Saturday, January 26, 2008

COMMENT: On Muslim professionals and professional Muslims

There are two kinds of Muslim people in Australia. You have Muslim professionals. Then you have professional Muslims.

The former are too busy getting on with their work and/or business and/or study and/or family commitments to worry about the management of religious institutions. They make up the overwhelming majority of the 300,000-odd Australians who tick the “Muslim” box on their census forms. Many visit the mosque once or twice a year, and quite a few regard religion as being only a secondary source of their identity.

Then you have the latter who derive their legitimacy from being seen as leaders of organisations, from being photographed with politicians and from holding titles and positions. They form a tiny minority, but insist on always claiming to speak on behalf of the majority which their over-active imagination labels “the Muslim community”.

Politicians know that these people cannot deliver any votes or influence. Yet many politicians insist on being seen to consult with them. And when a politician refuses, these people go rushing to whichever media outlet that will listen and demand to be heard.

I cannot help but think that calls for reinstatement of the “Muslim Community Reference Group” (as reported by my old buddy Sheik Dicky Kerbaj in The Australian recently) are yet another example of the professional Muslims seeking the legitimacy which they know they will never get from those they claim to represent.

He cites Azizah Abdel Halim, a retired school teacher and one of the few women hand-picked by former PM Howard to sit on his Reference Group. Sadly, poor Richard still cannot get over the fact that Muslims are not Catholics and simply don’t have priests or nuns. Hence he refers to Mrs Abdel Halim as “Sister Abdel Halim”. Yes, she wears a piece of cloth on her head, but this sister certainly doesn’t practise celibacy.

Kevin Rudd doesn’t need some committee of professional Muslims advising him whilst undermining each other. I’d like to think Kevin Rudd has more respect for his Muslim constituents than hand-picking a group of middle aged blokes with poor English skills to represent religious congregations the majority of whose members were born here, are overwhelmingly young and educated. And many of whom are not overly religious.

Until the management of mosques becomes more democratic, until women and young people are encouraged to participate and until we see less Bangladeshi and Pakistani and Lebanese etc mosques and more Australian mosques, I think the current lot of professional Muslims should be ignored by the government as much as they are by the people they claim to represent.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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COMMENT: Ordinary Australians, extraordinary stories ...

One of the great things about Melbourne is its newspaper, The Age. And this Australia Day edition is no exception. Under the heading “Looking at the bigger picture”, a number of Age writers profile ordinary Australians with extraordinary stories.

They include a farmer, an AFL player, an activist for seniors and a surf lifesaver. But also rating a mention is my good pal Constable Maha Sukkar, whose name apparently means “very sweet” in Indonesian. I doubt some of those she arrests would agree.

Also profiled are a probationary constable Nadia Hammoud, youth worker Nadia Mohamed and SIEV-X survivor Faris Shohani.

About Faris, The Age writes ...

Mr Shohani’s life as a non-citizen began when, at the age of 13, his family was deported to Iran from Iraq. He is a survivor of the SIEV-X tragedy of October 2001, when 354 asylum seekers perished when their overcrowded boat sank en route to Australia. Among those who drowned were his wife, Leyla, and daughter, Zahra.

Other members of his family, including his mother, Fadilha, and son, Ali, had been on another boat and were in the Woomera detention centre when they were told of the tragedy.

While most of the 45 survivors were swiftly offered permanent protection in other countries, those such as Shohani with relatives in Australia had to wait almost nine months in Jakarta before he was reunited with his mother and son and afforded just temporary protection.

When The Age first met him in October 2002, his depression was palpable. Compounding the grief, and the conviction that the truth about the tragedy had not been told, was his temporary status.

"I have no hope, no future," he said. "I belong nowhere."
Well now, Mr Shohani, you belong to the big family of Australians. We’re sorry you had to go through that kind of suffering to reach this far And we as a nation are very fortunate to have you among us.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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