Australia, diversity and Muslims

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Screeshot from the video that caused the recent controversy

Islam is incredibly diverse — so why is it we only discuss the extreme elements of the religion? Zushan Hashmi comments.

In the wake of the recent Hizb ut-Tahrir (mind you, a group that is banned in various countries around the world) video controversy, where two Muslim women explain how means through which men should "handle" their wives, one cannot help but wonder, why is it that such extreme views on Islam always seem to dominate mainstream discussion on Muslims and how can this possibly change?

This is a critical question to analyse, especially when considering a religion that encompasses over a billion adherents around the world, who possess various different views and opinions, as such a large group of people naturally would. However, it is imperative that people across Australia, within and outside of the Muslim community, try and understand a few important realities surrounding Islam.

Firstly, as Omar Saif Ghobash (UAE ambassador to Russia) discusses in his latest book, Letters to a Young Muslim, Islamic leadership has been dominated by older, less adaptive leaders for far too long and is one of the reasons why Muslims are falling behind. Hence, it is now crucial – in fact, necessary – for younger Muslims to claim this leadership for themselves, so as to develop a more forward-thinking foundation within their communities that enables them to cultivate their own futures. Of course, this is not to say that young Muslims may be better at leading these communities, rather it has to do with the fact they are better able to understand the issues that they face and will come to face in the near future.

Secondly, "career specialisations" have developed around Muslims and Islam in the West, which is, in turn, adding to this negative narrative across mainstream discourse. First and foremost, there are many individuals who have left Islam and now make a living out of criticising the religion — and often its followers too. Second, there seems to be an increasing number of so-called "deradicalisation specialists", especially here in Australia, who claim to have been radicalised in the past and use this as a platform to make a living as "specialists". What is more shocking is that a lot of them are provided with column spaces and airtime in Australia.

Once again, there are many people in the abovementioned categories that are genuine in regards to their issues and reasons for doing so. However, the idea that these supposed experts are assisting the Australian Government craft and carve out policies on counter-radicalisation and counterterrorism is preposterous, especially because they continue to feed into and foster this negative narrative on Muslims that is becoming increasingly prevalent, and are also contributing to policy that expands this rhetoric further.

Thirdly, it is a misconception, as much as many would like to believe otherwise that the Muslim community, in Australia and around the world, is united under one common umbrella. Islam has historically strived for pluralism and diversity, and hence, allowed for significant scientific, mathematical and theological growth, debate and discussion, across many centuries in the past. For example, today, mosques in Australia mostly function on an ethnic basis, and express different thoughts and ideas of the religion.

Similarly, individual Muslims think differently about various issues pertaining to the religion, just as people do about any facet of their life. This aspect of the Muslim community is imperative to understand, as it further affirms the idea that there are differences amongst Muslims on a range of topics and ideas that not only lead to disagreements but also allow the community to flourish and generate space for new forms of thinking. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, perhaps the foremost authority on Islamic academia and scholarship in the West, extensively elaborates upon these ideas in the contemporary world through his works spanning over the last 50 years.

In essence, it is not solely the fault of the Muslim population or the wider Australian community that such negative rhetoric has been able to flourish or for that matter; such platforms for extremists to voice their unwarranted opinions exist so abundantly. Rather, it is specific groups of people within society, including certain politicians and community leaders that have allowed for this issue to become a major aspect of political discourse amongst the Australian public. And, perhaps, such rhetoric will cease to exist when we focus more on understanding the pluralism and diversity amongst Muslim communities, and the wider Australian population as a whole. For it is diversity that can be found across the Muslim community in Australia and it is diversity that makes this nation strong and proud, and will eventually allow for more collective effort for all people in Australia.

Zushan Hashmi is the Policy & Research Coordinator for the South Asia Study Group at the University of Sydney. You can follow Zushan on Twitter at @zushanhashmi.

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