Interview: Professor Abdalla

This week I put some questions to Associate Professor Mohamad Abdalla, the founding Director of the Islamic Research Unit at Griffith University, on Saturday’s Islamic protest in Sydney.

 

Broadest question first: what’s your reaction to Saturday’s protest? Can you also speak to how you responded, emotionally, to the news?

My reaction was mixed: on the one hand I was outraged, disgusted and horrified at the violence of the protesters, on the other hand I was sad at the fact that they have misrepresented the very same Prophet that they were trying to defend, illustrating in doing so their essential failure to understand his message.

 

It bears repeating that Saturday’s fracas was committed by a minority of Muslims—it would be a shame to crudely extrapolate from Saturday’s disturbance that all Muslims are rabid fundamentalists. However, it strikes me as insufficient for the left to stop there. To place the full stop at the end of “…it was only a minority. Relax.” It seems insufficient because it prevents or retards a specific examination of Islam, and Islam in the West. It seems to me that there’s a particularly pronounced sensitivity, an enlarged yet vulnerable pride, to many Muslims. Do you agree? I’m thinking about two pieces, in particular: Waleed Aly’s in today’s The Age and an interesting piece in the Washington Post recently.

I agree. A minority do not represent the majority. But the problem goes beyond “a particularly pronounced sensitivity, an enlarged yet vulnerable pride, to many Muslims.” It is to do with an extremist ideology espoused by a minority with a mind-set that continues to see the world in black and white, “us” vs “them”. An ideology that blinds them from understanding the text of their faith and the context of their time.

 

With this in mind, what are your thoughts on how the left—broadly sympathetic to multiculturalism, opposed to the dangers of stereotyping—might shy away from more difficult discussions of Islam, or the sensitivities I raised in the previous question? Of course, you might reject my premise.

Those who have made up their mind on the importance of multiculturalism and the dangers of stereotyping based on ethical and moral convictions will not be swayed way by what happened in Sydney.

 

Does this set us back? Will this trigger another Cronulla? Has good work and tolerance been undone?

When I think of all the rational and decent Australians out there I tend to feel that it will not set us back, and this I say based on extensive experience I had with the wider Australian community since 9/11. But, given the unfortunate fact that bigotry and racism is a human trait I am saddened to say that the violence would have set us back. I can’t predict if it will trigger another Cronulla, but I pray that it does not. The good work and tolerance undertaken by fair-minded and reasonable people cannot be undone, because it is usually established on solid convictions and positive experience with the “other”. But, an element of the wider community would have been negatively influenced.

 

The statement issued by Islamic leaders of Australia struck me as a little… weak. Marred by qualifications, and watered down language. Do you agree?

Not the statements that I have read. In fact, the pleasing thing is that many, many Islamic organisations responded immediately by condemning the violence. They didn’t wait as they did after 9/11 or other international events.

 

How do we proceed? Reiterating that this was a minority is important, but what else?

First, we must be rational in out response and not lose our morality and ethics when responding to this minority group. Australians, including the media, need to understand that the vast majority of the Muslim community are against such behaviour and we must not therefore marginalise them by attacking them wholesale. We must be careful not to marginalise other Muslim youth through our irrational and unwise response.

In addition, the Australian Muslim leadership need to think anew about how best to reach out to radical elements within the community and reason with about the importance of abiding by the rule of law and civility. Religious leaders, Imams and so forth, need to re-evaluate the way Islam is being taught in mosques and schools, and begin to think seriously about contextualising Islam for Australian Muslims. The pedagogy of teaching Islam needs to be re-examined to allow for the effective and contextual teaching of the faith.

 

4 Responses to Interview: Professor Abdalla

  1. Lisa Hill says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I found it rather revealing…

    • Marty says:

      Thanks, Lisa. Interestingly, I read on his Griffith site that one of his PhD. students is the former Deputy PM of Malaysia (apropos of nothing).

  2. Sara Foley says:

    I really enjoyed this article, especially the considered and wise responses of your guest.

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