A Perspective of Australia in a Muslim Context: Its Early History and Present Challenges

Yazan:Metin Noorata / Fatih Sultan Mehmet Üniversitesi

Imam Afroz Ali draws attention to the present-day crisis of Islamic scholarship in his home country of Australia. He argues that those who have acquired sacred knowledge and have gained a well-grounded, sound understanding of Islam have a great responsibility and obligation to impart what they have learned to others. In this context, Imam Afroz emphasizes Turkey’s potential in becoming a global leader in the preservation as well as the transmission of Islam’s intellectual and scholarly tradition.

Before its commonly known usage for the calling of the prayer (adhān), the minārah (lit: lighthouse) in early Islam was initially intended for travelers in Muslim lands. With the approach of the evening prayer, a fire would conventionally be lit from the minārah to indicate a place of sanctuary.

Imam Afroz uses this to introduce the Muslim community in Australia. As it has been suggested, a minārah was built by Muslims in Australia’s north western lands, now known as Western Australia.

Before Australia’s first established settlements in the eighteenth century, accounts of its discovery had been recorded by a number of people. In the ninth century, Muhammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī had shown the details of what is now referred to as Cape York Peninsula. Abū Ishāq al-Fārsī al-Istakhrī later in the tenth century had also described the northern Australian lands. In his book The Rihla, ibn Battuta identifies the indigenous Australians and refers to them as the Arnām and its land as ard al-Arnām.

In the fifteenth century, the Chinese Muslim explorer Zheng He had come into contact and established strong trade agreements with the Aboriginal Australians. He was also the first person in history known to have developed the rudimentary compass as a means for navigation. His main motivation and concern, however, was to find a way to work out the direction of the qiblah in Mecca. Imam Afroz upholds that aside from the compass being one of the most indispensable devices in human history, Zheng He’s discovery bears proof to both his ikhlās, or sincerity, and commitment to worshipping Allah, and moreover, exemplifies the essence of barakah (blessings from Allah) seeing that when something arises out of ikhlās, it will live beyond that person, that is, by Allah’s Will, until the end of time.

Muslims of the past had ventured to seek knowledge from the creation in order to understand Allah and the essence of His attributes; this effort was what they essentially prioritized. However, when Allah simply becomes a means for which creation is sought, such that the ends of the material world are desired, the barakah, according to the Hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), is removed from all that which Allah gives.

Imam Afroz poses the question: Why should we benefit humanity? He explains that jalb al-masālih, or the accrual of benefits, is one of the fundamental principles of usul al-fiqh. On that account, beyond the spiritual benefits received from an act of giving, one must recognize that the destitute, who being deprived of the basic necessities of food and shelter, are only able to worship Allah when provided with adequate sustenance. Therefore, in the Islamic tradition, one who is unable to secure their safety and well-being would ultimately be forgiven for their incompetence to offer their obligatory prayers since sustenance is a critical means for one to even begin to reflect on Allah.

In the course of his three-month encounter with the Aboriginal Australians, Imam Afroz relates a story of theirs that goes back to the sixteenth century. In this story, their ancestors would describe a people who would come to the shores of the land and because they did not have permission to enter, they would burn a fire to invite the Aborigines to come and meet them. The Aborigines are said to have remembered these people with one particular name: the muwāhidūn, or the people of one God. They were further described as being humble people and givers of life—they had turned out to be Muslims.

Imam Afroz closes his lecture on five significant challenges that Muslims throughout the world, particularly those living in Australia, are facing: (1) the issue of purely intellectualizing Islam to the extent that disregard is given to service and education; (2) the widespread ethnic divide of immigrant Muslims, especially in the West; (3) the need for female Muslim scholarship around the world; (4) the importance of establishing a global connection of the ummah where Muslim scholars can come to countries like Australia to actively and intellectually contribute; and finally, (5) the need for institutionalization where, for instance, it would allow knowledge to be handed down from one generation to the next.

 

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