JENNY BROCKIE: Welcome everybody, good to have you all here. I'd like to start by going to the United States, and to you Reza Aslan in Los Angeles, you were an American Muslim, you were born in Iran. Why do you think anti-Islamic sentiment is higher now than immediately after September 11 - is it related to these foiled terror plots or is it deeper than that?
REZA ASLAN, RELIGIOUS SCHOLAR: Well I think there are a number of reasons for it, certainly the economy plays a role in all of this, in times of economic distress, it's only natural for people - and Americans have done this for many years - to look for a scapegoat. Depending on where you live in this country, the scapegoats are either, frankly, Mexicans or Muslims. So, you know, God save you if you happened to be a Mexican Muslim in America right now.
Also part of it has to do with a sense of war weariness in the United States - we have been involved in wars in the region for about 10 years and I think there's something important here that isn't talked about enough, and it's Barak Obama. One-fifth of Americans, 20% believe that Barak Obama is, himself, a Muslim and in fact - amongst Republicans that number is almost 40%. Polls show in this country, that the more you disagree with Barak Obama's domestic policies, the more likely you are to think that he is a Muslim.
The reason I bring this up is because what’s happened in the United States is something that has already happened in Europe and that is that Islam is become 'otherised’, it has become a kind of receptacle into which fears and anxieties about the political or economic situation, about the changing racial landscape of this country are being thrown.
This is something common to the United States - Make no mistake - In fact, every single thing that has been said about Muslims, that they are un-American, that they are foreign, that they are exotic has been said in this country about Jews in the 20th century, was said about Catholics in this country, in the latter part of the 19th century, so it's a common occurrence in the United States.
I think by all accounts in the same way we look back on the anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish sentiments of our history with shame and derision and with a healthy dose of mockery, that's how we will very likely look back on this sort of anti-Muslim sentiment as well in the next generation.
JENNY BROCKIE: Nonie Darwish, you are joining us from LA too today, you were born in Egypt, raised a Muslim, you immigrated to America in the '70s, where you converted to Christianity, what do you think in response to what Reza is saying, and what do you think is behind this anti-Islamic sentiment, do you think it is about fears of terrorism or something more?
NONIE DARWISH, FORMER MUSLIMS UNITED: It's much more, of course. The west is very concerned and actually afraid because the media is not informing them. There are too many moderate Muslims who are trying to whitewash the fears and concerns of the West. It's time for us to face reality - nobody is against Muslims. When I'm speaking about this situation, it's about Islamic doctrine. Islamic doctrine promotes violence and hatred against non Muslims. 60% of the Koran is dedicated to cursing and spreading hatred and violence against non-Muslims who are called 'Kaffir’.
The word Kaffir is not just non-Muslim, it means that you are - you know, the truth about Islam, and you deny it. So it's a very derogatory word and 60% of the Koran is dedicated to non-members of the religion, so Islam looks at the outside world in a very - they want to achieve conquering the world. Islam is more than a religion, it's much more than a religion, it's a way of life, it is a one party political system that has a very elaborate legal system that can put you to death if you leave it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alright, I'm going to stop you there Nonie because I want to get some of our people involved here in Australia. Sheikh Mohamadu Nawas Saleem, I want to ask you the point that Nonie makes about the Koran, 60% of it preaching hatred and violence, what is your response to that?
SHEIKH MOHAMADU NAWAS SALEEM, AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL IMAMS COUNCIL: Even An ardent non-Muslim who read the Koran would not say that. I met Muslim psychologist who learned Koran for 10 years with this question in his mind, whether God talks about God himself, or whether God revealed this Koran, and he was unable to find anything that shows that Koran is 60% of the Koran is against a Muslim, because a Koran says that it is the Aratama, the blessing for the Isle of Ming, it includes everything, how come a book claiming to be a blessing to the whole humanity address the non-Muslims in that derogatory term as Nonie describes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Randa, what is your view of this, you are an Australian Muslim, you were in the US recently - this does form part of the heart of this debate about whether the Koran preaches violence, whether there's something intrinsically worrying at the centre of Islam, what is your response to that?
RANDA ABDEL– FATTAH, LAWYER/AUTHOR: When I was in the US, I felt that the discourse there surrounding Muslims as the other, problematising Muslims and Islam as the other was very similar to what we find in Australia, which is that the image of Islam is a constructed image in the West. We are starting from a point of view that Islam and Muslims – well Islam is a violent, misogynistic, hateful religion and that is where the debate always starts from – that presumption underlies the discourse.
