Tuesday, September 30, 2008

EVENT: Raising $$$ for the village ...

OK, I admit I bag the folk at MuslimVillage alot. But the fact remains that MV provides an important information service for people wanting to see (at least a tiny portion of) Islamic Sydney. At the very least, MV provides bored tabloid journos with something to write about during slow news days. Heck, how else could second-rate scribes like Luke McIlveen justify Uncle Rupert paying their wages?

And so I urge anyone reading this to consider coming along to the MV Fundraising Trivia Night on 1 Nivember 2008. You can find out more info here. I'm trying to gather a group of 10 persons who, like me, are banned from the MV discussion forums. Anyone interested should e-mail me at irfsol@yahoo.com.au.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, September 29, 2008

COMMENT: Eid al-Fitr is to be held on ... ?

Last week, a friend advised me that all Turkish mosques in Sydney are holding Eid prayers on Tuesday 30 September 2008.

Today, I telephoned the office of the Lebanese Moslems Association. The receptionist advised me that ...

"The Mufti has advised that Eid is to be held on Wednesday."
It's great ro see Sheik Fehmi el-Imam back in action and able to travel to Sydney to determine this issue.

And when will the Pakistanis, Fiji-Indians and other lunar-tics have their Eid? Your guess is as good as mine.

As stand-up comic Azhar Usman once said:

"For an organised religion, Islam is the most disorganised religion on earth."

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, September 21, 2008

COMMENT: Muslim minorities and democratic politics - some contentions ...

At the last Australian federal election, a small group of Muslim communitarian and civil rights activists got together to (re-)form the Australian Muslim Electoral Taskforce (AustMET). The group produced a website and a guide setting out certain considerations Muslims should follow in voting. AustMET made it clear that these were only recommendations, and that AustMET's recommendations carried no religious or theological force or weight. In other words, those reading the guide were free to make their own choices.

It might be useful to re-visit some of the issues and discussions that arose during that process. It's important that this discussion take place NOW as opposed to a few weeks or months out of an election. In NSW, this is particularly crucial given that we have a state election coming up and have just had Local Government elections.

The purpose of this post isn't to attack or criticise the efforts of the people at AustMET, who were well-meaning in their efforts. Rather, the purpose is to generate a broader discussion of how Muslim religious and ethno-religious communities engage with democratic politics at all levels in Australia.

In this discussion, where I use the term "Muslim" (singular or plural), I refer to people who will tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms or who would tick it if it were a compulsory question.

So here goes ...

[01] The AustMET brochure referred to "Muslim electorates", giving examples of federal seats with substantial Muslim populations e.g. Blaxland and Watson. To describe these as "Muslim electorates" was ill-conceived and reflects an almost complete absence of any understanding of the political process. There will always be a large number of marginal seats where Muslim voters have sufficient numbers to unseat the sitting member.

[02] To describe certain issues as "Muslim" issues is ill-conceived. In what manner do we determine certain issues as 'Muslim issues'? Do we engage in some scientific polling or demographic surveys? Or do we assume we know what Muslims think about a range of domestic and foreign policy issues? For instance, do all Muslims support withdrawal of coalition troops from Afghanistan and/or Afghanistan?

[03] The AustMET material included various fatawa (plural of 'fatwa' or authoritative non-binding opinion under Islamic sacred law) from various religious authorities. All authorities cited were Sunni or Wahhabi/Salafi, with no Shia authorities cited. But more importantly, the citation of fatawa presupposes that Muslims always seek advice from religious authorities in such issues. Is this really the case? What proportion of Muslims really have religious objections to voting and participation in democratic politics?

[04] Instead of standing up for 'Muslim' issues, we should be seeking issues in which we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Australians of all faiths and no faith in particular. Our faith and heritage require us to stand for justice, even if it be against the interests of our families, our wealth and ourselves. This is both a religious and civic imperative. We should stand for justice and truth.

Any thoughts?

