What can bring together a Palestinian/Egyptian, a Lebanese/Australian, a Bangladeshi, an Iranian, an Indian/Kenyan, a Pakistani and others to discuss their formative years? That almost sounds like the first line of a host of particularly unfunny jokes along the lines of “An Irishman, An Indian etc etc…”!
It is not. What in fact brings them together is a narrative of significant cultural influences on their development. That narrative is a book called “Coming of Age” edited by Amra Pajalic and Demet Divaroren (Coming of Age – Allen and Unwin Published 2014 RRP $18.99). The title itself does not tell you the importance of this book. The sub-title tells us however that this book is about “Growing up Muslim in Australia”.
Coming of Age is a collection of twelve vignettes of people born into the Muslim faith who have grown up and developed their persona here in Australia. It has been a contention of mine that these young people growing up across cultures and importantly often with competing social and cultural mores are those who face the biggest challenges in an era of integration. This book confirms that view. However, it also dispels a number of misconceptions. In many ways when you read of the challenges faced by Tasneem Chopra or the “Mishmash Muslim” Sabrina Houssami you realise how much the cultures have in common rather than the differences. The issues that these young people dealt with on a daily basis are no different to that which my children (Aged 11 and 9) will deal with in years to come. But it is the overlay of a faith system that imposes its additional strictures and rules that make the challenges that much more interesting.
The Muslim community ranges across 70+ ethnicities in Australia. They have a very substantial and long history of contributing to this society. From the days of the early Cameleers who came to this country to the current crop of migrants from parts of Africa and the Middle East the contribution of this community is significant. Importantly the contributors to this volume of stories are all high achievers in their chosen fields. People such as Irfan Yusuf, Tanveer Ahmed and Randa Abdel Fatah are very much household names in the advocacy field and people whose work I am very familiar with. (I have sought the advice of Irfan Yusuf on many occasions in the past). Others such as Hazem El Masri are names well known to followers of Rugby League. (Hazem is listed in Wikipedia as “Possibly Australia’s greatest goal kicker of all time”).
This book is a welcome addition to the field of advocacy in this country. It raises a host of issues around the integration of cultures and religions. For those of us who are involved in the advocacy field this book is a reminder of some of the important issues that our new and emerging communities from this faith group need to deal with in achieving the integration that we all desire. For those from the Muslim community, this is a reminder that they are not alone and that there are these high achievers who have maintained their own cultural values and yet achieved great levels of success in the wider Australian community.
When reading Hazem El Masri’s account, I was reminded of an event that I spoke at a few years ago to celebrate Multicultural Week at University of WA. My co-speaker was Bachar Houli, the young (then Essendon now Richmond) AFL player. Bachar spoke from the heart and explained the circumstances that he found himself in. Being a practising Muslim, he undertook the fast for Ramadan. His dilemma that year was the fact that Ramadan fell in the midst of the football season. That was an issue for which he was seeking advice from his Imams. He also dealt with the issue of refusing to disrobe completely in the change rooms following a game. These are matters that do not often befall people who are born and brought up in the Anglo Celtic cultures.
All the vignettes provided in the book are beautifully narrated. People like Irfan Yusuf have always had a very clever turn of phrase and with the use of well placed humour he is able to educate us without the use of a sledge hammer. Randa Abdel Fatah’s book “Does my head look big in this?” still rates as one of the cleverest pieces of writing I have seen in this area. Her piece in this collection stands up to the standard of that book.
Coming of Age – Growing up Muslim in Australia is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the integration and growth of the Multicultural Australian society we live in.