It’s a discourse that sees nothing remotely beautiful or moral in Islam. We are plagued by a line of discourse that is utterly chaotic, it is ideologically charged, politically motivated, making sweeping generalisations about Muslims as Nonie has done - so that we are just one homogeneous mass. So the religiously observant is lumped in with the nominal Muslim, the nominal Muslim is lumped in with the non-Muslim and the radical. If we want to make sense of this mess and stop pushing Muslims into the arms of the extremist, we need to make meaningful distinctions between the religion of Islam that a billion Muslims follow and see as a guidance as a peaceful righteous moral life and the puritanical Islam of a minority which so captures the media’s attention.
One thing that I wanted to say about Nonie is that with all due respect – I see her as the poster girl of Islamic phobic cash cow, because really, people like that are allowed to assume an heroic status as somehow escaping Islam and living to tell the tale, that they are the religious whistleblowers on Islam, precisely because there is this constructed image of Islam as a hateful religion.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alright, I'll get a response from Nonie to that, Nonie?
NONIE DARWISH: There's no need to any whistleblower, the Koran is there. We don't need a genius, you don't need to be a genius or a great thinker to read those versus"¦.. (Speaks in Arabic) I mean, what - it's promoting terrorism.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can you translate"¦.. Nonie, you'll have to translate for a lot of people listening at home. What does it say?
NONIE DARWISH: It's a verse in the Koran telling Muslims to prepare every effort and everything to and to use the horses of war and spread terrorism against non-Muslims.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'll get a response. I'll get a response from Reza about this.
NONIE DARWISH: It's all over the Koran, it’s all over the Koran.
JENNY BROCKIE: Reza Aslan, your response to that, to what is in the Koran.
REZA ASLAN: First of all, I have to say that it's a weird feeling to have to respond to a Christian leader of an anti-Muslims organisation - it would be like having to respond to a Muslim leader of an anti-Jewish organisation about Judaism so the whole thing is kind of weird. Let me just say it's kind of convenient to simply pick and choose whatever violent bits and pieces one finds in the Koran and ignore the equally important versus that talk about compassion and peace. There's nothing strange or unusual about the Koran, the same Tora that gives us the 10 commandments commands the Jews to enact genocide upon every non-believer of Yaway. The same gospel telling us to turn the other cheek, also says "Jesus says I've come to bring the sword and not peace, and that he who doesn't have a cloak should sell the cloak and buy a sword".
The thing about scripture is, scripture talks about war and peace, love and hatred, compassion and bigotry, that is why it's important, that’s why something that was written 5,000 years ago is still read today because it could be understood how you want to. Only an idea log or a bigot would choose to only focus on one part of the scripture, and ignore the other parts.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to get a feel from non-Muslims in the audience here, about how they view Islam, because I'd like to get a sense of that from some of the people here. Marco, what do you understand about Islam.
MARCO BOTROS: I'm born and raised in Egypt as a Christian, so the problem is, it doesn't give me comfort in knowing that, when they are getting taught from a young age is they are taught to hate Christian and Jews, or doesn't give me comfort in knowing that they basically memorise in the Koran how to fight me, until I believe or else.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay Amrit, what about you – you’re a Sikh, what is your view?
AMRIT VERSHA: I believe religion is an institution, there are good and bad things about all institutions. It's - I think Islam is based on some fundamental principles and they are open to interpretation. Within the Sikh religion we have this debate of shorn hair, unshorn hair, people that cut their hair are not Sikhs, who am I to define that. I think it is the choice of that individual.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to get other comments. Ray. What do you think? Yes.
RAY: Actually, I am a Jew, and because of that my history goes back many thousands of years. But the history of Judaism is the enlightenment of what happens with people who are looking beyond primitive values, if we tend to go back and regress towards primitive values which in some cases Islam can represent that, not necessarily does, but can represent, we are regressing back to primitive situations which is not called for in society.
JENNY BROCKIE: Judith, what is your feeling about this. What do you understand about Islam, how compatible do you think Islamic values are with democratic countries?
JUDY SMITH: In Australia they are compatible and I think we have to see Australia as quite different from certainly Europe and England and I know a lot of English people that I come across now moved out here in the last couple of years tend to say "Oh, it's nice to come to the North Shore area and not be surrounded by people in burquas or dark-skinned people, it's wonderful", you have to say "Look, don't bring that baggage with you, multiculturalism is working extremely well here". So you must leave that behind, see where Australia sits geographically as opposed to where England sits geographically and say "This is a totally different situation here".
JENNY BROCKIE: Ray?
RAY SIMPSON: Australia is very young country, 200 years old, and most of the people that make up Australia have come from other places. And over those 200 years we had a very peaceful existence here in Australia because everyone has a tolerant attitude to new ideas and different ideals, but we have a main ideal, which is the strength of a democracy, and because we have this democracy, we allow diverse attitudes and ideas to be espoused and may I say the fact that we have an SBS broadcasting system which allows those ideas to be promoted throughout the nation is fantastic and the more we know about other people, and beliefs the better it is for Australia.
JENNY BROCKIE: OK, we didn't set that up either - Werner your reaction.
WERNER SCHMIDLIN: My reaction is I bring a lot of concern here from a lot of people. My concern is that the Muslims here in this country don't seem to assimilate. I come from Germany in 1954, I was intended to stay for two years, been here for 57 years, I became an Australian citizen after five years and I'm an Australian. There are no divided loyalties, I'm an Australian, I still have family in Germany. I'm saying you can be a little bit pregnant, you either pregnant or you are not, you are either Australian or you not.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can I get a response "¦ Mariam, do you want to respond to that - what do you say to Werner?
MARIAM Z. VEISZADEH: In terms of the whole topic about Islama phobia, the sentiment felt in Australia, I think we need to draw a distinction between what is felt in the US, what’s felt in the United Kingdom and what is felt here. This talk of integration seems to comes up quite a lot and the reason it's frustrating for me is often I feel that how much more integrated do I need to be. I work as a corporate solicitor in the corporate world, I live in the North Shore, we made references to that earlier. I understand your concern with respect to proportion of Muslims who generally live perhaps in different areas of Sydney.
I think we need to understand the root cause of that, however and I think the other thing to focus on is that the media plays enormous role in shaping people's perceptions about race, about religion, about Muslims, with all due respect to some of the shows on television, you have 'Today Tonight' and 'A Current Affair' which essentially on a fortnightly basis is Muslim bash. When you get that perception of Muslims, for a lot of mainstream people their understanding of Islam is established through a ridiculous documentary focused on extremism or 'A Current Affair' Muslim bashing, so we need to understand where we are we getting our knowledge of Muslims.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, a quick response.
WERNER SCHMIDLIN: I'm not here for Muslim bashing, I just want some answers and somebody sent me a document herewith a question, 'can a good Muslim be a good Australian’. I didn't want to publish this on my blog because I didn’t have the answer - the answer was given from a man who lived in Australia for 20 years, from Saudi Arabia, his reply to that is doubt... I had a friend in Cairns, who studies the Bible, and especially the Koran, as a hobby. I sent it to him, and he said "This question I have, I would like to ask".
JENNY BROCKIE: We can't go through a list of questions on a piece of paper , there's a lot of people on the room who do want to raise them. Your question is can a good Muslim be a good Australia. Who would like to answer that?
IKEBAL PATEL, AUSTRALIAN FEDERATION OF ISLAMIC COUNCILS: I'll take that. Firstly, I think that Nonie has to be probably given a copy of the authentic Koran, if she says 60% of the Koran is something that is against the greater world, then obviously her understanding of the Koran is probably from somebody who has a very warped vision of the Koran. Coming back to this gentleman here about, 'Can a Muslim be a good Australian?’ there have been many Muslims in the country who have taken the highest of office. There is Ahmed Fahour, CEO of National Australia Bank, wouldn't you call him a good Australian. There's a Muslim sitting in the Federal Parliament now"¦. Sister here, who is a lawyer - if she wasn't in this room and she was speaking nobody would know whether she was a Muslim or good Australian, as far as I'm concerned she speaks as much Australian as anybody else. I think this debate has gone to a lot of Muslim bashing, Islam bashing, because it's the sexy thing to do right now.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to comment from Mark Durie, because you are an Anglican Vicar and you’re a theologian, is that right? You talked about the west having battered women's syndrome in relation to Islam. What do you mean by that?
MARK DURIE, THEOLOGIAN: When someone comes under abuse or attack a characteristic response is to blame yourself, especially if you are locked into a relationship of being attacked regularly, and making apologies for your abuser. It actually affects Christians living in Islamic circumstances more, and one Palestinian Christian spoke about that problem of needing to defend Islam in order to protect yourself. Some people in the west have responded to the terrorist attacks by trying to look for everything that is positive in Islam. I think that was a strong response after 9/11, was to try to reach out as positively as possible. But in the end, there are some disturbing messages in the Koran, there were declarations of war against non-believers, there's a declaration that Islam should be triumphant over other religions, the problem is this is not just in the book, but preached throughout the Islamic world that are preached, we in the West hear about that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sheikh Mohamadu Nawas Saleem, would you like to respond before the break?
