Australian model Michelle Leslie has returned to Australia. While in an Indonesian prison, this swimsuit and underwear model decided to don a head scarf. At one stage, she even wore a burqua covering her entire face.
Some Australian media had a field day with her alleged "conversion on the road to Bali prison". When her friends revealed Leslie had embraced Islam at least two years ago, the media cynicism on her conversion largely subsided.
But as Leslie's plane landed at Sydney Airport, she was greeted by another frenzy. Leslie has been told by the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) to cease her modelling career.
Dr Ameer Ali, AFIC President and an economics lecturer, was quoted in Sydney's Daily Telegraph as saying:
If she is a Muslim I don't think she should go back to her job as an underwear model because Islam is about modesty. Taking off her clothes and being half-naked on the catwalk will raise a lot of eyebrows in the community. She can't have it both ways. Either practice Islam and do something decent or don't practice it at all.
This all-or-nothing mentality has become all too prevalent among the first generation migrants who dominate leadership roles within Muslim bodies and organisations. New converts or young Muslims returning to their faith are expected to immediately conform to a set of standards.
But this attitude doesn't account for human realities. We all have to start somewhere. And if some of us end up choosing to regard ourselves as Muslim, this does not necessarily translate into a complete change of career or lifestyle choice.
Leslie has a number of modelling contracts awaiting her return to Australia. Although the writer is no theologian, it is an Islamic theological given that her taking up modelling will not in itself take her outside the fold of Islam. The President of AFIC will know this. Or at least he should.
Being Muslim is a product of one's faith. And belief is a matter of the heart. Only Michelle Leslie and her Creator know what is in Michelle Leslie's heart.
Further, it is not for the presidents of Muslim bodies to be telling Muslim women how they should dress. Just as it is not the business of politicians to be regulating Muslim dress. Dr Ali's comments mirror those of conservative Liberal Party backbenchers who want to see the traditional Muslim hijab banned from state schools.
Muslim women living on either side of the Tasman have the same opportunities as any other women to participate in mainstream society. Whether they are converts or brought up in the West, these women should be allowed to make their own choices without men - and their often irrelevant cultural standards - becoming involved.
Many Muslim leaders find it impossible to bridge the cultural gap that often divides them from mainstream society. Whether as converts or reverts, many non-cultural Muslims face difficult decisions and choices beyond the almost impossible task of adopting a new faith.
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