Sunday, September 20, 2009

MEDIA: Helen Razer enters the burqa mass debate

Aussie journo Helen Razer has written an interesting and intelligent piece on the burqa which is actually more than just about burqas but also lashes out at society's misrepresentation of feminism.

Read it here.

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AUDIO: Inside Islam radio episodes

Jeez, twitter is a superb thing. I picked up this podcast from the University of Wisconsin about a whole bunch of Muslim-related topics. They take a little while to download but are certainly worth it.

Click here to start exceeding your download limit.

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Eid Mubarak!!

I just wanted to wish all my readers (yess, all 3 of you!) a very happy Eid! It's been a hard slog, this Ramadan. Especially in Australia, where we've had some really tough fasting. I mean, breaking fast at 5:30pm everyday is am absolute killer! People in the northern hemisphere always seem to have it easier.

Anyway, enjoy your feasting!!

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Monday, September 07, 2009

OPINION: Fourth Column in Crescent Times - Why Pain Matters More Than Prejudice ...

These days Alexander Downer finds himself working for the UN on a big fat tax-free salary. He travels between freezing New York, sweltering Adelaide and the even hotter Cyprus. Not bad for our longest serving (and some would say worst) foreign minister.

But things weren’t always so exciting for Mr Downer. Back in 1995, his reign as the Federal Liberal Parliamentary Party’s shortest serving leader ended with the release of a set of motherhood statements parading as policies entitled The Things That Matter.

In the presence of journalists, Downer made this ... er ... joke:

When we release our domestic violence policy, [it will be] the things that batter.

In one verbal swoop, he managed to offend at least a certain 51 per cent of the electorate born female. Downer later explained it was all a joke. His party colleagues weren’t laughing, and made sure he didn’t last in the job beyond a few days over eight months.

Jokes about domestic violence are no joke in Australia, making insensitive remarks about female and/or child victims of physical or sexual violence and their families
shouldn’t be seen as funny anywhere.

So one could hardly expect imams and Muslim preachers like Melbourne’s Samir Mohtadi (also known as Abu Hamza or “Hamza’s dad” presumably because his eldest child is named Hamza) to get away with advising Muslim men that it is permissible to bash one’s wife. Presuming, of course, that’s what he actually said. But anyone taking the time out to watch the 4 minute excerpt of Abu Hamza’s speech on the website of the Melbourne Herald-Sun and other News Limited tabloids across the country during the week of the Australia Day long weekend would soon realise Abu Hamza didn’t exactly endorse wife-beating.

However, the part of what Abu Hamza said that I think is worth focussing on is his suggestion that it’s impossible for a man to rape his wife. At least that’s how I interpreted what he said. We cannot be sure exactly what Abu Hamza meant by these words when he said them in 2002, since only a badly edited excerpt is available. Exactly why his words were reported by tabloids across the country on the eve of Australia Day in 2009 is also unclear. Is it yet another case of American-owned tabloids wanting to spread prejudice under the guise of Australian patriotism?

What we do know is that the vast majority of incidents of sexual assault are by men against women they have a pre-existing relationship with – an acquaintance, a date or even a partner or spouse. It is estimated that at least 10% of Australian women will be sexually assaulted by their husbands.

Rape is under-reported as it is, and too often its victims suffer in silence. Indeed, as the South African Muslim scholar Farid Esack says, female victims of rape are double victims. They are victims of the act itself and are then victims of a kind of enforced or pressured silence based on false notions of shame. Imagine being a victim and having an extra layer of shame due to the perpetrator being the father of one’s children.

What hurts much more than double standards and prejudice and bigotry of tabloid editors is the too-often silent pain of female victims of all races and creeds and classes. Violence against women is all too common in Australian households. What kind of sick man gets his kicks out of forcing any woman, let alone his own wife, to have s-x with him?

Sadly, the answer all too often is an Australian man. That man can belong to any religion or no religion at all. That man can be of indigenous or immigrant stock. But if we focus on one set of perpetrators, it means we ignore other perpetrators. And that does injustice to all victims.

