Young Muslims speak out to counter misconceptions Print E-mail
Tuesday, 03 October 2006


MAXINE MCKEW: Greg Hoy reporting there. The question of Australian identity has always been a contestable issue, but it now seems that both major political parties are trying to outdo each other in the values debate. Prime Minister John Howard kicked things off with his recent suggestion that some members of the Muslim community should make a bigger effort to learn English and fit in with the rest of society. Opposition Leader Kim Beazley went one better, saying that even visitors to this country should sign a pledge to uphold national values. Of course, it's not a debate that's isolated to this country. Around the world, certainly since the attacks of September 11, western nations with Muslim minorities are grappling with similar issues. But a new wave of younger Australian born and bred Muslims are speaking out to counter what they see as massive misconceptions about their faith and the way they live their lives. Christopher Zinn reports.

AHMED KILANI: I don't see any conflict between my Muslim religion and me being an Australian. I see myself as a proud Australian who is a Muslim and the values don't clash at all.

ALAA ALASSADI: Some people obviously seeing me as a Muslim come up to me and ask me questions and I can clear some of the misunderstandings. That's pretty rare compared to the other negative.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: They're about 2 per cent of the country's population but Australia's Muslim community has rarely been under such scrutiny.

TONY ABBOTT: We know that it's possible to be an Australian and a Muslim rather than an Australian, or a Muslim.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: This forum in the melting pot Sydney suburb of Lidcombe is a microcosm of a wider debate raging around the country and, indeed, the world.

TONY ABBOTT: It would be easier for Australians to appreciate Islam if more Islamic leaders seemed readier to condemn terrorism rather than explain how the West might in some way have contributed to that.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Tony Abbott doesn't shy away from the Government's line on assimilation, Australian values and speaking English. Sheikh Taj el-Din Al Hilaly, one of the spiritual leaders of Australia's Muslims, voices his support - ironically, in Arabic.

SHEIKH TAJ EL-DIN AL HILALY: I agree with the minister that everyone who is living in Australia should speak English.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Australia's 300,000 Muslims hail from 100 different countries and well over a third were born here. It's a young community, almost half are aged under 25.

ALAA ALASSADI: I consider myself having more of Aussie values than I do just because I wear a scarf it doesn't mean I'm like different or think differently or anything. I was raised here and that's how a lot of my friends are and a lot of the Muslims I know are like this. That's why I don't understand why they always have to depreciate and cause this division.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: A bachelor of science student at the University of NSW, Alaa Alassadi was born in Iran but migrated here. Out of faith she wears the hijab, but sometimes it works against her.

ALAA ALASSADI: I've had someone walk past me and swear at me and call me a terrorist. It's not really easy having a job interview when they see you straight away and they see the scarf. Obviously I find that your chances get less likely when they see you wearing the scarf.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Alaa Alassadi works hard to build bridges between the two communities, but admits the behaviour of a small minority of Muslims, especially overseas, does not make it easy, as with the storm over the Pope's comments on Islam.

ALAA ALASSADI: They shot a nun. I think that is completely wrong and I really, really don't think that was the actual appropriate action to take and obviously I mean when they do some things like that it's going to be on the news and they're going to get a backlash from the other side.

ASSOC PROF STEPHEN ALOMES: It worries me that the clash of civilisations might become a self fulfilling prophecy. If you go around and stigmatise and label a group as outsiders they will develop an identity as outsiders.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Dr Stephen Alomes has studied citizenship issues here and overseas. He's just returned from Europe, which is experiencing a very similar debate on the assimilation of Muslim migrants.

STEPHEN ALOMES: The first generation is often slow to move towards citizenship. Think of the Greeks, the Greeks did not intermarry for sort of 20 or 30 years, which they now do. Because we live in anxious times we're getting a little jumpier about this question.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Here in Australia, younger Muslims are using more modern means than the mosque to replace what they see as outdated stereotypes.

