Guest Blog: A Matter of Being Heard

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrar, the young Muslim lady who is the 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her poignant contribution to the blog. 

I was fortunate enough to be elected by the youth delegates as Youth Premier of Queensland in 2008 and it fantastic to see Iman in a similar position this year in NSW.  Chyeah! 

  IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

IMAN SALIM ALI FARRAR

There comes a point in the hub-bub of everyday politics when the discussion on real issues which face our vast communities seems to give way to disjointed partisanship and strong-arm showmanship. Thus, this shows a neglect of the voices which often need to be heard most. Certainly, the lack of balanced and nuanced debate surrounding such issues by our nation’s leaders has heightened deep visions, sensationalized trivialities and disenfranchised many, particularly the young, from mechanisms of political institutions.

Now, it is with great humility and respect that I was provided with the opportunity to lead this year’s NSW YMCA Youth Parliament as the NSW Youth Premier for 2015. The Youth MPs I had the pleasure of working with are some of the most intelligent, outspoken, talented and politically active people I know; I could not be more honoured, and I thank them sincerely for entrusting me to lead them.

Throughout my life, I have lived across four continents and five different countries; I have traveled and I have been immersed in several different cultures, however, due to this, I was never able to fully settle and develop any deep attachment to call anywhere home. I will not deny that this gave me a realisation beyond what I was exposed to in my home and local area – it showed me the different governing systems, the different values and the inherently different lifestyles that came with that. It developed the value that I now have for the many cultures of the world, but I have never felt more at home then I do here in Sydney, Australia. I may have a British accent, I may not have been born here, but my Australian identity is as strong as anyone else’s. I am a migrant, in fact, besides the indigenous, we are all migrants to Australia, and we have all adopted this place as our home. When you see me, you wouldn’t guess that I am half English, and half Malaysian, that I speak 3 languages and can read and write in another two which I do not understand, and that I am a very, very passionate young woman who will not stand to be discriminated against, especially based on my identity as a Muslim or a woman. I may not look or fit any stereotype of anything that you may have in your mind – but against all the odds; of both a society often fearful of Islam and of a society that does not value the opinions of the youth nearly as much as they should, I am still proud to call Australia my home.

 Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

Iman with QLD's Former premier, Anna Bligh.  Reppin' QLD! 

I preach for diversity. For it to be fully accepted in society, in managerial positions, in educational standards, and in State and Federal Parliament, and for it to not be a point of discrimination. I believe that it is about time that our Parliament reflects the diverse and multicultural nature of our population. I preach for diversity to be realised, for our true multicultural society to reflect on this notion of diversity, and for our youth and broader society to have their say on matters that affect them, on issues that they have the ability to put forward resolutions for.  As a woman, it fills me with great joy to see that 60% of the participants in this year’s NSW Youth Parliament are women. It is even more impressive that out of the Government Executive in the Legislative Assembly, 4 out of 5 of the executive positions are filled by some of the most inspirational young women I have met in my life who have such drive and passion for positive change in our society. Not only are we challenging the statusquo represented in current state and federal parliament through closing the gap of women in powerful positions, but we also encompass the multicultural nature of New South Wales that we have all come to embrace.

Through grassroots’ apolitical forums such as YMCA NSW Youth Parliament, the voices of this State’s young leaders are allowed to cut through much of the clutter and put into creating legislation and open debate regarding the issues facing their own communities as well as broader society. I believe that it is pivotal to acknowledge that this is not a matter of small significance. Rather, the Youth Parliament program kindles that political awareness and superb quality integral to the next generation of our states’ leaders – ensuring the future burns even brighter than the past.

And who said we, the youth, don’t have a voice?

It is simply a matter of being heard.

-- 

This is a guest piece by Iman Salim Ali Farrarthe young Muslim lady who is the current 2015 YMCA NSW Youth Parliament Premier.  I'm honoured to have her contribution to the blog and stoked to see more and more young Muslim women doing awesome things and leading with compassion, integrity and vision.

  Iman Salim Ali Farrar

Iman Salim Ali Farrar


Him.

He sat across from me and asked.

Does Allah talk to you?

Do you hear him?

What do you pray about?

Does he answer your prayers?

I don’t even know what I said, but what a question indeed.

I didn’t know how to articulate it, and I don’t know if I ever will.

I didn’t know how to say that knowing Allah is there, all the time, that was all I ever needed to know. 

That I hear him in music that moves, see him in the outline of mountains against the sky.  

That my mortality frightens me, an intense fear that I may not be doing enough… a fear that my life is too easy, a fear that these blessings are in fact my hardships, and that I am failing the tests.

That sometimes, not very often, but sometimes...

I buckle. Doubled over, during sujood. Tears not merely from my eyes but from somewhere deeper, racking me raw because I am so humbled to be in His presence, Subhanallah. 

My heart begs Him to guide me, to forgive me, to use me, to save me from myself and my own weakness.

Because I am oh so weak, and without His blessings, I am nothing.

