As a prominent media personality, academic, mother of two and former Australian Muslim of the Year, Dr Susan Carland has no shortage of achievements to her name.
She is host and quiz master of the new SBS series Child Genius. And for those who aren’t familiar with her or her work, this is why you should be:
At 17, she decided to explore other religions
Born in suburban Melbourne to a New Zealand mother and Australian father, Dr Carland was a typical young white girl raised as a Christian in the Uniting Church.
Deciding to explore faith further as a teenager, she joined the Baptist church but despite having a very positive experience with their members, felt she had questions the religion couldn’t quite answer.
She began pondering whether she held the beliefs that she did only because she had been raised to, or rather because she knew them to be essentially true.
And as a result at the age of 17 she determined to learn more about other faiths, and two years later converted to Islam.
She felt an intellectual connection to the Islamic faith
Before Dr Carland’s exploration of Islam, she had a preconceived idea of it being violent, sexist and foreign.
In fact, after telling her mother that her New Year’s resolution was to investigate other religions, she was reportedly told, “I don’t care if you marry a drug dealer, but don’t marry a Muslim”.
Dr Carland's approach to Islam was an academic one. She read old scholarly texts on the fundamental beliefs of the faith and came away with a deep intellectual appreciation for their concept of an indivisible God and the idea that asking for forgiveness, without the condition of sacrifice or penance, was enough to attain it from God.
She tells Islam, My Choice, “When I read about Islam itself, I realised it was actually very different to what I thought.
“It was actually very peaceful, very egalitarian, with strong emphasis on equal treatment of women, and a strong stance on social justice. I thought it was a very intellectual religion, yet it was also very spiritual, and that also appealed to me as well.”
She couldn’t wait to start wearing the headscarf
After converting faiths, Dr Carland had concerns about “coming out as Muslim” and how her family and friends would perceive her decision.
She was eager to start wearing a headscarf and began doing so a few days after she broke the news to her teary mother.
Speaking to Meshel Laurie's Nitty Gritty Committee, Dr Carland explains, “the reason I wear the hijab or the headscarf is as an active worship to God. It's just about reminding myself who I am, what my values are, why I'm here.”
She has strong feelings against both enforcing or prohibiting anyone to wear a headscarf and says, “there are some women who say [wearing the hijab] is a feminist statement.”
“In a society where women’s bodies are used to sell everything from toothpaste to cars, [for those women] covering [their] body is about…saying ‘I’ll decide who sees my body and what parts they get to see by wearing a hijab and covering my body I’m choosing to not have my body commodified in that way.’”
She’s all about Muslim women fighting sexism
A sociologist and lecturer at Melbourne’s Monash University, Dr Carland added to her academic record by completing a PhD in the School of Political and Social Inquiry.
Her thesis, titled 'Fighting Hislam', is on how Muslim women fight sexism and was published as a book in 2017.
Her research specialises in gender, sexism, activism, and the experiences of Muslim women.
She rejected Waleed’s romantic advances at first
Dr Carland was 16 when she first met Waleed Aly, also 16. They had spoken on the phone but only came face to face when Carland knocked on the door of his family home one afternoon.
It wasn’t until a number of years later however, that Aly proposed taking their friendship further, but as Dr Carland explains to TV Week, she wasn’t all that receptive.
“He rang me up and said ‘Look, I like you, and would really like to pursue this’,” she recounts, before revealing her reply was a blunt, “'I wouldn't marry you if were the last person on earth.”
A year later her feelings had changed and she approached her now husband with an apology and a date, and they haven’t been apart since.
The pair wed on the lawns of Melbourne Zoo in 2002 and share two children, Aisha and Zayd.
The Project co-host Aly dedicated a significant portion of his Gold Logie acceptance speech to his wife.
Heaping praise on both her personal and professional traits he joked, "If she had my job she'd be much better at it than me. She's sharper, wittier, funnier and infinitely more charming and likeable.”
She hates being called a “Muslim power couple”
With very few Muslim Australians holding prominent prime time places on Australian TV, Aly and Dr Carland are regularly looked to as public spokespeople of the Muslim community – a premise Dr Carland rejects.
She tells the Nitty Gritty Committee, “If I’m asked to comment on things I will always preface it by saying I’m not a spokesperson, I’m not a community leader, I’m not an expert on these things I’m just a person. I have opinions on things but I don’t represent anyone other than myself.”
And as for the brand of being a “Muslim power couple” she laughs, “It’s bizarre, we’re not even remotely powerful!”
Child Genius begins on Monday 12 November at 7.30pm at SBS and SBS On Demand: