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A case of the Ramadan blues


'Ramadan Blues' by Chris Johnston

Well folks, it’s that time of year again. The time when your Muslim work colleagues probably aren’t inviting you out for a coffee or lunch. When they’re yawning incessantly for much of the day and not just for having stayed up late to watch the World Cup. And when they either leave early or scoffing down dates and water just as the sun goes down.

We’re in Ramadan. For me, this month couldn’t have come any sooner. It’s a time of relief, a time when you can add more spiritual currency to your otherwise dwindling heavenly bank account. It’s also a time when you’re supposed to be nicer than you normally are, not just at times when people are nice to you.

In recent times my mob hasn’t received much niceness from certain quarters. Some of the nasties have been inspired by hysteria related to a proposal to build a mosque in Bendigo. What really shocked me about the project wasn’t so much the opposition. Heck, we’re used to such antics by now.

No, what really amazed me is that all fund raising was done locally. Unlike mosques built yesteryear, this project didn’t involve a delegation heading off to Saudi Arabia and prostrating before a prince for oil money in return for naming the place His Eminence Abdul Garbage bin al-Recycled Mosque.

In fact, the only people relying on outside funds were the anti-mosque brigade. The self-styled Restore Australia is based on the Sunshine Coast, and one of its leaders told the Bendigo Advertiser that the group shares its ideology with the rather violent far-Right English Defence League (EDL). An anti-mosque 'jihad'. How nice.

I’m not quite sure what Bendigo’s largely university-based Muslim community did to deserve so much vitriol. And in this World Cup season, I’m also not sure what Muslims across Australia did to deserve the own-goal kicked very deftly kicked by the fringe group calling itself Hizb-ut-Tahrir (or 'Party of Liberation').

The Festival of Dangerous Ideas is an annual event co-hosted by the St James Ethics Centre and the Sydney Opera House. For years, FODI had been wanting to find someone silly enough to argue the case for honour killings, a rather gruesome form of domestic violence often associated with people associated with violent jihad (no, not the Gold Coast mob referred to above).

In previous years, FODI managed to get Keysar Trad, prominent self-appointed spokesman for all things Islamic in Australia, to spruik the case for blokes marrying more than one sheila at once. Now that is surely controversial in a country like Australia where blokes wouldn't dream of cheating on their partners. FODI asked me to chair the talk, perhaps hoping they could get two Muslims for the price of one. I refused, preferring to introduce Cardinal Pell.

But I doubt even Keysar would have been silly enough to agree to defend honour killings. And neither was Uthman Badar, the young Sydney-based spokesman for Hizb-ut-Tahrir (HT). He agreed for the moral justification for honour killings to be his headline much like I agreed to 'SEX' being the headline for my poster when I once ran on a ticket for a student election.

(I mean, I had to find some way to get apathetic students to read the poster.)

Undergrad antics aren't the best way to get the attention of even the cosmopolitan FODI audience, especially if you aren't the same colour as them and have a name they'd rather not put any effort in to pronouncing. (OK, is that Ootmaarn? Or Ottoman? And who is that bloke writing about you? Is he Earphone of Eefarn or iPhone?)

It's also an awesome way to unite the ABC/Fairfax/Guardian Australia/Black Inc brigade with the Newscorp/IPA/CIS/Quadrant mob. It gives them an awesome opportunity to pretend this kind of thing is only a brown Muslim problem (when it isn't an Aboriginal problem) whilst ignoring the large number of white nominally Christian men who kill their partners.

At the same time, it provides a minority of fringe allegedly radical Muslims an opportunity to channel Malcolm X (before he went to Mecca and realise that black or white shouldn't really matter) and remind us we are all victims of a vicious 'whitey' conspiracy. This crowd want me to believe that the country I live in is a greater enemy of Muslims than, say, Bachar al-Assad.

Seriously, if I want to see oppressed coloured people in Australia, I don't need to visit Broadmeadows or Lakemba. I can see far more oppressed coloured people in Cherbourg or Palm Island. And I can see oppressed people of all colours by working in a regional or metropolitan office of Anglicare or St Vincent de Paul. At a Magistrates Court, I can see victims of domestic violence of al colours and shapes and sizes.

