I had a phone call from one of my sons on Wednesday night. He was upset that some of the people he considered his friends had been posting disparaging remarks about Muslims on Facebook. They were the usual stereotypes – Muslims were violent, Muslims wanted to bring in sharia, Muslims didn’t integrate, didn’t share Aussie values and so on.
The majority of Muslims in Australia are, like my son, born here or came as young children, are educated, hold responsible jobs, look after their families and steer clear of any involvement in extremism or crime. Mostly they obey the sharia as well as Australian law. For most there is no conflict between the two systems. The ordinary citizen reading the tabloid press might think differently.
Last week, four men, said to be followers of the strict Wahhabi sect of Islam, allegedly inflicted 40 lashings on a convert for drinking alcohol, a crime under Islamic law. Apparently the police were told the offenders were inflicting a “sharia” punishment.
Hardly anyone checked the facts. The men’s actions were wrong, not only under Australian law but also under Islamic law. Even in the few Muslim countries that apply sharia, the offender should be considered innocent until proven guilty and entitled to a fair trial before being punished. A Muslim caught drinking in Malaysia, for instance, would expect to be brought before the sharia court and, after due process, punished. He would not expect to be set upon in his home by vigilantes.
The second point is that Islamic law requires Muslims who live in non-Muslim countries to obey the law of the land. Muslims may strongly disapprove of acquaintances drinking alcohol but the vast majority wouldn’t take the law into their own hands.
The same rules apply to new Muslim individuals who go around loudly demanding that sharia replace the Australian legal system. Many modern Muslim scholars believe that the objectives of sharia – fairness and social justice – are already being met in the legal systems of most Western countries. We have a globalized multicultural and multi-religious society. It is generally remarkably harmonious. We should not cause division by blaming all the members of one community for the faults of a few individuals.
Jamila Hussain is a senior lecturer in law at the University of Technology, Sydney. She has been actively involved in the Muslim community for many years and has given papers at a number of national and international conferences on the subject of Islam and Muslims in Australian society.
Have you ever been the victim of a generalisation based on your looks? your religion? your race?