The Australian today provides a lengthy piece about an Australian woman who converted to Islam (presumably in Australia) before joining some Australian Muslims to study religion in Yemen. It’s hard to believe I’m writing this, but by printing stories like this, The Oz is doing Muslims an enormous favour. Here's an excerpt ...
In December 2006, Ms Smith, from Winston Hills in Sydney's northwest, posted a note on an Australian newspaper's website explaining why she had converted to Islam. "To share and enjoy the life and love of a relationship that is not managed by fear and abuse, especially not abuse that is cloaked in the name of any religion," she wrote. "As a Muslim woman I am free from any abuse because of my religion - Islam. It is because of my Islam that I don't live infear of a husband that comes back every night to bash me untilI'm black and blue, and then rape me."
The posting went on to blame alcohol - banned in Islam - for most domestic violence. "It is because of Islam that I am empowered as a woman and not sexually exploited by man, I dress for God and not for man," she went on. Islam did not permit women to be used and abused to sell alcohol and bubblegum, she wrote. "That's why I am one of many converts to Islam and that's why Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world amongst women."
Ms Smith defended her religion on the newspaper website. "Islam liberated women 1500 years ago," she wrote. "We have enjoyed the freedoms and rights of keeping our last names as we are not the property of our husbands, we have had the right to vote before the women's liberation movement in the last century, the right to keep our own money, choose who I want to marry, have the right to inheritance, run a business, the right to be protected and maintained by our husbands regardless of how rich I am."
It all began a few years ago. Ms Smith first arrived in Yemen in October 2006, and quickly settled into a community of pious Islamic Australians studying Islam and Arabic in Sana'a. Among the expatriates were Mohammed bin Ayub and Abdullah bin Ayub, the sons of the alleged former leader of Jemaah Islamiah in Australia, Abdul Rahim Ayub. The two men were arrested along with a third Australian, Marek Samulski, as part of a broad anti-terror sweep by Yemeni and British authorities.
The trio was held for more than two weeks, but were later released without charge and asked to leave Yemen with their families. Samulski is living in South Africa with his wife, while the Ayubs and their families are believed to have travelled to Dar-es-Salam and then to Lebanon.
Ms Smith's Palestinian in-laws say she converted to Islam four years ago, and she was awarded a certificate of Islam from the Yemeni Government last year.
Regardless of her travails in Gaza, Ms Smith has apparently remained committed to Islam since returning to Australia, and she has consulted a fundamentalist Salafi imam.
I’m sure some Muslims will read this story and ask: “Why do they always print the simpler and less controversial convert stories? Why do they focus on the ones full of complications and controversy?” To some extent, I agree with that. But after reading the story of Tanya Louise Smith, I couldn’t help but ask myself why leaders of peak Muslim religious organisations spend so much money fighting each other in courts and so little providing basic support services to converts.
I also couldn’t help asking why so many mosques in Sydney and Melbourne are managed by first generation migrants who want to reproduce the Pakistan or Lebanon or Turkey they left behind in the 1960’s or ‘70’s. And why they insist on employing imams who cannot communicate Muslim orthodoxy in the English language and in a culturally appropriate manner.
Most of all, I wondered why so many young Muslim Australians find themselves going overseas to study just the basics of their faith, basics which kids in Indonesia and other Muslim-majority states master in primary school.
The day our ethnic and language-based religious organisations started helping new Muslims instead of shutting them out or using them as political fodder is the day we will start reading less of such stories.
Or maybe I blame peak bodies and mosque committees too much. Maybe the fault lies with ordinary Muslims. After all, our leaders reflect who we are. Perhaps we should have a situation where ordinary Muslims "adopt" a new Muslim and provide her or him with some kind of moral or spiritual support.
In fact, it seems Tanya may have received more support from her in-laws in Gaza than from Muslims in her home town.
Still, it may all just be a complete beat-up. Either way, the story should really get us thinking.
UPDATE I: My purpose in writing about this was not to in anyway denegrate Tanya, her family or her experience of her faith. Rather, it is to get Muslim and other concerned readers to consider what we are doing and what more we could be doing to provide more support services to new Muslims. It was for similar reasons that I wrote this piece.
Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf