Thursday, September 07, 2006

Islam Teaches Integration

With all this talk about migrants and integration, we’ve heard the PM, the Treasurer and various Muslim leaders (both self-appointed and appointed by the PM) give their views.

But what does classical Islamic theology have to say about the matter? And what have Muslims been practising over the past 1,400 years?

Recently I visited Malaysia on an exchange program organised by the Australia-Malaysia Institute. I visited a Museum of Islamic Art and Architecture in KL. There I saw some miniatures of mosques from different parts of the world.

The oldest mosque was a Chinese mosque dated to within 100 years of the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The mosque hadn’t changed since it was first built (apart from some minor extensions and renovations).

And what did the mosque look like? Did it have minarets and domes? No. The mosque was built in the same design as a typical Chinese temple or pagoda.

Then again, Middle Eastern mosques are built based on designs of Byzantine churches. Ottoman mosques are all based on what was St Sophia’s Church in Constantinople.

Some years back, an English Muslim scholar Tim Winter visited Australia for a series of lectures and workshops. Mr Winter teaches Islamic studies at Cambridge University, and has studied Islam at al-Azhar University in Egypt (perhaps the oldest and most prestigious Islamic university in the world).

Winter told his audience that Muslim settlers always adopted and co-opted the cultures of the places they moved to. Muslims always tried to ensure they made a neat cultural fit. They didn’t try to look or behave differently. They adopted the dress and customs of the host society and adapted their Islamic practises to suit their environment without compromising the fundamentals.

Winter even described a Victorian era mosque established by English converts. The mosque was built like a church hall. Each Sunday night, locals would be invited to visit the mosque where they would chat over cups of tea and plates of scones. In the corner, an organ would be used to play contemporary tunes.

An organ. In the mosque! Imagine the fuss if Aussie Muslims tried setting up an organ at the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba.

The PM’s message of integration may have originally been worded in an unfortunate manner. However, the fact remains that his message is consistent with classical Islamic teaching and has abundant precedent in Muslim migration history.

Instead of maintaining postures based on political correctness, Muslims would be well advised to study their history and understand their own heritage. They might be surprised by what they find. It is fair enough to criticise the PM for singling out Muslims. But it certainly isn’t fair to criticise the PM for insisting on Muslims practising their own religion!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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