Views from the Muslim Youth Summits Local/International Students

Dr B. Hass Dellal OAM

Sydney, September 2007

The National Muslim Youth Summit was proposed by the Australian Multicultural Foundation to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship as a way to progress some of the outcomes of the Prime Minister's Muslim Summit.

The aims of the National Muslim Youth Summit and state based summits was to bring together a range of young Australian Muslims to discuss issues of concern, their aspirations, and emerging trends and issues; to further build levels of civic engagement; acknowledge some of the positives and learn from them; and develop support networks for cooperation by:

  • beginning a consultative process of hearing the voices of Australian Muslim youth aged 12-29;
  • developing better links with Australian-Muslim youth nationally and to build on a sense of inclusiveness and belonging;
  • providing the Government and service providers with information that better informs a process of decision making;
  • using the Summit to identify useful projects towards a national action plan that engages and supports Australian Muslim youth;
  • encouraging youth participation in projects beneficial to youth and the wider Australian community; and
  • building leadership capacity among Australian-Muslim youth.

The Australian Multicultural Foundation partnered with the Australian Government's Youth Sub-group and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to work together with the Australian Muslim young people in providing a forum for them to speak freely on issues of concern to and to produce positive outcomes to the benefit of the wider Australian community.

The summits were attended by over 400 young people between the ages of 12-29; with good representation of Tertiary Students and some international students; the issues raised were similar to those of other young Australians and some very unique to Australian Muslim Youth. There we not right or wrong answers, just real opinions and real experiences.

The key themes raised centred on identity, intergenerational, conflict, belonging, unemployment, training and education, media and community capacity and under those themes the key issues being;

  1. Education of Islam to wider community - including in educational institutions.
  2. Racial and Religious Discrimination
  3. Media Coverage of Muslims
  4. Identity and Integration of Muslim Youth and
  5. Anti-terror laws/security

Although the Summits identified key issues that Young Australian Muslims faced in today's environment, whether at school or in the streets, more importantly they also produced sixty solutions based on initiatives that can support Young Australian Muslims to build self esteem, a sense of belonging, and the capacity to actively contribute to the Australian Community through leadership models, and programs, not to mention a strong network to achieve success.

Given time constraints, I wish to highlight 2 of the key issues and suggested solutions.

  1. Belonging v Marginalization
  2. Security

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Belonging v Marginalisation

Student/delegates identified many initiatives to help overcome the problem which included improving networks among Muslims, improving Muslim representation in Politics, public service and community services. Address bullying and discrimination of Muslims in educational institutions. But one area which received favourable support was to promote the duty of community service/volunteerism amongst Young Australian Muslims so that they can continue to engage in the wider community, this was particularly supported by many students; as a way to further a better understanding of the Australian Muslim Community, and something that Campuses could do quite well; a recent AMF/Volunteerism Report 1006 also found that the Muslim Australia Youth community is fast growing - not just in number but also in terms of community participation; with a large number of groups affiliated with universities etc.

As seen within our university population, many young Muslim Students are from CALD background and as such adds to the richness and diversity of the face of Australian Youth. Delegates acknowledged that recent social and political climate, young people from this group have been negatively impacted on a large scale and on many varying levels, however, many of the young students also felt that such conflicts will also serve as opportunities for many to overcome setbacks and test their strength in achieving their maximum potential; and in recognition of these adversities, this has prompted several actions, particularly with the formation of volunteering Muslim Youth Groups within Universities, engaged in Mentorship, leadership and community education initiatives.

The primary motivation for these young people through volunteerism is to educate and create a greater space for dialogue to dispel negative perceptions; take away the feeling of being marginalized, and a lack of belonging to a wider community. The issue of religious identity and preservation of both the individuals and the community was an important concern to these young people.

The 3 main areas thought to persist as problems hindering young Australian Muslims to volunteer were their own demands and needs. Personal concerns compete with involvement as a volunteer, especially without the positive reinforcement and acknowledgement needed to make the young person feel valued as well as a lack of training and resources. 

However, overall, the many young Muslims who volunteer expressed very strongly their faith - inspired motivations to contribute back to the community and a personal satisfaction and the promotion of positive social justice.

From International Students Perspective:

However, the comments were quite different; international student felt not only marginalized by the wider community, but also by their own community; different students expressed the lack of engagement or involvement in activities from their own ethno specific communities; students in Tasmania and Western Australia believed that they could actually make a valuable contribution to the community through volunteering; giving time for home tutoring in English; including mentoring of young people and contributing to other cultural and social events.

Some international students felt that because they were not here to stay, community groups did not see them as part of their community; and therefore keep out of community activities.

There is also anecdotal evidence of levels of violence and discrimination against some international Muslim students; and having withdrawn from the wider community to such an extent that they have set up their own groups, either for protection or just keeping to themselves. The Muslim Youth Summits identified that some of these issues and concerns by international students can be further addressed through education, mentorship and support for international students particularly those requiring a better understanding of the Australian way of life, providing them also with a sense of security and understanding and taking away some of the negative perceptions they have developed about the Australian community.

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Security

The issue of security for students (local and international) was raised at two levels.

  1. Being in a safe environment and
  2. The anti terrorism laws

Firstly, safety within the current climate especially for Muslims students; some student expressed their fear for their safety in universities and on the streets. International students in particular wanted to know how to improve their knowledge of how to report incidents to police and other agencies including to their educational institutions. Some indicated currently they don't feel safe to do so because of the fear of reprisal. Some local students expressed similar concerns.

In a publication by Simon Marginson; quoting a recent research project supported by the Monash Institute for the Study of Global Movements found that students from Indonesia and Malaysia, especially women wearing the hijab, are more likely than most international students to experience loneliness, isolations and discrimination. Other than anecdotally we don't know how much.

The factors have worsened in recent years. In the same study, 10% of students interviewed answered "No" to the question, "do you feel safe and secure while in Australia". All were Muslim women, South Asian men or women and men from East Asia.

The report states that security is an under recognised; further to this in 2002 a logistic regression analysis of choice making by Chinese students by Tim Mazzarol found that a safe environment was the most significant predictor of intentions to chose Australia over other nations. Similarly, focus groups in Indonesia and Taiwan found that many parent sent their children to Australia instead of the US because Australia was deemed safer; is this still the case? After the Cronulla riots, I received a call from CNN Asia; for an interview; and was promptly asked if Australia was a racist country; which I promptly said no; then went on to say however it does not mean we don't have individuals that are racists as anywhere else in the world. The reason for the question by Asia CNN was to ascertain if it was still safe to send students from Asia to Australia for education. If Australia was still a safe place for Asian students to come for education.

Student safety will need to be an ongoing agenda item for Educational Institutions for both the local Muslim student and international.

The final point I wish to raise under security; is that many of the students/participants identified their confusion and lack of understanding for the current anti-terrorism laws; and that they felt it was important to build better relationships with their local police/regional police to become familiar with the legislation; they felt with the local police you were more likely to develop a lasting relationship and be able related to discuss a number of issues related to the law.
 
In conclusion, the summits did provide a number of positive solutions that have been helpful in informing the Commonwealth's National Action Plan, to engage and support Australian Muslim youth; in the wider community; to build on strong networks and to achieve some success. 

References

Monash Institute for the Study of Global Movements; S. Marginson, How Australian Universities Stack Up'

Supporting Volunteering Activities in Australian Muslim communities, particularly Youth. Prepared for Volunteering Australia and the Australian Multicultural Foundation by Dakhylina Madkhul

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