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|Queensland’s Muslim Community Information|
Those who identify as Muslims are followers of the religion called Islam. The word ‘Islam’ literally means ‘submission to God’ and a Muslim is literally ‘one who submits to God’. Muslims often use the term ‘Allah’ which is simply the Arabic word for God. Islam is a major world religion that has an estimated 1.5 billion followers. About 60 per cent of the Australian Muslim community are migrants who have come mainly from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Europe. However, approximately 40 per cent of Australia’s Muslim community were born in Australia.
The 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics census identifies that 20,318 Queenslanders identify as Muslim.
The Muslim community of Queensland is very diverse, comprised of people from a range of national, ethnic, cultural and language backgrounds. Muslims living in Queensland originate from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Egypt, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Palestine, Somalia, South Africa, Turkey and many other countries.
While there are certain beliefs and practices that are common to all Muslims, their cultural diversity as well as their different traditions, histories and experiences has resulted in various approaches to and understandings of Islam within the community. Muslims also believe that God has sent guidance to humankind throughout history in the form of prophets and scriptures. Muslims acknowledge the previous prophets such as Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses and Jesus (who is considered in Islam to be a great prophet of God rather than the son of God). They also acknowledge previous scriptures such as the Bible as have been revealed by God to his prophets. However, Muslims believe that Muhammad (the prophet of Islam) was the last is this line of prophets and that the Quran (the holy book of Islam) was God’s final revealed scripture to humankind.
In addition to monotheism, Islam teaches that human beings must treat one another on the basis of equity, fairness, and compassion. In recent decades, much of the focus on Islam has concerned politics rather than religion. However, the essence of Islam is enshrined in its five pillars:
1. to believe in God and Muhammad as a prophet of God
2. to pray to God five times per day
3. to give annual charity (Zakah) to the poor and needy
4. to fast between dawn and sunset during the month of Ramadan
5. to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime.
Greetings, names and titles
Muslims generally greet each other with the words Assalaamu Alaykum, (pronounced: Ass ah lamu ah Lay kum), meaning peace be upon you. They reply with the words Wa Alaykum Assalam, meaning and upon you peace. It is not necessary for non-Muslims to use this greeting when meeting a member of the Muslim community.
Some Muslims, due to cultural reasons and/or a more conservative interpretation of Islamic teachings, may prefer not to shake hands with persons of the opposite gender. From the point of view of such Muslims, avoiding physical contact with the opposite gender is not intended as an insult but as an expression of modesty and respect. Similarly, some Muslims will avoid eye contact with the opposite gender.
A Muslim who has graduated from traditional Islamic educational institutions and holds the position as the leader of the daily prayers in a mosque is generally called an Imam. The word Imam means leader. In the modern Sunni tradition, an Imam is simply one who leads prayers, while in the Shiite tradition an Imam is a significantly higher, more respected figure. It is considered respectful to address an Imam with the title Imam.
Due to cultural traditions and/or religious interpretations, some Muslim women and men may prefer to sit apart from each other and Imams will generally prefer not to be seated in close proximity to a woman who is unfamiliar to them.
Consideration needs to be given to time of day for any proposed meeting. In the case of a meeting that extends across the prayer times causing the Muslim participant(s) to miss his/her prayer, provision of a space for prayer would be appropriate and appreciated. As Muslims observe their community prayer and sermon on Fridays between 12.00pm and 2.00pm, this time should be avoided.
If a meeting is being held at a mosque, it is a requirement to remove shoes before entering the designated prayer area of a mosque, and participants to wear long, lose clothing in respect of the sanctity of the mosque.
