What is a moderate Muslim anyway?

Aug 26, 2014 by

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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.

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Back to Sudan: No, I did not get Ebola

Aug 5, 2014 by

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.

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Are you worried about the European elections?

Jul 13, 2014 by

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The recent European Union elections have given a legitimate seat to quite a few far right parties, prompting questions around where this level of extremism is coming from, and to what end it is leading?

The Huffpost reports on some of the most extreme, including the Dutch party which wants to rid the country of Moroccans (who were ironically brought in by the Dutch themselves to bolster their workforce), a group in Hungary who want all Jews to sign a register (sound familiar?) and a number of strongly anti-immigration and anti-European parties across the continent.

It is extremely disappointing to see such strong levels of hatred, downright racism and homophobic rhetoric coming out of so called ‘civilised’ nations.  We have been frustrated in Australia with the level of anti-asylum seeker language, but it hasn’t reached the levels of mainland Europe and the Tea Party across the pond.  Where is this all coming from, why is it so and how can we tackle it?

***

I’ve been fortunate to travel to Europe a number of times and cannot categorically say that I have personally experienced strong levels of racism, but that is obviously not completely indicative of the situation.  Firstly, visiting a European nation as an Australian is novel enough that people tend to overlook the colour of my skin and religion and focus on the novelty of being from a land so far away. Furthermore, by not being a migrant and simply a visitor, I do not pose a ‘risk’ in the same way that people fear immigrants are.  

It could be those reasons…or it could be that I am simply blind to the racism around me and chose not to see or be affected by it.  If people are choosing to believe their prejudices with force, what is there to do but continue living one’s life?

Anecdotally, discrimination in Australia happens on slightly different grounds.  Barring attitudes to the Indigenous Australians (which is a whole other discussion), prejudice is largely based on ignorance rather than true, steeped hatred of the ‘other’.  There are few exceptions, and there are pockets of population where research shows social cohesion to be at troublingly low levels (Western Sydney and Logan being areas of note).   However by and large (and making a huge generalisation), Australians tend to feel that if someone is trying hard and giving ‘being Australian’ a fair go, then they’re alright.  So if they’re trying to speak English, working hard and don’t take things too damn seriously, they’re alright mate.  We are too young a country to have the sorts of issues Europe is dealing with. 

What creates an environment that enhances social cohesion is well known.  Those who are well educated and well off are more likely to be tolerant and accepting than those from lower socio economic backgrounds, regardless of background.  A fascinating comment recently made me aware that even the Sudanese and other African migrants were irritated with boat arrivals in Australia.  

Why? One would imagine they would be willing to welcome people from similarly difficult circumstances.  

It was a case of survival: the perception was that these newcomers would be fighting for the same types of jobs and were seen to be coming in a manner that was cheating the system everyone else used (i.e. those who went through the UN refugee camp process). Fascinating right?  

So why are people moving further and further right in Europe?

They say in tough times people tend to close in and  fear the unknown significantly more.  It is a step down Mazlow’s hierarchy: people are no longer in the space of self actualisation and are more focused on the survival and work levels.  They are focused on providing for their family and any obstacles are just barriers to be able to protect what they love…

Regardless of whether there are legitimate reasons or not though, extremism is not acceptable in any shape or form.  The extremism seen in Europe is reflective of the extremism the West is so frightened of in the Middle East and North Africa, they are just based on different lines.  Extremism based on nationality is no less dangerous than extremism based on religion.  Both exhibit cult-like mentalities, and encourage behaviour that is downright barbaric.  Reason and logic doesn’t seem to work…

So the challenge is for the young, educated and informed young people who have grown up in a globalised society to ensure that extremism remains fringe and ridiculously laughable.  This is where a new generation can really leave a mark and share in a meaningful legacy.  By and large, I have seen this happen but the trick is to have it spread beyond just the educated upper and middle classes and move into the lower socio economic groups.  

Some young Europeans have said the fact that extreme groups have a legitimate seat at the table is good as it means they can argue their point and be shut down in a formal manner.

I am undecided.  I appreciate that this may be the case, but by allowing these types of ideologies to blossom in mainstream media, what else are we then accepting as a society?

It isn’t always easy being tolerant and accepting of what is different and unusual, but multiculturalism and globalisation don’t happen by accident. It takes well designed policy, implementation and maintenance to ensure it remains successful. 