“And how could we not place our trust in God, seeing that it is He who has shown us the path which we are to follow?’ ‘Hence, we shall certainly bear with patience whatever hurt you may do us: for, all who have trust [in His existence] must place their trust in God [alone]!’” [14:12]


It's a little frightening, writing so publically about religious faith, particularly to an Australian audience. We are not comfortable with it, and often I think that my secular friends are surprised by how much Islam means to me, particularly on a spiritual level.  

Politics aside, Ramadan is fast approaching, and it is a time for reflection. It is time for that spiritual (and painful caffeine!) detox. It is a month to remind ourselves of our temporary nature, and what we are living for. 

What is it that we live for? 

Well, each of us has to answer that alone...

Call out for Muslim Ladies

Muslim ladies in the house!

I have received an interesting email from a lovely researcher by the name of Maria who would like you to be involved in a project to support (!) Muslim women. 

***

Invitation to participate in a project to support Muslim women

If you are a Muslim woman between the ages of 18 and 35, you are invited to participate in an exciting new research project, Beyond hostility and fear: listening to Muslim girls and women.

The research is being conducted by Maria Delaney and Amanda Keddie from the University of Queensland. 

We would like to share the stories of Muslim women and girls for an Anglo-Australian audience to dispel some of the ignorance in the Australian community about Islam.  

We are sure you would agree that this is important research - Muslim women often bear the brunt of Islamophobia, their voices often silenced and their stories crucial to generating more peaceful relations.  The research would involve an informal and friendly conversation about being a Muslim girl/woman in Australia. 

It would highlight difficulties and problems but also hopes and opportunities. The stories might be funny stories... exasperating stories... disturbing stories... (We will provide some questions that might be a useful guide here).  

We have had a lot of previous involvement with people from Muslim communities, so we believe that you would feel comfortable talking with us.

Also, your participation would be completely anonymous, so you can feel comfortable about sharing your stories.

If you would like to be involved, or if you have any questions, please contact Maria at delaneymt@gmail.com  or 0423193935
 
Best wishes, 
Maria 
 
P.S. You can find out about us on our websites:

Maria Delaney www.socialchangeagency.com.au 

Amanda Keddie  http://researchers.uq.edu.au/researcher/1458 

***

I think it would be awesome if as many of us got involved as possible. If you are nervous or have questions, email me, otherwise email Maria directly!

Best of luck inshallah.

 

We must not lose faith in humanity.

It goes without saying, but should be said anyway.

The various violent events that have dominated our media over the last few days, weeks and months have been heart wrenching atrocities. Lives have senselessly been lost, bringing the precarious nature of our comfortable lives into sharp relief.  It is almost exhausting in its relentlessness, and bizarre to step back and realise that we live in a world where violence has taken on a gross normalcy; terrible, yet no longer completely out of the ordinary.

After the Sydney Siege, there was little I felt I could add to the public lament.

Yet after Sydney, 2014 didn't let up.  It was followed by the slaughter of innocent children in Peshawar, the grinding, endless deaths in Congo, the murders in Paris and an unimaginable massacre in Nigeria, only a few days ago.

The easy option in dealing with this barrage, this constant reminder of the cruelty of humans, is to switch off.

Stop reading the commentary.

Stop engaging in the debate.

Stop critically analysing and regress to black and white, to binary thinking, to 'us' and 'them', 'them' being whoever you deem as broadly evil or uncivilised, depending on your colour and place of birth.

That cannot be our response.

Yes, in the midst of the mourning, there has been a troublesome vein of hatred that has bubbled beneath the surface.   Glints of these perspectives and attitudes are epitomised in the language and expectations surrounding the media and commentary around the violence.

Listening to my favourite news podcasts for example, or even to our own Tony Abbott, there was a constant reminded that 'they hated 'our' freedoms', our 'civilisation', our 'liberty'.

Who are 'they'?

'We' have to stand against the extremists, people say. We can't let 'them' win...

The problem being that entire groups are demonised, dangerously so.  The framing makes someone like me - thoroughly, visibly Muslim and fervently Aussie because well, this is home - almost ask myself the question: am I us, or them?

Of course I know...right? Yet, there is a constant implied expectation for justification. The is a whisper of accusation in all the tones, forming seeds of doubt fertilised by ignorance and lack of exposure to anything but the dominant discourse...

The nuances are oh-so-subtle.

The language polarises, forces us to choose sides without realising what we are doing.  It frames our conversations in ways that moulds our thinking: classical grade 10 critical literacy stuff.  Obvious to those paying attention, but how many of us truly are?

It has been explained very well by writers more impressive than I, and there are links below to some very interesting and thought provoking reading around how the media reporting is clearly biased, how blaming all Muslims isn't going to help as expecting constant apologies is damaging in itself and how providing context is not the same as justifying an action.  In ruminating on our collective (i.e. humanity's) current situation, the following became clear:

ONE.

The language we use to refer to those who commit violent acts must change.  'Islamists', 'radicals', 'fundamentalists', 'extremists' and the like simply suggest that well, these actions are at the fundamental core of what it is to be Muslim. It legitimises their actions as Islamic, when scholars worldwide have time and time again, said that they are not.

