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To be 'Mossie' or 'Aussie' - that's the question!

By Nayeefa Chowdhury - posted Thursday, 7 September 2006

Interrogations like: “Are you an Australian first, or Muslim first?” reflect the ignorance on the part of the questioner. Either he or she is not aware of what it means to be a Muslim, or confused about what it takes to be an Australian, or both.

What is Islam like? Does it constitute an anti-thesis of “Aussie values”? Are they mutually exclusive?

Islam is the name of a faith - a belief in the existence of the one and only omnipotent, omniscient Creator of the universe, and equality of the humankind. Faith entails observance of a set of principles, so does Islam. It promotes human rights principles.


While glancing through Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility the other night, I felt so privileged being a Muslim woman. A very few Aussies would know that while the laws of inheritance that governed the English society in Austen's day - namely Agnatic primogeniture - left the two sisters, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and their mother penniless; Islam bestowed the rights of inheritance upon the Muslim women 12 centuries ago.

Consider what Koran promoted during the seventh century: “From what is left by parents and those nearest related, there is a share for men and a share for women …” (4:7) and compare them with the laws of inheritance in any western society during the mid-19th century.

Amazing how short-lived human memory could be. Do we realise that what is recognised as the Western civilisation today owes much to the Islamic civilisation of yesterday?

I read with interest the opinion piece titled “Fuzzy thinking on religion” by Bill Muehlenberg (On Line Opinion, August 24, 2006). Muehlenberg is right to point out to Pamela Bone that the Judeo-Christian religious tradition gave birth to the notion of human rights. The modern-day notion of human rights has its origin in the 17th century enlightenment philosophical thought, which can be traced back to the natural law in mediaeval Christian thought.

Thomas Aquinas is considered to be the most famous classical proponent of the Natural Law. However, Muehlenberg stops short of acknowledging that Thomas Aquinas was influenced by the already well established Islamic tradition of huquq al-‘ibad (the rights of people) and his first principle of natural law is the Koranic concept of al-amr bi’l ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘ann al-munkar (enjoining the good and forbidding the evil).

It is interesting to note that Muehlenberg again stops short of acknowledging that the modern science is indebted in many ways to the Islamic civilisation.


A seminar (pdf 126KB) was recently organised by the University of Melbourne on the topic of Islam and the Transformation of Science, presented by George Saliba, professor of Arabic and Islamic science at Columbia University. He attempted to clarify that “the commonly-held opinion that the role of Islamic science can be summarily characterised as preserving Greek science ignores various scientific activities that were generated by the requirement of the religious practices and rituals of Islam that were either unknown or very poorly developed in the Greek tradition”.

The perceived clash between the Islamic and Western values is a fallacy.

Are Islamic values synonymous to Arab customs? Let us not forget that the Koranic Laws of inheritance for women were revealed in the land of Arabia at a time when female infants used to be buried alive and women were considered as a commodity. Islam is not to be confused with the incompatible social mores of a particular region. The so-called followers of Islam account for a fifth of world’s population, hailing primarily from the Middle East, South Caucasus, Europe, Asia, and Africa.

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About the Author

Nayeefa Chowdhury is the founding director of an Internet-based Islamic information service ( She writes in English & Bengali, and has contributed chapters to two books, also published in periodicals, including magazines, scholarly journals, and newspapers.

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