A fight over a proposed Islamic school in a small Australian town has turned nasty, with locals accusing Muslims of trying to take over their country.
The disagreement reflects a larger struggle among Muslims to define their identity in the land Down Under.
According to the BBC, Sydney’s Quranic Society has purchased 15 acres of land on the outskirts of Camden, New South Wales, with the idea of building a 1,200-student Islamic school.
At a town council meeting last fall to discuss the proposal, one resident said, “Why hasn’t anyone got any guts? They’ve got terrorists amongst ’em,” according to the BBC. “They want to be here so they can go and hide in all the farm houses … This town has every nationality… but Muslims do not fit in this town.”
The Camden council is set to decide on the development within the next month.
Of more than 3,200 council submissions from the public, only about 100 are in favor of the school, the BBC reported.
The school decision comes at a time when Australia’s 300,000 Muslims are seeking to overhaul their public image.
At a meeting last week of the nation’s largest Muslim organization, moderate members ousted their controversial leader in what the newspaper the Australian called a “coup.”
After a vote of no confidence in president Ikebal Patel, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils replaced him with Haset Sali, a lawyer who had previously made headlines for his harsh criticisms of AFIC leaders.
The organization has in recent years been beset with financial scandals and power struggles between immigrants of Pakistani and Fijian-Indian backgrounds.
Just last year, the mufti, or figurehead leader of Australian Muslims, was ousted after he suggested that scantily-clad women were inviting rape and likened them to uncovered meat.
The AFIC’s Sali now says the mufti role should be abolished, according to The Australian.
Meanwhile, a television program is trying to fix Muslims’ public image in an entirely different way.
“Salam Cafe,” which recently began airing nationwide, deals with Muslim issues using on-the-street interviews and comedy sketches.
“Humour is a particularly Australian characteristic, and we all originate from different places, but we’re all Australian,” program host Ahmad Imam told The Age earlier this month. “And the humour is probably a reflection of the new kinds of Muslim in Australia, who are comfortable living and practicing their faith and joking.”
“Town moves against Islamic school”
BBC News, May 26, 2008
“Role of mufti ‘should be dropped'”
The Australian, May 22, 2008
“Moderates Stage Coup at Australian Federation of Islamic Councils”
The Australian, May 21, 2008
“Peace of cake”
The Age, May 15, 2008