Coffee, and a conversation with Islam

Coffee, and a conversation with Islam
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Muslims Down Under volunteers start dialogue on the street

Muslims Down Under volunteers start dialogue on the street

Imagine, one hazy spring Saturday, a voice stops you in your tracks. "Excuse me," it says politely. "Would you like to join us in rejecting terror?"

You probably stop. A) because this question subverts the idea that Muslims never condemn terrorism.

And B) well, ... who's going to say no to that?

So it is that, a few weeks later, I attend a Coffee and Islam sitting arranged by Muslims Down Under. They are an outreach organisation sponsored by the Ahmadiyya community. Inspired by the US outfit True Islam, they're inviting locals to ask burning questions about Islam in a climate where Pauline Hanson exists and almost 45% of Australians, as surveyed in a recent ANUPoll, say they worry about being victims of extremism.

Despite the Global Terrorism Index confirming that, among OECD countries, Australia ranks low on fatalities from terror, Muslims Down Under are keen to discuss doubts surrounding their faith; how Islam really interacts with Aussie values.

As I settle in to start the discussion with Co-ordinator Ata Ul Hadi, Imam Mohammad Atae Rabbi Hadi and their team, it's not clear how jihadism, sharia, and feminism will go down with the coffee and walnut cake they offer me.

But there's only one way to find out, and that's ask ...

Leaders of the Ahmadiyya community field questions

Leaders of the Ahmadiyya community field questions

Are jihad and sharia prescribed in Islam, and do they clash with Australian values?

"Unfortunately, many clerics in the West preach a very distorted picture of Islam," says Imam Mohammad Atae Rabbi Hadi, Managing Director of Muslims Down Under. "For political gain or power ... they misconstrue the idea of jihad, which in actuality means to struggle and strive for a great cause, such as conquering your inner demons. It does not mean fighting against disbelievers in the West.

"Similarly with sharia, it's a personal thing. It’s a guideline that a Muslim follows in his or her life. So the teachings in the Koran and the practice of the prophet is the sharia: be kind to your neighbour, respect your parents, your women, and so on.

"Sharia and governance have no sort of inherent contradiction. Why? Because sharia is personal to each Muslim. I live in Australia. I have freedom of religion. I’m actively following my sharia without any sort of contradiction with the state at all.

"Sharia councils, like those in the UK, should be seen as a form of arbitration, like you have in the modern-day church. I don’t believe any would, but if a sharia council says you should follow their rules and undermine the country's laws, well, that’s completely wrong. It shouldn’t be given any kind of credibility."

An invitation to discuss Islam

An invitation to discuss Islam

Can you be a feminist and a Muslim?

At this, Mansoora Osai, a nursing student and newly-arrived member of the Ahmadiyya community, smiles and says. "I think so. No one tells me how to dress. I choose, in line with my faith. Yet people think that, somehow, my being a muslim and a female means I am oppressed. It's that great myth of the Muslim woman, that's she's not allowed education, that everything she does has to be approved by a male.

"I study medicine and I'm being pushed to excel by my community. I have the same rights as every other human being."

Pressed on the fight for female education, honour killings, and the mediated struggle of women in certain Muslim majority countries, such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, Ata Ul Hadi, Regional Co-ordinator, concedes: "There are places in Pakistan and other Muslim countries that don’t allow girls to have the same rights in education and in society. But that’s not something that stems from Islam, that’s something that stems from extremist ideologies. It’s to do with tribal practices in that area. Patriarchy, political and personal agendas.

"We challenge this through education, for Muslims as much as non-Muslims. And we do ask that Islam be judged on its teachings, not by how some Muslims choose to practice."

How well do Muslims integrate into Australian society?

Kaukab Nasir, Vice President of the Ahmadiyya Women's Auxiliary, is keen to take this one: "This bugs me a lot," she says. "The misconception of us not integrating. We work in the community, our children attend school, and we teach 'Australia first'. Even whether it's just a cricket match between Australia and Pakistan!

"So for our kids to hear 'you're not integrated', it's depressing. It's not good for them. It's hurting our youth and I would urge people to reconsider what 'integrating' means. Is it negating every bit of your religious values? We don't drink alcohol, we observe hijab, we show a certain modesty. If that's the price we have to pay to say that we're integrated, then I think that's unfair."

Request coffee with Muslims Down Under and share any burning questions you have about Islam.

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