Rather, they should be referred to as what they are: Violent criminals.

We don't often refer to criminals by their perceived or claimed motivation: A bank robber is a bank robber, not a greedy-capitalist. A murder is a murder, not a politically-motivated-youth-claiming-Islam-backs-him.

TWO.

If we turn on each other, we are playing into the hands of these violent criminals.

Juan Cole puts it brilliantly:

"Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims [and this can apply to all nationalities], but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination."

Acts of violence that are so obvious and politically motivated are aimed at sharpening contradictions.  They are aimed at forcing open those slivers of cracks in our multicultural societies.  They feed on distrust in communities, spreading insidious doubts and roots that breach the foundations of compassion a society has built.

We have to choose to see beyond the hatred and have faith in humanity, regardless of what we are being drip fed to believe by the hype around us.

Oh, it's not going to be easy, and it doesn't mean blind positivity. It means belief that humanity can prevail.  'Humanity' isn't owned by a civilisation either; it isn't 'secular' or 'traditional', it lies in understanding that each of us are fundamentally human, and we all deserve protection, compassion, opportunity, love.

It means understanding grief and mourning, and not choosing to mourn one life as more important than another.  It means respecting that every life is valuable and its barbaric and unfair extinguishing is inhumane, regardless of the motivation.

It means choosing to treat each and every person individually, not judging them by the actions of others.

It means, as Imam Zaid Khair puts it, not being hasty in dismissing others, but being patient in inviting them to understand your lense.

We have to work together to constantly, tirelessly and consciously choose to value our common humanity.  

If we choose to hate, to despair, to lament, to be so overwhelmed by the seeming tidal wave of conflict, nothing will change.

But if we stay resolute in the belief that humanity will prevail and that each and every single of us has a part to play in making this happen, then surely, we can have something to look forward to.

***

5 pieces of food for thought:

 

If nothing else, read this: 9 Points to Ponder on the Paris Shooting and Charlie Hebdo. Much of my writing was inspired by this piece.

 

Unmournable bodies

"And even when we rightly condemn criminals who claim to act in the name of Islam, little of our grief is extended to the numerous Muslim victims of their attacks, whether in Yemen or Nigeria—in both of which there were deadly massacres this week—or in Saudi Arabia, where, among many violations of human rights, the punishment for journalists who “insult Islam” is flogging. We may not be able to attend to each outrage in every corner of the world, but we should at least pause to consider how it is that mainstream opinion so quickly decides that certain violent deaths are more meaningful, and more worthy of commemoration, than others."

 

Sharpening Contradictions

"Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination."

 

Mourning the Parisian Journalists Yet Noticing the Hypocrisy

"But then again, I had to wonder about the way the massacre in Paris is being depicted and framed by the Western media as a horrendous threat to Western civilization, freedom of speech and freedom of the press, I wondered about the over-heated nature of this description. It didn't take me long to understand how problematic that framing really is."

So don't be surprised if people around the world, while condemning the despicable acts of the murderers in Paris and grieving for their families and friends, remain a bit cynical about the media-circus surrounding this particular outrage while the Western media quickly forgets the equally despicable acts of systematic murder and torture that Western countries have been involved in. Or perhaps a bit less convinced that Western societies are really the best hope for civilization when they condone this kind of hypocrisy, rather than responding equally forcefully to all such actions repressing free speech or freedom of assembly. I could easily imagine (and regret) how some Islamist fundamentalists will already be making these points about the ethical inconsistencies of Western societies with their pomposity about human rights that never seem to constrain the self-described "enlightened democracies" from violating those rights when it is they who perceive themselves as under attack."

 

Charlie Hebdo: Understanding is the least we owe the dead

"Take your pick, whichever one suits your politics, whatever tin drum you want to bang on.

Just don’t bang it near me. I don’t want to read about how “we’re all” anything, because wishing away complexity is inadequate and juvenile. I want to hear no talk about cracking down on anyone or tightening anything up. We have cracked and tightened for a decade and a half and all we have to show for it is a bloated, unaccountable security state that is eroding the cherished freedoms we claim to be so eager to protect."

 

A Cartoonist's Response on the Guardian

 Khartoon

Sajjeling: #WISH: a step in the door

This piece was originally posted for the fantastic blog Sajjeling. Check it out! 

This was a hard piece to write, mostly because critiquing movements that are helping the community can be construed as unconstructive and vindictive.  However, I repost it in order to hopefully air alternative perspectives. I do not want any critique to de-legitimise what women have felt the campaign has done, but use it as an opportunity to reflect and then ask ourselves: what is next?

***

Perhaps not surprisingly, a campaign that calls for women of all stripes to don the hijab, take a photo and post it online has garnered mixed reviews over the past few weeks.

#WISH, or Women in Solidarity with Hijabis, came about with the idea of show support and solidarity for Muslims, and, particularly, Muslim women, around the country.