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, September 19, 2008

COMMENT: Fascinating seminar on History, Modernity and the Muslim World between Europe and Asia ...

I've spent the last few days at an academic symposium on Muslim societies being held at the University of Sydney. It's not often that I get to go to these events, many of which are held in Melbourne.

One session was held on Thursday night, with a paper delivered on the protrayal of North African (mainly nominally-Muslim) migrants in French cinema. More and more children of North African migrants are involved in film, whether in documentaries or dramas. Much of their work deals only with Islam as an influence on their ancestral culture.

Another paper delivered by an academic researcher from Aceh discussed the evolving and changing role of religious institutions in Aceh. It was interesting to learn that the ulama (religious scholars) played a leading role in the struggle for independence from the Dutch. Further, the speaker was of the view that the impact of the tsunami was to generate increased goodwill toward the West, especially to the United States and Australia. Acehnese feel genuinely grateful to the defence forces of both nations for their work in the weeks and months after this traumatic event. The tsunami also led to a genuine wish for peace among Acehnese, with former supporters of the Acehnese independence movement placing pressure on the movement to reach peace with the government.

One paper delivered by prominent British-Iranian academic Elaheh Rostami-Povey dealt with the experiences of woemn from the Afghan diaspora in Iran, Pakistan, UK and North America.

Today, a postgraduate student at the University of Sydney delivered a fascinating paper on the involvement of Muslim women in the public sphere. One interesting point she made was that increased prejudice faced by Muslim women has led them to become more active and less tolerant of what some describe as a "victim mentality".

Another researcher delivered an interesting paper comparing the activism of Muslim women in mainstream politics in Australia and Canada. I never knew that at least one Muslim women has served in the Canadian Senate and another in the lower house. The speaker also said that Canadian Muslim women's groups tend to focus less on welfare-related issues and more on civil engagement, lobbying and media work.

I have recorded the presentations. Hopefully, I'll learn one day how to upload them onto this blog so that people can download and listen.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

US/ELECTIONS: Thou shalt ignore thy Muslim neighbour as thou ignoreth no one else?

Writing for a Newsweek blog, Michael Isikoff talks to the Vice-President of Alaska's Islamic Cultural Centre, a chap named Osama Obeida. No, Osama isn't a terrorist or a relative of a certain Saudi business family. Rather, he is a Palestinian-American who runs an art gallery with his 82-year-old dad.

There are only about 2,000 to 3,000 Muslims in Alaska, and, while there are no mosques, Anchorage (which is home to most of the state's Muslims) does have an Islamic Community Center, located in a rented office in a strip mall, where members pray on Fridays. But Osama Obeida ... said his group has never had any contacts at all with Alaska’s governor. No meetings, no invitations to state ceremonies, no pro forma letters commemorating the observance of Islamic holy days. “She has never taken the initiative ...”
Is this a case of the very Christian governor of Alaska not showing much love to her neighbours? The blog post continues ...

Osama Obeidi acknowledged that the Anchorage Muslim community has never reached out to the governor either—nor did it have any dealings with previous Alaska governors. “We don’t like to get involved in politics,” he explains.
OK, so members of this small community, like many Americans of various persuasions and no persuasion in particular, choose not to get involved in politics.

The blog post continues ...

Still, the lack of contact has left Alaskan Muslim leaders underwhelmed about Palin’s presence on the national ticket. “Maybe she doesn’t know we have a community of Muslims here,” said Lamin Jobarteh, a Wells Fargo banker (originally from Gambia) who is president of the Islamic center.
What on earth does the term underwhelmed mean in this context? Are Muslims expecting Ms Palin to visit them all the time or with some regularity? Are they expected to be excited or indifferent to Ms Palin's presence on the ticket?

Its not as though Alaska’s Muslims don’t have issues they’re concerned about.
What sort of issues? Peculiarly Muslim issues? Why must Muslims necessarily have issues different to the concerns of non-Muslim Alaskans? Why should journalists and reporters assume that certain faith-minorities have peculiar issues that they can (or necessarily must) see their governor about?

