Australian Muslims and the Ummah

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by Rafiq Clarkson

This is an overview of challenges and opportunities for Australian Muslims. It has been adapted from a slide presentation covering: the danger of ghetto Islam; balancing engagement and withdrawal; understanding our own culture (eg the first 70 years as a key); currency lads and lasses and their effects on the Australian psyche; common clashes with other Muslim communities (eg within committees); stress factors, their results, and what to do about it; weaknesses as strengths; and our opportunities.

Why did I choose this topic?

My interest is global Islam because:

  • Islam is a universal message.
  • When Allah (swt) profoundly changed my life I have always understood that I must contribute back to Islam.
  • From the beginning I saw the frailties of present day Islam and as a result I have never suffered from Idealistic Islam (thus not needing to go through disillusionment).

Danger of ghetto Islam


  • Just as we see migrant communities form ghettos to protect their own identity so too Australian Muslims can be tempted to withdraw from other Muslim communities in order to develop their own identity.
  • Understandable protective measure but I want to go beyond it.
  • We need to ask the question: how can we avoid Aussie ghetto Islam as we develop and strengthen an Aussie Muslim identity?

Engagement and withdrawal


  • Aussie Muslims individually and collectively need to embark on a process of engagement and withdrawal with other Muslim communities in order to become a significant factor in the global Muslim ummah.
  • The trick is balance. ie:
    1. How to engage with other (perhaps more established Muslim communities) without becoming consumed by them (ie their issues and culture) or clash with them?
    2. How to withdraw to develop our own identities without becoming a ghetto, disempowered and cynical?
  • Key questions for later discussion.

Understanding our own culture


  • One important aspect in making appropriate engagement or withdrawl to understand our own culture.
  • While there are significant issues in other Muslim communities that can detract from authentic engagement there are also significant issues that Australian Muslims carry into any cross-cultural communication.
  • I believe that there are particular hot spots in the Aussie psyche that need to be addressed if we are going to have a global contribution.

The first 70 years: key to understanding ourselves


  • There is a theory in cultural anthropology that many aspects of culture are established in the first 70 years after trans-marine colonialisation.
  • Therefore in the Australian context, I want to discuss the impact of the currency lads and lasses and their effects on our Australian identity.

Currency lads and lasses


  • This term is given to the first native-born Anglo-Celtic-Saxons.
  • Currency Lads was a derogatory term to distinguish these kids from ‘English Sterling’ kids.
  • With the introduction of women convicts there was a population explosion.
  • Kid gangs.
  • Looked after by local aboriginals.
  • Many of the articles written in exasperation at trying to control these kids are similar to what is written about present-day Aussies who go overseas - especially on a football tour!

Effects on the Australian psyche


  • Australia home - love of the land.
  • High survival skills.
  • Anti-authority.
  • Egalitarianism.
  • Irreverence to institutions - political, religious.
  • Suspicion of piety - hypocritical behaviour.
  • Tall poppy syndrome.
  • Practicality.
  • Cynicism.
  • But also naive romanticism.

Common clashes with other Muslim communities


  • Hierarchical authority (not egalitarian).
  • Status-based (not on practical ability).
  • Abstract thought (not action oriented).

The committee


  • One example is the committee.
  • Most Aussie Muslim's experience of an Islamic committee meeting involving people from other backgrounds is frustration, anger and withdrawal.
  • Linked to previous cultural clashes.

Initial stress factors


  • Average Aussie already tense (hemmed in and restricted - why?).
    1. Personal and cultural experiences of bureaucracy, organisation, etc.
  • Fears are realized.
    1. Lack of action.
    2. Abstract.
    3. Authoritarian control.

The result


  • Result is outbursts of frustration.
    1. Status is ignored.
    2. Relationships (non-action talking) violated.
  • Others marginalize the Australian.
    1. Other Muslims become afraid of the Australian.
    2. Thus they do not involve the Australian in heart-matters and instead place them on a pedestal for display.
    3. This further angers the Aussie! He/she then chooses to marginalize themselves (ie they won't go to any more meetings).
  • Cycle of alienation continues.

What to do about it


  • Understand what frustrates you.
    1. Ask for what you want before you get angry.
    2. Understand that all your needs will not be met in this encounter (ie have low expectations).
    3. But also be hopeful.
  • Understand the values in other people's framework ie.
    1. Allow some time for others to have their needs met too (ie value status, esteem elders, build relationships).
  • Other ideas we can discuss.

Weakness also our strengths


  • Most of this talk addresses the challenges we face.
  • Our challenges are also our opportunities because the same Australian values that can cause a cultural clash and marginalisation are needed by the ummah.



  • Not blind following of a sheik.
  • Egalitarian.
  • Practical action.
  • Understanding of Western worldview.
  • Understanding of Christianity.
  • New Qur'anic hermeneutic on:
    1. Women.
    2. Spiritual transformation vs rule conformance.
    3. Role of Isa (pbuh) - and other previous prophets.
    4. Secularism/economic activity.
    5. Political activism (terrorism).
    6. Shariah and minority/majority community.



  • If Australian Muslims really want to input into the global ummah we also have to recognize our own failings and ways of destroying the unity of the ummah.
  • While we need to recognize the obstacles that others put up in front of us and challenge inappropriate behaviour, we also need to understand that many of our Aussie challenges do not produce the desired effect and result in further marginalization.
  • An understanding of our cultural needs allows us to address the weaknesses and offer our strengths for the good of the ummah.

Al-Hujurat - Surah 49:13

O Mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honoured of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you.

Questions asked in the talk


  • How can we avoid Aussie ghetto Islam as we develop and strengthen an Aussie Muslim identity?
  • What other suggestions does the group have to balance engagement and withdrawal?
  • What other practical strategies are there to deal with culture clash in committee meetings etc?
  • Similarly, how can we address the cycle of alienation that many Aussie reverts experience?

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