Islam's voice of reason

If Sherene Hassan is any indication, leadership of Muslims, in Victoria at least, is in good hands. Vice-president of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Hassan is articulate, a good communicator, and committed to open and reasonable dialogue with the broader community.

Still, there are some in the community who don't want to hear what she has to say. She was recently snubbed in a media forum in a very demeaning way (more on that later).

Eureka Street's interview with Hassan is sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Centre for Inter-Religious Dialogue at the Australian Catholic University, and was recorded at the Common Dreams Conference for religious progressives held at Melbourne's St Kilda Town Hall in April 2010.

In the interview, Hassan talks about the tragedy of 9/11 and how it prompted her to take on a leadership role in the Muslim community, about some of the problems facing Muslims in the West and how they might be overcome, and possibilities for change and adaptation in Islamic theology. (Continues below)

This mother of four and former chemistry and physics teacher, was enticed to run for election to the board of the Islamic Council of Victoria by her friend and mentor, Waleed Ali. She quickly made her mark on the Council, and is now one of its official spokespeople.

It was in this capacity that on the morning of Mother's Day this year she was invited to take part by telephone in a radio forum on Melbourne's 3AW. The program's presenter, Darren James, and two panelists in the studio, Nick McCallum and John-Michael Howson were discussing a provocative opinion piece called 'Ban the Burqa' by conservative Liberal Senator, Cory Bernardi.

In his piece, the Senator described the full body covering (rarely, if ever, seen in this country) as 'un-Australian', and representative of 'the repressive domination of men over women, which has no place in our society'. Howson, and the majority of callers to the program, agreed, while McCallum countered that 'it's un-Australian to dictate to people what they wear and what they must think ... and that is what you're trying to do.'

Hassan was called by 3AW to take part in the program, and was put on hold. After 20 minutes waiting to contribute to the debate, according to a report on the incident in the ABC's Media Watch, she was told by the 3AW producer, 'actually John-Michael is refusing to speak to you and does not want you on air'.

Shortly afterwards, a caller to the program commented that they should include 'the Muslim perspective of this story'. McCallum answered that 'we did actually try to have someone on, but John-Michael?' At which point Howson took up the story and, referring to Hassan without naming her, said, 'Well it was another propagandist coming on. We know what we're going to get ... They are well skilled propagandists who come on at a moment's notice.'

Hassan never got to air her views, and, in commenting to Media Watch about the incident, she said, 'In my 40 years as a Muslim woman, I have never felt so oppressed.'

The day after the Media Watch report, Derryn Hinch, in his editorial spot on 3AW, lambasted Howson and the station for what happened to Hassan: 'What is unacceptable is what went on behind the scenes that day. And I am ashamed it happened on 3AW. Crude, insensitive and blatant censorship, purely because a woman, a Muslim representative, an invited guest, was banned from being heard just because she disagreed with JMH.'

It's a shame she wasn't allowed to take part in that debate because, as this interview shows, her voice is one of intelligence, calm and reason,and so well worth hearing.

Peter KirkwoodPeter Kirkwood is a freelance writer and video consultant who worked for 23 years in the Religion and Ethics Unit of ABC TV. He has a Master's degree from the Sydney College of Divinity.

Topic tags: Peter Kirkwood, Sherene Hassan, John-Michael Howson, Deryn Hinch, 3AW, Islamic Council of Victoria



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Existing comments

I thoroughly agree with Peter Kirkwood's comments on the wonderful Ms Sherene Hassan.
We truly need far more of her voice of reason on radio and far less of John-Michael Howson.

Fra Prof Richard Divall | 04 June 2010  

3AW needs to apologise for this transgression, directly to Sherene Hassan, who is an inspirational Australian Islamic woman, advocate for peace and justice, and a voice of reason and integrity. Her leadership and contribution in the wider community is highly valued. I suggest an interesting conversation could be held between two Catholic nuns, one who wears the full habit and another who does not and Sherene concerning the issue of religious dress. Now that would be worth listening to!

marianne Hale | 04 June 2010  

Have said it many times before and will say again...the law makes me remove my motorbike helmet and or balaclava before going into any business or public place...this is no different...have nothing against their religious beliefs or practices but when I am penalized under the law then you have a group doing the same thing and claiming religious reasons just makes me extremely mad...this is Australia and I expect the law to represent everyone equally...not penalize me and then pat someone on the head for doing the same thing...almost makes me mad enough to start ripping the coverings off their head in protest...but that's ok you can treat bikers any way you want but if it involves religious beliefs than you can get away with whatever you like just about...finally John Michael is just a rude little man.

