Although I don’t talk a lot about the extra-curricular activities that I do on this blog (I should!), I spend a lot of time working with government and non-government organisations on social cohesion projects. I also spend a lot of time giving talks and seminars on really interesting issues relating to women, youth, ethnic communities and of course Muslims. And, of course, you’re all here reading my views.
What I’ve noticed lately is that people are taking my opinions and thoughts to be gospel and reflective of the entire population that I happen to be talking about. They’re taken to be the opinions of a ‘real Muslim’.
As difficult as it sounds – my views are not in any way, shape, or form, reflective of the views of the entire Muslim community; nor should they expected to be.
We are a group that makes up approximately 24% of the world’s population. We come from all walks of life, and from all over the world. We all have such varied and unique experiences – in fact, they’re as varied and unique as the experiences of people generally. It just does not make sense at all to assume that my interpretation and views on religion and society at large are indicative of what all the other Muslims in the world thing. Nor does it make sense to assume that I’m the one with the correct view and that others who feel differently are incorrect.
Don’t get me wrong; I completely understand why this happens. Many people don’t have Muslim friends. If you think about it, in Australia, Muslims make up 2.2% of the population. This means that there are plenty of people who don’t know a Muslim (or, at least, know one well).
I talk about things like depression in Muslim youth, the struggles of Muslim feminists, the expectations to marry and marry young, lest we be labelled as useless. I make the hijab real and talk about the weird things we do with hijabs and answer your embarrassing questions. I am making the life of Muslims open and accessible. I think that my reflections can be representative of the views of a lot of Muslims, sure. But I could never tell you what the ‘real’ Islam is or what a ‘real’ Muslim thinks. There’s no such thing as a ‘real Muslim’.
I am approaching life as a relatively liberal and free-spirited Muslim woman, born and raised in the western world. I have always had a strong character and personality, choosing to live my life in the way that feels the best. I am lucky in that I was educated and have a great job and a wonderfully supportive network of friends who give me the assurance and strength to do the things that I want to. So my opinion does not necessarily reflect the experience of the average Muslim. In reality, my experiences probably represent those of an outlier.
I find it interesting that people assume that if I’m not offended by things, other Muslims shouldn’t be. I open myself up to a lot of criticism and the sorts of questions that would make the hairs stand up on the back of the neck of most people. Sometimes this is an incredibly confronting experience and it can be a huge blow to my spirit. I do it anyway because I can see the benefit of making myself so vulnerable. I think I have shown many people a very different side to Muslims and allowed many to change their views to be more positive and accepting. But this doesn’t mean that all Muslims should be expected to be as patient and as tolerant as I am to the sometimes blatantly offensive comments that people make. Just because I choose not to be offended, it doesn’t mean that others won’t be.
I find this to be true of my views of the most acceptable way to treat Muslims and their general rights as well. For example, take halal certification of foods (you can read more about what this is and the associated controversy here). When it comes to purchasing groceries, I will only buy halal meats and halal certified cheeses and lollies etc. If I go out to dinner, I will ask the staff whether their food is halal. If they say yes, I believe them.
However; most of my Muslim friends will ask to see a halal certification or even ask more detailed questions about the way that the kitchen handles halal produce and non-halal products. Non-Muslims have told me that when other Muslims do that, it’s overkill, and it’s great that I’m not like that. This is a completely nonsense view to hold. Just because I’m happy to run with the risk that someone might be lying to me about whether their food is halal, it doesn’t mean that other Muslims should approach life that way, nor does it make halal certifications any less important. Maybe I should be a more attentive Muslim instead.
The same thought process applies to the burqa and calls to ban it. Although I don’t personally believe that it is an Islamic requirement for women to cover their faces with a burqa or niqab, it doesn’t mean that my interpretation is correct. Just because I wear a hijab, doesn’t mean a Muslim woman who doesn’t wear a hijab is wrong. There is nothing that can guarantee that my reading is a ‘true’ reflection of Islam that should override the views of another Muslim. Thusly, I will always defend a woman’s right to wear whatever she wants, whether she’s Muslim or not, and will always stand against government actions to take away this right.
Because of this broad variability in the views of Muslims, it is important that any organisation that is seeking to implement policies that affect Muslims has a broad consultation with the Islamic community. It is easy to think that the views of a couple of Muslims reflect what everyone else feels, but it is simply not the case. Unfortunately, there is no ‘true’ or ‘correct’ Islam that is the real Islam. There are simply our views.
The other thing to keep in mind is that not every action or view of a Muslim is a direct result of their Islamness. I think a majority of my views sit in isolation from my faith, and these views influence my reading of religion and spirituality more broadly. Of course, it would be silly for me to think that there isn’t a two way street; it’s a bit of a chicken and egg situation. Two Muslims with opposing views on Islamic principles may still hold the same opinion on another matter. There’s just no way to predict how a Muslim will feel about a topic based on their spiritual identity.
People need to be allowed to view the world however they see fit. I know that, for the most part, a lot of non-Muslims wish that other Muslims held my views. Lots of Muslims do, but lots of them don’t. Just because my views are slightly easier to swallow and relate to, it doesn’t mean that the views of other Muslims are any less valid and important.
If we are to see a more socially cohesive and inclusive society, we need to accept that we will not always agree with the views of others. I support people’s right to live a religiously conservative life and to decide that religion holds a primary role in their life. So long as one is not harming others, it’s fair game. Being open and accepting means understanding this right.
Remember, I’m just one woman who happens to be Muslim. I am not the voice of the entire Muslim community – but I will continue to bridge the ever-growing divide between groups in society. It’s all I can do.
Love to you and yours x
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