by Uthman Badar
Prof. Mohamad Abdalla in a recent video (here: https://goo.gl/eeIidL) raises this question and answers it with the claim that the is no incompatibility between being Muslim and Australian.
The core of his argument is that Islam incorporates beneficial and harmless cultural practices. It did this wherever it went. In Africa, Islam looks African. In China, Chinese. The real, deeper values of Australia are things like caring for others, egalitarianism, free health and education, a good taste for architecture and art. These are compatible with Islam. Therefore, one can and should be both Muslim and Australian.
That is his argument and it is not only flawed and extremely superficial, but dangerous.
1. It assumes that identity is all about cultural practices. A matter as important as how one identifies oneself is reduced to clothing and architecture. If the argument was that Islam does not seek a monolithic culture but allows a large degree of cultural diversity, that would be one (rather uncontroversial) thing (although there is much to be said about this notion that Islam incorporates cultural practices but we’ll leave that for another time). But to make an argument about values and identity through cultural practices is superficial. What of beliefs, creed, values, ideology, conceptions of purpose, success, political/economic/social views? Are we to understand that the colour and design of one’s hijab is more important than one’s creed or worldview?
2. What does it mean to be ‘Australian’? We know there is no objective core to being ‘Australian’ (as there is to being Muslim for instance). It has a pejorative political usage and various disputed popular usages. If we are to define it, how can we reduce the matter to caring for others, free education and architecture? Australia is a modern secular, democratic, capitalist, liberal nation-state built on a brutal and unjust invasion. How in the world can all that be ignored when conceiving of any notion of being ‘Australian’? All of these are defining features of Australia.
3. Even when reducing the issue to cultural practices, Prof. Abdalla has to be contradictorily selective to do away with all the bad cultural practices. Thus he argues that alcoholism and drug abuse are not Australian values because they are not peculiar to Australia and happen everywhere, but then goes on to affirm ‘caring for others’ and ‘good taste of architecture and art’ as Australian values. Are these peculiar to Australia? The rest of the world don’t care for others or have good taste of art?
4. What makes this argument and the approach it pushes dangerous is that it does away with the Islamic conception of the world and people and the clear distinction between Islam and its people and kufr and its people. It ignores all the factors that determine and distinguish iman and kufr, foregrounds cultural practices and as a result conceives of collectivities on other grounds. So instead of the Prophetic conception of the Muslim ummah as “one to the exclusion of others” – that is, identity and loyalty determined based on iman and kufr – we have people identifying and dividing on nationalities. Out with al-wala wa al-bara. Out with the struggle between Islam and kufr. Out with the struggle to establish the deen of Allah and make the word of Allah the highest.
5. Such an approach is political suicide for the Ummah and facilitates the agenda of western governments against Islam and Muslims. This is why such views are promoted and used by the governments. It is no coincidence that an extract from a khutba by Prof. Abdalla on this same topic with this same argument was hosted on the Abbott Government’s ‘Resilient Communities’ website in 2013 as a model sermon. It is also presented by the Government-initiated and funded National Imams Consultative Forum as a model sermon. This is because it facilitates government efforts to assimilate Muslims and strip from their core Islamic perspectives that don’t sit well in the modern secular liberal order.
6. Our message to the our youth should be to be proud and confident in their Islam and to identify as Muslims alone. Not as Australians, Americans, Europeans, or even Pakistanis or Lebanese for that matter. These are all shallow identifications and entities defined by matters contrary to Islam. Not identifying with being ‘Australian’ does not make one an outsider or a threat. Nor does it mean we isolate ourselves and don’t engage with wider society. Nay, it means that we are ideologically principled and honest. We engage with all and sundry, with respect and courtesy, but on the basis of our worldview. And it means that we carry a message and a call to change the world, instead of us merely accepting things as they are.
Tawfiq is from Allah.