Developing Young Muslim Leaders

Inaz Janif

In the Name of God, Most Beneficent, Most Merciful

Key words: Responsibility, Identity, Accountability, solutions, Muslim leadership

Introduction

After the initial sessions of OWIC - Our Worlds in Crisis, Sydney and Canberra trips, we returned to explore and reflect in Melbourne. The Melbourne leg of our trip consisted of sessions with a variety of organisations: State Parliament, ANZ, Koori Heritage Trust, Media - SBS, ABC and The Age, Australian Federal Police, Multicultural Advisory Unit, Moreland City Council, Brigidine Centre, Jewish Community Council and the Victorian Trades Council. These sessions finally ended with a weekend of reflection of the twenty young leaders. In this paper, I will attempt to explore and inform on some of our thoughts and the development of thinking.

Media and Responsibility

Discussions with various Media organisations, such as SBS, ABC and The Age, raised some important and valuable discussion on responsibility and terminology. When these organisations where asked about terminology such as 'Islamists' or 'Muslim Extremists', and the negative association that may result with Islam and Muslims, these organisations were open and understanding. Some of these organisations agreed to stop using these and start using more appropriate terms. A leading academic asked about the same concept, was less understanding and closed minded, where terminology could not be created anew and what existed already was to be used. This same idea was discussed with the Australian Federal Police and how descriptive words could have negative impact on innocent individuals with the same traits.

Niche and Our Identity

Meeting with Aboriginal People in Canberra and in Melbourne raised some interesting questions. We were asked to find the 'red gum tree' and were told that most people can pass this tree by, without realising what it was and what it means. Often Aboriginal people are treated in the same manner, invisible and ignored by the majority of Australian Society. We explored the history and spiritual sense of belonging to the land in Melbourne and delved into what our own place is. What is our own place in this land, when the original people of this land have been displaced? How must it feel to be on the land of your ancestors, yet losing aspects of your culture? I began to 'see' this land and my place within it in a new light. As someone of Fijian Indian heritage, born in New Zealand and bred in Australia, I am continually asked - Where are you from? Underlying this question is an assumption that I am not from here, not Australian. When does a migrant become an 'Australian'? 

Is the Law letting us down?

The Brigidine Sisters are making such a valuable and worthwhile contribution quietly working with asylum seekers. Speaking with the women, who work with them the asylum seekers themselves, raised other interesting questions. What are the application categories for asylum seekers? Asylum seekers may need to contact their homeland in order to provide information that proves that they are seeking asylum. When a person has fled their homeland in violent or dismal circumstances, retaining material proving their asylum status would be furthest from their minds. Many asylum seekers are negatively impacted by the visa application process, yet they have been in touch with some of the most altruistic women I have ever met. A structure that provides information on available services could be put into place for new migrants with little English.

Positive Contribution to the Australian Community

Moreland City Council and the Australian Multicultural Foundation are two particular organisations that make valuable contributions to the Australian Community. Moreland City Council is a local council that investigates what its constituents think, want and need and deliver projects and initiatives based on this information. The Australian Multicultural Foundation also works in a similar way, by scoping out the needs of the community and delivering projects and initiatives relevant and appropriate. The Islamic Council of Victoria also tries to assist Muslims to integrate into wider Australian society and stop the use and development of the polarities of the 'us and them'. Organisations like the Centre for Dialogue and the Islamic Council of Victoria aim to avoid a clash of civilisations, develop peace and coexistence through dialogue. We were encouraged to reunite the different aspects of our identities and create a new and evolving identity of our own. 

What does it mean to be a Muslim leader, anyway?

After all these illuminating sessions and discussion, we realised that it was quite difficult to answer the following:

  • What is a leader?
  • What are desirable qualities in a leader?
  • Am I am a Muslim leader, or a leader who happens to be Muslim?
  • What next?

Time and time again, we may encounter discrimination and prejudice. I would like to ask the following questions of you.

  • What do you think of when you think of a Muslim?
  • What positive contributions can Muslims offer?

I would like to leave you with the thoughts of Ken Ralph, when I asked what could an ordinary Australian do for an Aboriginal Person that could make a difference, 'A smile and a handshake goes a long way…'. Sincerity and true interest in another can make a real difference.

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