With hundreds and thousands of views, digital interactions and imprints, and almost 30,000 likes on Facebook, it is certainly making an impression in the wider Australian community. Women have used it as an entry point for discussion, posting their photo in a hijab and usually accompanying it with a message of hope or solidarity.  On the surface, it all seems very positive and very encouraging, as it provides a space for those who support Muslim women and sisters to very visually ,and publicly, make a stand.

However, responses from other parts of the Muslim community have rejected the premise of the campaign entirely as belittling and disrespectful of the religious nature of the hijab. Not only does the campaign minimise the religious nature of the hijab, but it can allow people to engage without the difficulty of taking on the identity per se; the privilege to be able to remove the hijab and rejoin society as an accepted member of the mass group is one that doesn’t exist for many Muslim women as an option at all. Therefore, women who feel like they have ‘joined’ the group or, after wearing it for a week, realised how ‘difficult’ it may be or how ‘perceptions change’ when you are wearing a hijab are simply Orientalising the garment rather than engaging with its true meaning.

 

Nevertheless, in spite of commentary about the effectiveness and impact of the campaign, it is worth noting at the outset that it was begun by a Muslim woman in Australia. Therefore, it should be treated as reflective of the wishes of some members in the community.  Some may argue that the campaign is a reactionary way of dealing with the superficial manner in which the public engages with religious belief, however that argument, again, becomes an assumption around a Muslim woman’s capacity for autonomy and choice. Rather than re-emphasise the perception that Muslim women are oppressed and helpless, especially in the face of adversity, this prime example shows that those very women are capable of taking matters into their own hands and finding new ways to change the narrative.

Another campaign in Australia, “Racism, Hatred, Bigotry – #NotInMyName”, is also pushed by a Muslim Australian woman, further defying stereotypes of men being the only leaders in the community.Objectively, there is no denying that the campaign is not the answer to all the Australian Muslim community’s problem, nor does it engage in critical policy creation or find solutions to the increasing incidences of racial and bigoted acts.However, perhaps this is a case of not throwing out the baby with the bathwater?

What the campaign has been successful at doing is allowing many women to engage with the Muslim community in a way they may not have done previously, perhaps because they are drawn to the superficial beauty of the hijab, however ironic that may be.

Most of the women who do engage are doing so in an effort to learn and to demonstrate their solidarity.  Although some may fall under the ‘well intentioned but possibly misguided’ banner that volunteer activists sometimes do, there is still a positive intention that is worth recognising and working with.

Who are we to decide or determine how people learn about Islam?  The Muslim communities expend immense amounts of carbon dioxide talking about how there is little knowledge or information about Islam in the wider community. Should we shoot down one of the most successful campaigns that has allowed positive information to be shared with thousands?

#WISH is not the whole answer, but it is not none of the answer either. What it does is open the doors to a conversation about what the religion means, what the reasoning behind its wearing is based on, and ultimately, what Islam is all about.  It is a non threatening, low-barrier-to-entry way of engaging, and although it may make us as Muslim women feel insecure, frustrated, culturally appropriated and exploited even, no change is made without sacrifice and change is certainly not made if we continuously refuse to engage with the initiatives that have been positive and ultimately, successful.  Right?

Honestly and personally speaking, the campaign can be uncomfortable for some Muslim women, although I speak for myself here. It takes a religious act that for some means daily struggle and constant judgment, and allows it to be worn by many others as a simple ornament, like any other item of jewellery.  The significance of the hijab can be lost in that transaction, and not only is that sad, but it is a misrepresentation of its meaning.  It should be noted that the concept of ‘hijab’ itself isn’t even only just about the headscarf, it includes modestly dressing across the board, and modesty in our actions as well.  #WISH does not communicate that larger message.

But it doesn’t pretend to, either.

Yes, it may be uncomfortable; but is rejecting it the only answer?

Perhaps it should be thought of in this way: #WISH can be the foot in the door.  It may only be a little bit of foot in the door, and perhaps it’s only in the door frame to test the waters.  Nonetheless, if we are serious about changing the narrative and engaging and educating the wider public, the door at least has to be a little bit open. Will we continue to squabble about how the foot got there, holding our post-colonial grudges in our hearts, or will we try to forgive the lack of knowledge and work to ensure that the vacuum is filled?

The choice is ours.  Next move, hijabis.

Niqab wearing women and their professions

The niqab, burka and things women women use to cover their heads and faces due to faith are of great fascination for much of Western society. Much of the commentary precludes opinions from the ‘primary source’ (women who wear these items of clothing), and as such there are significant and often damaging assumptions made about the subjects.

‘Subjects’ is an uncomfortable but apt term, as many niqabed Muslim women are seen as foreign objects of curiosity and conjecture.   They are rarely ever perceived as human women who have hopes, dreams, kids, families, gardens, laundry and all the same dramas as every other human.

So given the fact that I don’t wear the niqab, what gives me the right to talk about this topic?

Nothing really, to be honest, and I do my best not to talk on behalf of, but to hopefully propose alternative narratives in an effort to change perceptions.  This post is one such example.

