Thursday, October 9, 2008

Islam in Australia



I decided my research topic of the day will be Muslims in Australia.

Why?

I'm reading a lovely young adult book written by a Palestinian-Australian. It's called Does My Head Look Big in This. It's a great book so far--one of those which mixes humor with serious/meaningful stuff.

I don't think you have to be Muslim to be able to relate to the book. I think anyone who doesn't fit into mainstream society will relate to Amal's struggle to decide whether or not to wear the Hijab.

Anyway, I am now going to consult Lord Wiki about Islam in Australia.

He says Islam is the fourth largest religious group. What surprised me is it's behind Buddhism.  I guess it makes sense that Australia has a lot of Buddhists--well, the high Asian population and all.

Now I gotta compare it to America. I'm curious. Okay, this website says that in America there are more Muslims than Buddhists. And there are more Jews than Muslims. I didn't know that. There are 36,694 people who practice the religion of Eckankar. I don't know if I've ever heard of that. I'll have to google it. Who knows....maybe I'll like it and end up being # 36,695.

Back to Islam in Australia.

History Time!

The first Islamic influence on Australia probably came even before the Captain Cook days. Indonesians visited Northern Australia and mingled with the Indigenous Australians. It's likely that these Indonesians were Muslim. So, there you go. The mingling might have involved sex, so some Indigenous Australians might have Indonesian blood flowing through them and vice-versa.

When the white folks sailed their ships to Australia, they often hired Muslims from Africa and various other places. And some of the convicts were Muslim.

In the 1860's, Afghan camel workers came over to do camel type stuff. And as the story goes, Australia is the one place where you can find WILD camels. I guess because some of the camels escaped. They didn't want to work. They wanted to be free.

The oldest Mosque in Australia was built in 1861 and is located in Marree South Australia.

From 1901 to 1973, it was hard for Muslims to come to Australia because Australia had the whole White Australia Policy going on. In the 1920's and 1930's, some Albanian Muslims were allowed to come over--probably because they had the right skin color. The rules were also relaxed after World War II when Australia realized their land was a bit empty and they needed more people. Then between 1967-1971, a bunch of people from Turkey were welcomed to Australia.

Eventually, the White Australia Policy was replaced by multicultural attitudes and policies.

Lebanese makes up the largest group of Muslims in Australia. They ran over during/after the Lebanese civil war. What were they fighting about? I'm so lost when it comes to war. Well, I googled it and it looks extremely complicated. Yikes. War is bad enough that it kills people and makes buildings fall down, but does it have to also be so complicating and confusing?

You know who is Lebanese? William Peter Blatty. The guy who wrote The Exorcist. I think he's Christian though.  Ralph Nader is also Lebanese.

Sydney has the largest Muslim population in Australia.   But there are Muslims in other places as well.  
Melbourne has a bunch--they're more likely to be Turkish than Lebanese.    Perth has a nice group as well.   And there are others scattered in other places.  

There's a growing number of Indigenous Australians becoming Muslim--about a thousand so far.

Thirty-six percent of Muslims in Australia were born in Australia.    Will they or their descendants ever be considered Australian?  Or will they always be hyphenated?  

What am I saying?  These days we hyphenate everyone.  Well, at least in America we do.   And this Australian author of the book I'm reading calls herself an Australian-born-Muslim-Palestinian-Egyptian-Chocoholic.     

I'm sure we know that after 9/11 and the Bali bombings, the popularity of Muslims decreased quite a bit.   And I'm sure they weren't that popular in the first place--in either Australia or the United States.  You know, the whole Xenophobia thing.  

In 2006, their reputation was tarnished a bit more when a Muslim guy named Taj El-Din Hilaly
inferred that Muslim women who do not wear the Hijab are to blame for being raped.   

He said:

If you take out uncovered meat and place it outside on the street, or in the garden or in the park, or in the backyard without a cover, and the cats come and eat it ... whose fault is it, the cats' or the uncovered meat? The uncovered meat is the problem. If she was in her room, in her home, in her hijab, no problem would have occurred.