When news reports of the words of imams create an environment of prejudice, inevitably it is Muslim women who suffer more. Your average Muslim bloke, even if he wears an impressive beard, could easily be mistaken for a Sikh or a fanatical ZZ Top
fan. But not a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or niqab.

It’s hard enough for our female folk to have to cop nasty stares and abuse for most visibly personifying a despised religious culture. But when these same women cannot even feel safe from their own husbands, when our sisters know that imams and shaykhs are teaching husbands that raping your wife is okay, surely this must magnify the burden of prejudice our sisters in faith already face.

In an environment like this, where non Muslim men and women abuse them and where Muslim husbands are taught it’s okay to rape them, is it any wonder so many of our sisters who would regularly wear hijab in public are now removing it? Why should Muslim women cop the lion’s share of abuse when Muslim men (including imams) are silent on issues of domestic violence?

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: Just how un-Western is Christianity? And just how Christian is Australia?

I’m writing an article about Eastern Christianity. Actually, it’s an article about just how un-Western Christianity really is. I’m not writing about theology because I’m no theologian. I’ve written about these themes in various places over the years, and I hope this article will bring all that stuff together and take it a little further.

Interestingly, the article is for a Catholic website! I’m hoping the following notes will help clear my head about these issues a little.

[01] Muslims who are on the receiving end of allegedly Christian prejudice, who are often lectured to about how the West is the way it is because it has a distinctly Christian heritage, need to understand the reality of just how un-Western Christianity today is.

[02] The message also needs to get through to Christians who swallow this Christianity=West equation. Hopefully the spread of understanding of the true nature of Christianity will have a number of effects.

[03] It will help Muslims understand just how much they have culturally in common with Christians. It will also give Muslims an opportunity to remind allegedly Christian bigots just how ignorant and misplaced their bigotry is.

[04] It’s not enough to just be reminding ourselves at interfaith conferences just how similar our beliefs are. We also need to be talking about culture, politics, music, art, civilisation and much more.

[05] During the Howard era, religion frequently became the subject of cultural wars which rarely had anything to do with theology or dogma. So often we heard about the so-called “Judeo-Christian ethic”. Even today, former ministers of the Howard government like Tony Abbott talk about how ours is a nation built on the New Testament. On a recent episode of ABC TV’s Q&A program filmed at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Abbott remarked:

I think everyone who has grown up in a western country is profoundly shaped and formed by the New Testament, because this is the core document of our civilisation.

He went onto say that he gave up reading the Koran after 70 pages as it was:

… it struck me as the old testament on steroids …

So we can forget about the “Judeo” bit. It’s just Christian Australia, the land of the Holy Spirit.

[06] Peter Costello used to often refer to the Judeo-Christian tradition as some kind of cultural wedge.

On May 29, 2004, Treasurer Peter Costello addressed a crowd of Pentecostal Christians at Scots Church in Melbourne.

Costello provided his audience with a lesson in Australia’s colonial history. “If the Arab traders that brought Islam to Australia, had … settled or spread their faith among the Indigenous population, our country today would be vastly different. Our laws, our institutions, our economy would be vastly different.

“But that did not happen. Our society was founded by British colonists. And the single most decisive feature that determined the way it developed was the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition. As a society, we are who we are because of that tradition … one founded on that faith and one that draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Of course, all this talk about “Judeo-Christian heritage” is all a joke when you consider, as I wrote back in 2007, that:

… Judeo-Christian culture wasn’t exactly alive and well in England. Both colonists and convicts would have been aware of the passing of the Jew Bill through the English Parliament in 1753, allowing Jews to be naturalised by application to Parliament. Mr Costello’s ideological ancestors, the Tories, opposed the Bill, claiming it involved an “abandonment of Christianity”. Conservative protesters burnt effigies of Jews and carried placards reading “No Jews, no wooden shoes”.

