this way. I had two identities and I did not really belong to either. I got to the point where I rebelled completely and moved away to live the life of a travelling vagrant searching for myself. I discovered my dearest twin, my brother in Islam, who taught me the meaning of brotherhood, who showed my true self and I realised that I should never have been ashamed of my faith at all. It was merely an illusion.

What I did was I travelled to many Islamic places, places that were regarded as the seats of learning in the Golden age of Islam, I came back to Australia inspired and began to learn my faith, to study and to know right from wrong and to put real Islam into practice. I didn’t listen to stories or superstitious traditions and I used my logic and reason. I read widely.

I didn’t stay locked up in my community, I studied other civilisations, I read about politics and I improved my English and corrected my accent. I never compromised my faith but I also wanted to understand the mindset of other faiths. I got involved with different organizations and set up my own projects and led the way. I did self-improvement courses and leadership programs. I lobbied for human rights for refugees in detention and I met with politicians and community leaders and I learned about diplomacy and the art of persuasion. But all along I kept strong in my faith and I kept away from wrong doing or things that would weaken my iman.

I was a teacher for a while and I got lot of satisfaction teaching young Muslims. I also got to understand their issues and I made it my practice to empower them and give them encouragement to succeed. I have been working with youth for some time now and still get enormous satisfaction from giving them guidance and advice.

At the end of the day you must be proud of your identity but not sit around doing nothing about your predicament or just complain or hate others.

Allah says he will not change a people unless they change themselves.

“Truly, God does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.” (Quran 13:11)

So young Muslims have to ‘Carpe Deum’! Seize the Day! And reverse the trends that are happening today in terms of attitudes towards Muslims. It starts firstly with oneself.

A gift to married couple(s)- respect and a gentle touch

There has been another controversy over an often misunderstood verse in the Muslim holy book, the Quran, about relationships between husbands and wives. This week a book condoning the beating of your wife has been published on line and more questions about Islam have emerged.

The Quran is the revealed book which Muslims revere as the direct words of God. When one reads the Quran it is not like any other book, but more like a manual or guide-book. It is a conversation between the reader and God.

The Quran is unique, as are the three other revealed books. However, we can’t compare them, as the original Psalms of David, the Torah and Gospels of Jesus, have been lost forever. What we have today are only translations and copies of the translated texts and they have been modified over the centuries.

Whereas the Quran has been preserved over time and the words delivered 1400 years ago are exactly the same as any copy of the Quran today, in any country, the Quran does not change or cannot be modified. The Quran is the final in the series of divine revelations and Islam (submission) is the last message, aimed at all humankind and delivered by the seal of all the prophets, a humble man named, Muhammad (the praised one).

If you look at Islam, like the final episode of a long running soap opera series, for instance, Home and Away. As we know, the stories change from episode to episode and the characters also change, although there are central characters that tend to hang around for a while. But each series is slightly different from the next but the messages are usually constant. Be good to each other and that crime doesn’t pay.

Or another way of looking at it, is that the Quran is like the Gregory’s Street Directory (final edition), whereas preceding editions, being the Torah, the Psalms of David and the Gospel of Jesus, are now obsolete. Every year new streets are created, new roads and housing estates, new parks, shopping complexes and railway lines have been built. So there is a need to update the Gregory’s street directory regularly. The 1967 edition would be no good to me today, because there has been a massive transformation of Sydney into a large sprawling city and new suburbs have been established in the outer west. So I cant use it today.

So the Quran is just the latest edition of revealed books, which essentially delivers the same message as the others but includes more detail. The Quran, explains or clarifies many things that we did not understand before. It, tells us that the Earth is a rotating sphere, that the Sun is the centre of our solar system and explains the stages of pregnancy from conception to birth. It explains other scientific phenomena and fills in the gaps about many of the preceding prophets or messengers like Abraham, Moses, Noah, Joseph and Jacob and of course John the Baptist and Jesus. The Quran includes detailed guidelines around the organization of societies, for example, how to perfect your character, how to treat travellers, inheritance, marriage and divorce rights and relationships between men and women.

For example the God says in the Quran, (4.19).

“O ye who believe! Ye are forbidden to inherit women against their will. Nor should ye treat them with harshness, that ye may Take away part of the dower ye have given them, (except where they have been guilty of open lewdness); on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If ye take a dislike to them it may be that ye dislike a thing, and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good.”

Of course, there are some discrepancies over interpretations of some of the verses contained in the Quran and that is probably, where we can run into trouble. However, last week’s article in the UK about a new marriage guidebook called “A Gift for Muslim Couple” has caused a stir because some of the advice is a little confronting. There are concerns that the book is advocating that a man can beat his wife.