I don't think I like this guy.    He also doesn't like Jews and denies the Holocaust happened.  

He's about as lovable as Ann Coulter.   

Contrary to popular belief though, Muslims do not spend all their time making sexist remarks and bombing people.   Most of them are harmless, friendly, and do good things like pray for the end of the drought.   

The Koran doesn't promote killing, but some Muslims misinterpret it and do kill.   The same happens in other religions such as Christianity.   So, don't be pointing fingers and name-calling until you look at the history of your own religion. 

Here's a great little PDF file you can download that has loads of great information and insights about Muslims in Australia.    One of the things it talks about is how there's an idea that Muslims in Australia do not like Western/Australian culture, and want Australia to become more like an Islamic Country.
 
The little booklet says this is bullshit for the most part.  Most Muslims LIKE Australian culture and ideals--that's why the came in the first place.    But there is a minority of Islamic Australians who do not like Australian culture and fret about their children becoming too Westernized.   

The booklet also talks about the struggles between staying true to yourself and adjusting to the dominant culture.   I'm sure observant Jews can strongly relate to this too.   Do you follow the crowd and eat a cheeseburger or stay true to the laws of Kashrut?    I struggle with this as a vegetarian.   It's not always easy eating differently from what everyone else at the table is eating.    It's not easy saying.  Sorry, I can't eat that because it's not Halal.   Or Sorry, I can't eat that because it's not Kosher.   Or Sorry, I don't eat meat.  I'm a vegetarian.     

Muslims are supposed to pray five times a day.   I'm sure it's hard to do that at times.   I think in situations like this, there's positive feelings of being different and special--staying true to yourself and true to your faith.    But I think on another level (or depending on your mood) there's also embarrassment.   

There are sexist practices in SOME Muslim societies, but not all.  The same can be said of some Christian and Jewish societies--probably all religions too.  And I believe that something is sexist only when a woman is forced/pressured to be in a situation she doesn't want to be in.   Someone can read about the role of women in Orthodox Judaism and say it's sexist.   I disagree.  As long as the woman wants to be in that lifestyle, I see nothing wrong with it.   I think feminism is about choice.   

Islam does not support cruelty to animals.   They believe animals that are eaten must be treated well during life and killed in a way that involves the least pain as possible.

Muslims are not supposed to drink alcohol.  

Like Jews, they are not supposed to enjoy a pork sandwich.   They can eat it.   They just can't enjoy it.  No, I'm joking.   Both groups are not supposed to eat it period.

Islam has the same basic principles of the other religions for the most part.  Be nice, be honest, be good to your parents, don't kill, don't talk with your mouth full of food, etc.  

They're anti-abortion for the most part--except in cases where the mother's life is in danger. They do not support pre-marital sex.

Now these are some of the rules/ideas of the religion, but I can't say how many Muslims actually follow them.   

It's just like not all Jews follow their laws and not all Christians follow the rules of Christianity.   
In terms of the infamous Jihad thing.....    Islam is not a completely nonviolent pacifist religion.  They do support self-defence and fighting for liberation against oppression.  The thing with that is how does each individual define fighting oppression?   One can say it's okay to shoot the guy who's trying to steal your house and rape your children.   Another person might say it's okay to use an airplane full of innocent people as a bomb.   

The problem with religions in general is people take harmless lovely words that contain good advice and twist it to mean things like go steal children and rape women.   

I guess I can say in conclusion--after doing all this reading.   It's not easy living in a world where you know a terrorist or evil government can blow you up at any time.   But it's also not easy living in a world where people assume you're a terrorist or support terrorism simply because you follow a certain religion and/or look a certain way.   



P.S-I have a huge amount of respect for these people   Not only do they help restore some of my hope in there ever being peace in Israel, it gives me hope for all of us. It restores my faith in humanity.  I am so thankful that we have people like this in our world.  Their story is amazing.