In recent times, there has been an abundance of Muslims presented in the media, yet despite (or rather, because of) this, there has been countless cases of misrepresentation and vast generalization within the public. With the 1.6 billion Muslims in the world population often being categorized into one group, this has left many without a voice. One such subgroup, commonly stereotyped in the public forum, are the Muslim youth, who are often spoken for- either by community leaders or organizations, that are out of touch with the challenges faced by these young people in their daily lives.
This series aims to counteract these distressing tends, by providing a platform in which Muslim youth are able the share their experiences, raw and unedited.
Ibrahim Taha is a Muslim high-school student from Sydney’s Western Suburbs. A passionate and articulate young man, he is an active member of his community- having been a Labor Youth member since the age of only thirteen. We sat down with him to discuss his experiences growing up in a working class Arab-Muslim household. In this interview, he speaks out about his views on discrimination, equality, the media, the outcome of foreign and national events and government policy, and the ways in which tolerance and understanding may be achieved in the future.
How do you identify yourself? (Muslim? Australian?)
I identify myself as an Australian by nationality, Lebanese by cultural heritage and Muslim by faith…. I like to say I’m vegemite on Lebanese bread.
What role does your faith play in defining your personal identity?
It plays a major role. It’s part of who I am, it’s the air I breathe And my faiths instils values in me; egalitarianism, caring for others, loving one another and tolerance of all people, races, cultures and religions. And these are the same values that Australia holds as a country.
What are some challenges that you have faced as a young Muslim growing up in a western society, such as Australia?
I find that the challenge of the young Australian Muslim is the frustration at the double standards exhibited by society. I mean [we] see what is happening overseas, but they don’t see the coverage of it on news and they feel frustrated internally, and they need something to express that frustration, and it’s got to be a healthy method of expressing it.
Do you ever feel as though you have to be more self-aware of your actions and their consequences than your peers?
Yeah I do, absolutely.
What is your opinion on the de-radicalisation policies implanted in Australian high schools (e.g. prayer registration)?
I go to a school that implements the prayer registration policy, and to be honest I don’t see how a piece of paper deters extremism…like I don’t know if there is any proof [of its effectiveness]. But we have other issues, like obesity, we’ve got 1 in 4 obese children in schools, we’ve got 1 in 13 youth considering suicide, I haven’t seen any policies that are tackling these challenges that many Young Australians are facing.
What are your thoughts on the portrayal of Muslims in mainstream media?
And that’s a big misunderstanding and very troubling to me as well that there are some media out there reporting misunderstandings, stereotyping and negative narratives are portrayed everywhere generalising. And it’s deeply troubling that somehow the media presents the
religion of Islam as evil, that’s what deeply troubles me. But, that’s what we have to change. It’s encumbered upon us as Muslims to try everything to break those stereotypes.
Do you believe you feel adequately represented by Muslim community leaders in the media and wider society? If not, how would you prefer to be represented?
I think we have decent spokespeople but there is always room for improvement, even when looking at leadership of the country there is always room for improvement. But what we can do is invest in the next generation, so that they become better, instead of sitting back and doing nothing, we should build capacity in our young Australian Muslims to then become next leaders of the Muslim community.
Have recent representations of Muslims affected the way you view yourself or how others in the community have responded to you?
It does, and it sorta makes you question your place in society, whether you belong. But when you look back at history, my faith and my culture has always been a part of Australia. From the 1650’s when the Indonesian Muslims had contact with the Indigenous, to the 1800’s Afghan cavaliers. So whenever I reassure myself and look back, that Islam does have a place in Australian society and we do as well.
You know quite a bit about Islam’s role in Australian history, but why do you think it’s been forgotten or glossed over by mainstream Australian culture?
Umm…I don’t think it’s just an issue from the Australian perspective, I think it’s our fault as well. We have also forgotten our roots, and that we belong here as well. So we have got to become active participants in society, and know our roots so that we can flourish in this country. I feel, there is a disconnect, between our history and our country, and because of this we have gotten a distorted understanding that we don’t belong here.
You are a member of the Labour Youth, what attracted you to politics at such a young age?
I am interested in politics because with politics you can change a lot of things, you can change lives. And I was raised on the labour ideals. [Also], with young labour I find that it’s based on tolerance, I don’t find that I’m treated differently because I am Muslim.
Do you think it’s important for Muslims to take a more active role in politics?
Yeah I do, I mean you can’t just sit back and complain. How are we going to get things done if we don’t have Muslim MPs? If we don’t have a Muslim lobbyist? How are we going to represent the community, or make change for the community if no one is partaking in the system? There has got to be somebody in the system who is a part of the decision making process, making changes for not just Muslims but society in general. The system is a lot better when there are different people, different cultures and faiths, [imparting] their cultures into the system, making it peaceful, happy, and successful for everyone.
Thank you for your time.
Mariam Hamid and May Preedeesanit.