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Us and Them


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Cross-cultural research provides exceptional insights into the hopes and fears of dealing with people different to ourselves. In Australia, such research suggests that Australian Muslims have surpassed Asians as one of the country’s most marginalised religious and ethnic groups. Muslims and people from the Middle East are thought to be unable to fit into Australia, with more than 50% of Australians preferring their relatives did not to marry into a Muslim family. Yet this statistic masks diverse interpretations of interfaith relations and cultural harmony present across Australia today. In  12 essays Us and Them offers truths about interfaith relations as they are believed and expressed by Muslim and non-Muslim Australians. The essays are interdisciplinary and varied in topic, and seek to challenge the images of Islam held by both xenophobic Westerners and extremist Muslims. Drawn from a variety of research projects over past years, including results from a national survey on attitudes towards Islam and Muslims among Australian secondary students, they also raise thematic questions, such as: Will any dialogue lead to a rapprochement between the Muslim and mainstream communities? What is Christian-Muslim diversity? Why does it matter? Can we really learn how to manage diversity in the workplace? Can the Shari’a law coexist with the Australian legal system on issues including polygamy, marital status and dress? This book is essential reading for all students — secondary through to tertiary and postgraduate — requiring an introduction to Christian Muslim relations and attitudes in Australia .



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Published 01 April 2009
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EAN13 9781921513213
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Us & Them
Abe W. Ata
MUSLIM–CHRISTIAN Relations and Cultural Harmony in Australia
Abe W. Ata
First published in 2009 from a completed manuscript presented to Australian Academic Press 32 Jeays Street Bowen Hills Qld 4006 Australia www.australianacademicpress.com.au
Copyright © 2009 Abe Ata and the listed coauthors.
All responsibility for editorial matter rests with the authors. Any views or opinions expressed are therefore not necessarily those of Australian Academic Press.
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National Library of Australia cataloguinginpublication entry: Author: Ata, Abe W. Title: Us & them : MuslimChristian relations and cultural harmony in Australia / Abe Ata. Edition: 1st ed. ISBN:9781921513213(ebook) Subjects: Religion and sociologyAustralia. IslamRelationsChristianityAustralia. Christianity and other religionsIslamAustralia. AustraliaEmigration and immigration. Dewey Number: 261.270994
This work is dedicated to my friend Steven Klimidis who passed away on August 26, 2008. Dr Klimidis was a pioneer in transcultural psychiatry in Australia and an Associate Professor at the Victorian Transcultural Psychiatry Unit — a truly generous, humble and passionate person.
About the Author
Section One: CrossReligious and Cultural Attitudes
Chapter 1 CrossReligious Misunderstanding or a Clash Between Civilisations in Australia
Chapter 2 Christian–Muslim Households Identity and Attitudes to Their ‘Australian’ Children
Chapter 3 Attitudes of SchoolAge NonMuslim Australians Towards Muslims and Islam: A National Survey
Chapter 4 The Lebanese in Melbourne Ethnicity, Interethnic Activities and Attitudes to Australia
Section Two: Education Chapter 5 The Role of Gender, Religion and Friendship in the Perception of the ‘Other’ — An Investigation of Secondary Students in Australia: A National Survey
vii viii 1
Chapter 6 The Role of Australian Schools in Educating Students About Islam and Muslims: A National Survey (coauthored with Joel Windle)
Chapter 7 Social Distance From Muslims: A National Survey
Chapter 8 Attitudes of SchoolAge Muslim Australians Towards Australia — Gender and Religious Differences A National Survey
Section Three: Muslim–Christian Intermarriage
Chapter 9 Adjustment and Complications of Christian–Muslim Intermarriages in Australia
Chapter 10 Bereavement Anxieties and Health Among the Arab Muslim Community
Chapter 11 Observing Different Faiths, Learning About Ourselves: Practice With Intermarried Muslims and Christians (coauthored with Mark Furlong)
Chapter 12 Opting for an Eschatological Interpretation of Interfaith Marriages (coauthored with Glenn Morrison)
I wish to thank several people for their support of this publication, particularly Professor Robert Gascoigne. Others include Professor Abdullah Saeed, Dr Hass Dellal AOM, Ramzi Elsayed, Roberta Blake and Maureen Postma. Support from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) is proudly acknowl edged. DIAC’s support enabled me to produce two national surveys on attitudes of schoolage Muslim–Australians to Australia; and, attitudes of nonMuslim schoolage Australians to Muslims and Islam. Reference to these surveys is found in several chapters of this publication.
About the Author
Abe W. Ata graduated at the American University of Beirut in 1972 and in 1980 completed his PhD at the University of Melbourne. In 1970 he was nomi nated as a delegate to the United Nations in New York. Dr Ata has taught in Australian, American, Jordanian, West Bank and Danish universities. As well, he convened and directed the Victorians For Racial Equality in 1985; and AlQuds University Centre of Traumatic Studies in 1997. There are 94 articles and 15 books to his credit includingReligion and Ethnic Identity: An Australian Study, Vols. 1–3(l989–l990),The West Bank Family(London, Routledge, l986),The Ethnic Press in Australia(Academia Press, 1990),Bereavement and Health in Australia(1996),Christian and Muslim Intermarriage(London, Routledge, 2001),Australia’s Christian–Muslim Inter marriage(Melbourne, 2003),Australia’s Catholic and Other Faith Intermarriages (Melbourne, 2005). The Encyclopaedia of Melbourne(2005), theEncyclopaedia Australian People (2000) and theEncyclopaedia of Australian Religions(2009) include several of his contributions. Dr Ata is a Senior Research Associate in HUMCASS at Monash University.
It is not a recent phenomenen that mistrust of Muslims by Western countries is rooted in a perception that the modern scourge of terrorism stems from a reli gious basis. As far back as 1995, the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19 that killed 168 people immediately sparked a search for Islamic terrorists. Although the culprits were extremists bent on creating terror, they were not Muslims but rather USborn antigovernment ‘survivalists’ who were angry with the US government. The initial belief that the attack was organised by a group of Muslim terrorists was repeated on several national television networks. Research indicates that Australian–Muslims have surpassed Asians as one of Australia’s most marginalised religious and ethnic groups. ABC Radio National’s The World Todayprogram (February 19, 2003) revealed that more than any other cultural or ethnic group, Muslims and people from the Middle East are thought to be unable to fit into Australia, with more than 50% of Australians preferring their relatives did not to marry into a Muslim family; and that Australia was weakened because they were ‘sticking to their old ways’. Without doubt this is an oversimplification of diverse interpretations of interfaith relations and cultural harmony — one that makes it difficult for an outsider to come up with a legitimate single truth. It is important to consider the patterns of crosscultural differences, as one becomes confused and reactive when communicating with participants in the field. This is a challenge in a society like Australia that contains a multitude of cultures with diverse points of view. In communicating with participants from several cultures, the responses may reflect different world views in the way they are affected by outside events. One participant rescheduled an interview several times, each time insisting that I meet at another convenient time. When I insisted that he commit himself in earnest, he grumbled, ‘Inshallah’ — God willing. Finally, he apologised that he had no time. Some who agreed to the interview often increased the volume of their conversation as a sign that a loud voice makes a sound argument.