The word terrorism in its self is an ugly word, even uglier when we associate it with a group of people or a religion. There is no doubt Islam has been tainted by recent events of terrorism, however, when was the last time you actually spoke to a Muslim about these events? The media and politicians are quick to pass judgement on these issues without even contemplating the people their rhetoric is implicating.
To continue with my interviews I decided to provide my readers with the opinions from an educated, intelligent young Muslim lady. Yesterday I took the time to speak to Hebah Moussa, an Australian Muslim to talk about the implications of intolerance in Australian society, the role of gender, and how we can attain peace in regards to Islam.
As-salamu alaykum Hebah, thank you for giving me the opportunity to interview you.
Wa-alaykum Esalam Matt, peace be with you! Thank you for the opportunity, it’s my absolute pleasure!
What’s your family background?
My parents are from Egypt, so I have a strong Egyptian heritage. They moved to Australia in the late 70’s and have been here ever since. I was born in Australia, in Sydney.
What are your core fundamental beliefs as a person, and how does this shape your world view?
I believe in justice, charity, love, life, being inspired, work, education and continuous growth. Being born into a family where values such as love, equality and compassion for all were taught and emphasised, my world view has been shaped by these values as well as a strong influence of Islam as a way of life. I have been exposed to the beauty of the multicultural society here in Australia, and so I am influenced not only by Australian culture, but the cultures within. I feel as though the world I know and live in today is continuously evolving, so as is my view of the world.
Love, equality and compassion for all, are they core beliefs in Islam?
Yes, they are enriched in the foundations of the faith. Islam strongly advocates love as a staple in human interaction, equality for everything and everyone. From materialistic objects and possessions to all living things, with an extensive stress on ethics in relation to the environment, animal welfare and of course humanity. There is an inseparable link between these values and everything in existence. Compassion is a blessing that is a desired quality as a means of connection and progress.
Sounds like an extremely beautiful philosophy to live by. What hobbies do you have and what’s your educational background?
It truly is a beautiful philosophy to live by, one which I hold dear to my heart. I feel grateful to have been exposed to Islam and such values from childhood.
Well, I have an educational background in community welfare, youth work and disability work. I have worked in the welfare industry for almost 3 years, and I’m now furthering my studies in community welfare at university. I love to write, and feed my creative spirit. I love to explore and travel, and feel as though my happiest moments are when I’m surrounded by nature, love and am taking photos. Landscape photography is a thriving hobby of mine, I adore capturing what inspires me and the blessings of nature. I love to laugh, as you’d know Matt I have a sometimes odd sense of humour! So anything that can make me laugh and have a great time, I’m there!
Yes, you have a sense of humour which is as odd as mine!
We are on a new wave sometimes! I think we’ve tapped into the secret of life, laughter.
Have you ever experienced discrimination, ignorance or intolerance towards your views in Australia?
Yes, I have on many occasions. I have had people yell the foulest abuse on the streets of Sydney, I call it “road cage” when someone from the safety of their car hurls abuse at someone else. It’s a hate and run in a sense. That’s always awful and the most common for me. People can be VERY creative with their swearing.
What are the common form of ignorance or stereotypes that have been targeted towards you and how do you normally respond?
Some people direct their hate of Islam as a evil, or aggressive faith or their disapproval of the Hijab or head scarf, which I wear. Assumptions are made that I can’t speak English, that I wear a towel on my head and should go back to “my country”. I have heard it all, and I’ve had many people walk by me and shout racist remarks and slurs. When I’m in certain parts of Sydney with lower density of culturally diverse residents there is a higher chance of discrimination occurring. My favourite is the starring. I now strongly believe in the need for starring etiquette, and by that I mean it should be forbidden!
I’m very opinionated and value freedom of speech. However when it crosses the line and becomes rude, derogatory or discriminative, that’s what gets me passionate and fired up.
I do tend to want to challenge intolerance and prejudice/discrimination. Whether directed at me personally, fellow Muslims, or anyone in general. I’m open to discussion and I listen, I engage when the person is willing to talk because I respect that no religion or person is free from criticism, nor should a difference of opinion be dismissed for the sake of its difference. If I can be an avenue to change, then why not? Sometimes I’m the first Muslim a person has met. Beyond the sensationalised ‘character’ that’s depicted in the media. That’s often a very interesting experience.
And with the love you expressed earlier for Australia, how does it make you feel when someone tells you to “go back to your own country”?
I still love this country, this is my home. I belong here and I know that I am a valued member of this society by many. The people who express such views have an ignorance and intolerance that is simply un-Australian in itself! They do not represent the whole country and its millions, and so it’s crucial to understand they’re one person, an individual. In saying that when you have a high number of incidences occurring after each other or there is a particular event that has propelled a shift of hatred and negativity towards Islam, it can be a trying time and make me feel saddened by the quality of people and the mass judgement.
The media does have an important responsibility. A common argument in the Australian media is perpetuating the fear of “Islamisation” of Australia, this often manifests in arguments of separatism and the introduction of Sharia. What is your view on the fears of “Islamisation of Australia”?
To be quite honest the power the media has in many areas such as defining beauty and credible news, as well as the perpetrating of fear in the community is a great concern of mine. I feel as though the media needs to be held accountable for their part and involvement in contributing to the fear and misconceptions surrounding Islam and it’s followers. There is a lot that needs to be said in relation to the fuel used to incite fears such as that of “Islamisation” of Australia. I think it’s absolutely ridiculous and a highly sensationalised concept, one that misrepresents Australian Muslims.
People need to really ask themselves, what is it they’re afraid of in terms of Islam, what is the source of their worry. I wonder if what people are afraid of is a factual aspect of the faith, or the sensationalised representations that are conveyed through media. I think it’s critical to have an informed opinion and judgement. Education is key here. Information and knowledge truly is power.
