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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