SHEIKH MOHAMADU NAWAS SALEEM: The word is related to war, was revealed in the context of the war, for example, I would like to ask Nonie and other people who are talking about this war when Australian Government in its Budget allocate money to buy F-16s, arms, does that mean that Indonesia should be very, very, scared they'll wage war against Indonesia. The war situation was there, and at that time there was no formal army, no budgeting, the Prophet Mohammed was guided through the revelation at that time - he was confronting an enemy who is determined to eliminate the prophethood - The last messages. So he had to take constructive action, the revelation guides him.
JENNY BROCKIE: You are saying this is document of its time, is that the point you are making.
SHEIKH MOHAMADU NAWAS SALEEM: Anybody who is reading this one, the context itself says you have to get - you need to get the horses and the things. That is the war situation.
IKEBAL PATEL: I think, Jenny, what the Sheik is saying is if you read any book, and the Koran is in flowing Arabic, you have a very literal meaning, you have a thematic meaning and the context in how you pick each and every verse, it can be put in any context you want to.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's a point - Plenty of slang and stoning in the Bible too. We are talking about rising anti-Islamic sentiment Europe and in the US, and what is driving it, Reza Aslan, I would like to come back to you, we hear a lot about Sharia law, I would like you to explain from your perspective, what it is, and how important it is to Muslim identity.
REZA ASLAN: There's really no such thing as just Sharia, it's not one monolithic Continuum - Sharia is understood in thousands of different ways over the 1,500 years in which multiple and competing schools of law have tried to construct some kind of civic penal and family law code that would abide by Islamic values and principles, it's understood in many different ways, there are three foundational issues or three divisions that I should say that Sharia fits into, one is penal law of course and that is what gets all the attention, there's two countries in the world right now that actually have a Federal mandate to enact penal law according to the Sharia, that's Saudi Arabia, and Iran.
Then there's financial law, obviously, which has become quite popular, actually in the US and in the west, ever since the global economic meltdown, and then there is something about family law, and that involves marriage, divorce, inheritance, these kinds of issues. So when you say Sharia, even to a Muslim, it's understood in vastly different ways, in many ways it's part of an identity and most Muslims when they talk about wanting Sharia to play a role in their lives really mean it in so far as it talks about family law, you know, issues like, as I said marriage, divorce.
In the United States we have all across this country, we have dozens of Halakha courts, in which particularly observant Jews can take these issues of family law to an orthodox Court and have that judge, judge for them. In the United Kingdom they do the same for Catholic and Jewish communities, we see the same thing in Europe with Muslim communities, looking to Sharia courts. As long as the courts don't violate the laws of the land and as long as there's a room for appeal should one or two parties disagree with the verdict, I don't see how this would have anything to do with being incompatible with what we refer to as Western ideas of democracy.
JENNY BROCKIE: How comfortably do those values in Sharia law sit with democratic values?
REZA ASLAN: There's no such thing as values in Sharia law, that is what I was trying to explain, it's understood in thousands of different ways by tens of thousands of different institutions, who really disagree with each other far more than they disagree with people of other religions, the values that you bring to Sharia are whatever values you yourself have, if you are a bigot, misogynist and a violent person, your interpretation of Sharia will be bigoted, violent and misogynistic, if you are a democrat and a pluralist and someone who is peace loving, that's how you'll see the Sharia.
JENNY BROCKIE: Nonie, a response from you?
NONIE DARWISH: This is very evasive - Sharia law is a Malignant law, it's totally based on the interpretation of the Koran and the Hajid, and the way Islam and the profit lived. I don't know understand why he's white washing the meaning of Sharia – Sharia is a set of laws"¦..
REZA ASLAN: I'm a scholar of Sharia, that’s why.
NONIE DARWISH: Excuse me"¦. I'm a scholar of Sharia, too.
REZA ASLAN: Excuse me.
NONIE DARWISH: Sharia is the most oppressive system on earth. It encourages people to lie, if it's for the benefits of Islam. It doesn't allow Muslims to leave Islam, and there's a death penalty in all the schools of Sharia against those that leave Islam. Sharia defines what jihad is. Sharia is very clear. It's not...
REZA ASLAN: These are patterns of false statements. I'm confused.
NONIE DARWISH: I am speaking, I did not interrupt you.
JENNY BROCKIE: Nonie quickly, then I'll get a response from Reza.
NONIE DARWISH: Jihad is described as a war against Muslims, to establish the religion, the West is concerned, let's be open with them. Why this deception.
JENNY BROCKIE: Reza, a quick response from you.
