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Muslim Identities in Australia: A Talk by Professor Samina Yasmeen (AM)

Pak Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS) with the support of Australian High Commission, Islamabad hosted a special talk for eminent Pakistani Origin Australian Scholar Professor Samina Yasmeen (AM) in Islamabad Hotel on February 17, 2020 around the topic “Muslim Identities in Australia”. Professor Samina Yasmeen (AM) is Director of Centre for Muslim States and Societies and lectures in Political Science and International Relations in the School of Social Sciences, the University of Western Australia (UWA), Perth. She is currently on her visit to Pakistan to interact with academia, civil society and think tanks. She was joined by Prof Dr Qibla Ayaz, Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology, for an inaugural keynote address in the conference.

The event started with the opening remarks of PIPS’ Manager Projects, Mr. Ahsan Hamid Durrani, who gave a brief introduction of PIPS and of both the distinguished speakers of the event. Dr. Qibla Ayaz in his inaugural keynote address said that among those Muslims who migrated to Australia in its early days included mostly Arabs, Pashtuns and Turks, which can still be traced from the fact that “Kahns” resides in Australia. The issue which Pakistan and Australia shares commonly is that of extremism. He said that the Muslim Scholars and religious leaders who migrated to Australia in the past also carried their theological baggage with them. The migration of Arabs into Australia laid the foundation of Salafi School of Thought in Australia. Like the rest of the world, ISIS also became a challenge to Australia when some young people joined this militant organization in Iraq and Syria giving rise to tensions among Australian society about Muslims. In this context, academic and intellectual exchange between Pakistan and Australia is becoming ever more important.

Samina Yasmeen in her keynote address critically unpacked the notion of Muslim Identities in Australia. She noted that Muslim migration to Australia started in the 19th Century. In the start, Muslim population was very small but after the 1st World War Turkish Muslims and then Lebanese refugees moved to Australia, who are still the largest Muslim community residing there. Later, large number of Muslims moved to Australia as immigrants whose number rose significantly in the 90s. According to the 2016 Census, 604200 Muslims reside in Australia which constitutes 2.6% of the total population. Coming from 183 countries, a huge cultural diversity is found in this community. Muslims of Australia enjoy equal social, political, economic and religious rights in the country. Social Media has connected Muslims of various backgrounds to each other in Australia, giving them an opportunity to learn from each other’s cultures. The events of 9/11 has united these communities and they are now associated to their respective study circles in Australia, she added. Shia and Sunni divide has also increased in Australia with the proliferation of separate mosques of these sects. She also apprised the audience that Sufism is emerging very popularly in Australia. Australia offers rich opportunities for inclusion. Muslim activism has started exploring new spaces such as Arts & Culture, however, a sense of lack of inclusion always opens up ways of youth joining extremist groups, she asserted. Professor Yasmeen informed the forum that broadly two types of Muslims live in Australia: ones that identify themselves as Australian Muslims and then there are ones that distinctly identify themselves as only Muslims. Professor Yasmeen said that Muslim Women of Australia are stepping forward in every field to leave their mark and the Australian government is providing them every opportunity in social, political and economic realms to make them feel as equal citizens of the state. Responding to a question on Sharia debates in Australia, Professor Yasmeen said that there are no proper Sharia bodies in Australia like the UK. Laws related to marriages, divorce, inheritance etc. are followed in spirit of the Australian law. Responding to another questions from the participants of the forum, Professor Yasmeen said that Muslims across the globe living in Non-Muslim countries should assimilate themselves in those societies. If they keep themselves estranged from these societies, they will feel alienated, giving rise to problems for them and those governments.

At the end of the session, PIPS’ Advisory Board member, Dr Muhammad Khalid Masud, presented souvenirs to both the distinguished guests on behalf of PIPS.