If we are sincere about addressing issues that most frequently result in serious numbers of Australian deaths and the devastation of lives in this country, far more attention and resources need to be dedicated to reducing domestic violence, suicide, homicide, drug and gambling addiction, alcohol abuse and paedophilia.
To put the problem of Muslim radicalisation into perspective, there are close to 500,000 Muslims in Australia. If we add up the number of Muslims who have gone overseas to fight for ISIS, those who rioted in the streets of Sydney in 2012, those who have been arrested for terrorism-related offenses and those currently under investigation by our law enforcement or intelligence agencies, we get a total of about 1,000 people. That is 0.2% of the Muslim population in Australia - a statistically insignificant number that is dwarfed by the numbers associated with the other above-mentioned social problems.
In saying this, the problem of Muslim radicalisation has clearly grown over the past several years and the contributing factors need to be considered.
Opinions of academics, commentators, community leaders and politicians vary as to the main contributing factors and how to counter radicalisation. Muslims tend to blame the media for engaging in irresponsible reporting, and most insist that Islam is actually a "religion of peace" that plays no role in radicalisation or terrorism.
There is also a growing view among Muslims and many on the left that politicians who engage in discourses and advocate policies aimed at attracting voters on the right are to blame. Certain sectors of the media and political leaders tend to reduce the problem of Muslim radicalisation and terrorism to the religion factor - namely, Islam. That a criminal, extremist or terrorist happens to be a Muslim dictates the conclusion that Islam is to blame, while other human and social factors - like mental health, education, family life and socio-economic circumstances - are too often excluded from the analysis and debate.
As with most issues, reality resides somewhere in between. I do not purport to give definitive answers here, but want to highlight the key issues that need to be examined if this discussion is constructively to progress.
There is a problem with how Islam is understood by many Muslims today. Since the latter half of the twentieth century, the religion we all call Islam has been marginalised and largely replaced by a political ideology known as Islamism.
The former displays inclusivity, is apolitical, operates at the individual and community levels, emphasises belief in and worship of God as well as social justice, and is capable of coexisting peacefully and productively within Western, liberal, secular, multicultural Australia. The latter is exclusivist, overtly political and emphasises conformity to a single interpretation of an imagined law code called shariah and governance in accordance with an imagined political system called a caliphate. Combined with its "us" versus "them" mentality, Islamism is not conducive to the Australian socio-cultural context.
Concerning the use of force or jihad, Islam confines armed struggle to self-defence in response to overt aggression and oppression for the purpose of establishing a just peace. Violence against civilians and terrorism are forbidden. For Islamism, the use of force, including terrorism, is a religious obligation and legitimate strategy for achieving political goals.
As far as the Qur'an and Islamic history are concerned, shariah is a set of divine commands, principles and guidelines for how an individual should relate to God, his/her fellow human beings and the world at large. Shariah was not codified until the late-Ottoman period and was not considered as a legal code until the mid- to late-twentieth century, when the Muslim intellectuals Abul A'la Maududi (d. 1979) from Pakistan and Sayyid Qutb (d. 1966) from Egypt championed the idea as the basis for establishing an Islamic state.
The terms caliph and caliphate are not used in the Qur'an in reference to a political system, but in reference to the responsibility shared by all human beings in relation to life on earth. In fact, neither the Qur'an nor the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (d. 632) advocate any political model or system, let alone one called a caliphate. It was the companions of the Prophet Muhammad who began the process of politicising Islam when they formed the first Arab-Islamic Empire and used religion as the basis for what was otherwise a political expansion. Muslim scholars of the eleventh century - such as Abu al-Hasan al-Marwardi (d. 1058) - are notable for defining the caliphate as the "Islamic" political system and did so based on the prevailing norms of the Muslim empires that followed after the death of Muhammad. They were able to make only very superficial, tangential and misleading references to the Qur'an and Prophetic traditions to support their claims.
However, in the aftermath of European colonial rule, the newly formed Muslim nation states faced significant social, political and economic difficulties. The failure of various Western-inspired ideologies such as socialism and nationalism led to the emergence of Islamism in the 1970s. At an ideological level, Islamism rejected what it deemed to be Western values, norms, systems and institutions. At a social level it emphasised outward manifestations of so-called Islamic identity including beards for men and head scarves and often face veils for women, as well as strict gender segregation. At a political level, Islamism's main goal is the establishment of a so-called Islamic state or caliphate based on the implementation of a shariah law code that prioritises the role of the state in the enforcement of sexual morality, physical punishments for violators, curtailment of human rights and civil liberties, subjugation of religious minorities and persecution of both political and religious dissidents.
Since the end of the White Australia Policy and its replacement with multiculturalism in the late-1960s, Australia's Muslim population experienced an almost ten-fold increase between the early 1970s and mid-1990s when it first exceeded 200,000. This was followed by a further doubling of the Muslim population in Australia by 2011. Many of the Muslims who migrated to Australia since the 1990s were raised in the climate of Islamism that spread across the Muslim world with the aid of Saudi Arabian petro-dollars. These Muslim migrants brought with them ideas and attitudes that were not conducive to Islam in Australia and at odds with the Islam already being practiced by Australia's early Muslim communities for over a century.
The large numbers of new Muslim migrants quickly overwhelmed the relatively well-integrated early Muslim Australians. Imams educated in mostly Middle Eastern and South Asian madrassas (religious schools), or often completely unqualified, were able to convert second and even third-generation Australian-born Muslims to Islamism.
Herein lays the origins of one part of the Muslim radicalisation problem we face today. By not giving due recognition to the early Muslim Australians and the way they practiced Islam, the Muslim migrants of the 1990s onwards not only almost eradicated Australian Islam, but in turn caused potentially irreparable damage to the Muslim communities' relationship with wider society, which contributes to the alienation of Muslim youth and makes some vulnerable to recruitment by extremists.
Read more on the ABC Religion and Ethics Website.
Halim Rane is an Associate Professor of Islam-West Relations in the School of Humanities at Griffith University. His latest book (written with Jacqui Ewart and John Martinkus) is Media Framing of the Muslim World: Conflicts, Crises and Contexts.
Source: ABC Religion and Ethics
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