When it comes to the roles that men and women played in society fourteen centuries ago, I think we can all appreciate that families took them more literally then than they do today, especially in modern Australia. However, traditionally, the man was the leader, the breadwinner, the decision-maker and protector of the family. For society to function men and women were expected to accept these norms. In the Islamic context, a man could ask his wife not to leave the home because he was worried for her safety.

But on the matter of relationships, even today, little has changed. We all have our idiosyncracies and habits and we are all human and imperfect. Sometimes couples don’t get along. In the case, of a husband, who suspects his wife was flirting with another guy or maybe she was intimately involved with another man, then the Quran gives us some direct advice on this matter.

And this is what all the fuss is about. The interpretation of this verse.

“Men are the protectors and maintainers of women, because Allah has given the one more (strength) than the other, and because they support them from their means. Therefore the righteous women are devoutly obedient, and guard in (the husband's) absence what Allah would have them guard. As to those women on whose part ye fear disloyalty and ill-conduct, admonish them (first), (Next), refuse to share their beds, (And last) beat them (lightly); but if they return to obedience, seek not against them Means (of annoyance): For Allah is Most High, great (above you all).
(Chapter 4 Verse 34, from Yusuf Ali translation)

Of course one could write a treatise on this topic and one, who is a scholar, could give various interpretations about the meaning of this text and its application in one’s life. I am not a scholar and will not even attempt to do so. But I will say this.

As a Muslim it is abhorrent for me to treat my wife with nothing less than the way I would want to be treated myself, that is, with dignity, respect, equality and love.
To treat your wife like a child is unacceptable and illogical. A wife is not one’s chattel or property. As Muslims we are taught to respect women as the bearers and guardians of sons and daughters, as teachers and as home-makers and as the one’s who console and nurture their relationship with their husband.

But as I said relationships don’t always work out as smoothly as some; we are not all so blessed, like John and Janet Howard. But when another man meets a married woman and tries to come on strong and she finds herself tempted, then the husband as does the woman has a right to know and do something about it. If they have only been flirting then the husband can warn her or advise her not do so, if she continues and he finds out, he can separate their beds, now this is serious sign, which means that it had better stop because the next stage, is where the marriage is at risk of divorce. If the wife were to continue then the husband would theoretically, have no other choice but to divorce. But what if there are children involved? Divorce is not a simple matter and should always be a last resort. The husband has a duty to save the marriage. He can symbolically, using a small twig, about the size of a pencil, to admonish his wife, by lightly tapping her. This is a sign to say that this is the last straw.

Nowhere in the history of the Prophet’s marriages was there a case of beating his wife. The prophet had several disputes with his wife but they never resulted in any violence. Therefore, the Prophet as the model whom Muslims follow, a husband is to treat his wife with respect and love and not allowed to use violence against her (or the children for that matter).

The recent book that advocates this is flawed because it does not explain the context of these verses and does not go into enough detail to explain the Prophet Muhammad’s own advice on this matter.

After all, Muslims have to use both the information they have from the Quran and the example of the Prophet to make such informed decisions.

Islam is a logical religion, it is scientific in nature and antidote for the intrinsic problems of all societies. Just about everything you read has a logical reason behind it, but we as lay people cannot interpret them without the help of scholars and experts.

We know that it does not make sense that a man should be given free licence to assault his wife. It’s a no-brainer. A relationship wouldn’t last long if that were the case and even if it did, it would not be a loving and harmonious one.

Domestic violence is a disease of society today, in every society, regardless of religion. We as modern day people have inherited a patriarchal attitude towards women and hence we still get these incidences of violence occurring, however, it is something that happens because men abuse their power and strength and often take advantage of a woman’s softness or passiveness. It should not be happening. Full stop!

Monday, March 5, 2012

How can we sleep while our Qurans are Burning?

Last year the mad preacher of Gainesville The Reverend Terry Jones created a furore in the Muslim world by his threats and call for a global burning of the Islamic holy book, the Quran. Thankfully, that was averted after some pressure from the Oval Office. Yet, last week some rogue US soldiers have taken this call one step further and burnt copies of the Quran, in all places, Afghanistan. It’s a death wish.

The US Army denied that this was deliberate and just a mistake, but do they really think that we are that stupid? Burning any book is really not kosher but burning one’s holy book when you are in one’s country as an invading force is a big slap in the face. The reality is that they got caught and now they are trying to backtrack.

Burning a Muslim’s most revered book, the word of God, is not a good idea, especially if you don’t want a major headache. There are a whole number of possile backlashes; fire-bombing embassies, retaliatory attacks on Westerners, burning flags and as we saw yesterday on Youtube, Libyan militia desecrating the gravestones of fallen soldiers of war.

