01 May 2012

Islamisation in Education: A Case Study Of Australia

The paper focuses on the impact of Islamisation in education among the young Muslim generations in Australia. The study will highlight how the process and its development may change some aspects of young Muslim generations particularly with respect to the character and societal building. Some references and literatures on the historical background, the influence of Islamic resurgence and the comprehensive message of Islam will be included.

Islam is not only a question of belief; it also deals with identity, practice and the future. When the first revelation of Iqra (read) came to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon Him), the question of belief in the oneness of Allah was raised. Allah made it clear to him about the message of Islam, that Islam is a blessing to all mankind. Acquiring knowledge is one way to know Allah, His Attributes and His Miracles. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) encouraged his companions to seek knowledge. Knowledge is the gateway to understanding Islam, the spiritual part of it as well as all regards to the worldly affairs. Prophet Muhammad also said ‘I am the city of knowledge and Ali is the gateway to it’ (Tirmidhi).

This  knowledge-seeking culture had greatly changed the society’s dimension: from darkness  to light. From Jahiliya (ignorance), the Prophet’s companions had changed to become the best generation. Knowledge and character building come hand-in-hand, thus the outstanding characters of the companions.

Few decades later, during the Abbasid empire, Islamic civilisation was at its peak when Islam was regarded as the lighthouse to the whole world, spreading values and technology; religion and worldly affairs.

The integration of knowledge in Islam has always been highly recommended by the scholars of Islam. What kind of integration of knowledge should be observed? Integration of Islamic knowledge refers to the system of education which combine the Islamic teachings and the universal (worldly) knowledge. Originally, the system  was to produce Islamic scholars as of the scholars of Islam during the best generation who not only were masters in technology, science and philosophy but were also pious servants of Allah. Emulating these noble characters will be a real challenge for modern generation Muslims as the secular system and environment are the main hindrances towards achieving such goals. 

Australia would be a good example when discussing the Islamisation of knowledge and its impact. It would be necessary, for this case study, to appreciate some historical points of how Islam had reached ‘down under’ and how part of 1.71 per cent Muslims (Australia Bureau of Statistic 2006) in Australia struggled in trying to observe and preserve their religion-culture identity.

Islam’s connection to Australia can be traced back to the time before the European settlement, as early as 1788 (Matthews, 1995). The arrival of the Malay Macassan fishing crews and traders were followed by the Afghan camel drivers. These early Muslim traders were among the first visitors to establish an economic enterprise, founding Australia’s first ‘modern industry’. Unlike later European settlements Malay enterprise encroached little on the Aboriginal way of life. More lasting is their place in Aboriginal history and culture. They came intermittently as visitors, revealing only parts of Islam. While day-to-day contact would have made Aborigines aware of prayer times and burial practices, Islam as a way of life had little impact on Australia. In 1875, it was estimated that there were 1,800 Malays working in Western Australian waters. In 1930s, the Malays built a mosque in Broome of Western Australia (Matthews, 1997).

Another group of Muslims to settle in Australia were the Afghans. Their camels had made it possible for them to gain access to the vast interior of the Australian continent. They further proved themselves during the construction of Overland Telegraph Line in 1870-72, contributing to both the survey and construction work and carrying loads of materials into otherwise impenetrable country. By 1898, the Muslim community in Coolgardie, Western Australia numbered 300 members with 80 on average, attending Friday prayer (Bilal Cleland 2001, p.17). More mosques and Islamic Centres were established following a great increase in the Muslim population. Statistics shows that 1971  population of 22,311 increased to 340,392 in 2006 (Australian Bureau of Statistic 2007).

The growing Muslim population, in a way, had infused some development of Islamic education in shaping the Muslim identity and way of life. Individuals and groups started to be aware of the impact of the secular education system in Australia. Knowing that it would eventually erode the Muslim identity, the Muslims began to   formulate and develop Islamic education system inline with the national system as well as create Islamic environment among the society.
A study by Theodore Pulcini on Muslim discourse on education in the United States identified a number of potential educational options available to Muslim parents, each requiring a different level of participation and commitment both from parents  and the Muslim community (Pulcini 1990, p.127).The options suggested by Pulcini provide a useful framework for discussing how the educational needs of Muslim children could be met in non-Muslim countries. This framework will be applied to the Australian context. Pulcini refers to these educational options as sub-cultural, counter-cultural, accommodationist and assimilationist.

Translated into practical outcomes, the sub-cultural option is characterised by parents or the Muslim community establishing separate Islamic schools, outside the existing state-controlled system, to provide an education which reflects Islamic values and practices. Since 1983, more than 30 full-time Islamic schools have been established throughout Australia carrying the spirit of Islamic education (Galea, 2008). Much of debate on educating the Muslim children, both in Australia or other Muslim-minority countries, has focused on Islamic schools. However, the study confirmed that 90 per cent of Muslim children attend government schools. It is therefore important that issues such the relationships between curriculum, pedagogy and Islamic cultural values  also be considered.