Jews were forbidden from attending university and practising law in England until the mid 19th century. One can only imagine the prejudice the 750-odd First Fleet Jewish convicts faced from English jailors brought up in such an anti-Semitic environment.

More to come.

Words © 2009 Irfan Ysuuf

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PHOTOS: Auburn Mosque on a Ramadan night ...

© 2009 Irfan Ysuuf

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

REFLECTION: On speaking English

This piece was published on the Aussie Mossie blog on Sunday 17 September 2006.

The Dooley’s Catholic Club at John Street Lidcombe was the seen of a generational clash on Friday night.

Tony Abbott was addressing an ethnically and religiously mixed audience. He told them it was simply impossible for someone to fully engage in Australian life unless they could speak English.

Some elderly members of the Lebanese community sitting at the front shouted “rubbish”. And the rest? Particularly the youngsters?

I was seated up the back of the room. Nearby were young Lebanese Aussies, including girls wearing traditional hijab. Seated directly in front of me was an Australian of Bosnian heritage. She joined many who cheered and clapped. The rest nodded in agreement.

I admit I applauded as well. But now I am having second thoughts.

Yes, it’s self-evident that inability to speak and communicate in English limits a migrant’s own personal ability to reach their full potential. I remember a sermon I heard at my childhood mosque in Surry Hills. The imam quoted the Prophet Muhammad who said: “When you settle in a land, learn the language of that land so that you are not deceived.”

Deception can take numerous forms. It can be as subtle as misunderstandings. It can also take more sinister forms. The common element in all forms of deception by language is being pushed to the margins.

Young people of non-English speaking background don’t want to be marginalised. They are tired of seeing their faith or heritage represented by people unable to communicate in the language most people at school or college or uni or work speak. It angers me when I see imams and Muslim leaders appear in media unable to speak proper English or needing interpreters.

Young people from non-English Speaking background are also tired of seeing their parents hampered and marginalised due to poor language skills. Many feel humiliated at watching their parents struggle in simple tasks and at having to constantly act as translators.

I learnt about my Indian heritage from my mother, a highly educated woman with postgraduate qualifications Indian literature and language. My mother completed her studies in some of the finest institutions of the sub-Continent.

But when she arrived in Canberra in 1965, my mother found her strong abilities in Hindi and Urdu dialects couldn’t assist her in even buying a loaf of bread at the O’Connor shops. Were it not for a kind Anglo-Indian Hindi-speaking Jewish woman, my mother would have been lost.

My mother had a policy that we only spoke Hindi and Urdu at home. She wanted to make sure her children could speak her first language. She was different to other Indian mothers who learnt English by encouraged their children to speak English at home. Now these mothers can speak English a little better than my mother. But their kids cannot speak a word of Hindi and Urdu, and hence miss out on enjoying their parents’ culture.

I am able to speak my mum’s first language quite fluently, but there are times when we unnecessarily end up in arguments because we have misunderstood something she has said.

My mother has always wanted to feel a sense of belonging. It hurts me when, despite her best efforts, she finds communicating in English so difficult. However, her inability to learn the language has its own background.

My mother’s situation was almost identical to the situation of the mother of an old school friend I’ll refer to as Igor. Both Igor and I were in the same class at a Sydney Anglican private school. Our mums were both educated in their own countries (in Igor’s case, Yugoslavia). Both performed manual labour jobs in factories. That was the only way our parents could afford to send us to our school.

Migrants who cannot find time to learn English are not necessarily lazy or unwilling to integrate. In my mother’s case, she had young children to look after. She, like Igor’s mum, wanted her children to have the best education money could buy. She sacrificed her time and energy to perform manual labour instead of taking time out to learn English to the degree of fluency her children have.

A few nights back, I was at a dinner of young professionals. An elderly Lebanese Muslim lady was seated at my table. She was the only person of her generation there. She spoke very little English and tried to express her resentment at the PM’s Muslim-baiting. The only item she conceded was of the need for migrants to learn English.