NONIE DARWISH: Moderate Muslims are trying to convince the West that Sharia is good instead of trying to...
JENNY BROCKIE: I'll stop you there, there's a lot of other people that want to talk. Reza, quickly a response.
REZA ASLAN: I don't have a response to that, every word she says is factually incorrect. I don't really know what to say.
JENNY BROCKIE: Can I have a response from you Randa. Some people, I think, fear Sharia when they see what happens in some Islamic countries and they see severe human rights abuse, what is your response to what Nonie has said and your reaction to that fear people have about Sharia law?
RANDA ABDEL– FATTAH: Well, I want to make three points about Sharia very quickly because it is hard to talk about such a huge topic in sound bites. We must recognise – both Muslims and non- Muslims, that the Koran is a text. We need human engagement with that text, so we have to understand that the rulings and the legal rulings are produced are channelled through the human mind, it's an interpretive act of a human being engaging and interacting with a text producing legal results. Because of that it's susceptible to flaws, it is not perfect. No-body has perfect access to the divine will.
The second point I would like to make is, because of this potential for abuse, there needs to be more women scholars, and that is not something new, we need to return to the glorified past and get more women scholars involved to overcome the Fetahs of patriarchy.
And the third point is that if as we accept God is the perfect epitome of justice, mercy, goodness, and compassion, then our efforts to define the divine will through Sharia should be predicated on achieving a result that is merciful compassionate. Any one of these points if it "¦.if people were mindful of them – people like the Taliban or people in despotic or people in theocratic regimes, were mindful of these principles, I think that it would help in overcoming the travesty, which we see which is an abuse of Islam to exact an appalling oppression of people's rights.
JENNY BROCKIE: Uthman, you are a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir an Islamic group which is banned in a number of countries, your response to what Randa is saying - is that your interpretation?
UTHMAN BADAR, HIZB UT-TAHRIR: I would like to question the premise put forward, not by Randa but others, implicitly that it's democracy and the enlightenment that Islam needs to be compared against, as if Western liberalism is a standard, and the Sharia here is on trial. And we can ask the question, is it or compatible or not compatible. Fundamentally, no-one is silly enough to say there's no fundamental differences between Islam and Western ideology, the question is is that behinds the rise in anti-Islamic sentiment. I don't think so.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to get back to Randa"¦ I'm interested in Randa's interpretation of Islam, and what she has to say about Islam, do you agree with her, do you see it the way she sees it?
UTHMAN BADAR: On what point?
JENNY BROCKIE: On the points she was just making.
UTHMAN BADAR: She made a number of points.
JENNY BROCKIE: You heard them. Yassir, you disagree with her, why.
YASSIR MORSI: There's a tendency for us overcoming stereotypes to dismantle Islam into many different things and many different pieces. Nevertheless there's unorthodoxy, there is still a Sharia, and there is still a consensus and tradition attempting to interpret these laws. Looking for flexibility, looking for engagement and looking for cross polling ideas with modernity doesn't require us to completely smash the tradition into multiplicities and that is where I disagree. It's not about – again, Muslims in this conversation are being hijacked, we are supposed to speak about the source of fear of Islam, and once again we are on the defensive.
JENNY BROCKIE: No, I think - this is interesting.
YASSIR MORSI: Once again the conversation is becoming about what is the nature of Islam.
JENNY BROCKIE: I think because people want to understand that. It's interesting to hear that there are different views about this - that the Islamic community is not a monolith – it has different views.
UTHMAN BADAR: It's a bit rich to say there's a threat, Koran versus X, Y,Z whilst on the ground the US has over 800 military bases around the world outside the United States hundreds of those in the Muslim world. So who is taking over who? It's a joke.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to get back though, to the range of views within the Muslim communities, I would stress the plurality there, rather than it being a singular monolithic group.
YASSIR MORSI: That's the myth. We should foreground Islam, not Muslims, through Muslims there's polarity, but Islam still has a centre and it's worrying when Muslims themselves try to dissolve the centre.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mariam, is that your Islam. When you hear there's a centre, that it is absolute, that you can’t"¦..
YASSIR MORSI: I wouldn't say it's absolute, I said there's a centre.
JENNY BROCKIE: There's a centre. I want to here from Mariam.
MARIAM Z. VEISZADEH: If I pose the question back to you, and if you had to articulate for me what Islam stands for and what Islam is in one sentence, it would be very difficult to define.
YASSIR MORSI: No, it wouldn't, not at all.
