Developing Young Muslim Leaders

Naushad Ilahee

"O you who believe: Be steadfast witnesses for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that you deal not justly. Be just; that is nearer to piety." (Qur'an 5:8)

One cannot help but wonder whether Muslims would be in the spotlight if it wasn't for September 11, 2001. The date it seems, changed the course of world politics and policies, and engraved itself to the pages of future history books. Regardless of the details of that day, the global repercussions shook the very core of social justice and religious tolerance all over the world.
Today, Muslims across Australia need to repeatedly justify their views and practices as a requisite for accepting Islam in their lives. Since 2001, the juxtaposition of 'Terror' and 'Islam' in the vocabulary of the self-proclaimed 'developed' world has created an aura of fear and misunderstanding. This mindset, when deriving into action creates prejudice, hatred and discrimination. With this in mind, 20 young Muslims packed their bags on a chilly Melbourne morning and departed for the airport. Canberra was the destination. Ahead of them would be tight schedules with Federal parliamentarians, government departments, academics, religious leaders, a high court judge as well as foreign diplomats and ambassadors. 
Canberra seemed to provide a platter of Heraclitus' world of opposites. The views presented by Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, almost always were negated by the words of Senator Kerry Nettle. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trading presented clear political bias, blind justice and an inability to face constructive criticism, particularly regarding Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the war in Iraq. Conversely, the Department of Family Affairs, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs presented the issues of grassroots developments and community projects and the constant barriers faced through political and outside pressures. The bright contrast was also reflected when speaking to the academics from Australian National University. Their insight and ability to critically view an issue is far superior to most politicians, yet due to conflict of interests, political agendas often intercept recommendations proposed from academics and intellectuals. This was the view from academics, where the questions, especially regarding foreign policies and international relations remain unanswered by those in power and authority. The apparent conflict between academia and youth views against political advances or diplomacy from politicians and foreign ambassadors seem to resemble a confrontation between values of international relations driven by either idealism or realism.
Even among the religious leaders, there were was stark contrast in dialogue between the two respective parties - the Catholic Archbishop and respected leaders from the Anglican and Quakers communities. While one assumed the group of 20 youth representative - mostly from affluent middle-class, well educated backgrounds - all "arrived" from war-torn countries as refugees, the other emphasised the value of dialogue through education and emphasised that accepting each others differences, not assimilation or integration, are the only way forward in structuring a positive environment. It is through this acceptance of differences can a nation truly create synergy and improve upon developing harmonious societies. This was the same voice echoed by the Honourable Justice Michael Kirby, a staunch defender of human rights.
There were various issues discussed among the group of 20 youth representatives and the respective hosts in Canberra. The group is still meeting together fortnightly in discussing issues on economic inequity, social justice, inter-faith as well as intra-faith dialogue, and hopes to continue community projects as well as facilitate with the government regarding community issues. 

"An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab, also white has no superiority over black nor black has no superiority over white except in piety and good action,[therefore] do not therefore do injustice to yourselves." - Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH)

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