These actions were gravely misjudged and the burning of Qurans by US soldiers did warrant the destruction of the grave sites. The two do not have had any connection whatsoever, the war cemetry was mainly for British and some allied soldiers anyway. Two wrongs don’t make a right. It was quite despicable to watch.

But this is deeper than just burning the Quran. A look at the last few months you would have noticed an increasing number of anti-Islamic incidents. There have been several laws passed in the US banning Sharia law. There was a massive campaign to stop the Islamic centre being built near Ground Zero. Then there was Anders Breivik, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people in July 2011 and posted a "manifesto" on the internet, about the role played by websites as a forum for spreading hatred of Muslims in Europe.

Yesterday a report, which polled 2,152 far-right supporters in the UK, raises concerns that the English Defence League (EDL), followed by Breivik, is increasingly promoting violence and in a planned international meeting in Denmark on 31 March members from defence leagues in Italy, Poland, the United States, Finland, Sweden and Norway, along with the anti-Muslim group, Stop Islamisation of Europe will discuss the formation of an European Defence League and ways to “counter jihad”.

Here in Australia, we have already seen the first phase of a quasi-banning of the Burqa through a law passed by the NSW parliament last year, forcing Muslim women to reveal their face if requested by a police officer or a JP if signing a statutory declaration or an affidavit.

Earlier in January this year there was a brazen attack on Wallsend Mosque which was caught on a security camera. The Australian Protectionist Party spokesman Darrin Hodges said he believed many people were "concerned about what goes on inside" mosques, but he believed that the attack was not motivated by religious hatred. Just a random attack, I guess… on a religious place of worship, which just happened to be… a mosque.

The party's Sydney-based organiser, Nick Folkes, said debate about a mosque in Elermore Vale had created interest in the party. "We definitely had a lot of people wanting to know what we were about," he said. There are now some concerns that the Australian Protectionist Party, is increasingly becoming close to the EDL.

In Brisbane, late last year, a flyer being letterboxed by a group called the QSociety states that it is concerned with the "erosion of Western values and the Islamisation of Australia". The flyers say "it's time to say no" to the Halal food industry, "whitewashed Islamic content" in state schools, Sharia finance and "segregation and apartheid" such as prayer rooms.

The burning of the Quran is only the early stages of a more sinister global campaign to denigrate and vilifiy Muslims, particularly, those living in Western countries. It is also a dangerous course which could result in a tit for tat pattern of violence based on religious hatred and ignorance. The irony is that, on both sides, a small band of extremists are pushing this agenda.
It may be that governments might need to intervene in either proscribing groups like the EDL and the APP before we see it get out of control.

One must remember that both Muslims and Christians are only different branches of the same Abrahamic tree, both share common values of love and compassion and ideally both want to live in a world free of violence and free of oppression. The whole world is being held to ransom by a few nutters, and as we speak, probably sitting in an English pub in Liverpool, downing a luke warm ale, contemplating his next move.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Sharia is already here

The question of sharia is a humorous one albeit taken seriously by some Australians and even the Attorney General.

Recent calls for sharia law in Australia are unfounded and irrational.
The problem is people do not even understand what sharia is and yet they begin fearing it and condemning it without justification.

Sharia is an aspect of a Muslim’s life which binds him or her under ethical and moral values. The commonly known conception of Sharia is that of Sharia law which can only exist if there is a predominantly Muslim society and that the government is Muslim.

The misconception about sharia law stems from the out-dated information and propaganda that intimates that sharia equates to corporal punishment and such punishments like stoning and whipping. These are medieval practices which are not used today.

Sharia is practiced in Australia everyday. I go to the mosque on Fridays, this is sharia, it does not impact on others. When Muslim gets married they go through both the Islamic rituals and the legal ceremony through a marriage celebrant. It is exactly the same for Christians who get married in a church or Jews who do so in a synagogue. It is the same for divorce, one does both the legal process and the religious process. Just as Catholics will divorce through the legal system and annul the marriage through the church as well. People don’t understand that sharia is a personal aspect of one’s faith and it is not a system of law.

Muslims in Australia do not want sharia in this country, we already have sharia practiced on a personal level. This nation is a secular nation. It protects religious rights and promotes religious freedoms. It would be highly impractical to implement sharia in Australia, and no one wants to any way.

It would be nice if we could all just wake up and smell the coffee, take a breath and relax. Sharia is already here, it has been for 150 years (with the first Afghan Muslim camel drivers), so why are we worried!