Monday, November 28, 2005

Hands Off Michelle

What’s happened to some of our cultural Muslim leaders? Have they taken rocks out of their head (used by many for rock storage) and started throwing them at Aussie Muslim converts again? Hasn’t anyone reminded them yet that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? Or should that be glass mosques?

Some years back, Michelle Leslie decided it was time for a change. According to friends, she was going through a difficult period in her life. One of her friends happened to be a Muslim.

Perhaps Michelle’s friend lent her a Quran (the Muslim scripture). Perhaps Michelle was taken to Sydney’s gorgeous Ottoman-style Gallipoli Mosque. Perhaps Michelle dated a Muslim guy.

In any event, this underwear and swimsuit model decided Islam was for her. She made the decision to convert, told some family and friends, and basically kept it to herself.

Michelle didn’t fundamentally change her career or her lifestyle. Why? Who knows. And more importantly, who cares.

But some Muslim leaders and commentators believe Leslie owes Muslims an explanation. Journalist and representative of the Forum of Australia’s Islamic Relations (FAIR), Salam Zreika, writes in the Australian and the Herald-Sun that Leslie has effectively snubbed her fellow Muslims by her inconsistent dress sense.

Meanwhile, Muslim leader Dr Ameer Ali says that Leslie should make up her mind whether she wants to be Muslim or not. He suggests she will have to change her career if she is to remain Muslim.

Huh? I was always taught by my observant Muslim mum that what makes you a Muslim is what you believe, not what you do. And at the end of the day, what you believe is between you and God.

The comments of those Muslims choosing to play God (or “Allah” as Muslims refer to God) are almost laughable if they weren’t hurtful. No Muslim is perfect. Neither is any Catholic or Anglican or Jew. Or even any Callithumpian.

Speaking from experience, when I experience difficulties in life, my religious observance tends to skyrocket. But when the going doesn’t get as tough, I slacken off a little. And I know that if I found myself in a prison cell in Bali, I would do anything to get God on side.

Those claiming Michelle Leslie wore a hijab (head scarf) and a burqah (full head covering) to win sympathy from the court should get a reality check. Indonesia may be the world’s largest Muslim majority country. But Bali is a Hindu-majority island. And the judge who sentenced Schapelle Corby (and who was probably the one who found Michelle guilty) was Christian.

But the comments of cultural Muslim leaders are also hypocritical. Anyone who went to the Multicultural Eid Festival at Sydney’s Fairfield Show Ground on Sunday would have seen thousands of young Muslim women wearing singlet tops and hipster jeans.

These are the same girls who would wear them up and down Sydney Road in Melbourne or Auburn Road in Western Sydney. The same Muslim girls who dance the night away at a Turkish dance party to celebrate the end of Ramadan.

Why isn’t Dr Ali pointing the finger at them? Is it because they, like he, are cultural Muslims for whom Islam is little more than their name being Fatima or Yasmin or Mariam.

But then, perhaps the Yasmin in the mini-skirt may in fact have a greater degree of faith in her heart than Dr Ali could even dream of. Perhaps the same Fatima prays regularly when she can. Perhaps God hears her prayers and not those of her accusers.

And why should the reality of Muslim dress surprise anyone? Many Muslim Australians have been part of the mainstream since the 1960’s (especially Turks and some Lebanese), and some since the end of the Second World War (Bosnians and Albanians).

And these Muslim girls who follow the latest fads and fashions are just as Muslim as anyone else. I used to have trouble getting up before sunrise to say the morning prayer (I still do). I asked my Muslim friend who works behind a bar. She suggested that when my alarm clock goes off, I sit up in bed and meditate. Sure enough it worked. So now in the Muslim scheme of things, she is getting rewarded by God for all my morning prayers.

Islam is not just a function of what you wear. It is a function of what you believe and how you behave with others. My barmaid friend’s miniskirts don’t bother me. But her advice and wisdom are a blessing in my life.

Muslim leaders should stop trying to act like Sophie Panopoulos and Bronwyn Bishop and let Muslim women dress as they please. Instead of lecturing Michelle Leslie, they should consider campaigning on more pressing issues such as the massive increase in domestic violence across all Australian communities.

Last Friday was my mum’s birthday. It was also White Ribbon Day, the UN’s designated International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. On this day, men wear a white ribbon to signify their refusal to sit back and tolerate when other men are abusive and violent to women.

Perhaps more Muslim leaders and imams could have led by example. Perhaps more Sydney imams could have devoted their Friday sermons to reminding their congregation of the severe divine punishment that await men who are abusive to their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters.

Perhaps those same imams can still wear white ribbons to show that they are far removed from that small minority of Muslim men who claim physical and sexual assault is part of their religious culture. Certainly these steps would make more sense than giving Michelle Leslie and her family a hard time.

The author is a Sydney lawyer and an ambassador for 2005 UNIFEM White Ribbon Day campaign.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Edward Mariyani-Squire said...

Hear, all ye good people, hear what the brilliant and eloquent speaker has to say!

Respect to the Irf ! said...

Right on Bro !

Us "reverts" (a wanker fundamentalist phrase - it is "converts") are fed up with the utter crap that these sons of bitches in the AFIC deficate onto us ! Fuck the AFIC - No wonder I never go to mosque ! The AFIC stance is become a unthinking amoral arsehole like us or get out... I choose, GET OUT !
I love Islam, but the AFIC is a
corrupt mindless vucuum of double standards and brown-nosing.

dawood said...

I agree... i thought it was mindless.