A R C H I V E S
Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Spreading the Message of Islam in Anglo-Australia|
|03/25/02 at 12:39:29|
|Spreading the Message of Islam in Anglo-Australia|
Developing a positive image for Islam in Australia
The main task confronting the Muslim community in Australia is that of passing the message of Islam, as God commands in the Quran, so that it is understood for what it actually teaches, not what our enemies say it teaches. We have to attempt to show people that Islam is a civilising force, that it is a way of life which offers the world a system of justice with mercy. At present we seem incapable of getting beyond responding to attacks after they have done their damage. We need a much more proactive stance than we take at present. There are practically no resources devoted to dawah [invitation to Islam] in Australia at present. What work is going on is frequently culturally inappropriate and does as much damage as good. In fact there is some evidence that when we are under sustained media attack, there is greater interest in Islam and a larger number of conversions to Islam than when we are going along quietly and the usual groups are doing their dawah.
Reaction to charges which fit into someone else’s agenda is not a productive way of spreading knowledge of Islam. However that is what we are largely restricted to at the present time. It is only when some foul slander is laid at our door that our spokespeople get the opportunity to counter what has been said. The Gillespie Affair, the Gulf War, the Shoukan Case, the anglo-feminist campaign on female genital mutilation, which was blamed on Islam, have all allowed Muslims to have some voice. The tradition of democratic debate in Australia is deeply embedded in the culture and while we certainly do not get equal voice to our slanderers, we get a toe in the door.
Much more attention needs to be given by Islamic organisations to this aspect of dawah in this country. We do not have any media monitoring facilities as a Muslim community and volunteerism is not well established in the societies from which the majority of our Muslim adults come. Although reaction to media slander is not the answer to the need for dawah, it cannot be neglected. There is a real danger that many Muslims will become totally convinced that there is a media crusade against Islam in Australia and just separate themselves from the mainstream society. Such a ghettoisation would do untold damage to our effort to let all people hear the message of Islam.
Developing an Islamic voice
The Australian Muslim News, now an intermittent English language publication, was originally designed to appeal to well educated young Muslims and to be a window onto Islam for interested non-Muslim observers. It is the responsibility of the National Organisation of Muslims, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils and the chief editor is president of that organisation.
There was an Arabic language Islamic AM radio station on air in Sydney, which is home to the majority of the Muslim population. It has been the subject of intense intra-Muslim community fighting and its future is uncertain. In Melbourne 90.7FM is running a part-week program of mainly Arabic Islamic radio and the future here is also uncertain, dependent upon government acceptance of its submission for a permanent voice.
Community television has also arrived in Melbourne and there are Turkish and Arab programs but no Islamic program as yet. There is an Islamic program on community TV in Sydney and the Islamic College in Western Australia also has a community TV program in Perth.
Almost every different ethnic group in the Muslim community has a first language radio program, but these are incomprehensible to the mass of the Australian people and a growing number of the young people in those ethnic communities. They can be useful in dawah with a section of the older existing Muslim population, and that is sorely needed, but they are not enough.
We have not yet been able to use the internet to establish a regularly updated current issues page like Islam Online or Iviews like the American Muslims. We do not even have a regular weekly electronic newsletter like the Canadian Islamic Congress Friday Bulletin.
Distinguishing between the behaviour of individual Muslims and normative Islam
A large proportion of the Australian Muslim population, some two thirds according to census data, was born overseas. The vast majority come from the Arab countries, notably Lebanon, and from Turkey. They were brought here to serve the labour needs of Australian industry and although they are encouraged to take out citizenship, they are subjected to discrimination in workplaces and in training programs, which are more and more becoming gateways to secure jobs in the future. A lot of time of active Muslims is taken up fighting these social justice issues for our own community which is facing many severe social problems.
Although most of our people are law abiding and generally quiet, there are occasional cases of bad behaviour which bring bad publicity on all of us. It is important that we combat the tendency for the media to present individual aberrations as issues of Islam. We are not alone in this, for many ethnic communities have the same problem and we can make common cause with them. We have always to be careful to make sure that non-Muslims are aware that when aberrations occur, they are not to be blamed on Islam but on individual or social factors. We should not let criminals hide behind Islam in dealing with Australian institutions or the legal system.
Developing the consciousness and cultural sensitivity of committed Islamic workers
There is a dearth of well-educated and culturally aware individuals who can present Islam in a positive light amongst Anglo-Australians. Many Muslims confuse their home cultures with Islam, for often the two have been viewed as identical for hundreds of years. As we have seen from the great disparity between the cultural patterns of Australia and those of the Muslim majority countries on almost very major factor, such inability to distinguish traditional values from Islamic values can create a disastrous situation. There is a lack of awareness amongst most Muslims that quite different cultural patterns, patterns which have evolved over many centuries, can influence one’s view of the world and of reality. The friendliness of Anglo-Australians on a first meeting dismays some Muslim immigrants, as does their attitude to social status, directness of expression and concern with time.