The blog post continues ...

Osama Obeidi said he and his father have been repeatedly hassled at Ted Stevens Airport when they fly to see their extended family in the Palestinian West Bank. “They keep us for three hours,” said Mousa Obeidi. "They ask us, “Where are you going? Who are you going to see?’” Osama Obeidi said he was even briefly arrested a few years ago when he landed in Germany after leaving Anchorage on his way to Jerusalem. That prompted him and other members of the Islamic center to seek a meeting with Sen. Lisa Murkowski to complain about their treatment. After the meeting, Osama Obeidi said the scrutiny from Homeland Security officials at the Anchorage airport tapered off. But, he said, the group never thought of raising its concerns with Palin.
OK, so they had hassles which people of certain appearance or background are commonly having with Homeland Security officials. Are these the types of issues one would see a state governor about? Does airport security come within the purview of a State Governor?

The blog continues ...

Bill McAlister, the governor’s spokesman, said Palin’s lack of interaction is not by design. “I don’t know that it's ever came up” he said when asked why the governor has never met with the state’s Muslims. “Certainly there was no attempt to exclude Muslims.”
Makes sense to me. But then, what about other groups? How does Ms Palin treat other minorities of similar size? This is where the blog post tries to get interesting.

By contrast, Palin has visited with members of the state’s Jewish community (about the same size as the state’s Muslim community) and spoke at an Anchorage synagogue last year. (Escorted by Sen. Joe Lieberman, she also met with representatives of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee at the Republican National Convention last week and told the group how she has an Israeli flag in her office in Juneau, according to David Gottstein, an Anchorage investment banker who invited her to meet with the AIPAC group.) But McAlister said this does not signify any bias against Muslims on Palin’s part—even if, as McAlister conceded, he doesn’t know whether Palin has “specifically” met any Muslima. “She’s not a bigot,” he said. “I’m not aware of anyone she has snubbed.”
Certainly Osama and his dad might find this disturbing. However, this is more because they are Palestinian and probably less because they are Muslim. Osama's dad was a refugee who left Ramallah for the United States in the 1950's.

Ms Palin has strong Assemblies of God beliefs. It is well known that charismatic churches in the United States are very pro-Israel. In this respect, they are close to many Jewish Americans. Further, virtually all US law-makers could be described as pro-Israel. Heck, even America's first Muslim congressman stated during his campaign that he hoped his first overseas trip would be to Israel.

Ms Palin's pro-Israel sentiments would probably be of equal concern to Palestinian Christians. Certainly many of my Palestinian Christian friends (and people I have met of that background) are concerned about the refusal of Western Christian churches to show sympathy to their plight.

Muslims are having a hard time as it is. I'm not sure if this kind of reporting is really doing them any favours. I think Muslims probably wished they could just be left out of things, and that people know them less as Muslims and more as ordinary Americans.

This kind of reporting also unnecessarily creates divisions between Republican Party supporters and ordinary Muslims (quite a few of whom would probably agree with Palin's strong pro-life and moral agenda). Muslim voters should be seen as voting on the same basis as any other voter.

After all, when interest rates go up and housing foreclosures increase, it doesn't just affect American Christians or Jews or athiests. National security also means (or at least should mean) protecting the liberty and security of all Americans regardless of race or religion. Because when the Twin Towers fell on September 11, the huge blocks of ice and concrete didn't somehow manage to fall in a manner which avoided Muslim firefighters or which didn't quite kill this young chap.

I'm not sure if this is really a case of Governor Palin ignoring her Muslim neighbours in a manner that she refuses to ignore any other group. Who knows? Perhaps a future Vice-President Palin might remind Americans that Islam really is a religion of peace, even if some of her supporters will frown and mutter.

UPDATE I: Click below to watch a recent al-Jazeera report on Alaska's first mosque.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

MEDIA/COMMENT: On beards, robes and Salafis ...

