Education and emancipation
Mohsen has also just written an opinion piece, an edited version of which was published in the New Zealand Herald and is reproduced below:
Mohsen al Attar: Muslims struggle to find sense of belonging
5:00AM Friday March 14, 2008
By Mohsen al Attar
Migrant Muslim communities in Western nations such as New Zealand and Australia are facing a psychological and spiritual crisis.
Post-September 11, Bali and London events and actions by Western governments, including the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, have produced widespread suspicion, detention and deportation of Muslim migrants and nationals.
And the highly xenophobic and hateful rhetoric of media pundits and politicians has produced a climate in which many Muslims feel uncomfortable and unwelcome in their homes.
But this is only half the story. We cannot disregard the fierce and hateful narrative of many Muslim fundamentalist groups - Islamists as they are termed by the West.
These groups adopt an absolutist stance on religious form and duty that sandwiches Muslims between support for the violent and morally schizophrenic tactics of the movement and opposition to these tactics, often leading to accusations (and sometimes feelings) of betrayal to Islam.
Many Western racists have exploited this double bind by questioning the loyalties of Kiwi-Muslims, Australian-Muslims, British-Muslims and, of course, American-Muslims.
Likewise, many Muslim fundamentalist groups have capitalised on Western bigotry to advance their personal clash of civilisation thesis by highlighting how quickly Muslims have been reduced to second-class citizens - not unlike what was done to Japanese migrants and citizens in Canada, America, and even New Zealand during World War II.
Dual subjection to Islamophobia from the West on one side and reactionary currents within the Muslim community on the other has produced a situation in which many Muslims have lost a sense of who they are.
Feelings of belonging to a nation have been replaced by feelings of fear and paranoia, causing many to withdraw into themselves and self-segregate within their communities.
Lack of knowledge of the self inevitably produces a loss of confidence, a common feature of many Muslim communities today which, quite naturally, stimulates a powerful desire for physical and moral security.
For some, this security is found in religious norms and, ominously, in the strict adherence thereto. Blind adherence to norms is detrimental to a community because it forces its members to overlook the meanings underpinning the norms and the spiritual foundation that informs the entire belief structure.
Contrary to many fundamentalist and Western representations, Islam is not a religion of rules but a religion of reason. Multiple passages in the Koran and historical anecdotes derived from the prophetic traditions (eg "Use your brain about matters that perplex you" and "Wisdom is the last bastion of the Muslim") illustrate the depth to which reason and critique have traditionally been revered in Muslim societies. Regrettably, the same cannot be said about many contemporary Muslim currents.
Oxford professor and Islamic theologian Tariq Ramadan had just been in New Zealand as a guest of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Office of Ethnic Affairs. His visit was an opportunity for New Zealanders of all ethnic affiliations to acquire a better understanding of some of the opportunities and challenges that Muslim migration presents for New Zealand.
Professor Ramadan met MPs, academia and the media, and gave several public talks to New Zealanders of Maori, Pakeha and Muslim descent. His message was one of reconciliation.
Migration can produce dislocations on physical, cultural and spiritual levels. For migrants, an underlying feeling of alienation almost perpetually lurks in the shadows as they try to adjust to the idiosyncrasies of the unknown in their new home, while longing for the comfort of familiarity.
There is little in Kiwi society that prevents Muslim or other migrants from remaining true to their faith while integrating and gradually contributing as citizens of their new nation.
For instance, as many Western states became venomously suspicious of their Muslim communities post-September 11, New Zealanders re-elected Dr Ashraf Choudhary to Parliament, demonstrating New Zealand can be a welcoming place even to those who do not fit the mould of Kiwiana.
Reconciliation must thus happen on both an individual and communal level as Muslim migrants attune their spiritual preferences with their physical location.
Reconciliation must also happen on a national level. Muslim migration to New Zealand has a long history.
From Chinese Muslim miners in the late 19th century, to tradespeople of Gujarat at the turn of the 20th century, to Fiji-Indian workers in the 1950s, to Malaysian and Indonesian professionals in the 1980s, to refugees from Kosovo, Iraq and Somalia today, there is a strong Muslim presence in New Zealand totalling, by some estimates, nearly 50,000.
Despite their long history of peaceful participation in Kiwi society, the posturing of anti-Islamic reactionaries and the ad hominem persecution of Ahmed Zaoui have had an impact.
And New Zealand's continued participation in Afghanistan despite a large number of civilian casualties has not gone unnoticed in Muslim communities.
If we are to manage the shifts that increased migration produces and counter the feelings of alienation that Islamophobia and fundamentalism inflame, we must adopt a proactive stance as opposed to a passive one; to transcend mutual suspicion and embrace mutual trust.
This was the essence of Professor Ramadan's timely message to New Zealand and the world.