Saturday, September 15, 2007

Campus Muslims ...

Stephen Crittenden’s Religion Report program on Radio National this week interviews a range of people who spoke at a recent conference on Muslim students held at the University of Western Sydney.

Among them is former UWS Muslim Students’ Association President Mona Darwiche. I’m not sure how much of Mona’s comments have been edited out. Perhaps what has been left in doesn’t reflect what she meant to say.

Still, what has been broadcast isn’t terribly helpful. Darwiche focuses on the “special needs” of Muslim students which she expects universities to meet. Among these are [h]alal food, adequate prayer facilities, adequate ablution facilities, and segregation between men and women.”

In relation to halal food, perhaps Darwiche should consider that many Muslims regard it as perfectly permissible and halal to eat food prepared by non-Muslims which doesn’t contain pig meat and/or alcohol. Hence, the issue of halal really doesn’t arise. Further, why expect the university to deal with this? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Muslim students to approach food retailers on campus and suggest halal food as a commercial proposition? Why turn this into an issue of “special need”?

Darwiche has this to say about prayers:

It's important that the University provides adequate facilities for Muslim
students where students can observe prayers on campus, and I also mention the
time of prayers, because I know with myself, sometimes when it came time to
praying, I would be in a lecture, I would be sitting an exam, I would be giving
a presentation, so it's important for Muslims to pray at the designated times,
and so sometimes that could be a bit challenging for Muslim students to meet
their prayers on time when they have other commitments at Universities, such as
attending lectures, sitting exams, which sometimes go between two different
prayer times.

Darwiche seems to be getting two completely different issues confused – the alleged need for special facilities and the alleged need to account for prayer times.

Certainly it makes sense for universities to provide Muslim students with the same facilities as provided for students of other religious denominations. But how hard is it to take out a few minutes from your lecture or tutorial (or even exam) to say your prayers? And must you have special designated places all over campus for this purpose?

Further, in relation to segregation, what is the issue? If you want to live in a segregated environment, what are you doing at university in the first place? Darwiche comments:

Now I want to touch on a bit of a controversial topic. When I say the
segregation of men and women on campus, I say this with... segregation must be
considered in its context. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about the
way in which Muslim men and women can interact with each other and also with
other non-Muslims.

Yes, and sadly many of the misconceptions are perpetuated by Muslims themselves. For instance, the whole idea that men and women can never shake hands. Or never even sit next to each other. When I went with a group of Aussie Muslims to Indonesia and Malaysia last year, our hosts wondered which planet us Aussies were from. This was because we always ensured we were seated in such a manner that no man sat next to a woman unless she was his wife. Yet in the world’s largest Muslim country, men and women sat next to each other all the time. They also weren’t afraid of shaking hands.

Darwiche continues:

And in regards to social interaction at university, whether it be lunch breaks
or otherwise, generally Muslim females and males do stay separate in terms of
social interaction. But in regards to fostering a relationship in terms of
university studies and working on particular tasks between males and females,
working as a team, achieving a core aim or objective towards a course, is
definitely allowable in Islam because you actually have a purpose behind your
interaction between interacting between males and females.

So unless they are studying together or organising some Muslim function, Muslim guys and gals always keep away from each other. Now this might be true for people from certain cultural backgrounds. But to make the blanket suggestion that all students of Muslim background and/or faith and/or heritage will all necessarily practise segregation requires an uncomfortable level of hubris.

It seems that Darwiche is confusing actual practice of Muslim students with what she regards as Islamic orthodoxy. It’s OK to express your opinion of what religion requires of you. It isn’t ok to insist that all Muslims agree with you and that therefore (largely non-Muslim) university administrators presume that they should make special allowances for this.

Sadly, once again, we see spokesmen and women for religious institutions pretending to speak for all people from their group who happen to be Muslim. Representing Islam and representing Muslims are not one and the same.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Silma said...

I agree with both - that most of the traditional Muslim world does not have a problem with shaking hands or with sitting males and females together. However, there is a lot of confusion in the world today. The Islamist/Maudoodi/Ikhwani influence has got us all a little muddled, so that many Muslims honestly believe that such segregation as described by Mona is compulsory. The reality is then, that this IS practised by lots of Muslims today - like it or lump it! And as for Indonesia, 30 years ago it was not acceptable in any religious gathering for Muslim men and women to sit together, or especially for them to shake hands! In relation to halal food, there has been ongoing controversy with the campus canteens and cafes offering food labelled as halal, which in reality also included bacon and eggs! This is an issue that both the admin and the students are trying to sort through.

Khayyam said...

bro irfan,

just because something is done in indonesia does not make it halal..

i fail to see you logic regarding that

allahu alam

Irfan Yusuf said...

Khayyam, you might need to read the article again. The article doesn't talk about halal and haram.