Its quite interesting to observe today, how our very progressive down-under society, views Islam. To be honest, I would say most Australians are indifferent when it comes to Islam but you can't ignore the squeaky wheels in our society, such as Pauline Hanson, Cory Bernardi, Jacquie Lambie and others, who get the oil. They make the loudest noise.
Their arguments are so monotonous that they become predictable and irrelevant. But it's not only politicians who exploit Islam's vulnerabilities. Our media enjoys mocking and defaming Islam. In recent days the discussion was revolving around a Youtube video which appeared to be condoning violence against women and sparked widespread condemnation (by the media) and then there was the intense media scrutiny of a Muslim spokesperson who tweeted an insensitive tweet about ANZAC day.
Since, Islam as a religion was formalized in 623 CE, the West has been fixated with it. During the medieval ages, the French, Germans and English were suspicious of Islam and waged a Crusade that brought about a 200 year conflict in the Near East. But since then, Islam has never left the West's radar. In the 19th century under the title of Orientalism, Islam was lampooned by various philosophers and writers of the time.
Ironically, very little acknowledgement is given to Islam as the key contributor to the West's so-called Enlightenment which came about through the Renaissance. During the 700 year period of dominance in Spain during the Ummayad Dynasty, there was an avalanche of information and technology that was transferred into Europe. This continued during the Ottoman Empire's dominance in southern Europe and its influence in Western Europe through trade and diplomatic relations.
The medical theories of Ibn Sina (Avicenna) and the scientific and philosophical works of Ibn Rushd (Averroes) were used by European scientists, philosophers and scholars. There are literally hundreds of written works by Muslim scholars that have been translated into Latin or English. The well-known mathematician Al-Khwarizmi's use of logarithms and algebra were a revolution in mathematics. The word 'logarithm' originates from his name (and of course algebra comes from Al-Jabar).
There are far too many contributions to mention in this article. Yet, ironically, today, in some of the most seemingly innocuous circumstances, Islam continues to contribute to today's society in ways we would not have imagined. People, and particularly Australians are crazy about Islam and the irony is that they don't even know it.
We all watched at least one episode of the no. 1 rating show on TV 'Married at First Sight'. This program works on the premise that couples without ever meeting each other before are joined in matrimony. Hello world! This is the Islamic arranged marriage and we've been doing it successfully for 14 centuries!
The concept of marriage in Islam is very important aspect of shariah or Islamic society. That is, marriage as in many religions is an important institution and regarded as a sacred union between a man and a woman. The normal process involves the parents arranging the marriage with the consent of the bride and groom. In most cases the bride and groom meet under a chaperone to get to know one another but in other cases the wedding day might be the first time the couple meet. The key component here are the parents, who use their superior knowledge of their children combined with the criteria for marriage to suitably match the bride and groom. In the case of the TV show, the parents are replaced by clinical psychologists who have all the details of each wedding candidate at their disposal. Sometimes they get it right and sometimes they get it wrong. It's not an exact science.
The fact that Australians have embraced the show, indicates that there is a fascination with this type of marriage. The important factor in this type of marriage is that both bride and groom have sincere intentions to make a go of their marriage and to have trust in their parents, their partner and their community.
I am not suggesting that arranged marriages will become a common trend in Australia, however, there is no denying that more and more couples are becoming dissatisfied with the present way of hitching up. Some people experience a lot of heartbreak before they end up with their soul mate.
But, wait! There's more. Only in the past two years, there have been a plethora of fad diets which have all had their proponents swear by them; the paleo diet, the South Beach diet, the macrobiotic, the low carb, the Zone and the Atkins diet just to name a few. However, one diet that has been proven to be the most effective for not only losing weight but for cleansing the system is the 5:2 Fast diet. This involves fasting on Mondays then having a break until fasting again on Thursdays. The fast involves not eating from sunrise to sunset. Sound familiar?