IRFAN YUSEF: We've got young Aussie Muslims writing books now about growing up in Australia. We've got next month a bunch of stand up comics from the United States performing a comedy show called 'Allah made me funny', so Muslims are taking the piss out of themselves. What could be more Australian than that?

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Irfan Yusef is a lawyer, commentator and blogger pushing an alternative view. He claims many Muslims are inhibited from going public.

IRFAN YUSEF: I think ordinary Muslims need to come out. Your average Joe Blow Muslim who is a suburban solicitor or an accountant or a doctor or whatever. These you're your ordinary Joe Blow Aussie mozzies, as we like to call ourselves.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: One who makes it his business to speak out is this man who runs the Muslim Village site, which he is promoting as Australia's first halal trade expo, in Melbourne.

AHMED KILANI: Unfortunately for us our leadership is inadequate and unrepresentative of the true Muslim community which is people like myself who were born here who are integrated so well that we don't need to come out and have special treatment and set up reference committees and things. We're going about doing our business.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: But there's no denying the small minority of Muslims have raised serious concerns.

ABU BAKAR: I am telling you that my religion doesn't tolerate other religion, it doesn't tolerate. The only one law which needs to spread can be here. Anywhere else has to be Islam.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Since this interview last year Algerian born Abu Bakar, the alleged leader of a Melbourne terror group, has been committed for trial with 10 other men. Despite this and other high profile terrorist cases Ahmed Kilami argues they involve a tiny minority who don't reflect the values of the wider Muslim community.

AHMED KILANI: It's all about living in harmony and respecting others, not forcing others to do anything that's against their will. Respecting the laws of the country this is all Islamic values that one must do. What I say to Australian Muslims that don't like this, if you don't like it, don't live here.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: At the best of times issues such as citizenship, identity and values can be hot button topics. But given events overseas such as the storm over the Pope's comments and calls by politicians here for more assimilation, it suddenly seems that everything Islamic is centre stage.

KEVIN DUNN: There is a lot of community fear about Islam and when we compare people's attitudes to Muslims, compared to their attitudes, say, to Asian Australians or Indigenous Australians and other so called "out groups" you do find that right now it's Muslims who suffer the highest degrees of intolerance.

KEVIN DUNN: Now Redfern mosque was a Turkish mosque as was the Erskineville mosque...

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Kevin Dunn is a geographer who studies racism. He's concerned about the focus on Muslims in this whole debate, which suggests Australia isn't the secular society many may have thought.

KEVIN DUNN: If you're saying that Muslims don't fit, then what is it you're saying they don't fit? The default category there is Christian and I don't think we really should be anticipating returning to assimilation times where we expect people to come to Australia and become Christians.

WALEED KADOUS: If you want us to participate in the Melbourne Cup and put a bob each way and have a few drinks, that's not what we're about, it's not what we're interested in and we should be free to do that.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Waleed Kadous is another of the new vocal generation of Australian Muslims. He's convenor of the Australian Muslim Civil Rights Advocacy Network and says there's no Aussie monopoly on values such as a fair go.

WALEED KADOUS: It's hard to understand what Australian values really mean if they just mean to be a good bloke and I mean, Muslims try their best to be that, it's part of our faith to be good people.

CHRISTOPHER ZINN: Alaa Alassadi doesn't have all the answers but she has some simple advice for both camps.

ALAA ALASSADI: Muslims, practice Islam the proper way and try, please, try to mingle more with non Muslims and to the non Muslim community, please see it from our perspective. Try to mingle, we really need to have more interaction.


Reporter: Christopher Zinn

Australian Broadcasting Corporation - 7.30 report

Broadcast: 03/10/2006


Copyright © 2002 - 2023 AMCRAN. All Rights Reserved.
PO Box 3610 Bankstown NSW 2200 Phone: (02) 9708 0009 Fax: (02) 9708 0008
Joomla Templates by JoomlaShack Joomla Templates