Address on the graduation of Imans and Muslim leaders from an Australian designed and based course
29 September 2006
Thank you very much. Could I firstly acknowledge Sheikh Salim Alwan, my parliamentary colleagues, federal and state, Michael Hatton and Barbara Perry, Stepan Kerkyasharian, the Chair of the Community Relations Commission, the Mayor of Bankstown, Tania Mihailuk, Gavin McCairns who’s the State Director of the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, to all the graduates here this evening and the many distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. It truly is a pleasure for me to share in this celebration tonight. I’m also honoured to represent the Prime Minister, the Honourable John Howard. The Prime Minister has sent a short and special message of support and I’d like to read that now, if I might.
The Prime Minister says:
It gives me great pleasure to provide my best wishes to all those attending the Darulfatwa graduation of Imans and leaders. Darulfatwa plays a central role in the Islamic community, working to increase the community’s awareness of extremism and its effects on our national security. I commend the group on the work it has done in relation to the education and promotion of Islamic life throughout the community and in promoting harmony and tolerance throughout the nation. Last year’s Islamic Community Leaders Summit and the work flowing from that summit will help to reinforce the shared vision of all Australians that an overriding loyalty to Australia and a commitment to Australia’s traditions, values and institutions is what unites us. It is in everyone’s interest to continue to promote harmony and mutual understanding between the Islamic community and the broader Australian community. The work undertaken by Darulfatwa contributes significantly to this goal. I would like to congratulate tonight’s graduates for their valuable contribution and send my best wishes to all those attending for what I am sure will be a successful and enjoyable event.
John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia.
Ladies and gentlemen, can I also take the opportunity to acknowledge the beginning of Ramadan, which I know is a very valuable and important time of spiritual reflection for everyone in the Muslim faith. It is an important and particularly important time, I think, for the spiritual leaders of your faith. Of course, we are here tonight to recognise, to acknowledge, the graduation of Imans and leaders who have successfully completed the course concerning the correct code and ethics of Islamic preachers and advisers. The graduation of Imans and Muslim leaders from an Australian designed and based course is an important step towards teaching Islam in an Australian context, and I congratulate you for that.
I congratulate the council on having the wisdom to recognise the importance of having spiritual leaders who clearly understand the environment in which they are operating. Understanding the Australian environment in which you are operating means that you will be far more effective in instilling confidence in Australian Muslims, especially the younger Australian Muslims, that they can be equal and committed members of the Australian community while being true to their faith. This ability to teach Islam in English and in an Australian context is crucial, given that nearly 50 per cent of the 360,000 Muslims in Australia are under 25 years of age, and given that most of them were born in Australia and given that for most English is their first language. So I think this course is an extremely concrete and positive example of Australia ’s Imans and Muslim leaders building community cohesion and unity. Everyone involved, including the graduates here tonight, should be very proud of their contribution.
Could I say some specific things to the graduates in particular? I do congratulate you on your successful completion of this course and I do offer my best wishes in putting this important leadership training into practice. You are part of the future leadership of Australian Muslims. This is an especially challenging time to be a Muslim leader – we all know that. The leadership I think involves self-knowledge, being honest with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses, understanding what you’re good at and what you’re not. You have a responsibility in many ways to make the most of the unique set of strengths that each of you possess. Leadership involves humility, it involves listening, it involves an awareness of others. Many times I think in the years ahead you will be called upon to make decisions that will affect others, often in a very material way. You’ll be called upon to give advice that will affect others. You’ll be called upon to offer judgments that will affect others. To do this effectively I think will require this humility and this awareness of others. The saying ‘walk a mile in my shoes’ is a very important one for leaders because you won’t make sound decisions unless you attempt to see the other point of view.
