Monday, July 18, 2005

Hate-Filled Books Stay On The Fringe

Last week, I visited a good friend. She is of Muslim background, and works in medical research. She loves reading spiritual books, be they poems by Rumi or discourses of the Dalai Lama. She also enjoys a good laugh.

I wanted to buy her an early birthday present, and I knew exactly what she would like. I purchased 2 books on traditional medical sciences as taught by the Prophet Muhammad. I also bought her a DVD entitled “Allah made me funny!”.

Like most Muslim Australians, I know exactly where to get my devotional books. Frequently, I shop at mainstream bookshops like Dymocks or Kinokunya. Sometimes I visit spiritual bookstores like the Adyar Bookstore, or specialist Muslim bookstores.

There are perhaps 4 Sydney Islamic bookshops I frequently visit. I know the range and quality of their books and multimedia materials is good. They stick to respected mainstream scholars and avoid fringe cultish groups. And they respect Islam’s spiritual and legal heritage as enshrined in Sufism.

So when I opened the Daily Telegraph the other day and saw a familiar shop window photographed under a headline “Books of hate in Sydney shops”, I was not surprised. I am not sure how this shop stays in business since they have gone out of their way to alienate so many mainstream Muslim youngsters with their fringe salafist materials.

Some years back, I visited that store and saw a lovely children’s book of stories by the famous Sufi Rumi. I went to purchase it, but was quickly advised by the shop assistant that this book was not for sale. He went to where a small pile of the books sat on a display table and lifted them all.

I asked him what objections he had to a book by Rumi, perhaps the most popular spiritual poet in the world and whose work has been translated into numerous languages. “We will not sell any sufi books here as they are deviant”, I was advised.

Sufism is the spiritual heart of Islam. In the Sunni school, it is called “tasawwuf”. In the Shia school, it is called “irfan”. Sufism is the spiritual side of Islam, teaching the importance of loving God through loving God’s creatures. It has inspired numerous artistic and philosophical movements among Muslims including the famous Whirling Dervishes of Turkey.

But in the eyes of the fringe salafist cult, Sufism is regarded as evil. This attitude toward Islam’s spiritual heritage is one of many reasons mainstream Muslims reject salafist cults as heterodox.

Muslim Australians are at the heart of mainstream Australian life. When the National Australia Bank appointed a young executive to be its CEO, most commentators focussed on his relative youth and expertise than his migrant Muslim background. And I have never heard anyone refusing to buy a mobile phone from Crazy Johns because of the owner’s background.

But salafist cults teach young Muslims to emphasise differences and to treat Australian culture as alien. Some salafist imams have even claimed a special religious dispensation from the Australian Electoral Commission which allows them not to vote on religious grounds. These salafist imams claim that democracy and Islam are incompatible.

Are these cults dangerous? You would think so after reading their books. But the reality is that most young Aussie Mossies never buy these hate-filled books. Very few decent books on Islam are published in Australia. Islamic bookshops are forced to import most of their stock. And most mainstream Islamic books are published in the UK, US, Canada, India or Malaysia. The most popular authors are Europeans or Americans such as Tim Winter, Michael Wolfe, Hamza Yusuf Hanson and Feisal Abdul Rauf, authors whose work Lakemba’s salafist “Islamic Bookstore” refuse to even display.

But most salafist cultish materials are published in Saudi Arabia and are poorly translated. The tone and message of these books is regarded as ugly. And because they sit on the very edges of the Muslim communities, salafist books are often filled with venom toward mainstream Muslim groups such as Sufi and Shia Muslims.

At university, many campus Marxists used to write and sell pamphlets and books calling for violent overthrow of capitalism. Campus communists were loud and irritating. But how many people took them seriously? I certainly different.

Similarly, most Muslim Australian readers take little notice of bookstores which insist on selling only hate-filled ugly material which seeks to marginalise Muslims and alienate them from mainstream Australian values. And Muslim Australians are a community that simply will not put up with being marginalised.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Yusuf Smith said...

As-Salaamu 'alaikum,

:I am not sure how this shop stays in business since they have gone out of their way to alienate so many mainstream Muslim youngsters with their fringe salafist materials.:

Possibly because someone, somewhere, is financing it just because it's "da'wah"?

dawood said...

But i guess its not actually 'business' in that case. What annoys me is the amount of space it has filled up, when there are other smaller bookstores with other more decent reading materials all cramped in tiny shops. I have been in a few times, still some gems in there hiding but on the whole there is not a lot.

What annoys me even more is that i cant seem to find any decent Arabci books in any of them. Unless i luck out sometimes.

Any time i have been in there it has not been busy, so i am not sure how the general community feels about it, but i am assuming not great.

dawood said...

More stuff coming out in the media now. Just a short walk from me too.