Turnbull restores hope for Australian Muslims

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(Image via sbs.com.au)

Junaid Cheema discusses Turnbull's approach of restoring confidence for the Muslim community and addressing the issues of extremism. 

THE MOMENT WAS surreal for Australian Muslims as Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull addressed the Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV) on Monday:

"I believe in acknowledging the enormous contributions that Muslims have made to Australian society."

It was only a year ago when the former Prime Minister Tony Abbott gutted the Muslim community by his choice of words:

"I wish more Muslim leaders would say that (Islam is a religion of peace) ... and mean it.”

This statement implied the community was dishonest and disloyal to this nation. Those words had flattened all Australian Muslims and inspired a myriad of anti-muslim groups to prominence.

No doubt, words are powerful and here I was only a year later, listening to some of the most powerful words I have heard from an Australian leader.

I looked across the room staring at the young faces of the diverse Australian Muslims who stared at the Prime Minister, spell-bound, as he addressed them. Young fresh faces, which were white, black, yellow and brown, heads which were covered and heads that weren't, clothes which were conservative and clothes which were not, faces with thick beards and blue eyes and faces which were clean shaven.

I could almost hear their thoughts as Turnbull acknowledged Muslims as an integral part of the "Australian family", saying words they had been yearning to hear. He also acknowledged the valuable contributions Muslims having been making to this nation for over a hundred and fifty years; contributions which have been immortalised in the Islamic Museum of Australia.  

They knew, as I did, this was no mere rhetoric. The PM showed a deep understanding of Islamic civilisation and history beyond the cheap headlines that continually litter the news. He recalled the openness, pluralism and inclusiveness inherent to Islam and Islamic societies, quoting the phenomenal achievements of the Umayyads of Spain, the Abbasids and the Ottomans — acknowledging the truism that it is openness, diversity and tolerance, that makes a society great. And, indeed, those young Muslims were inspired to make this country great!

The Prime Minister's predecessor did inspire. For one, he inadvertently inspired me to take up a leadership role at the ICV, by his message that Muslim's don't really mean Islam is a religion of peace.

Listening to the community, it is also evident that his approach inspired others to take a more regrettable path. Needless to say, the current method of inspiration is much more preferred by the Muslim community and should also be preferred by the level headed; it's an approach that makes us all much stronger and that much safer.

The approach of swinging wild blows to beat down radicalisation, doesn't defeat radicalisation, it  inspires it, because those blows inevitably land on the innocent. Last year Muslim youths felt collectively punished for crimes not of their making and were confused as to why their faith was indiscriminately being held accountable for the wrong doings of 0.001 per cent of the Muslim population; crimes which are even more abhorrent to Muslims, as the perpetrators masquerade as Muslims.  

However, if there was confusion, it had been replaced with clarity — at least for this group. Assurance was given to the youth that the Muslim community will not be solely be viewed through the prism of security — and this is precisely what the community has been longing for.

A fresh approach which unifies rather than divides, doesn't collectively punish or presume guilt and treats all Australians equally is what is required.

This fresh approach of the Prime Minister has given renewed hope, inspiration and motivation to the community of half a million Muslims who equally love this country and are equally Australian.

You can follow Junaid Cheema on Twitter at @Junaid_m_cheema.

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