By Rashid Samnakay, New Age Islam
2 November 2015
The cacophony surrounding the decision of the Cranbourne Carlisle Primary school administration which allowed Muslim students to leave the assembly during the singing of the Australian national anthem; was added to with a comment by the Federal Treasurer Scott Morrison who said that he was offended by the school’s action and believed the school deserved the Muppet of the year award.
Mr Morrison has held various other Ministerial portfolios, including Minister for Social Services and Immigration. Mr Morrison officially holds hard lined views on such matters. Last year the Australian Human Rights Commission reported to the government that he had failed in his responsibility as minister responsible for the welfare of children kept in detention.
Should he have bought into the controversy and poured fuel on the burning issue?
The young Muslim students were allowed by the Principal of the school to leave the assembly in deference to the sensitivity surrounding the “Religious observation” of the Tenth of the month of Moharram which is generally considered by Muslims to be a sad day in Muslim history—sort of “passion of Hussein”, the grandson of Muhammad who was killed fourteen centuries ago in a dispute for succession of head of State!
During conversation at home, opinions were sought of people at the table. Quick as a flash a lady opined “I think they are mad!” That could have been the end of the whole conversation; however to encouraging further discussion, she was asked “who is mad”? She replied “the parents of course”.
“Why do you say that?” she was teased further.
“If they want to observe their customs in Australia--- of which we never heard of before ….they should have stayed where they came from … or should have not sent their kids to school on that day…… simple.”
“But it is their religious belief and in Australia one is free to practice one’s religion”, she was reminded.“No, not in public school though… end of the story”, she insisted!
For a simple minded person, that was a fair enough conclusion. On top of that if the person happened to be one who takes pride in asserting that she is neither Shia nor Sunni and does not belong to any of the factions of Muslims…“Sectarian divide and factions are against the teaching of Quran”. To her it was a matter of faith.
This emboldened others to join in. “If it is their religion not to allow their children to be happy and enjoy life as normal children, did the parents stop them playing in recess and lunch time?”
“One assumes not”. It was generally agreed.
The fact that such issues are surfacing on daily basis now, highlights the dilemma the young generation is facing growing up in a Western country. Confusions in their mind must arise; mainly because of their parents’ attitude as to whether, for example in the above context, they are Australian Muslims or Muslim Australian? The difference is subtle, when it comes to playing National Anthem.
National Anthem of any country is considered an important ‘value’ and affirmation of ones allegiance to one’s country, which may even be by adoption in later life. From Presidents to pedestrians all stand up to pay respect when it is played. So anybody present there at the time who excises oneself during its performance puts his or her credibility as a citizen of the country in grave doubt. Perhaps that is what prompted the Minister to comment as he did.
Strangely, it was agreed by all at the table that the school administration is to be commended for the decision it took to allow for the religious sensitivities of the young children who must be thoroughly confused. Of course because the baggage of old values brought by their parents is different to the rest of the school community from which the kids had to be excised. Similarly the dilemma; of the sense of ‘isolation’ of the children was what prompted the lady’s spontaneous comment.
“How happy these same parents looked when they were presented with the citizenship certificates at the Australia Day ceremonies and when they took their oath of allegiance”. No doubt the National Anthem was also sung there with accompanying music.
In today’s heart wrenching display of news of boat people around the world, majority of who are Muslims fleeing to the West in droves from their home countries to seek refuge and security, such insensitive display of disregard for national value of one’s adopted country does not auger well. It is interpreted as being ungrateful for the hospitality accorded to newcomers—“For those who’ve come across the seas We’ve boundless plains to share”, as a line of the National Anthem puts it.
The school authorities perhaps were not aware of the Muslim history of the events related to the religious belief. Would the Principal have acted differently if the facts were known as presented in history? Thankfully the historicity of the event at the conflict scene all those centuries ago did not become the subject of discussion at the table.
The Muslim community in the West, now over half a century, that is after the decolonisation of their countries, who have made their home and now have a few generations born and raised with the values of the West, must appreciate the fact that in the Western countries religion is a private aspect of life. Some of their public values put in practice take precedent over all other customs. This is also reflected in the Constitution of some of these nations.
In spite of that it is seen often that Muslims and non-Muslims Ministers in these countries take their religious scriptures in hand when taking oath of office. But hardly any feathers are ruffled. Religious spirituality is a matter of personal choice, but not the sharing of common values in public.
These values are not defined or officially documented. They are generally assumed as universally known and accepted. The knowledge gap that exists in the new migrants is often the cause of friction. Governments should take notice of this gap and inform the newcomers what is expected of them, before they are accepted as citizens.
One of the major deficiencies in this respect is the lack of language skill of the newcomers. Take for example the wordings of the Anthem and the sentiments expressed in it. On the face of it the poetry is noble and full of good intentioned statements, but how many migrant have read it?
The Australian National Anthem
“Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free;
We’ve golden soil and wealth for toil; Our home is girt by sea;
Our land abounds in nature’s gifts Of beauty rich and rare;
In history’s page, let every stage Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair.
Beneath our radiant Southern Cross We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours Renowned of all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas we’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing, Advance Australia Fair”.
Were the migrants even aware of their own home countries’ Anthem?
Previously people of almost all nations who have called Australia Home have gone through some such prejudices. Whites, brown, blacks and people of different religions, economic status and political affiliations, all have to face “discriminations” of one sort or the other. In time they have disappeared, because those communities have “integrated” in the communities they live. Nobody has asked them to “assimilate” to the extent that they should lose their identity.
With the Muslim communities it is somehow different now, in that their different religious beliefs and unenlightened attitudes under the umbrella of Islam are rigid and verging on fanaticism. They have lost the golden opportunity to forge one cohesive and progressive community with the Universal permanent values that Quran calls for. It is therefore an occasion for modern Matam of a sort.
With apology to the poet for the exchange of the words baadah and saagar:
Harchand Keh Ho Mushahid-E Haq Ki Guftgu,- The discourse on the evidence of truth must take place,
Banti nahi’n hai Shia wa Sunni Kahey Bagair!- The reference to the religions of Shia and Sunni cannot be avoided!
A regular contributor to New Age Islam, Rashid Samnakay is a (Retd.) Engineer