Monday, September 26, 2005


PROFILE - Yasmin Khan - One of the PM's Mossies

One of the many criticisms labelled at the PM’s recent summit with Muslim leaders in Canberra was the near-absence of Aussie Mossies – Muslim Australians born and brought up in Australia.

Indeed, the summit appeared to be dominated by middle aged migrant men, many of whom had few English language skills. Most of these men had held positions in various Muslim organisations, positions which enabled them to provide jobs to themselves and their family members.

It seems the PM’s favourite Muslims are the ethnic ones. But appearances can be deceiving. And quite a number of people at the summit did not fit into this category.

Amongst them is Yasmin Khan, a Muslim woman from Queensland. Yasmin’s family have lived in Queensland for over 120 years, and are now into their 5th generation. Ms Khan was born in a small town in Northern Queensland named Babinda, and grew up in and schooled in Innisfail, one hour south of Cairns.

I spoke to Yasmin Khan some days back, and asked her about her upbringing, the summit and Muslim community leadership in Brisbane and Australia.

Yasmin grew up in what was the only Muslim family in her small town. Like many Muslim Australian parents, Yasmin’s parents ensured she and her siblings had the best of both worlds.

“We kept our fasts whilst we attended school - local state school - wore traditional clothes - shalwar kameez - on traditional holidays - Eid etc. We lived a great existence experiencing the best of both worlds - we joined the guides and scouts, CWA, had jobs after school, played sport, but prayed our namaz, went outside to see if we can see the moon, celebrated Eid, enjoyed Christmas, grew up on Rafi songs as well as Abba and Sherbet.”

After completing Year 12, Yasmin worked for Australia Post and completed a number of technical and other courses at TAFE. She has also managed her own small business which she recently sold. She has also been involved in a variety of community activities including working as a volunteer announcer in community radio. Yasmin is definitely a graduate from the University of Life.

Ms Khan remembers being first informed of her invitation to the PM’s summit when she received a phone call from someone in the Department of Immigration. The initial phone call was a mere 5 days before the summit.

She did not have a chance to speak to the PM at any great length during the summit. And Ms Khan has some strong views about organisations represented at the summit. In relation to AFIC, Ms Khan had this to say.

[L]ike some Islamic organisations, you have to wait until someone dies, before you get some fresh blood on there - and they are very protective of the organisation, very insular, very cliquey and very power hungry … they have no female representation - they have no representation from the majority of the Muslim population. I understand the need for a peak body - I'm just not sure that they are doing it right or have the right people involved.”

Yasmin used to sit on the school board of the Islamic School of Brisbane. She also is heavily involved in a new social work initiative called “I-Care". When asked about I-Care and its relation to the Sydney-based Mission of Hope, Ms Khan described the body as one which aimed to provide support services for Muslim families in crisis.

[W]e can see the problems for families and we are offering solutions for them. There is no Muslim social worker in Brisbane working with the community, there is no where for women experiencing domestic violence to call - who understands her culture, her religion or her language. It is only a new organisation - newly formed and still going through submission stages for funding - but all indications at this stage are looking good.”

Yasmin’s views on representation come straight out of a textbook on representative liberal democracy. She says that the PM’s summit could not have representation of all Muslim Australians, and that hosting a truly representative summit would have required hiring out Bruce Stadium in Canberra.

“Anyone who is not invited is going to feel left out - but that seems to be half the problem in this country with the Muslims - it seems that if I am not telling my own story then no one else can tell it either. That is ludicrous - we are all Muslims - we should have similar issues - but we tend to think that the Iraqi, is going to be different to the Bosnian, or the Turk or the Pakistani, and that leads to half the problems we are having where everyone thinks ethnicity and not religion.”

And what role will the summit and the subsequent reference group play?

“Think of it as Parliament - all your ideas, thoughts, social attitudes etc are not going to be owned by the person representing your electorate in Parliament - but somebody in Parliament will have those ideas, thoughts, attitudes - it just means that you have to connect with who does and use them to the best advantage. That is what democracy is about - and that group at the summit is only a small representation - and I think the reference group is another small representation - but it is up to us to utilise the collective representation to get things done.”

Yasmin is critical of mainstream Muslim institutions and their lack of female representation. She describes Muslim organisational leadership in strong terms, saying [t]hey are ultra conservative, ultra hypocritical and ultra stupid to say the least.

To be continued …

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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