Original classification rating: PG.
This clip chosen to be PG
Wahid and Susan spend a great deal of their spare time talking to other Australians about their faith. They’re very much the ideal Aussie couple. They’re also devout Muslims, Wahid was born to the faith while Susan is a convert.
This is a thought provoking documentary which attempts, through the life and times of this lovely couple, to answer some questions that Australians have always wanted to ask about Islam, not the least why some Muslim women wear the headscarf or hijab.
Compass is at its best when its programs go behind the stereotypes and the headlines, to show another side of society – in this case, the world of Muslim women in a pluralist society like Australia.
This clip shows Waleed Aly and Susan Carland, a Muslim husband and wife in Australia who are trying to break down barriers by speaking to non-Muslims about Islam and Muslims in Australia. They are shown speaking at separate community meetings. When a man tells Aly that he finds it hard not to see Muslim women in traditional dress as subjugated, Aly suggests that he ask those women what they think. At a Rotary function, Carland explains that the oppression of women in some Muslim countries runs counter to Islamic teachings and is a product of cultural rather than religious practices.
Educational value points
- The 2001 census found that there were about 281,000 Muslims in Australia, comprising about 1.5 per cent of the total population. Muslims in Australia come from approximately 70 different countries and ethnic groups and are linguistically and culturally diverse. Most non-Muslim Australians have had little exposure to Muslims or Islamic practices, apart from media coverage that has tended to focus on events such as sexual assault, race riots and the September 11 and Bali terrorist attacks.
- Aly and Carland believe that since the September 11 terrorist attacks there has been a backlash against Muslims within the wider Australian community. This has led them to try to promote a better understanding of their religion, and the two regularly speak to community groups. In this clip Aly has been invited to address an Australian Labor Party branch meeting, while Carland speaks at a function held by the Rotary Club, a community service group. These speaking engagements suggest that there is a willingness within mainstream Australia to learn about Muslim culture.
- Some Muslim women observe a dress code that includes a hijab, or headscarf, which is wound around the head and under the chin. The Koran, the sacred text of Islam, indicates that both Muslim women and men should dress modestly in public. This has been interpreted by some Muslim scholars as meaning that women should dress in loose clothing that covers the entire body except for the face and hands, while men should cover from the navel to the knees. Not all Muslim women choose to wear a hijab and some may only partially cover the head, while others wear robes that cover the entire body including the head.
- Muslim women around the world wear the hijab for a number of reasons. While in some countries it is required by law, it is mostly worn as an expression of faith and a symbol of Muslim identity. Some Muslim women argue that the hijab liberates them from being treated as 'sex objects’, and means that they are judged on who they are and not on how they look. The United Muslim Women’s Association has organised a 'pro-hijab campaign’ in response to calls to ban the hijab in government schools in Australia.
- One view on the wearing of the veil is outlined in a 2001 speech by expatriate Iranian writer and women’s rights activist, Azam Kamguian, who said that 'veiling internalises the Islamic notion in women that they belong to an inferior sex’ and actually reinforces the idea that they are sex objects. She argues that it segregates women, but also limits their physical movement and free behaviour (www.middleastwomen.org). Another perspective is that the veil frees the wearer from ‘the male gaze’.
- Carland says that the oppression of women is counter to Islamic teachings. While the Koran distinguishes between the roles of men and women, it says that women have a right to be educated, work, participate in public life, own property and divorce. However, the Koran was written in the 7th century and Azam Kamguian says it reflects gender inequalities of that period. For example, the Koran states that husbands and wives have the same rights but 'men are a degree above them in status’.
- Australian-born Carland, who traces her ancestry back to the First Fleet, challenges misconceptions about Muslims. Carland was raised a Christian but converted to Islam because she found that 'the nature of God in Islam … appealed to me’. Anecdotal evidence gathered by Muslim groups indicates that worldwide, more women than men are converting to Islam. In Australia people may convert because they are marrying a Muslim, but according to Abdullah Saeed, author of Islam in Australia, Islamic spirituality is a significant factor in conversion.
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