Australia is doing okay, but we cannot be complacent. If we are to avoid an EU-like situation, let’s keep our eye on the ball and hope the Europeans can sort themselves out before things get too nasty.  

What do you think? Why are people moving to the far right, and is it something we should worry about?

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A Eulogy

Jul 9, 2014 by

sadbrazil

It wasn’t supposed to be like this, was it.

The worst day in their football history, and for a nation that lives, eats and breathes football…

The World Cup has been a joy to watch this year, it really has. Games like Algeria versus South Korea, which on first glance didn’t look like it would be a firecracker ended up in an amazing battle.

But this?

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Seven goals conceded? One goal in the final minute to Brazil?

It was an actual mauling. A massacre on the pitch, a bloodletting.

The Germans, in their standard form, showed no mercy.

Klose cemented his place in history as the greatest world cup goal scorer.

The Brazilians faced the most painful few minutes when 4 goals were scored in less than 7 minutes.

How does a team come back from this?

The last Brazilian team to lose on this scale (to Uruguay in 1950) said they were treated like they committed the worst kind of crime.

This is literally unbelievable.

Well, we can say with certainly – Neymar was missed…

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Repost: Fever for Football

Jul 4, 2014 by

This is a piece contributed to a wonderful website Sajjeling – check it out! It’s a great collection of Australian-Arab narratives and I am honoured to be a part of it…

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“The thing about football – the important thing about football – is that it is not just about football.” – Terry Pratchett

My friend shook his head after listening to me wail about the crushing, humiliating defeat of La Furia Roja, the Spaniards, at the hands of ‘Clockwork Orange’, the Dutch.“I don’t understand! How can you care so much when you’re not even Spanish?”

“Explain to me why it means so much? How can it matter so much to you when there is no link between you and the country at all?”

I sighed. How to explain the love of football, especially that of the World Cup?

I can’t pinpoint exactly where my love of the World Game begun. My earliest memory is that of the 1994 games. Although I don’t remember the details, I do recall being left in front of the TV with instructions to call my dad over whenever a goal was scored. Given that I was only three, I wasn’t sure what a goal was exactly but I made a deduction that it had something to do with the reactions of people in the stand. So, anytime the stadium cheered I would rush to get my father, guessing something important had happened. Looking back, I am not sure my father thought the strategy was as impressive as I thought it was.

The following world cup – France 1998 – was celebrated with the purchase of a new set of pyjamas that was blue with soccer balls all over it. Unfortunately, there were no sets of soccer pyjamas for girls; my mother bought me a boys’ set. This was fine, except no one wanted to explain to me why there was an extra hole in the front of the pants…

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My obsession after that only grew, despite the fact that everyone else in my family only cared slightly. I stuck posters with match timetable and draw on the lounge room walls. I made scrapbooks for the tournament, writing little notes about each match and cutting out all the pictures from the paper, decimating my father’s newspaper-reading ritual in the process.

In 2006, I watched every single game until my mother banned me for a night and demanded that I go to bed. Apparently a straight week without sleep was enough to make my mood positively dangerous, particularly when my team was floundering. 2010 brought the World Game to my screen right in the middle of my most difficult university exam period, and perhaps may explain the grades I received that semester. 2014, even with a full time job and despicable game times in Australia, has been no different.

The question, however, remains. Why, as my friend asked, do I care so much when Australia always does poorly and my land of birth, Sudan, has never made an appearance? Why do I feel so impassioned about the fate of a team when, ultimately, it has no bearing on me?

I am no footballer – anyone who has seen me with a ball at my feet will confirm that – so it has nothing to do with being inspired to play better. And in the weeks of the World Cup, it is much more than ‘just a sport’ for billions of people around the world including me. Football, it seems, has its own type of magic.

It is the most popular game in the world, played on streets in every nation. It requires no gear apart from an object that is roughly round (in Sudan we used balls made out of old socks) and markings in the ground to delineate a goal. Money, pedigree and social standing have no bearing on your ability to be a great player and perhaps even make a name for yourself. It is simple to understand, and its barrier to entry is extremely low. Anyone can play and be a part of the beauty of this game.

This game is so much more than statistics. Football is ultimately about humanity.