MARIAM Z. VEISZADEH: The point you raised is a good point in a sense that we are not a homogeneous group of people, we can not be painted with the same brush either. Just the views in this room are so diverse, and that is a representation of one-fifth of the world's population. This whole"¦ with all due respect to these people that go around terrorism, terrorist, the name I give them is lunatics, committing atrocious crimes in the name of my faith frustrates me, making my blood boil. A lot of perceptions of Islam is gathered through the media's focus on terrorism. For me personally, Islam, you know, condemns terrorism - the acts that took place on September 11, Bali bombings.
YASSIR MORSI: Let’s talk about that, if Islam condemns terrorism and at the same time Islam is many, what's your reference point for saying bin Laden is wrong, and the racist interpretation of Islam is wrong. There needs to be a centre that can distinguish right Islam from wrong Islam. And this is what I am sensitive about, you guys are dissolving the centre simply so we can be seen...
RANDA ABDEL– FATTAH: Where is the centre?
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think the centre is?
YASSIR MORSI: You go across the Muslim world, there's unorthodoxy grounding it in the Koran, it is very clear.
RANDA ABDEL– FATTAH: Where, where, who who?
YASSIR MORSI: 90% of the Muslim world falls under the category of Sunda. It doesn't exist.
JENNY BROCKIE: I find this interesting - In a moment Ikebal Patel. I'm interested in your background as well. You grew up in Melbourne with secular parents. You say you are someone trying to be a more traditional Muslim. What does that mean?
YASSIR MORSI: That means that I'm moving away from the idea Islam is nothing more than a catalogue of more personal Muslim opinions, that there is a tradition there, there is a necessity to engage with tradition, we should search for a voice from above even if we can’t find it initially. In our tradition there's an aesthetic spiritual linage going back to the prophet.
JENNY BROCKIE: You say you have a complete mistrust of the Australia, why?
YASSIR MORSI: Because I think the conversation isn't at all times honest. For example, nobody wants to acknowledge that there's a centre in Australia, white Australia that determines what is acceptable and what isn't acceptable. It's not visible, but it's there and it's productive.
JENNY BROCKIE: Randa, you are arguing with some of these notions.
RANDA ABDEL– FATTAH: I agree very much that there are basic principles that Muslims believe in, you take a Turkish Muslim, an Albanian Muslim and an Australian Muslim.
JENNY BROCKIE: What are those things?
RANDA ABDEL– FATTAH: Belief in one god, praying, charity, the five pillars, ethical moral objectives and messages in the Koran, the history of Islam. There are basic tenants in Islam that we universally believe in but I think it's very naive to think that Sharia, that legal rulings are derived in a vacuum, that people do not bring their own histories and politics and social pledges to bear when they interpret the Koran.
YASSIR MORSI: You are dismissing the tradition - There's sciences that determine how we interpret.
RANDA ABDEL– FATTAH: Definitely, but you are a human being interpreting something. Everyone interprets something in a different way, it's channelled through the human mind.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ikebal Patel, your response to some of this debate, and the different ideas that exist within Muslim community, about interpretation of the Koran, whether it can be interpreted at all or in particular ways, what is your response to that?
IKEBAL PATEL: The one thing that I agree with Yassir is the topic today is fear of Islam. Let's talk about contemporary world and contemporary Islam and contemporary societies. You have a Tenant of Islam in the Koran, where it says the country that you live in, it's the laws of that country, everything that goes within that country is what you embrace when you go to that country, each and every one, and some of us like Sister Mariam I am sure was born here have chosen to come here or to America, Canada or England. When you go to the country as a Muslim, Jew or Hindu, that's the country you abide by, or the legislation or rules within that country.
In terms of Australia, we have 120 different nationalities or ethnicities of Muslims in this country, there's one Islam of course, but we come from different countries, and therefore the cultural context and other things come in. In terms of Islam, Hajibra was given to the world by the Muslims. In terms of Muslims and great leaders in the past we embraced Jews and others into the world. Albania - many Jews were harboured and given shelter by Muslims. It's not the Islam we are talking about here. There's a lot in Islam that has given to the world that this debate is not bringing out.
JENNY BROCKIE: A gentleman here has had his hand up for a long time, yeah?
MAN: This show is about fear of Islam. In the US State of Oklahoma today voters are asked whether they want to amend the State's constitution to prevent the possible introduction of Sharia law because of seeing.. what I refer to as Sharia creep into some European countries, it seems very concerning to me as someone who knows nothing about Islam and has nothing against it that if, say, you convict a theft, you chop off a hand, if a woman is raped, she's stoned to death because she asked for it. Can someone tell me...
JENNY BROCKIE: Can I get a response from you Reza to the man's concerns.