These relationships provide the focus for the counter-cultural option which sees parents retaining their children within the secular mainstream education system while actively pursuing the cause of ensuring that Islamic knowledge be introduced into the system. The curriculum is also monitored for anti-Muslim sentiments and contents. Certain matters too need to be explained, such as the celebration of Christmas events and social parties which are against the  Islamic teachings. This option requires the Muslim community to take responsibility for religious education, including Qur’anic and Islamic instructions, which are not provided in the mainstream schools. In Australia, some Muslim parents send their children to weekend schools in Islamic centres or mosques while others send their children for private tuitions focusing on Qur’anic and Islamic studies.

Parents and Muslim communities who adopt the accommodationist option believe that Islamic education is the responsibility of the parents. Learning to live within the new society and being accepted by their peers in a conflict-free manner  is however, important for survival as Muslims in a non-Muslim country. Therefore, their children will need to adapt to the secular education of the mainstream school and integrate  it with the ethnically-based education at home. Such an option requires parents and family members to be role models of Islamic belief and practices. Parents themselves must have some knowledge of Islam in order to impart it to their children. Parents too must practise the Islamic teachings and be of good character for the children to emulate. 

The assimilationist option is adopted generally by those Muslims who describe themselves as not very religious. Such Muslims have developed a secular view of religion as the marker of ethnic identity. Assimilationists are concerned with acceptance into mainstream society and see education as the means of achieving this.

As the framework, Muslims in Australia have chosen all of these options for reasons that reflect their diversity of education level, cultural background and personal experiences. Based on the 1996 Australian census, Muslims in Australia are culturally and linguistically diverse and largely of immigrant origin.

Tirana Hassan indicates how the new generations balance the conflicts between the demands of ethnic-religious identity and Australian society. Her study revealed that some Muslim students are proud to be Muslims and practise the Islamic teachings  in the public schools or universities. This is particularly so for females who are not ashamed to wear hijab to class and observe their prayers. Some though  try  to hide their religious identity while others identify themselves by ethniciy, not religion.  For instance, an eighteen years old Indian Muslim of Malaysian decent said: “It depends on who I’m with .  At the university, some of the Malays ask if I’m a Muslim and I always say  yes, but with the Australians who try to make out why I look like I do, I will tell them that I am a Malaysian” (Hassan 1995, p.46). The question of identity; ‘who I am’ is really an interesting subject in a multiracial country like Australia.  Will the young Muslim generations still have a strong tie to Islam or will they be assimilated to the secular mainstream?

Irene Donohoue Clyne, an educationist, discuss the struggle of Muslims in Australia to achieve a culturally appropriate education for their children, and the expectations of the Muslim communities towards the education system.
With the increasing number of Australian-born Muslims (36% of Muslim), it does affect the thinking and expectation of the parents; that education is essential to achieve a secure future and it is a need to seek the best educational option for their children (Clyne, 2001, p.119). With the largely immigrant communities which were shaped by various cultural background, previous education and the strength of their religious belief, Irene argued that the Australian education system does not meet these expectations. 

So what are the expectations? ‘Education which is religious’ is the most important educational need when the Muslim communities were asked about their expectations on education for their children. What does this mean? Is there any difference between religious education and ‘education which is religious’? Education which is religious is a more comprehensive term, for it includes a belief that education will be infused with both religious teachings and practises, in all areas of the curriculum and of life. An education that will drive the young Muslim generations to succeed in this world and the hereafter.

This expectation, however, was articulated in many different ways. Some  mentioned; ‘learning appropriate behaviour’, ‘fostering Islamic identity’, ‘providing skills and knowledge for good future’ and many others. A Somali respondent explained that ‘What Muslim children need most in their Islamic education is an education that encompasses all aspects of life with qualified teachers. It is not only important teaching Arabic language and memorising the Holy Qur’an, but children need to be taught how to become good citizens and how to form families’ unity in solidarity’.

In recent years, these expectations reflect the belief of Muslim communities towards the teachingss of Islam. The Islamisation of education which is comprehensive, balanced and ‘secure the future’ is acceptable among the majority Muslim communities in Australia. The development of this process could be seen through the establishment of Islamic centres and schools, forums and discourses in bridging the unity between Muslim and non-Muslims. The government policies like building prayer areas in public places such as universities, hospitals and airports are laudable efforts. The Islamic non-governmental organisations (NGO) and societies’  continuous and tireless efforts to build better Muslim communities and Islamic societies are also commendable.

