Saturday, October 10, 2015

Solutions not Apologies is Leadership

The Muslim community is once again under scrutiny and the sense of fear within the Australian community at large and the Muslim community in particular is palpable following the tragic and senseless shooting of Curtis Cheng outside his workplace in Parramatta by a vulnerable, disillusioned, ill informed 15 year old boy. While it is convenience politically to call this an act of terror, as an educator, I recognise that
 this was the intent of those who manipulated this kid into such an act, but I don't want to give them the credit for achieving their purpose - I would rather call it straight - senseless murder.

Once again the Muslim community struggles to address a growing problem - one that is growing globally and shows no sign of reduction. As Muslims we turn to our religious scholars for wisdom and guidance, but unfortunately they are seldom seen in the media, and if they are, it is often in Arabic and therefore maligned. This is not good enough for me, and for most Australians.

I wish I was a scholar, but I am not - despite holding three Masters degrees. I am still studying and hope one day to achieve the lowest ranks of Islamic scholarship, but it will be many years of study before I achieve such a status. At a minimum I need to be fluent in classical Arabic, have memorised large sections of the Quran along with its deep, historical, contextual interpretation from at least 3 scholars, and have memorised a large number of the Prophet's sayings and again, their relevant, historical, contextual interpretations from various scholars. Yet, I feel compelled to answer questions that are put to me through social media, Facebook, in person and through the media. Because those who do have such knowledge don't have my real world experience as an Australian born here, or the skills of standing in front of a camera and relating to our wider community. The risks are enormous because if I make a mistake, it has huge consequences. You only need to reflect on the statements made by Sheikh Taj ud Din Hilaly - one of the most educated Islamic scholars to live in this country -  who just didn't get how to understand Australian culture and apply the wisdom of Islam for the benefit of his Australian community when he spoke to the media.

Like a growing number of other Muslim women who have the courage to speak out, we despair at times that many of the 'religious leaders' in our community are still in denial about the extent of the difficulties that we face and fail to recognise the need to have strong moral, ethical, guidance from the top of our Muslim community all the way down to Muslim homes and families.

However, there are hopeful signs. The National Imams Consultative Forum have produced a publications of ethical positions that they adopted after several meetings this year called "An Australian Muslim perspective on some key contemporary concerns". This is real leadership - it should be referred to endlessly by people such as myself. It should be something every Muslim community demands that their local Imam has read, and accepts, before listening to their Khutbah or Friday sermon. And it should be something that every school or University Prayer group around the country is given before their chosen Imam (who could be one of the kids themselves or a volunteer) is allowed to speak at Friday prayer.

There are more initiatives that we need. Training is needed for the Mentors of our Muslim community - whether they are Imams, or sports coaches, or religious teachers in our Islamic or public schools. This training has to include counselling skills, understanding Australian institutions and culture, recognising domestic abuse and the needs of Muslim women and so on and so on. Once we have sufficient trained workers we need a hotline for the young in our community who are confused by the endless propaganda on the internet, the media and their peer groups, to pick up the phone and find someone who can clarify their concerns. We need more counter narratives on Facebook, on the internet and in video. We need more research about what has worked and has not worked in other countries as we are so behind in building our social infrastructure. We need moral, ethical leadership from every Imam in the country - and the end to angry ranting, blaming and victimhood.

But all of this requires that our Muslim organisations stop putting their money into yet another mosque and into social infrastructure instead. They must be willing to work together and show mutual respect to each other (which unfortunately doesn't happen all of the time) and recognise that it's not the government's problem to solve this - ITS OURS.

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