REZA ASLAN: Well, as I said, what he's talking about is the very long penal codes that one finds in the multiple, multiple schools of Sharia. And those are absolutely totally and completely incompatible with human rights, with modernity, constitutionalism, democracy, there's no question about that, there's no question that there isn't a single Muslim individual or institution in the United States that's calling for those laws. Indeed, passing a law in any state in this country saying that, you know, Sharia cannot be a legal code here is sort of like passing a law forbidding Americans were riding unicorns because we have a constitution, we only have one penal code in the United States, and it applies in every single state, every city, no matter who is there. This is part of the fear mongering, that has gripped the United States, the notion that we need to pass a law forbidding the institution of a foreign Law in the United States when it is forbidden by the constitutions is yet another example of targeting Muslim communities because they are seen as different, or exceptional in other ways.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we are talking about Islam and whether it’s values conflict with a democracy. I want to talk a little about multiculturalism. Nonie, you say multiculturalism has failed in relation to Islam. Why?
NONIE DARWISH: It's only one sided. Multiculturalism is only in the West. We are absorbing a large number of Muslims in the west and at the same time the Christians and the Jews and other minorities are fleeing the Middle East, churches are being burnt, nobody is talking about it. Where are the religious freedom of the minorities. The Middle East is rejecting any other religions, so it's a one sided multiculturalism. There is a terrorist attack on a daily basis in the Muslim world. Moderate Muslims in your audience are more concerned in convincing the West that Islam is a good religion, and a peaceful religion, and are not addressing the problems in their countries of origin.
JENNY BROCKIE: A response to that. I think...
NONIE DARWISH: They are not standing... I just want to say one thing. They are not standing up to the radicals in Islam who are terrorising the west.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ikebal Patel, your response to that.
IKEBAL PATEL: Absolutely not. There's a response, her blood boils when she hears about terrorism in the name of Islam. We say if you look at the root causes of problems, let's get the issue of Palestine sorted. It's a root cause of a lot of problems, and getting a lot of young Muslims radicalised.
JENNY BROCKIE: That will not happen overnight. It's not. What about the issue of multiculturalism. Is there a problem around this issue in relation to multiculturalism that is different to what happened with previous groups. If we talk about Islam, we are talking about a vast array of different ethnic groups for a start, multiculturalism has been discussed and debated around ethnicity rather than religion.
IKEBAL PATEL: One of the things I was told by a Vietnamese, Chinese in Sydney at the youth festival five years ago was thank God it's the Muslims now - pressure is off us as Chinese and Asians in Australia.
ALEX: As a proud -- I would disagree, as a proud Canadian, I disagree.
IKEBAL PATEL: Alex, you are from Canada, let me speak of the Australian experience is that Muslims in this country, I'm talking about the young Muslims are part and parcel of Australia, they have moved on, they are still Muslims but at the same time they embrace all the qualities of Australian culture. As far as they are given a free go, there's a very bright future for Australian Muslims.
JENNY BROCKIE: Mark Durie?
MARK DURIE: I met many Christians leaving the Middle East, hoping to come to Australia feeling they would leave behind a society where they were inferiors in their native lands and they are disturbed about the rise of more separate radical Islam in Australia, not necessarily the main stream but there is a voice. The problem with multiculturalism is it's kind of arrogant. The arrogance is the assumption that everyone will buy into our values, because they have to be Superior. What is different about Islam is it's not just a type of food you ate or the way you dress, it's a total system of life driven by values, and I disagree with Reza, Islam has values, following the Koran and the example of Mohammed and they form people very profoundly and for some Muslims it creates a vision of a very different society and a hope it will be established.
JENNY BROCKIE: What are you suggesting be done about that though?
MARK DURIE: Well, one of the challenges that happened in Europe is that in accepting many Muslim people they didn't explain to them that those countries have particular values like equality of all people before the law. Islam does not accept people are equal before the law.
JENNY BROCKIE: Aisha, I'd like to hear from you?
AISHA NOVAKOVICH: I'm a Muslim woman, obviously. I'm also an Australian, I have grown up here all of my life. I came here to this country when I was 6 weeks old so I can’t speak to the idea that about leaving the Middle East and going into multicultural countries. If we think about multiculturalism and how it has actually evolved in Australia, one thing that irks me is the language framing the multicultural debate. Multiculturalism in recent decades has become a very dirty word.
Looking at the work by an emeritus professor speaking about reconceptualising Australian multiculturalism in a new paradigm, talking about citizenship, within the model actually providing for the diversity of Muslim communities to engage, participate as a political member of the community, and the idea that we have rights and responsibilities as a citizen, one of those is to participate. Now, can I continue or am I going to be cut off.
