There is a fascinating struggle taking place in Australia over the soul of Islam. The women of Hizb ut-Tahrir Australia, acting out their pantomime of “permissible” discipline in a Muslim marriage, set tongues wagging.
I say pantomime because surely no one believes the event was not set up to mask the true level of male control in Islam. If you doubt it, look at the laws on marriage, or succession, or rape in marriage among our key migrant source Islamic countries: Lebanon, Pakistan, Indonesia and Malaysia. A striking feature of the laws is that they distinguish the application of the law by religion. Religion first; the rule of law second.
The struggle over the soul of Islam in Australia is taking place in the mosques, in the universities and in public life.
In his book Islamic Exceptionalism, Shadi Hamid of the Brookings Institute argues that “because the relationship between Islam and politics is distinctive, a replay of the Western model — Protestant Reformation followed by an enlightenment in which religion is gradually pushed into the private realm is unlikely … We aren’t all the same but, more important, why should we be?”
Hamid’s call to “respect” Islamic exceptionalism was taken up by the darlings of the ABC, who gave it plenty of coverage.
Hamid also wrote: “If it were destroyed tomorrow morning, the Islamic State would still stand as one of the most successful and distinctly ‘Islamist’ state-building projects of recent decades.”
This is a liberal scholar from a US think tank. Is this the liberal society’s burden, to suffer those who would do us harm?
But even the enemy can reveal truths. Hamid made the point that hoping for the liberalisation of Islam is false. “Liberalism … needs liberals to survive and prosper.”
In this, Hamid is dead right. Importing illiberal minds is not smart. While Muslim immigrants to Australia may want to escape Islamic laws, to what extent do they carry the habits and mindset of authoritarian Islam?
Why should Australia take on the burden of liberalising Muslims? In a multicultural policy setting and amid identity bellicosity what happens when they tell us to get stuffed?
A 2014 study of Muslim communities that have settled around Brisbane’s Holland Park mosque, reported “a marked shift” in the community following the large-scale migration of Muslims from the 1990s. They observed a more conscientious practice of Islam, and a tendency to “Arabise everything”. Some of the (Muslim) participants resented the overt Islamist identity and hostility towards Australia.
A 2014 study in Melbourne reported that 18 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds conducted their daily life “strictly in accordance with sharia law”.
Others grafted environmentalism to Islam. “It makes me a better neighbour and environmentally aware as there’s an Islamic element to it.” One suspects that Muslim students are now primed to talk of love, social justice and environment to help align Islam and left-greens politics.
As Kenan Malik, in his book From Fatwa to Jihad, observed in Britain: “It is not mosques but universities that provide the real recruiting ground for Islamists.”
Seven imams instructed their flocks in the West Australian election to vote Greens. Today, in Indonesia, imams are instructing their flock to vote against the Christian candidate for mayor of Jakarta, Basuki Tjahaja “Ahok” Purnama, who is on trial for blasphemy.
Some people are leaving Islam in Australia because they find it too oppressive, but others are joining.
Silma Ihram is a Muslim convert and featured last week on an interview with a perplexed David Speers of Sky News over the Hizb ut-Tahrir ladies’ panto. Silma was born Anne Frances Beaumont on Sydney’s northern beaches. Her journey has been a long one: Anglican, Presbyterian and Methodist, born-again Christian, including missionary work, and finally, after a trip to Indonesia, to Islam. At the other end are those jumping ship, which in Islam can have nasty consequences. Ibn Warraq’s book Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out is revealing. Australia has its version at the website, Australian Ex-Muslims.
In Australia, the Atheist Helper website responded to my requests as follows: “With respect to Islam, the problem we almost invariably find is that they have left the religion, no longer believe in it, but are unable to tell their family and friends for fear of ostracism and retribution.”
The struggle within the Muslim community, between liberals and authoritarians, between leavers and joiners, influenced by source-country politics, and local politicians trawling for advantage, is a plague. What Australians must decide is, why is this our struggle?