ISIS – the Challenge for Australia

The declaration by the ISIS jihardist group of an Islamic State, their restoration of the Caliphate and enforcement of a harsh version of Sharia law poses a serious challenge for Muslim and non-Muslim Australians. Part of the challenge will be for Muslim and non-Mulsim Australians to engage in serious dialogue on the key issues raised by this development.

Recent developments in Syria and Iraq are a concern for many Australians. The ISIS group of jihadists have established an Islamic State in large parts of Syria and Iraq, restored the Caliphate in which the Caliph is both civil and religious leader, and introduced a harsh version of Sharia law. These developments are a concern for both Muslim and non-Muslim Australians.

The actions and values of the ISIS group clash with so much of what is taken for granted in Australia. Requiring Christians to convert to Islam if they wish to stay in Mosul, stoning women for adultery, enforcing the subjugation of women and destroying ancient churches and shrines sacred to Jews, Christians and many Muslims raises questions which concern all Australians, Muslim and non-Muslim.

The concerns which these actions of the ISIS group raise, particularly among non-Muslim Australians, need to be acknowledged and addressed. A Caliphate which exercises both religious and political leadership puts at risk the religious and human rights of religious minorities in any country which adopts such a system.

Sharia Law differs from country to country because it evolves and adopts many of the values it finds in different countries. Is that happening in Australia? How is it understood and interpreted by mainstream Muslim Australians? If Muslims ever become a majority in Australia, will non-Muslims have equal rights under Sharia law and will women’s rights be under threat? Hopefully, dialogue between Muslim and Non-Muslim Australians will find sufficient agreement on the basic values we need to build a socially cohesive community.

Likewise, Muslim migrants to Australia have concerns. Migrants from Middle Eastern and Asian countries come to Australia from cultures in which religion and politics are closely linked. Religion is therefore a very significant part of such a migrant’s identity. When they find themselves in a new culture like Australia’s, many are concerned, at first, that their religious identity maybe under threat. It is important to recognise this and to help those migrant’s understand the relationship between religion and politics in Australia.

The Australian Federal Constitution sets out the law governing relationships between religion and the state:

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. ( s.116 of the Constitution of the Commonwealth)

Australia does not preference one religion over another. In this it is different from the relationship in other cultures and countries, but is not a direct threat to the religious beliefs and freedom of the migrant. Indirect threats still exist of course, especially from the Australian acceptance of one’s personal freedom to change one’s religion, to reject

religious belief and affiliation or to marry according to one’s own preferences.

Tackling these issues through dialogue is crucial for maintaining and strengthening the values which provide the foundations for a cohesive, multicultural society.

Dr. Frank Purcell
Shepparton Interfaith Network.

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© Frank Purcell, Shepparton Interfaith Network


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