As you may or may not know, I spent the first half of 2012 in Sudan with my grandmother, learning how to cook, become a ‘good housewife’ and studying Arabic at the local university.  The university I went to, unbeknown to me at the time, turned out to be an Islamic based - and very traditional - institution for international students from all over Africa. This meant that the classes for men and women were separated and many of the women were from all over Africa, rather than just Sudan.

I was fortunate enough to befriend many of my fellow classmates, although it was an interesting experience as our life experiences were very different!  Funnily enough, because we were in an all-women class, all the ladies would remove any niqabs they wore and many would have their hair out (the 45 - 50 degree heat wasn’t conducive to many layers of clothing). As such, my ideas of them were not founded around what they wore but their varied personalities and stories.  I’d actually forgotten they all wore niqabs until I saw the following photographs on a former colleague’s Facebook page:

What are these photos, you may be asking? Are we seeing women being trained up for some crazy operation that we don’t understand?

No, what you see are African (Ugandan and Nigerian) women being trained as mechanical engineers and technicians.

Not only do these women have to brave the standard ‘women in engineering’ perception, they have to do so in an extremely hostile and patriarchal culture.  They learn how to take apart engines, weld and manufacture equipment, and do so with flair.

It is inspiring.

They’re smart and driven, but also feminine and devout. Sure, it isn’t easy. There is no denying the difficulties… but these are examples of women who do almost everything they want to, and what they wear in no way oppresses them.

Kinda cool huh? Glad you clicked? I am too :)

Links, Links, Links! 13th October 2014

There is a lot of interesting stuff on the internet.  Here are a few of the articles that caught my eye this week...

***

1. A completely different perspective to one that is usually told: The niqab makes me feel liberated, and no law will stop me from wearing it

"I’ve always been the sort of person who loved to experiment, but I never expected that wearing the niqab would be something I’d try."

 

2. How ignorant commentary on Sharia law increases discrimination

 

3. Is it fair to blame the West for trouble in the Middle East?

"In his book A Fundamental Fear: Eurocentrism and the emergence of Islamism, Dr S. Sayyid describes five arguments that explain the spread of what is commonly called Islamic fundamentalism, Islamism or militant Islamism."

4. The Myth of Religious Violence

 

5. An alternative perspective on the Emma - Wassim interview on #Lateline that even the PM lauded...

But Alberici’s own responses to Doureihi’s questions reinforced Doureihi’s claims that some kind of underlying narrative was at play. She was becoming flustered by a phenomenon — an interviewee answering her question in a manner he wished — that she should be well used to. Heck, politicians do this all the time. HT is a political party. Doureihi is a Muslim politician wannabe.

6. Is Islam a Violent Text?

This is SO good. Read it.

 

Channel Ten's new show. What do you think?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3U4f6lsp4E

 

Oh and in case you missed it, have a listen to Ian Hanke, Jane Gilmore and I on Outsiders for Radio National with Jonathan Green.  On the Sunday morning show we are talking the Lateline Interview (Emma-Wassim) and the current state of play in Australia...

 

Four Videos You Need to Watch This Friday

It has been a week full of intensity, as per usual.  It seems like the news has become a little like that, or perhaps it is what we choose to consume... Here are a five videos that popped up on my radar this week that are definitely worth your time.

1. Jon Oliver on Drones.

This guy is a gift.  Takes issues once a week, tears it apart in 15 minutes or so. Sometimes, he can say things that others have been saying for ages but because of who he is, it is better received.  Yes, that may be frustrating, but who said life was fair? Either way, his stuff is worth watching, and this week just highlights how ridiculous and insane the United State's Drone policy (or lack thereof) is.

http://youtu.be/K4NRJoCNHIs

 

2. Reza Aslan destroying CNN

Skip the first part of the video and wait until you get to the part where Reza Aslan starts talking. This guy is a religious scholar and academic. He knows his stuff, and the way that he clearly articulates things many Muslims yell at the TV while watching (or avoiding) CNN is brilliant.

http://youtu.be/6ibKWVTFSak

 

3.  Ernesto Sirolli: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

A lesson that my father taught me over and over.  Why projects keep failing in 'Africa'.

 

4.Kcee – Ogaranya ft. Davido (aka some light Afrobeats)

It can't be a Yassmin video wrap up without some Afrobeats... Let's have something light to finish off why don't we?

http://youtu.be/Ig97XJv8iRQ

We all just need to chill...

Guys, what Australia is this?

"A woman has been left traumatised after her head was smashed into the side of train carriage during an apparent racial attack in Melbourne's north.

The 26-year-old victim was on an Upfield line train outbound on Thursday night when she was approached by another woman, who began hurling abusive and racist remarks.

The woman grabbed the victim by the neck and hair, and forced her head into the wall of the carriage several times.

She then pushed the victim off the train as it rolled into Batman Station in Coburg North."

Source, The Age

***

It cannot have come to this.  We're so much better than this, really, we must be.

Yes, there are terrible things happening in the Middle East, but let that not destroy us from within.