Leadership involves confidence. You must carefully think about decisions before you make them, but once you’ve decided you must be at ease with yourself and have confidence in your decision. Leadership involves strong resolve and courage, the courage to stand firm on unpopular positions if you believe them to be the right positions. Leadership involves vision. Think forward 10 years from today to 2016. What would you want for Australia in 2016? What would you want for Australian Muslims in 2016? What would you want for your local community in 10 years time? What can you do to achieve that vision? What more can you do to prepare yourself? All of you have been chosen to do this course and you’ve completed this course successfully because you’ve got those inherent abilities. I do wish you all the best in exercising those skills and those abilities and those responsibilities. The time ahead of you is full of challenges. But I also think it’s ripe with opportunity. More often than not everyone’s focusing on the challenges and on the problems, but it is a time ripe for opportunity.
I think in Australia we are particularly well placed with the Muslim community that we have in Australia. There is a maturity about the Muslim community in the way in which many issues are being dealt with. So there are big challenges but there are great opportunities. Yet the challenges we confront, you confront, are caused by extremists in the name of Islam who want to take the world back to the Dark Ages. But for me as a non-Muslim, I take great hope from the fact that there are many, many more Muslims around the world who want to see Islam consistent with prosperous and modern societies; Muslims who want to see Islam consistent with being again in the forefront of science and art, culture, literature and all the rest. In this regard the unique talents that you as leaders have, as future leaders, the individual strengths, use them to help Australian Muslims realise their potential. But it won’t be easy. You have a big challenge.
From my observation, and I grew up in the northern suburbs of Melbourne Reservoir, there was a migrant community of Italians principally. Now a lot of Muslims live in Reservoir. My parents are still there. From my observation until 2001 Muslims in Australia were going through the usual migration experience of most other waves of migrants to Australia. We saw the usual experience of the first generation retaining much of their culture for the homeland, while the kids, the second and third generation, were often caught between two cultures but generally coping with it. But I think the actions of terrorists in 2001 and since, acting in the name of Islam, has brought a much sharper edge to the migration experience of Australian Muslims. It’s made it difficult, it’s made it much tougher, but it doesn’t make it any less than the hope that we can work through it as we have before with many other waves of migrants that have come to this country. The terrorist actions have generated anxiety in the broader community and the actions have unfairly stigmatised so many Australian Muslims, prompting alienation and isolation for many.
There is a real need to build confidence in the Australian Muslim communities, especially among the young Australian Muslims, to build confidence in their sense of identity as Australians, Australians who happen to also be Muslim. You need to help them get on the front foot, not to see themselves as victims. You need to bring on the young leaders in your community – and I’ve been most impressed by the many hundreds of young leaders that I’ve met over recent months since I’ve had these responsibilities. Many of you will probably have to bring on those young leaders earlier and more quickly than you would’ve expected. You need to consider how you help to accelerate the role of these young people. Not just given their potential as community or political leaders, but also to bring on their potential to be role models in business and sport, the arts, and in every field of endeavour.
There’s some wonderful talent amongst the generations of young Australian Muslims right around the country. It needs to be fostered, and there’s an urgency about that because of the circumstance. They are really the future. They have got the capacity to take us to a new level, to solve the problems, to get us on the front foot and to have a very cohesive community. There is great hope out there, there is real possibility, real opportunities.
In that sense I’ve also observed in the months that I’ve had these responsibilities and I’ve moved extensively throughout the Muslim communities in Australia, I’ve observed many outstanding women. I think it will be important for the graduates here tonight, in your leadership roles in the years ahead, for you to think about how you can tap into and promote the contribution of women in dealing with the current challenging environment. The Muslim women bring different perspectives and talents. How do you harness and nurture those talents and those perspectives?
Could I conclude by congratulating all the graduates again on your success in the course? I wish you every success in using this knowledge for the benefit of all Australians. Could I also acknowledge the family and supporters of all the graduates? You also deserve recognition because many times you are the ones who’ve provided the essential support and encouragement which has allowed these students to achieve their potential. You’ll be the ones to call on again and again to give that encouragement and that support to bolster these future leaders in the important responsibilities that they will carry in the years ahead.
Finally, could I reaffirm the appreciation of the government as expressed by the Prime Minister in his message, for the High Council in developing and offering this course? My best wishes to you all and thank you.
• Immigration Department