Wednesday, November 24, 2010

COMMENT: Scattered facts on Muslim Australia

From the Aussie Mossie blog published 23 May 2006 ...

When talking about Aussie Muslims, it’s important that commentators have accurate information based on proper research. Sadly, Muslim institutions claiming to represent Muslim communities haven’t seen the task if researching Muslims as being a priority.

Hence, the task has been left to governments and individual researchers. One such research effort was carried out by a team of researchers from the University of Melbourne and led by Professor Abdullah Saeed.

The results of this research were published in a 2004 study entitled Muslim Australians: Their Beliefs, Practices & Institutions. The study was based largely on the 2001 Census.

It would, in my opinion, be the height of ignorance for anyone to write or comment on Muslim issues without having read this study. So many myths are shattered just on pages 5 and 6.

For instance, many people presume that Lakemba has the highest concentration of Muslims of any suburb in Australia. In fact, the highest concentration is found in Dallas, Melbourne (39%). In terms of Sydney, Auburn has a higher Muslim concentration than Lakemba or Bankstown.

Often Muslim loyalties to Australia are questioned. Yet an overwhelming majority of Muslim migrants (221,856 out of a total of 281,578, some 79%) have obtained Australian citizenship.

The terms “Muslim” and “Lebanese” are often used interchangeably. It is assumed that most Lebanese are Muslims and vice versa. Yet the most frequently cited country of birth for Australian Muslims is Australia (some 103,000). This is over three times the number of people born in Lebanon (29,321).

It is also assumed that most Muslims speak only Arabic. Yet the overwhelming majority of Muslims are proficient in English, both written and spoken.

Muslims are often accused of being hostile to mainstream Judeo-Christian Australian values. Yet Muslim rates of marriage are far higher than the national average. 51% of Aussie Muslim males are married by the age of 34. Some 41% of Muslim females are married by the age of 24. De facto relationships are uncommon.

The historical presence of Muslims in Australia is also not well-known. On page 7 of the Saeed study, mention is made of Saib Sultan, a settler who arrived in Australia in the early 19th century. After arriving at Norfolk Island, he later settled in Van Dieman’s Land (Tasmania) in 1809 where he worked on 30 acres of land with his wife and family.

Muslims arrived in Australia as both convicts and settlers. Later, during the 1870’s Malay Muslim divers were recruited to work on Western Australian and Northern Territory pearling grounds. By 1875, some 1,800 Malay divers were working in Western Australia.

Australian troops are part of a Coalition force seeking to restore order in Afghanistan. Yet little of the Afghan contribution to Australia is taught in schools. Those complaining about the over-emphasis on Aboriginal culture and history are themselves almost always guilty of neglecting non-European contributions to Australia.

The Afghan (and in many cases, Baluchi and Pathan from what is now Pakistan) cameleers were recruited to assist in early European exploration of the inland Australia. During the late 19th century, they controlled the camel transport industry and played a vital role in the economic development of early Australia.

Afghans were largely responsible for the transport of goods through inland Australia, for laying telegraph and railway lines and for establishing many outback settlements. Cameleers transported goods and supplies to gold miners and to outback settlements.

The contributions of Muslim Australians to our economy and well-being are also not mentioned enough. Often this is caused by a reluctance of Muslims in senior positions to identify themselves by their faith. There is a perception that being open about one’s Islamic faith can be a career and social liability. Negative remarks made by a tiny minority of political and church leaders don’t help in this regard.

Words © 2006-10 Irfan Yusuf

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