MarkF | 04 June 2010  

Darren James should have acted promptly to nip this in the bud. Howson should have been clearly told that if he objected to Sherene Hassan speaking, he would be the one to go. This should be seen for what it is, bullying by a petty little man.

I have no view for or against the burqa; if a woman wears it, that is entirely her business. But I do think that to ban the burqa would say more about Australia than many of us would like. It would put us in the same camp as those repressive forces who insist that women do wear the burqa. As for the "un-Australian" argument, it seems to always get pulled out when someone wants to stop another person doing something and does not have a good reason for doing so.

Brett | 04 June 2010  

It seems that Australia is doing its best to alienate our Muslim brothers and sisters. As a Christian I am ashamed by the way they are treated. Sheikh Mansour Leghaei, once praised by Senator McLelland and Philip Ruddock, has now, after 16 years, been deported without a trial or even knowledge of the allegations made by ASIO against him.

The land of "a fair go" can be as oppressive as any totalitarian regime.

Dr Leghaei is a voice of moderation, not a political voice at all. He is well respected by his community of faith and is chair of the Marrickville Multifaith Forum which includes Christians, Jews and Hindus.
His is another voice of moderation which has been silenced. How can we be so stupid?


Fr Gwilym Henry-Edwards | 04 June 2010  

I thank Peter Kirkwood for highlighting this appalling situation. Darren James clearly was not an effective chairperson for this discussion - allowing Howson’s personal prejudices to dictate the parameters of the interview.
What was this Mother’s Day panel thinking: a discussion between three men?

I suggest fear is the prime reason why Howson’s attitude reigned supreme, fear stemming from ignorance concerning the Islamic faith. As Sherene Hassan pointed out in the video, this is not about choice between Islam or liberation; rather it concerns reinterpretation of some patriarchal interpretations which have perversely distorted the teachings of Islam.

I suggest that Aussies who choose to stay ignorant on Islamic matters are themselves distorted in their views. 3AW would do well to have Shereen Hassan on their program in her own right. We would all be enlightened by her honest and heartfelt faith- filled lifestyle which she has freely chosen for herself.

Trish Martin | 04 June 2010  

What do you expect from John Michael Howson and company on their so-called Sunday morning current affairs program. Even if the good lady was allowed to speak, they would have drowned her out with their interjections and mindless comments. I have experienced that myself with these three clowns on their program.

Terry Steve | 04 June 2010  

In my dreams, 3AW eventually loses money by underestimating public good taste.

In my dreams ...

David Arthur | 04 June 2010  

As a non-listener to 3AW, I am pleased that your article Has reinforced my prejudices:being paid for opinions smacks of dictatorship!

Thank you Peter, a black-hearted Protestant who has seen the error of my ways!

John | 04 June 2010  

Sherene is a breath of fresh air on this whole debate and should be heard more in the general media.Her comments were helpful for me, a charismatic, endeavoring to form a business partnership with an Islamic family.That family shares similar views, are intending to become Australian citizens and have expressed dismay at 9/11.

Stephen Coyle | 04 June 2010  

congrats on highlighting this matter. Was overseas at the time and unaware of it. Not much point having a debate and not listening to other points of view. Let each party speak for itself. And let ears work as well as mouths
Keep up good work.

peter roebuck | 08 June 2010  

To Mark F and any anyone who thinks like him - - would you ask a nun to remove her habit when entering any public place?

Tracey Thompson | 19 June 2010  

People always take the religion in a negative manner because of the deeds of some people, they should realise that the islamic charitable organizations such as Muslim Aid Australia is doing a remarkable work in performing charitable works for the country and the whole world.

ashfaq.zaman | 12 July 2016  

"She's never felt so oppressed"? Exactly why Ayaan Hirsi Ali claims muslims in the west have no idea what goes on in muslim countries. Too priviliged.

m power | 06 April 2017  


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