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Australia’s forgotten Islamic roots


This blog is the continuation of “Australia’s forgotten Islamic roots”.

“If you go to north-east Arnhem Land, there is [a trace of Islam] in song, it is there in painting, it is there in dance, it is there in funeral rituals… It is patently obvious that there are borrowed items. With linguistic analysis as well, you’re hearing hymns to Allah, or at least certain prayers to Allah.”

And Islam continues to exercise an appeal for some Aboriginal peoples today. Muslim conversion is growing in indigenous communities. In the 2001 national census, 641 indigenous people identified as Muslim. By the 2006 census the number had climbed by more than 60% to 1,014 people. In a research paper on Islām and its role in returning pride to the indigenous Australian people, Dr Peta Stephenson, Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne, found,

“The Indigenous Muslims […] perceive a neat cultural fit between their traditional Indigenous beliefs and the teachings of Islām. Many hold that in embracing Islām they are simultaneously going back to their Indigenous roots.”

A participant in Stephenson’s study said that Islām does not just say “you’re Muslim, that’s it. It recognises we belong to different tribes and nations. So it doesn’t do what Christianity did to a lot of Aboriginal people, [which] was try and make them like white people.”

Stephenson continues,

There are also gender-specific reasons why Islām appeals to indigenous women and men. Indigenous women have long been stereotyped as sexually available, and suffer disproportionate levels of abuse. Wearing the hijāb is a practical as well as symbolic deterrent to unwanted attention. As a public expression of the importance Islām accords the family, it also appeals to indigenous female converts who, against the backdrop of a long history of family break-up, want to offer their children security and stability.

A similarly nuanced set of arguments surrounds the appeal of Islam for indigenous men. The Islamic notion of “universal brotherhood” and its disavowal of racial distinctions lead to a growth in self-esteem that has a significant influence on the way they think about their roles as husbands and fathers. The attraction of Islām for many indigenous men is that it recognises the importance of defined leadership roles for men in their families and communities. These roles have largely been lost through racism and the ongoing legacy of colonisation.

For some Aboriginal converts, Islām offers a fresh start; a detachment from the horrors that have stripped them of their inheritance and the crisis of identity and dependence they experience as a result. One gentleman was once homeless and an alcoholic, but he found the Islamic doctrines of regular prayer, self-respect, avoidance of alcohol, drugs and gambling all helped him battle his addictions. He has now been sober for six years and holds down a steady, professional job.

“Where is my culture?” he asks. “That was cut off from me two generations ago. One of the attractive things about Islam for me was that I found something that was unbroken. When I found Islam it was the first time in my life that I felt like a human,” he says. “Prior to that I had divided up into ‘half this, quarter that’. You’re never a complete, whole thing.”

Regardless of whether it is the new hope it offers people now, or the goodness it brought in the past, what is clear is that across generations and across land and sea (Australia included), Islām has existed as a light; a beacon of peace, progress and enlightenment. It was not Islām which left a legacy of enslavement and exploitation; this is the legacy of Western Colonisers. Islām left a legacy of tolerance, integration and trade. Skin colour was not an issue for the Muslims; this was a sickness which existed in the minds of the Western Colonisers.

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) taught the Muslims,

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a white [person] has no superiority over a black [person] nor does a black [person] have any superiority over a white [person] except by piety and good action.”

The Muslim people honoured the indigenous people in pre-colonial Australia, and the Muslim people mourn with them today. Australia Day, by all moral accounts is not a day of joy. On this day we mourn the stripping of their independence, the loss of their land, the violation of their rights, and we condemn the celebration of their suffering.

 

s well, you’re hearing hymns to Allah, or at least certain prayers to Allah.”

And Islam continues to exercise an appeal for some Aboriginal peoples today. Muslim conversion is growing in indigenous communities. In the 2001 national census, 641 indigenous people identified as Muslim. By the 2006 census the number had climbed by more than 60% to 1,014 people. In a research paper on Islām and its role in returning pride to the indigenous Australian people, Dr Peta Stephenson, Honorary Fellow of the University of Melbourne, found,

“The Indigenous Muslims […] perceive a neat cultural fit between their traditional Indigenous beliefs and the teachings of Islām. Many hold that in embracing Islām they are simultaneously going back to their Indigenous roots.”

A participant in Stephenson’s study said that Islām does not just say “you’re Muslim, that’s it. It recognises we belong to different tribes and nations. So it doesn’t do what Christianity did to a lot of Aboriginal people, [which] was try and make them like white people.”

Stephenson continues,

There are also gender-specific reasons why Islām appeals to indigenous women and men. Indigenous women have long been stereotyped as sexually available, and suffer disproportionate levels of abuse. Wearing the hijāb is a practical as well as symbolic deterrent to unwanted attention. As a public expression of the importance Islām accords the family, it also appeals to indigenous female converts who, against the backdrop of a long history of family break-up, want to offer their children security and stability.

A similarly nuanced set of arguments surrounds the appeal of Islam for indigenous men. The Islamic notion of “universal brotherhood” and its disavowal of racial distinctions lead to a growth in self-esteem that has a significant influence on the way they think about their roles as husbands and fathers. The attraction of Islām for many indigenous men is that it recognises the importance of defined leadership roles for men in their families and communities. These roles have largely been lost through racism and the ongoing legacy of colonisation.

For some Aboriginal converts, Islām offers a fresh start; a detachment from the horrors that have stripped them of their inheritance and the crisis of identity and dependence they experience as a result. One gentleman was once homeless and an alcoholic, but he found the Islamic doctrines of regular prayer, self-respect, avoidance of alcohol, drugs and gambling all helped him battle his addictions. He has now been sober for six years and holds down a steady, professional job.

“Where is my culture?” he asks. “That was cut off from me two generations ago. One of the attractive things about Islam for me was that I found something that was unbroken. When I found Islam it was the first time in my life that I felt like a human,” he says. “Prior to that I had divided up into ‘half this, quarter that’. You’re never a complete, whole thing.”

Regardless of whether it is the new hope it offers people now, or the goodness it brought in the past, what is clear is that across generations and across land and sea (Australia included), Islām has existed as a light; a beacon of peace, progress and enlightenment. It was not Islām which left a legacy of enslavement and exploitation; this is the legacy of Western Colonisers. Islām left a legacy of tolerance, integration and trade. Skin colour was not an issue for the Muslims; this was a sickness which existed in the minds of the Western Colonisers.

The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) taught the Muslims,

“All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor does a non-Arab have any superiority over an Arab; also a white [person] has no superiority over a black [person] nor does a black [person] have any superiority over a white [person] except by piety and good action.”

The Muslim people honoured the indigenous people in pre-colonial Australia, and the Muslim people mourn with them today. Australia Day, by all moral accounts is not a day of joy. On this day we mourn the stripping of their independence, the loss of their land, the violation of their rights, and we condemn the celebration of their suffering.

 

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Vision 21 is Pakistan based non-profit, non- party Socio-Political organisation. We work through research and advocacy for developing and improving Human Capital, by focusing on Poverty and Misery Alleviation, Rights Awareness, Human Dignity, Women empowerment and Justice as a right and obligation. We act to promote and actively seek Human well-being and happiness by working side by side with the deprived and have-nots.

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