Islam is a controversial topic across the contemporary Western world. Questions about terror, race, violence and identity are often interconnected whenever the topic of the Islamic faith is raised. The Australian sociopolitical climate is becoming increasingly hostile towards Islam and its followers. To discuss these issues I spoke to Abdullahi Alim , 22 year-old Somali-born founder of Western Australian Muslim youth organisation Faith Inspired. Alim and others created Faith Inspired to engage Muslims who live in a secular country with topical cultural issues, instead of just engaging in theological dialogues which are performed elsewhere.
Alim told me that he feels as though he and other Muslims are unfortunately a “hot topic” in the state of Western Australia’s capital city, Perth, right now. I asked Alim the extent to which Faith Inspired engage with the popularized concept of correlating Islam with terror and the extent to which they comment on the prevalence of this in the Australian media landscape. Alim told me that “it isn’t so much a community discussion as much as it is a political discussion… typically you would need someone who is well versed not only in the religion but also in international relations to actually comment on some of these issues”.
In Australia, it seems that more and more, individuals who simply practice the Muslim faith are made to feel accountable for the actions of militants in far away lands. Alim shared some of his views on this issue with me.
It is very disappointing because what people do is that they put expectations on one particular population, as if I have an extra hour in my day, twenty-five hours that is, to actually dedicate just to make sure that I know what people are concerned about. How do we mitigate those concerns? I have just as much time as everyone else. I think that anyone in the Muslim community works nine to five just like everybody else. We are just like everyone else. But there is this very unfair expectation that we need to be at the forefront of every single conversation, even if it’s on a topic that relates to politics and not so much religion. And that, it really is racist, that’s the only word that I can brand it as.
I asked Alim how the expectation that he needs to constantly defend his faith affects him personally.
It is so unfair. If we were to just zoom in on the war on terror, and specifically the war in Afghanistan, it is so odd that [I], as a migrant from Somalia who came to this country at the age of five… now is suddenly expected to answer for something that a middle aged man in Afghanistan decided to do. Which I was not aware of, which I did not get any memo on. It’s something that I, for whatever reason, am expected to be the spokesperson for… Just the fact that this question has now become a public question in itself ties a closer association between Islam and terrorism… any time there is a terror attack, and the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, there [are] no studies into any social causes, any economic factors that perhaps played into it, it is always about religion. And anyone who is lumped into that is expected to answer it.
Facebook groups such as Ban Islam in Australia and Australians Against Sharia share videos and attract thousands of followers who openly share hate speech and correlate the Islamic faith (and the arrival of Muslim people into Australia) directly with terror. Just browsing the comments on many related articles, videos and social media posts, you can see that many of these individuals see Islam and the threat of terror, as an issue that is being imported into the country. Subsequently the societal problematisation of Islam becomes an immigration issue.
Such rhetoric is quite clearly harmful, but in public arenas little is done to combat these views. As Alim explained to me though, Islam isn’t structured in a way that allows designated individuals to become spokespeople for all members of the faith. There is no Muslim Pope or equivalent. Muslim individuals act as individuals, and at least within Islam it seems, they are each accountable for their own actions. But where does this leave us? With so many Australians being swept up into the current of Islamaphobia, we need more public voices that are not affiliated with terror, with violence or with danger to balance out those voices trying to convince us that Muslims are immoral and that Muslim immigration is bad for Australia.
Alim told me that a few years ago on the BBC’s The Big Debate program an audience member said that Islam doesn’t need a PR campaign. Alim disagrees and says that “communication and dialogue on any front is always, always a good thing. There is no situation in which education can’t help”. He thinks that “to have things out in the open… can only benefit the community.”
To listen to a recording of our entire conversation, please check out my new podcast Civil Synthesis.