Saturday, December 22, 2007

BOOK: On Community

One of my constant complaints is with people talking about the “Muslim community”. I consider this entity to be a complete fiction. I’ve always maintained that Muslims are not one community but in fact represent a set of communities.

But then, what does the term ‘community’ actually mean? Some 10 years back, someone sent me a collection of essays by different authors and entitled Community Issues in New Zealand (edited by Claudia Bell and published in 1997 by the Dunmore Press of Palmerston North).

In his forward to the book, Ian Carter sets the ideological tone of the book by making reference to

… that writhing nest of vipers, ‘the business

However, he also makes some important points. He points out that

Remarkably, whenever the word is used in lay or scholarly usage ‘community’
never is a Bad Thing.

He goes on to comment about community as a vague concept, and that …

It now must be clear that we should celebrate the
richness in ‘community’ as a metaphor, a term which people use to describe
something which they value but can’t quite put into more precise

So community is built upon things we value. But let’s be honest about thus point. Exactly how many people who tick the “Muslim” box on their census forms actually value the religious part of their identity? How many of us regard our religion as being the layer of identity we value the most and often-most?

Ian Carter goes on to give further reasons for us to be sceptical about using the term community to describe Muslims, whether living in Australia or elsewhere.

… how does ‘community’ – a concept rooted so deeply
in European social thought – articulate with ideas doing much the same work in
non-European cultures?

Yes, it is true. There are Muslims who are indigenous Europeans. Albanian Muslims have settled in rural and regional parts of Victoria and Queensland since the 1920’s. But can the term ‘community’ apply to Albanians as Muslims? Or can it apply to them as speakers of Albanian dialect?

So I still think we need to be careful before speaking about a “Muslim community”. Though I’m sure self-serving self-appointed community “leaders” will be happy to continue throwing caution to the wind in this regard.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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