Friday, November 18, 2005


Welcoming Michelle home with an open heart ...

Muslim peak body leaders need to make up their minds. Do they represent their version of orthodox Islam? Or do they represent Muslim reality, warts and all?

Muslim Aussies aren’t perfect exemplars of Islamic values. Muslims defraud, assault, murder and commit all the same crimes that bad followers of other faiths commit. All believers, good or bad, have their weaknesses and idiosyncrasies.

But in Islam, committing a sin doesn’t take you outside the fold. What takes you outside the fold is what you believe in your heart. And that is something only you and God know about.

For that reason, the absurd comments reported and attributed to Dr Ameer Ali concerning Australian model Michelle Leslie are yet another example of a narrow-minded infantile middle-aged migrant man shooting from the hip and then wondering why most Aussies (Muslims included) think he is a drop-kick.

According to the November 19 edition of the Daily Telegraph, Dr Ali remarked the following words: “If she is a Muslim I don't think she should go back to her job as an underwear model because Islam is about modesty. Taking off her clothes and being half-naked on the catwalk will raise a lot of eyebrows in the community. She can't have it both ways. Either practice Islam and do something decent or don't practice it at all.”

With respect, Dr Ali, who on earth are you to judge? Yes, you may be right that Islam teaches modesty of dress. But what individual Muslims do with their lives is between them and God.

And when was the last time you lectured Sri Lankan and Indian Muslim women who wear sari’s that show nothing except, to use the phrase of American Muslim stand-up comic Azhar Usman, “their back and their fat gut”?

For any Muslim to suggest that Michelle Leslie comply with the dress code set by the President of a peak Muslim body to maintain her relationship with God and the Muslim communities is medieval and absurd.

In fact, it’s just as absurd as politicians seeking to regulate what schoolgirls at state schools wear on their heads.

Australia is a free country. Women of all faiths have the right to dress as they wish, regardless of what Dr Ali or Mrs Bishop think.

Dr Ali’s suggestion that Ms Leslie should “do something decent” or not try to practise her religion at all is also grossly offensive. Islam accepts humans as they are. It seeks to improve them gradually, not write them off before they have had a chance to make an effort.

Ms Leslie has taken an enormous step. She has changed her faith. It will take her some time to change her lifestyle. Human beings are not robots or computers that can be programmed into a new set of habits and behaviour.

I have a Muslim friend who works behind a bar. She serves alcohol, and she enjoys drinking white wine or champagne mixed with orange juice. But woe be tied anyone who says something nasty about her father’s religion. She may not be the most observant Muslim on the planet, but in terms of passion for her faith I have known few people better and stronger.

Most important than her job and her drinking habits is the goodness of my friend’s heart. She is one of the most compassionate people I have met. She is extraordinarily sensitive to other people’s feelings. I have never heard her speak ill of anyone. And when she rebukes her lawyer-friend Irfan on his eating habits, she does it ever-so mildly.

Islam teaches that what matters more than appearances is a good heart and noble intentions. Some rednecks claim that Muslims believe all martyrs go to heaven into the arms of 72 martyrs. But the Prophet Muhammad taught that a martyr who dies with the intention of being glorified will in fact be sent to hell. Same with the cleric and the philanthropist.

The same Prophet also spoke of a sex worker who finished her shift and went to the well to drink some water. She saw a dog dying of thirst and gave the dog water first. For that good deed and for the purity of her intention, God made this woman destined for heaven.

Like all mainstream faiths, Islam teaches that what counts at the end of the day is the goodness of your heart. Whether you’re a barmaid or a swimsuit model or a sex worker, what counts isn’t what people think of you. What counts is the goodness of your heart.

I hope Australians of all faiths will welcome Michelle home with open hearts.

The author is a Sydney lawyer.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Quite frankly if Michelle Leslie wants to model underwear it is her life and her relationship with Islam. It is ridiculous that the head of AFIC has made a judgment call with respect to her life choices. One of the main reasons Islam does not have Priests and Nun's is to avoid such 'judgment'. These sorts of comments do not help the cause of Islam and we might as well stop using electric lights and sit in the dark ages.
Dr Ameer Ali's suggestion (edict?) that Michelle Leslie should choose either to be a "decent" (fully clothed) Muslim or not a Muslim at all is one way to blur the lines between reality and a vision of what's ideal.

Another is the media's pumping of the question: In her own mind, is Michelle Leslie a Muslim? That is, has she had a "fake" conversion/reversion to grease the wheels of her case? Quite a few people I've spoken to are deeply suspicious of her conversion/reversion because her behaviour doesn't seem to conform to the stereotype of a covert - that is, "more Muslim than Muhammad". But that's just a stereotype, and one that is perpetuated and reinforced by Dr Ali's comments.

Now I don't think anyone would argue that Dr Ali, as an individual, isn't entitled to say what he thinks is appropriate. But the question is whether Dr Ali IS merely speaking as an individual OR whether he is speaking as a representative of the entire Muslim community, with all its divergent practices and contestable (and contested) theological intricacies. Dr Ali DID seem to be giving the impression at the time that he was functioning as a representative, and yet, with his palm-card account of "acceptable" Islamic behaviour, was simultaneously FAILING to actually represent the diversity of views within the Muslim community as a whole. One can't fault Dr Ali for what he said as an individual Muslim, but one can definitely fault him for appearing to act as a representative while proffering unrepresentative views.
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