I wish I could be witty and satirical at this point, but it would only serve to sound a little bit jaded. A fellow rig guy said to me once: "the things is, you can make a terrorist joke...but we don't know if you're kidding or not."

Talk about majorly awkward.

I could focus on the negatives, and there are a lot.  Check out Media Watch's wrap up if you'd like some proof.

However, instead, I choose to focus on the fact that even though there is a lot of misinformation and hatred out there (which does not deserve traffic from my blog, no matter how meagre, so won't be linked!), there is also a lot of good.

Follow the hashtag #WISH on twitter, and check out some of the empathy and solidarity shown.

Meet some regular Aussie Muslims here.

If you're curious, check out my new favourite Tumblr that is about Sharia, PartyTilFajr. 

 

 ***

In other news...

A child is just about to get his first taste of Formula 1.  #SoManyFeels.  Okay, calling him a child may be a bit harsh and petulant.  The young teenager then...

The Dutch racing driver is set to become the youngest on the track during an F1 weekend, three days after his 17th birthday.

I guess there is nothing like some F1 familial pedigree to ensure your rear end gets a seat.

As much as I adore / love / live for Formula 1, there is no doubting the decadent and brazen level of nepotism and elitism that exists within its ranks.

Yet, we keep coming back...

 

Brisbane Times: Heightened Terror Threat a Time for Races and Religions to Unite

If you haven't seen it already, check out my piece in the Brisbane Times below.

***

It is said that dividing and conquering is an effective way to deal with an opponent.

With that in mind, the very last thing we should be doing as a community in the face of fear is become divided.

As a community, we are so much stronger than that.

They call themselves IS, and are known by a variety of names including ISIS, ISIL, or as Muslim leaders in the US have begun to refer to them, the Anti-Islamic State (AIS).

Irrespective of what its members preach, this group's actions are not Islamic, nor is it by any means an official state. Every time we refer to it as Islamic, we are actually legitimising a group which is essentially criminal in its behaviour. It is strategic and calculated in its actions, but this makes it similar to militant groups worldwide, rather than especially Islamic.

AIS was formally known as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, but it was seen as too violent even for them. The two groups are now competitors for a type of cruel dominance in the region. At its roots, support for the group is politically motivated. The area's history with Sunni and Shiites is complex to say the least, and AIS has capitalised on that tension and historic power imbalance for their own gains.

All of this has occurred half way around the world though. The question many Australians are asking is what has brought this to our doorstep, and how do we deal with it as a community?

The events of the last few days have been played over and over ad nauseam on our screens. They have shocked many. The allegations have been damning and the responses swift. In the face of all that has occurred however, it is imperative that we take a step back, reassess and regroup.

What is important to us as a nation? The concept of a fair go gets bandied about regularly as an Aussie value. So although there have been raids based on information that security forces have intercepted, if we really are about giving each other a fair go then we will treat those arrested as innocent until proven guilty. Although we may be frightened, there has to be a level of trust and support in the justice system and its capacity to deal with threats to our safety. This does not, however, provide permission for authorities to operate without limits. Due process must. be followed. If we are to allows breaches of justice in the name of fighting against what we fear, we are no better than the terrorists.

Our strength and resilience as a society is not measured by how we act in the good times but how we deal with the bad times and come together in the face of adversity. During the 2011 Queensland floods people around the world were shocked to see traffic jams because of people heading into the state, rather than out of it, so they could offer a helping hand.  Today should be no different. Faced with a threat - perceived or evidenced - it is imperative that we as a community support each other and stand united against fear.

The tricky line is not letting a stance against fear become a stance against a people because of their race, religion or dress code. The threat of terrorism must not become a chance for racial and religious hatred and ignorance to flourish. What it must not become is a conversation about us and them, because that leads us down a path we thrashed 13 years ago. Violence begets violence. For the cycle to be broken, the conversation must be reframed. Rather than basing it on race, religion or ethnicity, let's base it on intention, values and principles. We have come so far since September 11 and we must heed the lessons of history.

Us and them marginalises communities and makes people feel like they don't belong when Australia is all they have ever known. It pushes people away from the mainstream, particularly young people, when often they are looking to be valued and fit in. Marginalisation, as well as entrenched socio-economic disadvantage and language in the public arena that is isolating, fear mongering and cruel, are some of the many reasons people look for other answers. Groups like AIS are happy to be that answer. We cannot let that happen.

 If you are in favour of a society where people live harmony, within a system that is fair and just, then you are for peace and we stand united on that platform.  

So what can we all do as individuals? Have open conversations with one another. Learn about each other without prejudice. Smile and say hi to someone who looks different on the street. Stand up to behaviour that is prejudiced. Make a friend who follows a different belief system and ask them about their way of life. make a Muslim friend. Gosh, if all else fails, email me and I'll regale you with terrible puns and stories all about my car woes (never buy an Alfa Romeo if you're not ready for the towing costs and emotional heartache).

