Islam Dreaming

Islam Dreaming: Indigenous Muslims in Australia

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: UNSW Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Islam Dreaming
    Book Description:

    Indigenous Australians are increasingly finding in Islam the possibility of reconnection with lost Indigenous traditions and a model of community unavailable elsewhere. But this is not a new story. From the Makassan trepang fisherman of Arnhem Land, the Malay pearl-divers of Broome, through the Afghan camel drivers of the interior, Muslims have lived and worked in Australia for over three centuries, and were among the earliest peoples to form connections with Indigenous Australians. Islam Dreaming tells the stories of Australia’s Indigenous Muslims.

    eISBN: 978-1-74223-249-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. 1-20)

    Islam Dreamingis a book about stories. It explores what Indigenous men and women from around Australia have to tell us about their varied encounters with Islam. Some of these stories come to us from Christian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who married Muslim men. Others are related by the ‘mixed-race’ children of these intermarriages. Still other stories are narrated by Indigenous Australians who have no Muslim forebears at all but who, for a variety of reasons, have been drawn to the Islamic faith. They are stories about travelling between cultures, between countries and families, and in learning about...

    (pp. 21-58)

    Far from being an exclusively present-day, let alone post-9/11, phenomenon, Islam in Indigenous Australia has a long history. Indigenous and Muslim people traded, socialised and intermarried in this country decades before its white ‘discovery’ and settlement. This chapter looks at the exchanges that ‘Makassan’ (Indonesian) fishermen negotiated with northern coastal Aboriginal communities in the pre-colonial and early colonial eras; considers the diverse alliances and partnerships forged by the ‘Afghan’ cameleers and the Aboriginal people they encountered in the later nineteenth century; and, finally, examines the cross-cultural negotiations between Indigenous people and the ‘Malays’ who came to northern and north-western Australia...

    (pp. 59-89)

    Chapter 1 provided a brief overview of pre-colonial and colonial connections between various Muslim and Indigenous communities across Australia. How were these broad patterns of human encounter experienced personally? How was their social influence registered in families, and what have been the long, intergenerational consequences of Indigenous and Muslim alliances? This chapter approaches these questions through the recollections of men and women who have married into or been born into Indigenous–Muslim families. Some are the descendants of the Afghan cameleers, others have Malay forebears. A number of interviewees are of Torres Strait Islander descent, the majority have Aboriginal ancestry....

    (pp. 90-120)

    In chapters 1 and 2 we looked at the history of Islam in Indigenous Australia first from the outside, as it were, then from the inside. From the outside, which is the perspective historians mainly adopt, the focus tends to be on broad cultural patterns. History deals in generalisations, and the subjects of historical studies rarely possess much in the way of individual personality. ButIslam Dreamingis a book of stories. This is why, in Chapter 2, we retraversed parts of the historical information previously provided, exploring its themes from the point of view of those who were directly...

    (pp. 121-149)

    Historically, Islam in Indigenous Australia is less a story of conversion than kinversion. The primary and culminating expression of this willingness to engage with Islam is marriage. Historically, Aboriginal women have married Muslim men, rather than the other way around. These facts play out in a number of ways. First, they naturally focus attention on the mindset of the women who were willing to take this step and, second, they remind us that Islam, far from being a stable, fixed and clearly bounded state, was, in the lives of these women, a dynamic, challenging and often changing environment. Marrying, these...

    (pp. 150-181)

    The first of the conversion stories above is narrated by a non-Indigenous Australian man who embraced Christianity. The second is told by an Aboriginal woman who identified with Tibetan Buddhism, and the third is the story of an Indigenous Australian man who found Islam. These quotations describe the experiences of religious converts of different racial and cultural backgrounds, genders and ages. The religious beliefs these individuals adopted are also widely divergent. Despite this variation, there are some striking similarities in their stories. Whether consciously or subconsciously, each convert was on a quest. They were acutely aware that something was missing...

    (pp. 182-212)

    In chapter 5 we looked at the personal experience of Indigenous conversion to Islam. However, it is difficult to segregate psychological and spiritual factors from broader biographical circumstances. Although there is a turning about in the heart, the catalyst of it could be external circumstance. Inner and outer worlds constantly flow through each other, and what happens in one environment is easily transformed into an event of immense symbolic significance in the other. This is not surprising because conversion is, as we have seen, above all motivated by a search for meaning, and meaning involves both a reordering of personal...

    (pp. 213-242)

    Most Australians perceive Islam to be anything but liberating – socially, politically or spiritually. Despite possessing little knowledge about the faith, media and political commentators in Australia (and other Western countries) condemn Islam publicly as a theology that promotes violence and fanaticism, rejects modernity and democracy, and oppresses women. The perceived backwardness of Islam contrasts sharply with the apparently modern, democratic and liberal West. In view of the negative stereotypes circulating in the mainstream media, it is perhaps surprising that conversion to Islam is growing in Australia and elsewhere in the West. It is even more ironic that most Western converts...

    (pp. 243-275)

    Indigenous Muslims experience Islam as a living force. They relate it, and relate to it, in a host of different ways. I have constantly been impressed by the diversity of the testimonies generated by my seemingly generic questions. Some have focused on remote ancestries, others on intimate matters of personal faith, and yet others have shared with me difficult ethical and doctrinal dilemmas. This diversity of experience is not only reflected in the content and style of the stories told – it also extends to the definition of community. If there is an overarching theme, an idea that runs through most...

    (pp. 276-293)

    Attractive as it might be to focus on – and celebrate – the extraordinary evidence of social resilience and spiritual survival the stories of my interviewees represent, it would be naive and irresponsible not to acknowledge one macrocontext that hitherto we have largely downplayed: the worsening environment of reception for both Islamic and Indigenous claims to inclusion in what is defined as Australia’s national identity. As a brief review of the first decade of the twenty-first century quickly reveals, balanced discussion of Islam’s place in Australian life has become almost impossible. Politicians have shamelessly exploited the collective trauma that 9/11 induced and,...

  14. Interviews
    (pp. 294-294)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 295-308)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 309-316)
  17. Index
    (pp. 317-320)