I was recently doing some research on visits to Australia by Indonesian radical imam Abu Bakar Basyir when I came across an article by Sally Neighbour published on the ABC website. The article, from November 2006, dealth with Abu Bakar Basyir's ties with Sheik Mohammad Omran from Melbourne.

Neighbour makes this curious observation about the Salafi strains of Islam ...

But the two men and their followers shared a common world view. They were adherents of the Salafi school of Islam, which holds that the faith must be practised just as it was in the days of the Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century, hence their long robes and untrimmed beards.

Neighbour seems to suggest that Salafis represent a single school of Islam which is characterised by an insistence that Islam must be practised exactly as it was during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. One result of this is that men wear long robes and grow beards.

Neighbour is regarded as a senior reporter on national security issues. I hate to say this, but the statement quoted above is comparable to something you might read in a British tabloid or watch on FoxNews.

There are numerous Muslim groups who see the Islam practised during the Prophet Muhammad's time as an ideal and a goal to aspire to. This need not take the form of literalism, either in textual interpretation or application of the Islamic sacred law (also known as sharia). Having such an ideal could hardly be described as indicative of a person following the Salafi strains of Islam.

In recent times, there has been a debate in Muslim circles about moonsighting to determine the commencement of the month of Ramadan. One Sydney chap and various groups affiliated with him have argued that the moon should be sighted with the naked eye, just as happened 14 centuries ago. Yet even the staunchest critics of this chap (such as myself) could dare describe him as a Salafi.

Further, the wearing of long robes and men growing beards is also not exactly representative of Salafi strains of Islam. Anyone who has attended Sufi gatherings of teachers such as Sheik Nuh Ha Mim Keller or Sheik Na'eem Abdul Wali would know what I mean. Here are men wearing robes and sporting beards, yet are known to have published written works strongly critical of Salafi strains of Islam on a variety of issues.

Given the widespread ignorance of various strains of Islam (or indeed of the basics of Islam) in the broader community, it is often difficult for reporters to write in a manner that reflects the nuances of various theological groups and schools of thought. I hope senior reporters like Ms Neighbour are able to avoid such inaccuracies in their future reporting.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, September 05, 2008

VIDEO: Kamran Pasha shares his unique approach to media, movies, Hollywood and much more ...

Kamran Pasha was one of the writers behind the TV series Sleeper Cell which dealt with the subject of terrorism. He has also written two novels, including one on Aisha, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

COMMENT: On religious conservatives and artistic erection?

Well, it seems that the Prophet Muhammad is once again in the news. And what has he done this time? Read this ...

Representatives for a gallery in Gateshead appeared in court yesterday charged with outraging public decency, after featuring a statue of Jesus with an erection ...

Lawyers for Emily Mapfuwa, a 40-year-old Christian who was offended by the artwork, launched a private prosecution against the gallery for outraging public decency and causing harassment, alarm and distress to the public. Mapfuwa, of Brentwood, Essex, argues the Baltic would not have dared depict the prophet Muhammad in such a way.

Perhaps not. After all, the art gallery isn't a Danish newspaper, an American pastor or an American cable news network. These days, you can pretty much say whatever you like about the Prophet Muhammad or his followers.

Ms Mapfuwa could easily have gotten Muslims on her side. After all, why wouldn't devout Muslims be equally as offended as she by an artist depicting God's Messiah in this way? Instead, she has turned an opportunity to defend shared Christian and Muslim sentiments into yet another example of far-Right fringe pseudo-religiosity claiming the mantle of victimhood.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

RADIO: Islam and women in Indonesia

Click here and here to listen to some interesting perspectives on Islam in Indonesia. One of the interviewees is a journalist. Some really interesting stuff. The interviewees are all participants in the Australia-Indonesia Institute's Muslim Exchange Program, an excellent initiative sponsored by the Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT).

Words © Irfan Yusuf 2008

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