Well, the Prophet Muhammad had advocated this style of fast to his followers and has been used by Muslims for the past 1400 years. Muslims fast outside of Ramadan where it is the tradition to fast on Mondays and Thursdays.
Fasting is one of the best ways to cleanse the mind, body and spirit. It helps the flow of oxygen and nutrients to the brain while the body is resting from digestion and it also cleanses the body of toxins and creates empathy and self-discipline while bringing you closer to God.
Once again, I'm not saying that Islam is in every aspect of our lives, but there are many positive things that we just take for granted that Muslims have been doing for centuries, it's just so ironic from where I'm standing; listening to Trump and Hanson. Most of us know that the good far outweighs the bad.
On another note, the National Australia Bank and other financial institutions have begun giving out interest free loans. Now, we sort of know how interest makes the world go round, however, it wasn't always like that. Since the coming of global financial markets and virtual money, the way banks make money is off money. This is, when you look deeply into it, a very unfair way of making money. Traditionally, we make money through our sweat and hard work. Whether that involves selling goods or ideas, providing a service or manufacturing or producing commodities. The idea of interest is problematic because when someone needs finance to purchase something, the interest is basically what kills a family's budget. It hasn't only caused great distress and hardship, it has led to family breakdown and suicide. Interest is one of the evils of the world that is now entrenched in our financial institutions.
Islam forbids interest (called riba). Muslims are not allowed to trade in interest and countries like Malaysia, UAE, Turkey and other Muslim countries have Islamic Halal Finance which is a substitute for interest driven systems and takes a profit margin rather than interest from the lendee. It all works well and a win-win for both the lender and the lendee.
However, interest-free loans are becoming much more common- especially for impoverished societies in Asia and Africa. It gives communities opportunities, never before, dreamed of. The positive benefits of interest-free loans are tremendous. It creates a just and open system of finance which enables many more people to enter the market, boosting spending and lifting the economy. More countries are using it, including Australia.
I could probably go on and on but I'll leave you with one more example; the Halal Food Industry which has caused so much debate since Cory Bernardi called for a Parliamentary Inquiry on the Halal food sector, alleging that the cost of halal certification which he called a "tax" was being funneled into terrorist organisations. The Inquiry ended up being a farce and it was shown by an AUSTRAC investigation (the ASIO of finance) that no funds were being diverted to dubious groups.
On the other hand, the halal food industry is worth billions to Australia and creates thousands of jobs and the benefits find its way to every Australian. Actually, many of our livestock farmers depend on the halal market. But outside of the economic benefits, the method of halal slaughter, has been proven to be the most humane and effective way to slaughter an animal. By effective, I mean that it drains the animal of the toxic blood while the heart is still pumping (the animal is stunned but hot killed) and the meat is the most nutritious. The Jews have been doing it this way for more than 3000 years. So that's got to mean something! Nowadays, halal slaughter is becoming the norm in many non-Muslim countries.
So, as you can clearly see, we as a modern cosmopolitan society have a lot more in common with each other than we think. Muslims are often ridiculed in society and we look very hard for the negatives, sometimes in cultural practices or superstitions and sometimes in verses from holy books quoted out of context. The reality is the commonalities are their because they are actually universal practices that basically follow common-sense. Islam does not profess to hold the all the secrets to the world's woes, but together, humanity can work towards reducing and eliminating dangers, hardship and other nasties, thereby enriching the standard of living all over the world.
I'll leave you with this thought. Even in our own relatively short colonial history we can still relate to the most obscure Islamic practices; the wearing of a "Burqa" or more accurately the Niqab or face veil. While we don't see the Burqa as something practical in modern lifestyles like Australia; our own national treasure Ned Kelly, was famous for wearing it. He had a different purpose of course and he was driven by his own noble albeit personal cause. So, next time you see a Muslim woman wearing a face veil, don't look in disgust, but appreciate her devotion to her cause and her love of her Creator. I definitely don't see Ned Kelly as a criminal but a man who fought against the injustices of his time and was devoted to his cause.