Sydney : More than 340,000 Muslims in Australia are facing the problem of integrating in the multi-cultural society.
Coming from the Middle East, Pakistan, Indonesia, Somalia and many other Muslim countries, followers of the religion of Islam in the remote continent form what can be called “an ethnic mosaic” held together by the heavenly faith.
Adopting utterly different religious, cultural and social beliefs as well as teachings and norms of behavior, Muslims find it hard to become a part of the Australian society.
An example of this is the criticism targeting Muslim women wearing the hijab (Islamic headdress). MP Bronwyn Bishop from the Liberal Party of Australia called last year for banning the hijab at public schools.
Divorce is another dilemma for Muslims in Australia.
“When a Muslim woman seeks divorce, she has to refer to two laws, the Sharia (Islamic Law) and the Australian law,” Khalil Al-Shami, Member of the Islamic Council in New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state located in the south-east of the country, told the Kuwait News Agency (KUNA).
To settle disputes in divorce proceedings among Muslims, they refer to a special court under Sharia law, but no divorce is officially recognized unless it is ratified by the Australian courts, Al-Shami said.
“In many cases, when the husband refuses to grant his wife the divorce she seeks and she fails to obtain it through the Sharia law, she finds no other way but to refer to the Australian courts.
“The result is that she is outlawed by the Muslim community, especially if she marries another man since she has not received that Islamic divorce,” Al-Shami added.
According to Al-Shami, the “wheel of integration” is moving so slowly due to the delay by some people in charge of the projects expected to benefit Muslims, but he was sure the merge would take place through the rising generations.
Muslims in Australia, as depicted by Al-Shami, are divided into as many as 20 groups, each of which claims it represented Islam. Moreover, exaggeration by some Muslim figures in certain religious matters added to the problem.
One other problem facing Muslims in Australia was performing some of their prayers “on time” while at work, especially the Friday noon prayer.
Australia’s mosques went from 76 in 1980 to 350 nationwide today.
One commentator said the Muslim community in Australia was generally rejected by Australia’s western society which might not have tried to understand the real principles of the religion and thus for confused the Islamic teachings with extremist Islamic groups.
Walid Ali, head of the Islamic Council in Victoria, laid part of the blame on the media that played the main role in boosting anti-Muslim feelings among Australians.
“Most of the time, media focuses on certain problems in Islam and in many cases the truth is distorted,” he said.
Rejected as they are, Muslims still try hard to be part of the society while maintaining their Islamic and cultural identity.
One example of this was the 140 Muslim children in Sydney suburbs who joined Catholic and Anglican schools despite the many public and Muslim schools there.
Another integration attempt was made by a Muslim woman who designed a “Muslim swimming suit” that would allow fellow Muslim females to swim freely.
Ahmed Faour, a Muslim and the executive director of the National Australian Bank, urged fellow Muslims to abide by the country’s laws and in tandem perform their religious rituals, but never to think about changing the society.
Faour’s father, a Lebanese, came to Australia many years ago where he started as a steward in the very same bank which the son was heading today.
But it seems that some Muslims, especially Pakistanis, Somalis, Sudanese and Indonesians, have managed to merge in the society more than Middle Eastern communities.
A Somali preacher, Essa Moussa, named one mosque after Virgin Mary in yet another flagrant integration attempt that tried to stress the strong link between Islam and Christianity. In addition, he preaches in English.
By the same token, statistics reveal that Indonesian Muslim women put on their hijab on certain religious occasions only.
“There are more important matters in Islam: prayers, fasting, respect and personal conduct,” one such Indonesians said.
On the other hand, many Aboriginals have converted to Islam as they found “convergence” between it and their civilization.
“Aboriginals find in Islam pure faith free of such thoughts of imperialism and ethnic fanaticism. For them it is the remedy from the ills of their Western society,” Bita Stevenson from the Melbourne Institute said.