Islamic studies expert Dr Jan Ali of the University of Western Sydneyresponds to comments made by Geert Wilders after the controversial Dutch MPspoke to SBS about his anti-Islamic agenda.
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19 Feb 2013 - 12:58 PM  UPDATED 26 Aug 2013 - 10:48 AM

Islamic studies expert Dr Jan Ali of the University of Western Sydney responds to comments made by Geert Wilders after the controversial Dutch MP spoke to SBS about his anti-Islamic agenda.

Wilders stated in his interview with SBS yesterday that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim, claiming that “according to the Koran, they are not Muslims anymore”. Is it possible to be a moderate Muslim?

The Koran doesn't talk about moderate or extreme Muslims; it talks about Muslims full-stop. It is the practice that can be described as extreme or moderate, and it is always from the outside that people can be perceived to be moderate or extreme. But from within Islam it may be not the case. For example, in the west we might see women for instance wearing a niqab in 40 degree heat walking along the street in Lakemba or, for that matter, in the city. And outsiders who actually don't understand this think this is extreme, but the person wearing the niqab might not see it as extreme but as part and parcel of her religion.

Wilders also claims there can only be one kind of Muslim, and that is what most would consider a very extreme interpretation of Islam.

He says: “Islam has no room for anything but Islam… that is the nature of the religion.”

I believe that Wilder's conceptualisation of Islam and Muslims is basically pregnant with expedient rhetoric and pure falsity. In other words, he has a very poor conceptualisation of Islam. He essentially fails to recognise that Islam is a complete way of life. It is definitely not a monolithic system. Muslims practice their Islam in a variety of ways that is very much dictated by their cultural context, and ethnic and parochial tradition. Therefore sociologically these are important factors in contributing to heterogenisation of Islam.

Wilders basically ignores the fact that Islam has a rich philosophical, intellectual and rational tradition. He fails to register that. He fails to recognise its principle tenets and its centres on justice on humanitarianism.

How do you respond to Wilders' comments about the apparent suppression of women in Islam?

I think he fails to acknowledge in his rhetoric that Islam gave women rights, equal rights [that] abolished some evil practices in pre-Islamic Arabian culture such as infanticide. Islam established very sophisticated social justice system, bureaucracy and contributed to civilisation in a variety of ways. These contributions cannot be ignored.

Another key Wilders argument is that Muslims live in fear of their own religion; that they are not allowed to criticise or abandon Islam.

To quote: “It is the core business of the totalitarian ideology that if you want to leave the ideology you are not allowed to do so.”

That is Wilders' own interpretation, his own conceptualisation of Islam. The totalitarian ideology he talks about, probably he is referring to some totalitarian regime such as Gaddafi's regime or maybe in the past, Saddam Hussein. To some extent, that is true, but it has nothing to do with Islam. The Islamic political system is totally different from the system Muslims actually have acquired particularly after colonialism which is in the guise of a western democratic system or something very similar.

Among the more extreme comments are insinuations that Islam actively encourages violence. Wilders mentions several cases of terrorism including threats against Scandinavian cartoonists who negatively depicted the Prophet Muhammad and those involved in 9/11.

I think Wilders is infusing fear in Muslims as well as those outside the Muslim world that are trying to demonise the Muslim world. That is essentially my calculation, because of his very poor understanding of Islam.

To understand the Koran you simply don't just read it and engage in some kind of interpretation or translation and you've got a perfect picture. The science of Koran goes through a very vigorous process in terms of appreciating the teaching of Koran. It's a very long process. Even people who speak Arabic have to engage in a very long study to really appreciate the Koran. That's why the sheikhs who go to study Islamic scripture, particularly the Koran, spend six to 10 years studying the science. Wilders reading a couple of verses here and there and expressing himself to be a kind of expert on Koranic science is a bit arrogant to say the least.

Yes, the Koran can be understood by reading it, but I would say that to engage in a public discourse about the nature and content of the Koranic teaching one should be very careful, because it's not a simple process.

Wilders warns that Australia could experience what he calls “the problems of Europe” if our immigration policies don't change.

“I believe the mistakes we made in Europe, or in the Netherlands where we have an enormous influx of mass immigration from Islamic countries together with the concept of multicultural society or even worse, the cultural relativism – the misconception that all cultures are equal – I believe the mistakes we made, you can learn from that.”

First and foremost, our Muslim population is a very small population. At the moment there are about 400,000 Muslim people living in Australia. And the vast majority are moderate Muslims. I don't like the term, but for description we have the majority of Muslims who have Islam as a kind of nominal identity. There is no real fear of Islam becoming a supreme political force that will overtake the current Australian political system.

Within Islam or within Muslims in Australia we have got people coming from 70 different ethnic and national backgrounds, so our Muslim population is very heterogeneous, and heterogeneity doesn't necessarily translate to a collective force. Therefore, if let's say for instance Muslims want to engage in a political challenge to our current system, you will have a very small number of people engaged in that.

Do you think Australian multiculturalism has been more successful than the European experience?

Our multiculturalism in Australia has been quite a successful story. We have this appreciation of other cultures and there is reasonable cohesion and harmony. We also have social inclusion programs, activities, both within Muslim and non-Muslim [communities] and within Muslim communities as well, we have Muslims becoming politicians at all levels, local council level, state level, local council level, we have Muslims running large corporations as CEOs, so they have [become] quite well integrated and I'm sure that's also the case in Europe.

Wilders' articulation that Islam and Muslims are going to take over multiculturalism is nothing but a scare-mongering exercise. There is nothing wrong with European multiculturalism or Australian multiculturalism. What is wrong is politicians' attitudes towards different groups of people, including Muslims.