Muslim majority wants secular law

By Shahram Akbarzadeh (A Western-trained academic of Iranian origins)

The following may well be a true and reasonable account of the Muslim majority in Australia but it would help if it were backed by evidence rather than mere assertion. One would hope for better than mere assertion from an academic. He does not in any case offer any guidance to dealing with the troublesome minority. How are we expected to know which Muslims are haters and which are not? On the "precautionary principle" much-loved by the Green/Left in other contexts, we would assume that ALL Muslims are bad eggs

There is a presumption about Muslims' inability to live under secular rule that rests on the view that they live by strict Koranic codes that are incompatible with the modern way of life in Australia. This is false on two grounds.

First, most Australian Muslims are not affiliated with any religious organisation, do not attend mosque or send their children to Islamic schools. They may pray in the privacy of their homes but would not wear their religion on their sleeves. This group is best described as cultural Muslims. Islam is the religion they are born into and proud of, and anything short of this would be tantamount to rejecting their heritage. Islam is part of their identity, as is social-familial status, political affiliations and ethnic background. But Islam is not the sole pillar of identity. This group is as comfortable with the laws that govern Australia as any of their non-Muslim neighbours; that is, they drive over the speed limit on occasion and try to dodge taxes if they can.

A lot of public debate about Muslims ignores this large demographic group. Instead, the focus is often on the more religiously devout and organised sections of Australian Muslims. There is a good reason for that. Cultural Muslims are the silent majority, as they don't organise and present their case under the rubric of Islam. It is not that cultural Muslims lack organisational skills. But as far as they are concerned, why form an Islamic society when they could form an ethnic or social club? The latter is more inclusive and allows for a broader cultural appeal than religiously oriented associations.

But by going down this path, cultural Muslims have been excluded (wittingly or unwittingly) from the public debate on Islam. The Coalition government effectively ignored ethnic Muslim groups when forming the Muslim Reference Group. These communities were not seen as representing the interests of Australian Muslims. But the reality was the reverse. The appointed reference group was drawn from a small pool of religious leaders and had little authority in the ethnically diverse Muslim communities, least of all among youth. This was a critical flaw. The Rudd Government seems more sensitive towards the question of community representation, although the public debate is still confined to religious associations.

Second, devout Muslims who attend mosques and Friday prayer on a regular basis have a much more nuanced view of their place in Australia than that with which they are credited. Contrary to the views of former treasurer Peter Costello, devout Muslims do not champion the establishment of sharia law in Australia. What is important for them is no different to other groups. Education opportunities and employment prospects for themselves and their kids rates much higher than any other concerns. There is a persistent pattern of expression among devout Muslims.

Being religiously minded, ideas and views are often expressed using Islamic terminology. For example, it is common to say inshallah (God willing) if one wishes for something. This comes naturally to devout Muslims but to outsiders it could be confronting, even scary. Why invoke a foreign God when God has been pushed to the private sphere under Australia's secular rule?

Devout Muslims are comparable with other religiously devout groups. They emphasise their religious affiliations and don't shy away from expressing their religious beliefs. But this does not mean that they neglect other duties and responsibilities to their family, community and society as a whole. One may even argue that religious devotion makes Muslims more conscientious about their social duties as moral citizens.

The irony is that devout Muslims feel more comfortable living under secular rule than any other system because the Australian political and judicial system allows equal freedom to all religious and non-religious groups. Devout Muslims appreciate that and live by that rule. There is widespread acknowledgment among devout Muslims that Australia's secular laws are the best guarantee they have for practising Islam freely. To be sure, there are sporadic complaints about media representation of Islam and discrimination. But these do not negate the fundamental fact that the overwhelming majority of Islamic organisations view Australian law as their protector and appeal to it for redress.

Australian Muslims, whether cultural or devout, value the fair-go spirit of Australia. This spirit resonates with their cultural and religious beliefs. It would help us all if we paused to look at values that bind us together.


Posted by John Ray. For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. For a daily survey of Australian politics, see AUSTRALIAN POLITICS Also, don't forget your summary of Obama news and commentary at OBAMA WATCH

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