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On understanding Muslims

By Teuku Zulfikar - posted Monday, 15 June 2009

There has been a long history of Muslim minorities in countries like the United States of America, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia. The first settlement of Muslims in Australia, for example, dated back to the 1860s, when Afghan cameleers resided in the northern part of Australia. The US, the UK, and Canada respectively have records going back centuries of the migration of Muslim communities to their countries.

Since the first arrival of Muslims in western countries, they have been struggling to find their place in the mainstream society either by assimilation, integration or in isolation. Their efforts to fit in to these societies bore varied results: some were successful but some resulted in failure.

More recently, world events such as 9-11 have led to international surveillance of Muslim communities not only as minorities in western countries but also as majorities in their own countries. September 11 has had a profound impact on Muslims around the world, with the media playing an important part in aggravating the image of Muslims. The western media, for example, has branded Muslims, regardless of their political orientation, as terrorists and thus they have come to be seen as the world’s greatest enemy.


The media often misrepresent the true nature of Islam and Muslims, holding them responsible for the crimes committed by a single Muslim. Such representations have also shrouded Muslims in mystery: they appear to be suspicious entities within the wider secular society and thus Muslims have become the most misunderstood community in the West.

This article attempts to provide a better understanding of Muslims: who they are; whether they are uncivilised people, terrorists, or simply ordinary human beings like any other human beings living on this planet.

In a general sense, Muslims are the followers of Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him): that is the reason why the earliest Muslim community in Australia was addressed as the Muhammadan - an Arabic word meaning the followers of Mohammed.

However, these followers of Mohammed can hold different views in respect of their political and ideological orientation. In fact, they are different in their degree of observance of Islamic principles.

Two general divisions of Muslims: “practicing” and “heritage” Muslims have been recorded in some literature on Muslims. The practicing Muslims are those who observe the Islamic principles such as performing prayer, fasting, and other pillars of Islam. These practicing Muslims are divided further into different smaller groups.

Saikal, along with other scholars who study Islam and Muslims in the West, identified four kinds of Muslim attitudes. Although those four groups observe the Islamic principles, their interpretation and hence the application of the sacred texts of Islam such as the holy Koran, and the sayings of the prophet are not always the same and this has strengthened their division.


The first group of Muslims are known as moderate Muslims. Muslims in this group uphold non-violence in their ways of solving problems facing Muslim communities. Even though they practice the Islamic teachings such as praying and fasting, they are secular in their thought. In fact, this group of Muslims assume that integration into the mainstream society is necessary. These Muslims find that integration is accessible.

The second group of Muslims are called radical Muslims. Muslims in this group are more assertive in expressing their religious identity. They are also more puritanical in expressing their social and political behaviour. Members of this group also argue that violence under certain circumstances is legitimate.

The third and fourth group of Muslims adhere to neo-fundamentalist and societal Islam.

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About the Author

Teuku Zulfikar is a PhD candidate at Faculty of Education, Monash University Australia, concentrating on religious identity of Indonesian Muslim youth in Australia.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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