Tony Abbott is one of the few Federal Ministers to speak about Aussie Muslims in a respectful tone. He does raise serious questions about Muslims and their integration in mainstream Australia, but he doesn’t pretend to know all the answers and asks his Muslim audience to pardon his ignorance. This compares favourably with the arrogance often displayed by Peter Costello, Brendan Nelson and a number of backbenchers whose names escape me and are rather forgettable in any event.
One important point Abbott frequently makes is that the current experience of Muslims today is comparable to the treatment of Roman Catholics for over a century. Further, the rhetoric used about Muslims “outbreeding” everyone and having allegiances outside Australia also has been used to describe Catholicism.
Perhaps, then, Muslims can learn something from the Catholic experience. Sadly, we don’t have lots of Muslims doing research into the experiences of Catholics, Jews and other faith communities who overcame the challenges we now face.
Then again, organisations that claim to represent Muslims in Australia have never bothered to spend money on researching the composition and characteristics of those they claim to represent. Clearly Muslim leaders have little interest in spending time and resources in finding out who Muslims are and what they think on various issues.
In today’s Herald, Peter Manning explores Tony Abbott’s argument about the shared experiences of Muslims and Catholics. The result is a well-considered op-ed piece that concludes in the same manner that my piece did yesterday.
Here’s a sample …
In Federal Parliament last year, Senator John Faulkner argued there was once a minority religion in Australia that threatened the fabric of our society, whose members bred faster than the rest of "us" and whose poor and uneducated were taught weird beliefs in their own schools. They were called Catholics ...
... in Sydney there's a religion which has a set of religious laws for its faithful, running parallel to state law, and encourages its young to do civil and military service in a Middle Eastern country. It's called Judaism.
Many of the things thrown at Australian Muslims in the past five years - bundled together as "un-Australian" - are features of other religions in our multicultural society: they're breeding "us" out; their women are oppressed; the imams speak in Arabic; their sharia law is weird; their links are to Middle Eastern lands ...
What would an Australian Islam look like? A way of getting an answer might be to look at how Catholicism in Australia has become Australian. From a religion under siege, it has melded into Australian culture, both defining the culture and being defined by it.
Australian Catholicism now is not Irish, Roman, South American or American Catholicism. It is the pragmatic, unevangelical version that Sydney's Cardinal George Pell hates so much ...
The key principles of Islam, so similar to the other Abrahamic religions Judaism and Christianity, will not change. But cultural influences - and geography - will demand significant changes at the edges ...
The quicker a recognisably Australian Islam - with Australian-born and Australian-trained imams with broad Aussie accents - comes into being the better for everyone.
Welcome inside the tent.
Manning is no enemy of the Muslim communities. He has stuck his neck out on numerous occasions to ensure balanced coverage of issues directly related to Muslims or which many Muslims feel sensitive about. Manning is also an experienced player in all forms of media. He is therefore not someone to be ignored.
And in case some Muslims wish to ignore Manning, they shouldn't ignore Muslim scholars taught in the classical tradition. Scholars like Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah whom I quoted yesterday as saying ...
For centuries, Islamic civilisation harmonised indigenous forms of cultural expression with the universal norms of its sacred law.
In China, Islam looked Chinese; in Mali, it looked African. Sustained cultural relevance to distinct peoples, diverse places and different times underlay Islam's long success as a global civilisation.
We ignore these messages at our peril. If we continue to behave like a set of tribal entities, we will be abandoning the cultural and theological consensus of 14 centuries of Muslim migration experience.
© Irfan Yusuf 2007