This woman found it hard to find time to learn English as she had to bring up 6 children. All her children have graduated from university and are working in a range of professions – law, accounting, engineering, medicine and education. Her children are participating in mainstream Australia in productive ways that make this non-English-speaking Australian proud.

Migrants who today refuse to take time out to learn English could regret their decision tomorrow. However, these migrants compensate for their language difficulties. They can still make a sterling contribution by bringing up their children to work hard and become model citizens. However, my own experience suggests this can only work in an environment where parents and children are able to communicate in a shared language.

UPDATE: Here is a comment left by dezhen on the original blogpost:

Great point, and one that is overlooked in amongst all this nonsense. Whenever I hear these guys speak, I am reminded of Captain Picard on the Starship Enterprise "Make it so." Unfortunately it doesn't happen like that in real life. Repeating the same thing over and over again does not make it so, there are other issues to consider as well - but they don't make such catchy slogans.

And here is another comment left by Dean:

My grandfather came from Mozambique to Melbourne in 1924. All his life he struggled with English but he refused to teach his children Portuguese. 'When in Rome,' he said. My grandmother, an Anglo Anglican, was very understanding when I married a Japanese. "Granny doesn't mind it if I don't talk," said my wife when she came over for lunch. "I like just sitting with her. She understands about people who don't speak English fluently." My granny was a trooper: she married a migrant but when he started seeing other women, she left him. "I don't need him anymore," she said.

I don't think it is necessary for migrants to speak English. What is more important is that they be able to mix with people from different ethnic backgrounds. Staying cooped up in a ghetto is the worst thing because it allows you to become complacent, and prevents you from broadening your horizons. Maybe council-sponsored English classes for migrants are the answer.

Words © 2006-9 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, September 04, 2009

COMMENT: Reasonable and unanswered questions ...

Recently I received an e-mail via a Melbourne Muslim yahoogroup. The e-mail was from a young chap who currently represents the AlGhazali Centre, and promoted a series of lectures to be delivered by "sheikh" Afroz Ali. Here is an excerpt of that e-mail:

Imam Afroz Ali is the Founder and President of Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences & Human Development, based in Sydney, Australia. He is a qualified Imam in the Islamic Tradition, having studied under Traditional Islam and received licence to teach in various Islamic Sciences. His studies have taken him from university-based Islamic University- Madina, Saudi Arabia then moving towards Traditional Scholarship in Yemen, United States and Mauritania, where he has spent considerable time to learn from the most esteemed Rightly Guided Islamic Scholars of our time. He has also travelled to Cairo, Egypt for further studies in Islamic Jurisprudence with Scholars at al-Azhar University and is on the Board of Advisors at Markaz Aleem in Cairo, Egypt.

He has presented lectures, workshops and training programs worldwide, including Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, United States, The Emirates, Egypt, China, Japan and Denmark. He lectures around the world on Islamic Jurisprudence, Spirituality, Ecological Wellbeing, Ethical Rights and Responsibilities, and Personal and Corporate Citizenship.

He has initiated philanthropic as well as sustainable environment projects in Australia and abroad, and continues to advocate peace, acceptance, justice and interpersonal rights. Imam Afroz is a founding and executive member of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change. He is also the recipient of the International Ambassador for Peace award.

I wrote to the brother in the following terms:

Dear Taymour,

In the bio of Mr Ali, it states:

"He is also the recipient of the International Ambassador for Peace award."

Can you please advise:

1. Who granted this award?

2. What was the award granted for?

3. When was it granted?

In relation to his studies at Madina University, can you please advise:

a. When did he study there?

b. How long did he study there?

c. Which courses, if any, did he complete?

d. Who were his teachers?

e. Did he complete any qualifications?

Looking forward to your response.

Ma salameh

These questions are, in my opinion, perfectly reasonable. And I expect that they will also remain perfectly unanswered.

I will keep readers informed of any response I receive. I don't expect any clarification at any stage before 2052 Olympics.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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