Expat and Muslim in Australia
Blogging is not simply about sharing personal experience, it is also about raising awareness of other cultures and ways of life. Many bloggers hope to make a difference in the world by showing others that we can be different yet live together in peace. Islam is a religion much talked about in the media yet totally misunderstood so it’s important for Muslims, like me and my guest today, to share what Muslim culture and being a Muslim means for us and how we manage as expats in other countries.
The post below was written by Tim Blight, a blogger that I admire. His adventures across the world make me dream but what I really like about him and his blog is that he always has a thought for others around him and it’s clear from his work that he is trying hard to bring people together. He has a real humanistic and embracing approach to blogging that I really love. Onto him now:
Expat and Muslim in Australia
Australia’s national identity is strongly (although decreasingly) linked to that of the UK, and in this fashion, religion has never been hived away from the national identity like it has in, say, France. Although Australia is popularly considered secular, this is not explicitly written in the constitution, and some Australians are alarmed at how freely religion and politics mix, depending who is in power.
Although Australia is officially a majority Christian nation Australians tend to take a relaxed approach to religion, and atheism, or more commonly, undeclared agnosticism, are the norm. As a result, practicing Australian Muslims face the challenge of being both a religious minority, and an observing devotee in a largely non-religious society.
Islam in Australia
Muslims in Australia tend to fall into one of three categories; immigrants, offspring of immigrants, and reverts (converts). New Australians are encouraged to keep and share their ethnic identity (see my review of a Muslim fashion exhibition at the Melbourne Immigration Museum HERE). However the media’s demonisation of Muslims post-9/11 presents a confusing conundrum. It is tempting to fall into polarising thoughts; that you can’t be both Australian and Muslim; and indeed many believe this. As a result, some Muslims hide (or even betray) their religion in order to “fit in”, while others struggle to avoid even inoffensive Australian customs in order to “preserve their religion”.
Needless to say this is dangerous and frustrating for the children of migrants who are caught between two cultures; some second generation Australians live more religiously insular lives than their parents, while others rebel. Meanwhile there is a vast ocean of people in the middle who balance their religious and national identities. There are also a handful of Muslim Australians descended from much earlier migrants.
Expat and Muslim in Australia
Drinking beer, swimming at the beach (in Western-style swimwear) and barbecues (regardless of halal status) are closely entwined with the Australian identity, so not partaking can draw some surprised or even suspicious reactions.
A lot of the racism levelled at Muslims in Australia is based on ignorance. As my name doesn’t identify me as a Muslim, I am often subject to views which would never be aired in front of a “real Muslim”. Many Australians respect the religious rights and duties of Muslims, but it’s fair to say that the majority simply don’t understand them. While most anti-Islamic sentiment is based on ignorance, a small amount stems from pure disliking, and many Australians simply don’t appreciate hearing about religion (any religion) in public.
Among educated Australians, Muslim customs are better understood, and if a mistake is made, then other arrangements are kindly made. For example, more than once I’ve been cooked an individual meal, separate from other guests at a dinner, because the host knew I don’t eat pork. Once a host hadn’t made special arrangements and only realised the problem as we were about to eat. They quickly ordered a takeaway vegetarian pizza especially for me, drove to collect it, and wouldn’t let me pay a cent!
Among lesser educated Australians, religious duties are lesser understood and might be seen as a ‘choice’, in which case ordering a special meal could prompt questions like “what’s wrong with our food?”
Being a Muslim in Australia is…
Free but incredibly frustrating! We are protected against discrimination by the constitution, although discrimination persists. Many are worried that anti-terroism laws are being used to curtail Muslims’ freedoms. We are officially allowed to practice our religion freely (there are no restrictions on dress), but the issue comes from how much one is willing to allow the religion to impede their “Australian-ness” publicly. This can be largely avoided by having a reliable, intelligent and understanding group of friends, but there will still come a time when you are invited to a work function and someone notices that you don’t drink, and questions why.
Finding halal food can be a problem outside of the main cities, but within the cities it is readily available, even if you need to travel a couple of kilometres for it. There are halal restaurants, however these tend to be more ‘downmarket’ establishments – the food might be tasty, but the ambiance can be killer if you want to take someone out for a special dinner. Vegetarianism is well understood in Australia, so that’s always an option, even on top-end menus.
The main problem is ignorance, and the ideas and misunderstandings that stem from that (which most recently prompted me to write this article, explaining the various types of head covering). It is further compounded by a sentiment that religion is a personal choice which shouldn’t affect your public life – out of sight, out of mind, and certainly nobody else’s problem.
You can also find out about being an Expat and Muslim in other countries HERE. And if you’d like your expat story to be featured just get in touch.