Anyway, enough from me. It's the middle of the day and I have started yawning. Have a happy Ramadan and be nice. 

Irfan Yusuf headshotIrfan Yusuf is a Sydney based lawyer and blogger.

Topic tags: Irfan Yusuf, Ramadan, Bendigo, Festival of Dangerous Ideas, honour killing



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Existing comments

Sadly, the Restore Australia lot probably never met a Muslim like you or the students at Bendigo. Even more sadly, they probably have seen Keysar Trad, that Jack in the Box "Muslim spokesperson", who takes every opportunity to self-publicise, on TV at some time. Therein lies the problem. Muslims like the internationally respected Professor Kazi or the late lamented Khalil Chami and many similar do nothing to attract adverse headlines or self-publicise. Far the opposite. I am not sure a completely peaceful multi-religious and secular state has ever previously existed. That is something which countries like ours, Britain, France, Germany, the USA and others will need to achieve. It will take an enormous effort. Young people like you will have to take over Khalil Chami's mantle for the Muslims. After 9/11 that is a difficult task, as that event is so deeply embedded in many Westerners minds.

Edward Fido | 10 July 2014  

Spare a thought for Muslims in England, Irfan. At this time of year the sun doesn't set till about 9.30 pm (or later) and rises again early in the day. And it's, supposedly, warmer there.

Pam | 10 July 2014  

Gold Coast - Sunshine Coast - two different places :)

Helena | 13 July 2014  

The disciplines of Ramadan don't appear to have affected your wry wit. Thanks for perspectives. Ramadam kareem!

Ross | 14 July 2014  

All religions seem to have started within more or less isolated communities. Too often such communities think their interpretation is the only one, and that 'others' are wrong or perverse. Too often also, extremists think those 'others' should be resisted, refused tolerance, or even persecuted. They fail to see that God is calling everyone to start from wherever they are, and so progress towards not uniformity, but unity in diversity. To put one's limited interpretation of God's call above conformity to God's invitation to share in 'his' Constant and Universal Goodness and Truth is to worship a false god. And this is what leads to bigotry discrimination, persecutions and even wars. All religions bear some taint of this shortcoming, and need to redress it.

Robert Liddy | 14 July 2014  

What a lovely and witty comment on the peculiar way Islam evokes all sorts of emotions in our country. I hope Bendigo gets its mosques soon

Eric Snowball | 14 July 2014  

Just look at what is going on around the world @ the moment.Is it any wonder that people are scared stiff of the growing influence of Moslems in their community !!

brian | 14 July 2014  

Irfan, There is no hysteria against your mob. But it is understandable that there would be anxiety by people who read the news about what is happening around the world, Islamic extremists persecuting Christians. Egyptian Copts "The first people of Egypt" eventually there will be no Copts in Egypt. Often the persecution start after Friday's prayers. The Iraqi Diocese of Mosul "no longer exists" Irfan , obviously you have influence in the Moslem community, you can urge your community to demand that Islamic leadership in Australia convey to world leaders to stop the persecution of Christians. John 13. 34 - 35 A new command I give you: Love one another as I have loved you.

Ron Cini | 14 July 2014  

Sorry, Ifran Yusuf, you lost me when you referred to a woman as a 'sheila'. That is not OK even in jest.

Maureen Helen | 15 July 2014  

Bendigo copes very well with a Chinese temple, why not a mosque? It's been multicultural since white settlement/gold rushes. Excellent article.

Maxine Barry | 18 July 2014  

Restore australia, restore what? The white australia policy? Free milk? Bread deliveries? 6 pm closing? Chryslers? These people really are sad in a pathetic sort of way and what annoys me is that they think they speak for me

Hayden Pearce | 20 July 2014  

Nice read - thank you Irfan. A muslim with an Aussie sense of humour - I like it. Sadly, since the writing, 'your mob' is subjected to even more increased levels of suspicion in the aftermath of the downing of MH17. In truth, human tragedy is another common bond between us.

Anne Zevis | 20 July 2014  

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