There may be disagreement about beliefs, mindsets and ways of living, but this does not preclude us from living harmoniously together. After all, I continue to disagree with anyone who claims the Blues are a better team than the Maroons (however misplaced you may think that faith is…)  yet, I do still accept those from down south. We do say that sport is pretty much a religion in this country, don't we?

That is what makes us who we are. The ability to rise above and beyond prejudice, ignorance and hatred and truly be mates, especially when the going gets tough.

As Muslims we are told "since good and evil cannot be equal, repel evil with something that is better" (41:34). Let's all make sure we are better than the evil that we so abhor. Let's make sure it doesn't turn us against our neighbours, but rather brings us together to realise that strength lies not in our differences, but in our unity.

What is a moderate Muslim anyway?

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This post was originally written for the Attorney General's blog, 'Living Safe Together'.  Given recent events, I thought I would publish it here as well.  It seems a little incongruous now, given the urgency of the current discussion, particularly around young Muslims in Australia...but I will let you be a judge of that.

***

‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me...’

A fine sentiment, but one that is not quite accurate, particularly when it comes to being labelled by society. An entire life being pigeonholed by a set of criteria you haven’t chosen can be uncomfortable and at times, counterproductive. The effect may be quite unintentional; although words like ‘radical’, ‘extreme’, ‘fundamental’, are obviously polarising, even tags like ‘moderate’ or ‘mainstream’ are descriptors chosen by others to describe the Muslim community and individuals within it – tags that don’t necessarily sit well with Muslims themselves.

It’s easy to labele someone - myself, for example - a ‘moderate’ or ‘mainstream’, as if that is a compliment, as if that indicates that I am not like ‘the others’; those ‘crazier’ extreme types that wish harm on the country and culture we live in.

However, what does moderate or mainstream mean exactly? Does it mean that my brand of Islam or practice as a Muslim is inoffensive enough to not make those around me feel uncomfortable? Does it mean I have given up just enough of my beliefs and culture to become ‘mainstream’, whatever that means in Australia? Does it mean I don’t follow the ‘fundamentals’ of the religion, as otherwise I would be seen as a ‘fundamentalist?’ These are not necessarily easy questions to answer, and not meant to be taken as accusations, but the importance of semantics in this discussion should not be underestimated. Labels have a way of being a self-fulfilling prophecy, for better or for worse.

Being described as moderate stirs up conflicting emotions. On one hand, appreciation of the fact that ‘we’, as Muslims, pose no harm, juxtaposed against an annoyance that this is a sentiment that needs to be expressed. On the other hand, it arouses an uneasiness about being described as ‘average’, in intensity or quality. It implies that well, we’re not a very good Muslim at all. We are just average, and average is all that is acceptable. To be any more devout or religious would be straying into ‘fundamental’ territory, and society can’t have that.

It must be acknowledged that of course, in a land of policy writing and position statements, well-understood labels are the easiest way to describe a group. Labels are the symbolic monikers, shorthand for definitions the community understands. However, across the board that has the potential to make us lazy in our thinking about the people we are talking about. It poses the danger of giving us the space to fall into well-worn thinking patterns, patterns which will only ever produce the same results they always have. To change an entire discourse is no simple matter though, and so it requires careful reflection and a healthy dose of pragmatism. How do you change what a word means to a community?

What is needed is a fundamental shift in thinking. Underlying the conversation is the understanding that there are ‘extreme’ Muslims, and ‘moderate’ Muslims. However, perhaps it should be understood that there are ‘extreme’ Muslims, and then, well, just Muslims. In the same way that there are Christians and Jews, and then there are extremes in both - the same concept applies. There is no one moderate Muslim community. In fact, there is no one single Muslim community at all; that is part of the richness of the faith. However, one view that is widely prevalent among various groups is the reluctance to be framed by a label that has been bestowed on us in an effort to determine friend from foe.

What needs to be remembered is that we (Muslims) are all part of the community as well, and are in invested in seeing it remain a safe place for us all to live in. Rather than frame the conversation in a dichotomous fashion, we (Australian society broadly) should focus on supporting each other and the young people in our community. Empowerment can be found in fulfilment through education, religion, meaningful employment and providing reasons not to become disengaged and disenfranchised. Obviously there is more to the story, but we must start somewhere. It’s the same in any community - those who are vulnerable are those most likely to fall prey to manipulation. If they do, it is a failure on us as a society and as a community for failing to support and enabling growth in a constructive way.

Those that are currently feared may be the very ones that need our help the most.

Back to Sudan: No, I did not get Ebola

Ah, it seems sometimes I avoid writing because I am a little afraid of what will come out when I start...

Oh Sudan, how you tear me in two.

***

I just got back from a whirlwind trip to Sudan, the land of my birth.  I was there for a total of 4 full days; three days and two half days. If you consider all the flying, I was almost in the air as long as I was on the ground.  I returned for the weddings of cousins and to see my Grandmother, a lady who I have lived with and who has taught me so much (the School of Life, as she refers to it).

