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Just how Aussie do we have to be?

By Salam Zreika - posted Tuesday, 7 March 2006

I have to agree with our Prime Minister when he says, “some Muslims are extremists who cannot embrace the country's ways”.

That’s absolutely correct Prime Minister: whether we like to face the truth or not, a handful of people in this country will always have extreme views and refuse, at the very least, to integrate into Australian society. However, our Prime Minister goes as far as to use the word “assimilate” - a term I thought dropped off the map when we declared this a multicultural society. Nevertheless, how Australian do we have to be before we can say we fit in just fine?

What is the Australian way of life?


The only things I can think of that separate practising Australian Muslims from other Australians is that we don’t hang out in pubs on Friday night after work, don’t eat pork, generally don’t get involved in hanky panky before marriage and are obligated to pray five times a day.

What is typically Australian?

Sport? Yes, no problems there - a large number of Muslims love Aussie national and international sport, participating in it regularly. Having a laid back, integrated barbeque? You only have to come to Auburn on Saturday afternoon and smell the barbeque chicken and lamb skewers. Interestingly enough, my mum always tells me a story about when she first came to this country and how she loved to invite her “Australian” neighbour over for lunch on the weekend. He adored Lebanese food.

When terms like “jihad” are thrown into a casual interview with a journalist by a person who probably knows as much about jihad as I know about being a Prime Minister, it makes you wonder why Islamic leaders aren’t approached for advice. Although a lot of them probably don’t speak much English, surely a translator is available for something as important as a national statement?

Is this progress in the debate about Muslims and Islam in Australia though?

The Prime Minister has finally, on record, acknowledged there is difference between we everyday Muslims who get on with our lives and contribute to this society, and those Muslims who would rather bring down the very things for which we are working.


I’m not too flustered about the comments made by our Prime Minister - obviously he made them because he felt he had a right to an opinion and this is a free country after all. I am disappointed only because he is not doing a better of job of breaking down the stereotypes.

Islam is not a monolith. We have to move past common stereotypes of Muslims if we are truly going to have a proper discourse. Stereotypes about jihad, the treatment of women and many others always come up in an attempt to make Islam appear as the “other”: as something alien. Afterwards, the obligatory responses come out mentioning how Islam treats women, and that jihad does not mean a holy war to crush the infidel and so on. The discussion goes around and around in circles, with neither side doing anything to make any progress in fostering understanding of each other.

The fact is, regardless of what the Islamic tradition actually says, Islam is not practised in a uniform way; especially in Australia. We have Muslims here from all corners of the globe. From those whose ancestors arrived with the First Fleet to those who have just arrived from various places around the world (usually via detention centres). There is a wide variety of Muslims, from those who do their five prayers and fast for Ramadan, to those who have not seen the inside of a mosque for years; those who drink and party with girls, to those who simply follow what they feel is best. There is a place for everyone here and that is the beauty of living in Australia.

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About the Author

Salam Zreika is a freelance journalist. She has written for a community paper called FAIR (Forum on Australian Islamic Relations). Salam graduated from the University of Western Sydney in May 2003, with a Bachelor of Communication - majoring in Journalism. She completed her cadetship with the Northern District Times.

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