Thursday, October 9, 2008

Islam in Australia

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


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.  


  1. I find your blog very educational and interesting.

  2. A couple of casual observations to add to your research (great topic, isn't it?!) ...

    In Australia, men of "Middle-Eastern Appearance" (that's the euphemism that they use here) do not create as much awkward tension, I feel anyway than seeing women in head veils. This is purely because anything that sticks out from the norm attracts attention (Aussies and our tall poppy syndrome and all that).

    There are Muslims of all races here which is the same as it is in America: East Asians, Africans, Arabs, Persians, Indians, Pakistanis and Caucasians.

    The most popular food joints around the nightclub districts all over Australia: kebab stalls run by Turkish/Lebanese people. Food is a great way to break down barriers. And because a lot of young people are probably exposed to their first Muslim people this way, I feel that it is a great thing because they see that these are people like you and I. And they serve delicious food. :)

    The Victorian Premier who served from 1999 to 2007, Steve Bracks is Lebanese, but he was Christian so erm I lost my point here. Hah!

    Crazy Johns, the largest Australian mobile phone retail chain was until recently run by John Ilhan, a Turkish Muslim. He was once the richest Australian under 40 in 2003. He died of a heart attack in 2007, aged 42.

  3. Mooiness,

    Thanks for all the info!! I think we also use the euphemism of men of "Middle-Eastern Appearance." Or something like that. And Americans too attract attention when they dress/look differently than the mainstream culture.

    Of course (like Australia) you'll attract less attention in a big city than you would in a small town or rural area.

    I totally agree about the food breaking down barriers thing.

    I think I have a vague memory of reading about John Ilhan....I mean very vague. I just kind of remember reading of a important wealthy phone guy in Australia dying. I don't think I knew he was Muslim.

  4. Dina, you sure did alot of research to post all this information. I have to clear one point about Jihad which is misinteprated everywhere. In the Arabic language Jihad comes from the word Juhud which means effort. And when a muslim puts an effort and greet his morning, he is doing a good jihad and winning good deeds. So actualy you are doing jihad now by greeting your nrighbor everymorning! As for the wholy jihad and all that BS in the media and what some extremest groups is not true. Killing any innocent life in Islam is forbidden and considered one of the biggest sins.
    Also killing the infidels is a myth, as Christians and Jews are people of the book, so by saying you have to kill an infidel is just crazy as well as ethiasts.

  5. Ali,

    I think some Muslims should go ring the doorbells of people in a closed-minded community and say "Hi! We're here to do a Jihad!" I'd love to see the reactions.

    I'm just playing with you ; )

    I agree that killing an "innocent" is against everything that Islam stands for. I think the problem could be that some people interpret innocent in different ways.

    Some people could say that the victims of 9/11 weren't innocent because they have come from a country that has done bad things to Islamic countries. No, I'm not saying I agree with this in any way! I'm just trying to look at it with THEIR viewpoint.

    We all have different viewpoints of what "innocent" means.

    I remember in college, my Muslim friends talked about me being a person of the book. It was very positive. But now that I have broken away from Judaism, I wonder what their feelings toward me would be now. Would they accept me? Reject me?

    I guess it might depend on the individual.

  6. Dina, actualy I like the idea and I always call for Muslims to be proactive and interact with more Non Muslims wherever they are. I always ask the people who say lets Nuke Muslims, get them out of our country, those terrorists, if they ever realy talked to a Muslim, dealth with one, went to a Muslim Doctor. I had many being surprised when they knew their dcotors who saves their lives in Florda are muslims, it was their shock. Ofcourse not all Muslims or any people from any faith, country or sector are the same, there are many bad apples out there. As for you being a non beliver now, if your friends realy like you and see the human side of you then they shouldnt care. Ofcourse they will find a way to justify it, they might say.."well she was born Jew" haha

  7. Ali, I'm not in touch with my friends anymore.

    I'm not in touch with ANYONE from college--kind of sad.

    I think they'd probably accept me though--but who knows.

    I do agree that people should go out and mingle with other people not in their group.

    I think that's one great thing about the Internet. At least for the people on here. We're all talking. There are less divisions--well, at least not the same divisions we have in the real world. It gives people, in small homogeneous communities, a chance to "meet" people of different cultures.

  8. True, the internet has made the world such a small place, and blogging is the best way to communicate, I love it