Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Theories on Islamic books you wouldn't read about

I HAVE a close friend who attended a Canberra Anglican school for 6 years. She is spiritually ecumenical with a keen interest in Hindu and Christian mysticism. Over the years, I have given her a number of spiritual books. Her favourite is a collection of Rumi poems entitled “Hidden Music”.

I have another close friend working medical research. She also has a superb sense of humour. I recently gave her 2 books on tib an-nabawi (classical medicine as taught by Prophet Muhammad) and a DVD of three American Muslim comics entitled “Allah made me funny!”.

Before writing this piece, I spoke to the owner of the Andalus Islamic Bookstore in Sydney (from where I purchased some of these items). I asked him what was his biggest seller. “We just can’t order enough of those books on baby names”, he said.

The biggest selling book from one of the most popular Australian Islamic bookstores is one used by parents to choose a name for their new-born child. A powerful metaphor for a religious community at the heart of mainstream Australia, and a far cry from some books sold at fringe salafist bookshops which seem to encourage young people to take their own lives and those of others.

Andalus also supplies the needs of members of Canberra’s educated and progressive Muslim community. The Canberra Islamic Centre hopes to establish Australia’s largest Islamic library. Already, it has collected an impressive array of rare books and manuscripts in a number of languages. It also sells books as part of its fundraising activities. Many of these books are sourced from the Amazon.com website.

Tabloid journalists and high rating Sydney morning shock jocks (the ones in Canberra are lucky to reach double figure ratings) may harp on about hate-filled books. A few days back I spent 45 minutes listening to a reporter from Channel 7’s Today Tonight show trying to convince me to name names of salafist book distributors. The way she was speaking, it seemed clear to me that she had never visited a single Muslim bookshop in Sydney.

The reality among mainstream Muslim Australians is quite contrary to sensationalist reports. No doubt there are bookstores selling these materials. But they are a small minority. And they have plenty of hate-filled stock as the more popular titles sell out much more quickly. It’s obvious books preaching fanaticism are just not selling.

Unlike other English-speaking countries (such as the United States, Canada and UK), Australia does not have a large Islamic publishing industry. When Fairfax journalist Nadia Jamal wanted to publish her account of growing up Muslim in Australia, she had little choice but to approach a mainstream Australian publisher.

Indeed, some of the best books on Islamic religion and culture only sell at mainstream bookstores. The popular US Muslim writer Yahya Emerick’s book entitled The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Islam is available at Belconnen Dymocks, as are books by New York Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Mainstream bookstores also sell popular titles on Islam by respected non-Muslim authors such as Karen Armstrong and John Esposito.

On the other hand, there are also books which talk about war and jihad. The Daily Telegraph recently made an issue of one bookshop in the western Sydney suburb of Auburn selling a book entitled “The Quranic Concept of War”. What the Telegraph didn’t report was that the book was a treatise on the historical rules of war under classical Islamic jurisprudence, not a modern terror manual. Further, the bookshop was managed by a small harmless sufi organisation, most of whose books are in Turkish.

Books about jihad are not necessarily offensive. Some journalists continue to harbour the misapprehension that jihad is the Islamic equivalent for medieval Christian “holy war”. But for mainstream Muslims, jihad typically refers to a spiritual struggle against one’s evil inclinations. In this respect, most sufi books are little more than manuals on spiritual jihad.

With followers of fringe ideological off-shoots of Islam responsible for most recent terrorist acts (including the recent spate in London and Baghdad), authorities are understandably concerned about literature being sold in religious bookshops. But this is no reason to believe that 400,000 Muslim Australians are busy reading terror manuals and planning suicide bombing attacks. Security and law enforcement agencies need to be alert. But alarmist sentiments should be left to immature morning shock jocks desperate for ratings.

(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer who has advised peak Muslim organisations and independent schools. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au)

9 comment(s):

  • Don't patronize us - we've been victims of Islamic Terror long enough - like it or not, you people are terrorists. The one thing I'm glad about is that George Bush has taken this war to the terrorists' land, and is killing those who would harm us. Don't pretend to be "Australian" - you are just like the rest of them!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/20/2005 07:13:00 PM  

  • Just call me Bigot-Anonymous.


    ps I am also an ediot who uses 1/10th of my brain. I've tried to use more but I just get a headache. I'll keep trying, maybe, I'll get it but don't hold your breath. Bigots are a hard breed to crack.

    pps I love Islam and all Muslims!!! You see it's working. All Praise is due to Allah and Allahu Akbar!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/20/2005 08:54:00 PM  

  • You are not an Australian leave this land. You can go home wherever you came from get out! We don't care what your contributions are, just leave, we can take care of ourselves. Your educated Muslims are the worst kind. They should be first to be deported. Go away!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/20/2005 11:56:00 PM  

  • Salaams

    Why is it that the media and even politicians hihglight the tiny minority of Muslims 'preaching hatred', yet voices of hatred AGAINST Muslims abound! Why don't we simply deport ALL bigots, regardless of faith, to a small uninhabited Pacific Island, give them respiridone, and make it into a reality TV show?



    By Blogger Julaybib, at 7/21/2005 12:47:00 AM  

  • Bigots are a hard breed to crack? More like Bigots smoke too much crack!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/21/2005 07:54:00 AM  

  • Haha - it's rich that these bigot Australians are asking Muslims to get out of "their" land. What a joke. Mate, unless you're an aboriginal native, which I very much doubt you are, you have as little--or as much--right to be there as anyone else.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/21/2005 03:46:00 PM  

  • Good read Irf! The part about baby names being the biggest seller put a smile on my face. I really like that there is an effort to establish a large and reputable collection of Muslim books by a mosque. Its one of the better things a mosque can do for its community. It gives me a few good ideas and some inspiration. This kind of positiveness that doesn't try to whitewash our problems is a welcome break from the doom and gloom.

    By Blogger OmarG2, at 7/21/2005 09:51:00 PM  

  • I think the Australian Bigot is just scared Muslims might restore rights to the aboriginals.

    You see Americans, Canadians, Australians, or any other land taken over by European Colonizers are the rejects of the world. Europe will never accept them neither the aboriginal natives. So what to do? Pick a fight with Muslims, what else to do with an identity bound for failure. (insert confused look)


    ps Did I tell you I love Muslims and especially Islam. Bigot-Anonymous. I love you!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7/21/2005 10:12:00 PM  

  • The baby names bit made me smile too. :)

    What strikes me on the "fear the Islamic bookseller" front is that, while certainly there are highly questionable materials being sold, there are also questionably extremist materials of other ideologies sold in other establishments. Such is the nature of printing and free markets. Sometimes I see these other materials come under scrutiny. Laudable, just as it is with violent islamic thinking. Never, however, do I see this scrutiny develop into the sort of finger-pointing fear-fest that is becoming common here. People could take a lesson from their own responses to those things not containing the word "muslim," I think.

    By Blogger MLL, at 7/21/2005 11:26:00 PM  

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