Some dawah groups have a formula for carrying out their work which does not dibfer from one continent to the other. There is no sense of cultural pattern. They confuse the fact that Islam is meant for all people for the rest of time with the actual pattern of dawah activity. They seem to believe that the formula, like Islam itself, has been set for all people for all time. This sort of mindless activity harms our reputation amongst thinking people.
One of our major problems is that ethnic groups prefer to bring religious leaders, imams, from their country of origin. These people are usually unable to communicate in English, so they cannot even get through to the young people in their own ethnic communities where the first language has not been well preserved. The Australian education system is not able to maintain community languages adequately and weekend ethnic schools are often taught by untrained teachers who use methods drawn from their own experience which are quite alien to youngsters brought up through Australian schools.
We are without any means of training religious leaders locally so we remain dependent upon imported imams. This creates a gulf between the born Muslim population and the second generation Muslims as well as new Muslims, who feel shut out from many Islamic activities and from Islamic education carried out in languages other than English. There is no adequate teaching of Arabic to new Muslims and there is a dropping off of numbers amongst them as they feel ignored.
The International Islamic University in Malaysia and similar educational organisations could help us deal with this problem in the future by establishing training courses for dawah workers and imams in partnership with local Australian Islamic organisations. They must be aware of cultural issues and not try to impose their own cultures alongside Islam. Such attempts only drive people away from Islam.
Building friendships amongst Australian community leaders
In order to win respect from non-Muslims, the Muslim leadership must demonstrate that it is a "doing" leadership. Muslims have a reputation for being passive and reactive rather than proactive. Few Muslims or Islamic organisations are active in State Ethnic Community Councils. Muslims are rarely seen in human rights groups, environmentalist groups or interfaith groups. The recent "illegal immigrant" refugee release into the community has not been met with an adequate Muslim community response. Christian welfare agencies are looking after many of these needy and traumatised Muslims.
We must take our part in broad community activities as advocates for justice, for human rights, against racism and against oppression. We must also play our role in meeting the welfare needs of our community members. Perhaps this lack of involvement is because so many Muslims come from countries where they have suffered oppression and where dissidence and community activism can be threatening to health and liberty, but that excuse is fast losing credibility. A new younger generation of Australian-raised Muslims is already on the scene but they lack guidance and direction as to how they may best serve the ummah. Again lack of effective Islamic leadership at the mosque level is to blame.
Organisations like the World Conference on Religion and Peace, which links together all religious groups in the Australian community, the National Council of Churches, the Uniting Church, the Australian Human Rights Foundation, the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Human Rights Commission and the Federal Ethnic Communities Council of Australia have all played a role in coming to the aid of the Muslim community when it has been under attack. Muslims have not repaid that support by becoming active in those organisations and taking a full role in supporting them in their struggle for social justice.
Some work is being done in this direction, but it is not seen as central to our role as Muslims. Ethnic specific issues and problems of migration take up by far the greatest effort. In international affairs we are almost totally absorbed in Muslim majority country issues.
Promoting normative Islam - Quran and Sunah - at every opportunity
The best way to defeat lies is with the truth. That is why it is incumbent on every Muslim who can communicate adequately in English to make sure that what he or she says about Islam is just that. As Jamal Badawi reminded us at the July 1995 Symposium on Human Rights in Islam, our primary sources are the Quran and the Sunnah. We should not give the opinions of jurists, unless there is unanimity, as the teachings of Islam. It is the Quran itself to which we must refer, or to hadith.
It is not easy to pass the message of Islam. Often when you tell people what the Quran states, they will not believe it. When Muslim behaviour denies what is taught in the Quran or Sunnah, we are put in the position of having to explain that the people do not necessarily follow their religion. Of course that is exactly the position of Christians with the Gospel and Jews with the Torah. It does not impress non-Muslims at all.
Some Islamic groups argue that we must make the ummah truly Muslim before we can approach non-Muslims. If that had been the case historically, we would probably not have spread beyond the Hijaz. There have always been poor Muslims amongst us. We have all been weak at some time or another. We cannot all be perfect before we give others the chance to hear the message. Islam does not belong to "born" Muslims. That sort of exclusive thinking is a step along the road to introducing racism into the Muslim community.
It is only when we have large numbers of culturally aware Muslims that we will be able to pass the message with wisdom and beautiful preaching in the best possible manner. At present I sometimes thank God that many Muslims cannot speak English because what comes out of their mouths may have had relevance in another time in another place, but in the Australian context it takes on a whole new meaning.
The above article was originally Part 2 of a lecture presented by Bilal Cleland on the 3rd of March, 2001 at the Elizabeth Jolley Lecture Theatre, Curtin University, in Perth. Organised by the Federation of Australian Muslim Students and Youth (FAMSY), Western Australia and CMSA (Curtin University MSA).
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