Based on a survey conducted by Griffith University’s Islamic Research Unit (GIRU) at the 2009 Brisbane Eid Festival, Muslims relate positively with Australian society, people and institutions. The community expresses a strong willingness to integrate into Australian society but considers retaining an Islamic identity to be important. Overwhelmingly, Queensland’s Muslim community defines Islam as a religion that emphasises ‘being good, fair and kind to other human beings’. Islam is understood by the overwhelming majority as being compatible with Western democracy, pluralism, human rights, and gender equality. The overwhelming majority of the survey respondents also expressed that ‘Muslims who engage in acts of terrorism misrepresent Islam’. In terms of international politics, a strong majority is concerned that there needs to be a just resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Moreover, a strong majority of respondents also stressed the importance of protecting the environment and that environmental responsibility should be promoted by Muslim leaders as a matter of religious duty.
Dress and appearance
Islamic dress is based on the principles of modesty and cleanliness. While the Quran’s provisions relate to both men and women, Muslims generally place more emphasis on the latter than the former, particularly when visiting a mosque or attending Muslim functions. The wearing of a Hijab (modest dress including a head scarf) is considered by a majority of Muslims to be a religious requirement for Muslim women. However, it is considered an option by some Muslim scholars for Muslim women to wear a Niqab (face veil). According to a survey conducted by GIRU in 2009, approximately 40 per cent of Queensland’s Muslims believe that Muslim women should cover their hair with a scarf and only approximately nine per cent believe they should cover their face with a veil. However, approximately 49 per cent expressed that Muslim women are free to not cover either their face or hair.
Body language and behaviour
Muslims come from different ethnic backgrounds, which mean that there are differences in what is considered acceptable body language and behaviour. For example, among Malay Muslims it is considered offensive to touch someone’s head. This is not offensive among other Muslims. Generally, it is offensive to point the feet toward the person in front to raise voice in discussions (although this is normal among some Arab Muslims), to point toward someone with the index finger, and to use the left hand to give or take anything of value (such as a pen or a drink). Facial expressions are used a great deal among many Muslims and smiling is encouraged during conversations. It is common among Muslims that younger people begin greetings. Respect of elders is a requirement among all Muslims. Physical contact between men and women is avoided especially in public or meetings.
Food, drink and fasting
Islam prohibits the consumption of alcohol and pork as well as any red meat or poultry slaughtered in a name other than the name of God. If food or refreshments are provided, it is appropriate to ensure it is halal or vegetarian. Halal refers to the process of slaughter and not to a particular taste or type of food. If non-halal food is also served, it should be served on separate platters from the halal or vegetarian. It is not appropriate to serve alcohol at any Muslim events, although at mixed events most Muslims will not be offended by the presence of alcohol. As Muslims fast between dawn and sunset during the month of Ramadan, it is preferable not to serve food or refreshments at meetings scheduled during the daylight hours of this month.
Language and communication
The overwhelming majority of Australian Muslims speak English and commonly speak another language of their country of origin. However, as the Quran, the Holy book of Islam, is written in Arabic, all ritual prayers and parts of religious sermons are conducted in Arabic.
Awareness and sensitivities
Gambling and intoxicants are prohibited in Islam, therefore Muslims prefer to have their meetings in places other than licensed bars, casinos, or taverns. Also, practicing Muslims (especially women) may be offended if their pictures are taken without prior permission. Muslim women prefer to have female doctors and nurses look after them and Muslim men prefer male doctors. Generally, most Muslims would not make any religious decision without first consulting with an Imam. Given that Islam has certain views about medical issues such as euthanasia and organ donation, Muslim patients would want to seek advice from an Imam before a decision is made on these matters.
Friday is an important religious day for Muslims, a congregational prayer and sermon is held at the mosques at the time of the midday prayer (generally between 12:00-2:00pm).
Muslims also have two main festivals: Eid al-Fitr to celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan; and Eid al-Adha which coincides with the Haj pilgrimage. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims more regularly attend the mosques to engage in such community activities as breaking the fast at sunset and to perform special night prayers. During the month of the Haj, millions of Muslims from across the world make the pilgrimage to Mecca which generally takes between two weeks to one month to complete.