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As the plane came in to land (Alhamdulilah), I thought of the last time I was in Sudan. Coming out of university, going to study Arabic: it was a time of hope, of growth, of the Arab Spring, of something new and exciting. They were memories of rose tinted (or sand blasted) glasses, gleaming with the nostalgia of a time gone by, before #riglyf or the ruin of Syria...

It was not until my return to the hustle and bustle of the extended family home, the dramas surrounding preparations for the weddings or the two hours the hairdresser berated me for the state of my hair (HOW DARE YOU LEAVE IT CURLY?! Don't you know a woman's hair is the crown of her beauty? Don't you want to be beautiful?! How do you think you will find a man? Don't you want to feel attractive?) that the other memories of Sudan began to resurface.

(My favourite comment the hairdresser made: Oh look, I know you think you're an engineer and you're with all these men so you shouldn't take care of yourself, but girl, don't kid yourself. Men want a womanly woman. Just remember that.  When I made noises about having a man not being the most important thing in my life, she fell quiet for a few minutes.  A few blissful minutes of peace, before the barrage began again, with a different tact: Didn't I want to show everyone else in the house I could be beautiful? I could only muster and agreement-sounding moan).

Returning to the other memories of Sudan: although I'd forgotten, it was the only time in my life that my actions were constantly not enough, not right, not adequate - in a big way.  Having not been brought up in Sudan but being of Sudanese origin, I was expected (by this age) to espouse the 'correct' and perfect Sudanese way of being a woman.  This, as hard as I might, was not yet achieved.  Sure, if I worked at it as hard as I did my engineering degree, I'd probably be a hell of a lady by Sudanese standards, but to be perfectly honest - it just didn't rate with the priorities.  That doesn't stop the judgement though...

What were these 'correct' rules that were meant to be espoused? Some simple examples include:

- To make the perfect cup of tea (when to serve, how much sugar, how much to pour, the correct herbs to be added and to do it all with the utmost grace and such),

- To look like the perfect lady (preferably short, thin, not too thin as to look malnourished because that is undesired but not too large as to look like you weren't in control of your portion sizes (and definitely not muscled, lord, that was for men!), with neat manicured nails, smooth, moisturised skin - the whiter the better - with as few markings as possible, straight hair that would be coiffed into rolling curls and once whooshed out of the hijab it had been covered in under 40 degree heat all day, would gleam like the sun and smell like fairies; make up that looked good but not too fake, henna that was done well and not fading, clothing that was attractive but not too tight and shoes that were classy but would withstand the mud... you get the gist)

- To be able to cook, well (No elaboration necessary. Isn't this a prerequisite for every culturally diverse woman?)

- To be interested in womanly things, not politics and cars and football and engineering and the things that were reserved for men...

- To be the a witty conversationalist but also to talk about polite topics and not stray into overly satirical humour (not sure it translates...)

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Alas, I may be being somewhat facetious.

However, the truth of the matter (as far as I can see) is this...

Sudan, north Sudan in particular, is a deeply traditional, communal society.  Societies that are tribal and based on community in the way that the Sudanese are can often be deeply judgemental.  In this world, a woman's reputation is her only weapon, her beauty of uptmost importance and her ability to hold a household and care for a family paramount.

Many of the things I have learned to value here in Australia - the community work, the breaking of the barriers in the industry I work in, the influence in public conversations - yes, that is of passing interest to the families in Sudan, but really, honestly?

It doesn't rate in comparison. 

So I go from being someone who is confident in their ability and place in the world to someone who feels like they don't know the rules at all really, and the rules I do know, I don't adhere to very well at all.

The kicker? This is supposed to be where I am from.  This would be where I was from, if my parents hadn't decide to make that audacious journey to the other side of the globe in 1992.

So, Sudan is a place where I feel I have roots - deep roots - my only roots.

It is a place I feel I must

Yet although I know I must learn to love Sudan, because it is a place that keeps me grounded and connected, it is also a nation that makes me feel judged and inadequate.  It is a place whose values and traditions I know I should espouse, and yet, I find myself disagreeing with.  The issue then becomes that yet if I reject these based on the Australian values embedded within me, well it means I am then becoming 'westernised'.

'Westernised' being synonymous with losing my identity, not being 'true or genuine', or almost taking the side of the oppressors.  It isn't a rational fear, as those aren't all rational reasons or statements, yet, somehow, it is there.

The implication is that somehow, by trying to be different, I am implicitly forsaking my Sudanese identity and redefining myself as a true coconut - black on the outside, white on the inside.  The implication is that taking the identity of the 'white' and the associated individualistic, capitalist nature, is clearly the wrong thing to do.

It can't be.

I am Australian, Muslim, born in Sudan with mixed heritage. I get to pick and chose what I want to take on, right?  Yet, every time I go back, I feel guilty about my choices.

Why? I don't know, but this cannot go on...Surely, something has to make it through this madness.

You see, even by calling it madness, I am wracked by guilt.  Doesn't Sudan have enough haters, my conscious asks me.  Do you really need to be like all the others and hate on it as well? What makes you any better than all of them... why aren't you backing Sudan?

My conscious can be a right burr sometimes.

Oh Sudan.