The Islamisation that is taking place in the modern Muslim communities had a great impact on building more than 165,845 (ABS 2006) young Muslim generations. The voices of anti-Muslim and racial discrimination are on the rise. On the other hand, AbdulKarim Galea stated that the products of private Islamic schools had recorded  excellent achievements to enable them to proceed to the tertiary levels in the fields of education, medicine, pharmacy, engineering, laws and economics. A great number had served in the public and private sectors as doctors, pharmacists, engineers,lawyers and in other professions (Galea 2008).

The Islamic curriculum and values learnt in the schools definitely shaped the mind and manners to be good citizens with strong  faith. It is also found that many Muslim students, who are the products of secular education (public school) and excel in their studies and career, find it difficult  to position themselves in the Muslim communities. They are good Australians but had failed to observe their religious duties, some to the extent of being involved in alcoholism, illegitimate sexual intercourse and gambling, which are prohibited in Islam. Going against the Islamic values put them at odds with the practising Muslims.

The positive impact of Islamisation in education can also be seen in the new generations being active within the society at large. They work hand-in-hand with the  other Australians to build a better Australia for all.
To spread the spirit of Islam which is mercy to mankind, Islamic societies play a significant role in training Muslim activists to do da’wah and clear any misunderstandings about Islam . Mosques and Islamic organisations run by young pious, energetic and creative Muslims work towards the betterment,  the Islamic way. It is in fact a global phenomena,the young leading the society.

Undoubtedly, any bad incidents caused by Muslims will tarnish the whole image of Muslims in Australia (Ata 2009, p.9). For example, in the 2002 gang rape incident by Australian-Lebanese Muslim youths sparked negative views on Muslim (Kabir, 2004, p. 295). Australian Muslim Times published AFIC’s statement condemning this malicious act and urge the media not to link them with Islam. The crime committed was acted independently and not attributed to their religious or cultural background (AFIC 2002).

There are challenges for an Islamic education system to work in the minority Muslim countries. It needs the strong support of the community to run the Islamic Centres - centres for learning and long life education programs. Parents and teachers should be  the ‘backbone’ to make it work. The Islamic curriculum should be well integrated with the national curriculum so as to make sure that the ‘products’ of the Islamic education system are ‘marketable’. Inculcating good manners, skills and knowledge will help Muslim students to be good Muslims as well as good citizens. Discourses to understand the Muslims would be beneficial in bridging the gaps between the Muslims and the non-Muslims. It will also dispel misunderstanding and negative views about Islam and Muslims. Open Mosque Day, intellectual discourses, briefings and Muslim NGOs visit to politicians and government officials would be good steps towards achieving this.

As the world changes today, the relevance of Islam is being  questioned by many. What is Islam? What does Islam do? How can Islam shape the society? These   questions can best be answered when everyone look at it with an open mind and without prejudice. Open our hearts, minds & eyes seeking the truth. Indeed,  Islamic education is of utmost importance to all Muslims. Not giving it due attention will jeopardise the future of the Muslim generations.

‘Australian Muslim Condemns Rape’ 2002, Australian Muslim Times, Vol.7, Issue 1, July, p.3
Ali A.Y 2005, The Holy Qur’an, Translation and Commentary. Penang: Da’wah Secretariat of Pulau Pinang, chapter 96, verse 1.
Ata A.W 2009, Us & Them: Muslim-Christian Relations And Cultural Harmony in Australia, Queensland: Australian Academic Press, p.9
Australian Bureau of Statistics 2006, ‘Perspectives on Migrants, 2007: Birthplace and Religion’ viewed 1 Feb 2012, http://www.abs.gov.au/
Cleland B 2001, ‘The History of Muslims in Australia’, Muslim Communities in Australia. Sydney: UNSW Press, p.19
Clyne I.D 2001, ‘Educating Muslim in Australia’, Muslim Communities in Australia. . Sydney: UNSW Press, p.119
Galea A.K 2008, ’25 Years of Islamic Schools in Australia’, viewed 13 February 2012’,
Hassan T.R 1995, “Walking the Cultural Tightrope: A Study of Muslim Youth nd How They Balance the Conflicting Demands of Ethnic Identity, Religious Identity and Australian Society’, Honours Thesis, University of South Australia, p.46
Kabir N 2004, Muslims in Australia: Immigration, Race Relations and Cultural History, London: Keygan Paul Ltd, p.295
Matthews Z 1997, ‘Origins of Islam in Australia’, Salam magazine, July – August, viewed 1 February 2012, http://www.aim.org.au/articles.asp?article=63
Pulcini T 1990, ‘A Lesson in Values Conflict: Issues in the Educational Formation of American Muslim Youth’, Journal of Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs, 11 (1), p.27
Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Tirmidhi, p.141

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