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The World Cup is a tournament that brings grown men to tears, changes the lives of rookie players and inspires generations of children to do something great. Some countries grind to a halt to watch the games. The green is a battlefield where literally anything can happen – great teams kicked out at the group stages, underdogs (like Greece and Costa Rica this year) making it further than anyone thought they could goalies and strikers alike making the impossible real. Goals can be scored right up until the last second, changing fates and creating heroes. Infamous moments are revisited for decades; Madonna’s hand of God, Zidane’s headbutt, that-one-English-win-in-1966.

Football is the great equaliser.

Yet, the World Cup is also a tournament that unites in defeat. 31 of the 32 teams that travel to Brazil this year will experience it in some form, whether it is crushing, like that of Spain, or hopeful, like Australia’s defeat against the Dutch. If there is one emotion we can all share, it is the commonality of World Cup heartbreak.

That’s what it’s about, right? At the end of the day, football and the World Cup are about collective emotion and teams that are vessels for the hopes and dreams of nations. The beauty of this game beyond the field is that it expresses an emotion shared right around the world. It allows us, no matter our heritage, to feel part of something huge, and taps into the reptilian part of our brain that wants to belong, to have a tribe. The World Cup makes us all one people

Scottish footballer and former manager of English club Liverpool, Bill Shankly, said it all for me.

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

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TBS: Well-behaved children – Use the stick or (discounted) carrot approach?

Jul 3, 2014 by

Check out my ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ piece at The Big Smoke! A little bit snarky and cynical, but hey… ;)

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***

Have we lost the ability as a society to do good without being incentivised for it?

Or is that me being a little too cynical?

Hearing of a “well-behaved kids’” discount at a cafe (GET A DISCOUNT OFF YOUR FOOD BILL FOR GOOD BEHAVIOR? IN CALGARY AND NICE, YOU CAN! originally published on Lost @ EMinormade me cringe and roll my eyes simultaneously (a strange sight on a train, let me tell you).

Why?

Well apparently there are now cafes in Calgary where you get a $5.00 discount for having “well-behaved kids.”

Nice…

At first glance, I can see why this is a catchy idea. It can be argued this will encourage people to keep their kids in check. After all, what motivates people more than a discount? The recipients of the discount expressed their joy at being rewarded for their well-behaved daughter, which is delightful.

Yet, it seems slightly judgemental, slightly misplaced.

Why?

To answer that question, another must be asked. What does a financial incentive for good behaviour say about us as a society – particularly when it comes to the behaviour of children?

Granted, we live in a capitalist society where behavioural change is swift if it affects the hip pocket. Still, is this the best way to deal with a perceived “problem,” particularly in the case of well-behaved children? What is the problem that we are trying to solve with this type of incentive? Is targeting the parents the best way?

These café owners clearly think so.

Perhaps it is a little old fashioned to want society to encourage and espouse good values and behaviour for the sake of it, rather than for financial gain. To be fair, this seems like a well-intentioned move by the café – a “thank you” to parents for controlling their children.

However, not everyone will be fortunate enough to have well-behaved children, and it may be more effective to have “family friendly” hours.

I could be completely off the mark. It might be argued that I am hating for the sake of hating.

I do know, by all reports, that was a discount my parents never would have had the pleasure of receiving…

***

Check out the original piece here, and spend some time on the site, it has some awesome reading!

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Ramadan Kareem!

Jun 30, 2014 by

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There are as many forms of fasting as there are organs of perception and sensation, and each of these has many different levels. So we ask to fast from all that Allah does not love for us, and to feast on what the Beloved loves for us.

Let us certainly fast from the limited mind, and all that it conjures up.

Let us fast from fear, apart from fear and awe of Allah’s majesty.

Let us fast from thinking that we know, when Allah alone is the Knower.

Let us fast from thinking negatively of anyone.

Let us fast from our manipulations and strategies.

Let us fast from all complaint about the life experiences that Allah gives us.

Let us fast from our bad habits and our reactions.

Let us fast from desiring what we do not have.

Let us fast from obsession.

Let us fast from despair.

Let us fast from not loving our self, and from denying our heart.

Let us fast from selfishness and self-centered behavior.

Let us fast from thinking that only what serves us is important.

Let us fast from seeing reality only from our own point of view.

Let us fast from seeing any reality other than Allah, and from relying on anything other than Allah.

Let us fast from desiring anything other than Allah and Allah’s Prophets and friends, and our own true self.

Essentially, let us fast from thinking that we have any existence separate from Allah.

Fariha Fatima

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