JENNY BROCKIE: If you could finish. We have a bit more to get through.
AISHA NOVAKOVICH: I'm talking about developing that sense of intercultural empathy and sympathy, there'll be cultural difference, it's not about a wholesale denial, it's about dealing with the difference and addressing that and understanding there'll be a multiplicity of voice, and that is actually very enriching to the Australian experience. And we should embrace that.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to talk quickly about leadership. It's interesting and I know we have had difficulty on this program getting moderate Muslims to speak up against extremist elements, to speak out against things that they say they have strong views about but are fearful of doing that. Now, I'd like a response from the Muslims here about that, and why that is and how you deal with that. Do you have a view on that?
AISHA NOVAKOVICH: We have leadership, people in leadership positions, obviously they are going to have their own opinions, and they are free to express them. We live in a country respecting freedom of speech.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do moderate Muslims find it hard to speak up?
AISHA NOVAKOVICH: We have a responsibility as moderate Muslims to enter into the debate and contribute and fill the space to the debate isn't hijacked by two extremes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Moderate Muslims is the problem?
YASSIR MORSI: They represent in Islam which ultimately allows other Muslims to reject it. They don't want to deal with the fundamental problem of how Islam has to integrate.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who should speak on behalf of Muslims?
RANDA ABDEL– FATTAH: When we have a debate about moderate Muslims are the problem, they don’t represent Islam. Who are you to define Islam? We are here trying to understand the divine will. Ultimately it's for god on the way of judgment. You've been misrepresenting me all morning. There is a crisis of religious authority world wide, and there are many reasons. One is colonialism. We used to have training seminaries which were independent. They were established through private endowments. It collapsed after Colonialism, there's a crisis of religious authority, speaking as a Muslim in the West, I see a crisis in religious authority, we need Indigenous Muslim scholarship understanding the Western way of life and is able to use the understanding, using legitimate Islamic sources to bring more scholarship to our way of life in the west. There's a need for that.
MARK DURIE: The problem is some of the things, for example that Reza criticises, cutting off hands, and the apostici law, people that leave Islam, they are well based. One of the reasons why people in the west are nervous is they are reading the Koran, and the life of Mohammed and he is a prophet that declared he was victorious through terror and that is disturbing to people.
MAN: When we talk about Islam, we think Islam mainly as a culture. We never think about the political nature of Islam. We go back to the history and look at it, Islam was very political right from the beginning, it's a system. Like the Liberal democratic system that is very, very dominant today in international system. Islam is such a system. Unfortunately...
MAN 2: That word is totalitarianism. That is what it is.
MAN: It is not. It's not totalitarianism, we look at the human rights and people say that it is incompatible with human rights. Islam is a religion that has stopped people burning their women alive. The first 60 years of Islamic history, you look at how much protection the prophet and Islam provided for the Jews living there, and the Christians living there.
MAN 2: They don't know.
MAN: This is a problem.. We look now and people say there are 60% of the verses, very aggressive. We look at the political nature. It is a step, look at the current international system, how the steps are behaving.
MARIAM Z. VEISZADEH: One thing we need to understand and comprehend is that the Koran is not a single book, it was revealed over 23 years over 6,000 versus, often there were instances where verses were actually revealed in response to situations taking place in those times, that's the context that is not being shared and that is the context that is - that is something we are not focussed on. The other point is you talked about moderates speaking out. This labelling, I have an issue with. Am I a moderate or extremist. How do you define it.
MAN: By class. A moderate Muslim are well off.
JENNY BROCKIE: I want to finish, we'll wrap up.
MARIAM Z. VEISZADEH: If we accept the notion that there's a thing as a moderate - I have issues with that. You say why aren't the moderates - Nonie alluded to this, why aren't the moderates speaking up. The voice of extremism seems to be louder than those of Moderates.
WOMAN: Christians and Muslims.
MARIAM Z. VEISZADEH: That's a valid point. I would like to point out the opportunity is not given to the moderate as much as it is given to groups like Hezbotati or other extremes.
JENNY BROCKIE: It's been given tonight, we are out of time. I'll have to cut you off. We do have to finish here, but we can keep going online and we do want to. Join us, talk to our guests, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Mark Durie, and Yassam. If you are in the eastern States, click on the website. I'd like to thank the international guests. Reza Aslan, and Noni Darwish. Thank you for your time. We will, of course - you can find out more about a proposed Islamic worship centre on the Gold Coast causing controversy, it's on the website.