Furthermore, thanks to the media, some people in Australia have the misconception that Islam enshrines sexism and dictates how women should dress and behave. As a woman and a Muslim how do you respond to this?
You hit the nail on the head Matt, it’s a misconception. I have discussions with many people about women in Islam, and the ideas surrounding the oppressed female gender. Let me tell you, as a proud and confident Muslim women, this is a challenge I take on whole heartedly, as do the millions of empowered Muslim women who fall victim to such misconceptions.
Islam provides an equal platform for women and men, the worth and value of a women is stressed as a dignified and essential part of existence, equal to that of a man. Simply put, women are acknowledged, respected and highlighted as assets of the community. A women can live, express and fulfil desires just as a man can, there are no limitations or restrictions. The notion of being oppressed is unfortunately a human error of conduct, not one at the hands of the religion. Islam does provide guidelines to how a woman should dress as it does for men. Yes, there are guidelines to how a person should act, but don’t all great religions, belief systems and moral codes do so?
Do Muslim women have the choice to choose what dress codes are appropriate to them?
Yes they absolutely can. There are clear requirements stated in The Holy Qur’an. Islam like all religions offers a way of life, one that believers express on an individual level. People choose their level of commitment an practice. This can be best noted in how some Muslim women wear a head scarf or hijab, some wear a burqa and others simply do not wear any covering at all.
Do women need to maintain a certain level of modesty in Islam? Yes, they do. Are there guidelines and explanation as to why this is? Yes. Is it their choice at the end of the day? Yes.
Recently we saw outrage over the Innocence of Muslims YouTube video through out the world. Have you watched it and how do you feel about the situation it produced?
I have chosen to not watch the video as from what I’ve heard it is completely distasteful, and disgraceful to say the least. The events that have occurred around the word, including the Sydney riots have been absolutely devastating. The deep sadness I felt on the Saturday of the Sydney riots, is a pain that I hope never to feel again to have such an escalation and to once again have violence be the face of Islam is beyond tragic. I understand people getting upset with the video, but I can never condone the violence expressed on that day.
I support the right to protest, and will always do so as long as non-violent philosophies are at the centre of social or community action.
After September 11, the world changed and it would seem that Islam itself was directly in the cross hairs for the blame and retaliation. What is your view on the “War on Terror”?
It’s important to remember that ‘terror’ is not a new concept. We are living in a society where such concepts of violent threat, extremism, war and conflict are beyond recent reality. War, violence and conflict… these are common aspects that have been around longer than time, spanning throughout various cultures and civilizations.
The war on terror is a concern of mine, as it is for many Muslims, and non Muslims alike. Following September 11 there has been a stronger emphasis on Islam as a religion and dominant belief system. Following the devastation of September 11, not only did terrorists hijack planes and destroy life; they also hijacked the beautiful religion of Islam, tainting the lives of billions around the world.The spotlight shines bright on Islam. It’s glaring. I feel a despair and deep sadness at the rather distorted connection between acts of terrorism and my faith. A connection that creates an image of hatred and intolerance to difference. An image that such acts of injustice and grave violence and murder are acceptable and even perhaps praised in Islam, and by all Muslims. Such is an image that haunts the Muslim community today, one which is completely false, damaging and contradicts absolutely all minor and major facets of the religion.The war on terror is one I have been a part of my whole life. I was raised to protect individual’s rights to safety, expression, freedom of speech and individuality. To challenge and call for an end to extremist views in all forms even on a social level where people abuse power, privilege and status. Islam condemns terrorism and all aspects associated and advocates for the end of terrorism. It has done so since its beginning. Whether I choose to or not, I am a part of the war on terror and as a concerned human wanting safety and an end to such violence and this is a ‘war’ that I commit to, a dispute I partake in whole heartedly.
How do you think the world can heal after these events, and what would you like to see happen in the future?
Great question! Well, I believe healing is a relative process which can be corrupted and made more challenging by the re-occurrence of similar events. I believe in the power of knowledge and education, in humanising the situation and viewing each person as an individual. A person does not represent anyone but themselves. We need to be accountable for our actions and not that of a stranger across the globe. Healing is essential and I would love more than anything to have an end to violence and a community of peace, beyond our lovely Australian borders.
And finally, What can Islam teach Australia? Conversely, What do you think Australia can teach Islam?
The point I’d love to make here is that I feel that people are valuable assets to this country, including the vast cultural backgrounds and life experiences. We should set out to learn from each other. I do adore the emphasis Islam gives to peace as not only a desired state of mind, behaviour and conduct, but also as a means of expression and collective attitude that should be the goal of every individual. We should be advocates of peace and eliminate barriers to attaining peace. We are flaw filled creatures, imperfect by nature. There is always going to be dispute and Islam provides the tools and practice to developing and maintaining a peaceful existence through The Holy Qur’an and prophetic narrations of the prophet Muhammad. One’s ethics and character is shaped by many things, including but not exclusive to religion, and Islam certainly explores the notion of projecting peace in order to establish greater opportunities of empathy and equality, and of course the appreciation of a stable peaceful and progressive society, not a destructive and declining one.
Now, in preparing for this interview I learnt a goodbye blessing but I’m not sure if it is said in Egypt… Khuda Hafiz?
Khuda hafiz… I haven’t’ heard of it! I’ll teach you one, Ma Asalamah, or Asalamu alaykum, peace be with you SALAM for short. I use that on twitter heaps!
Thank you so much for your time and sharing your thoughts and experience with me! Asalamu alaykum.
You’re so very welcome! Thank you so much for your time and the amazing work your doing Matt, it’s been an absolute pleasure chatting with you!!!
Hebah Moussa can be found at:
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