Muslim women running for parliament

The Sun-Herald are reporting today that two Muslim women will be running for the seat of Auburn in Sydney’s South West.

A FORMER high school principal and a local councillor will become the first Muslim women to be aligned with mainstream political parties when they contest the March 24 state election.

Muslim converts Silma Ihram, who will run as a Democrat, and Malikeh Michaels, a Green, will contest the safe Labor seat of Auburn, held by Barbara Perry.

We have commented on the broader issue of Muslim political involvement in the past. One of the key concerns has always been that it could send the wrong message for a Muslim candidate to run on what they or others will promote as an “Islamic platform” designed to capture the “Muslim vote”. This furthers the perception of Islam as a “political ideology”; which seems to mean a potpourri of mostly Leftist economic nostrums wrapped up in some Rightist social conservatism and then rebranded as “Islam” with a foreign policy that starts with opposition to Israel and ends with opposition to America.


However, there is hardly a definitive Islamic position on many of the contemporary political issues we face — despite the best efforts of some Muslim leaders to suggest otherwise. Therefore, the idea of a “Muslim vote” is an intrinsically problematic one because on many matters of political importance, Islam has no position at all, other than requiring people to make the subjectively weigh the maslaha (benefit) of a particular course of action. For example, what is Islam’s position on carbon credits? Does Islam have a position on government subsidies for hybrid cars? What is the Islamic position on the age of consent? And so on.

Therefore, it is reassuring to read that Silma Ihram — one of few Muslim leaders in this country who has actually led people — has sought to distance herself from being The Muslim Candidate running on a Muslim Platform:

Ms Ihram, 54, former principal and founder of Noor Al Houda Islamic College in Strathfield, decided against running in Lakemba because she feared she would be labelled a token Muslim candidate and did not want to be linked to controversial Muslim leader Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly.

I know voting and participation in politics is a contentious issue but I would be interested in hearing what readers think. Do you think Muslim engagement with the political process is a good thing? And, if so, should Muslims run independently on what they cast as an “Islamic platform” or is it better for Muslims to run under the auspices of a particular political party (as the two Muslims mentioned in the article are doing)?

20 comments ↓

#1 Ali on 03.04.07 at 9:50 pm

Islam is politics and it is very clear about the halal and haram. I don’t know why you are trying to mislead people by saying Islam doesn’t have a position on carbon credits (environmentalism) or the age of consent (zina laws).

#2 JDsg on 03.04.07 at 11:06 pm

Voting and participation in politics is a good thing regardless of whether one is Muslim or not. Not to vote and participate is to help give up control over one’s life. As for political affiliation, that should be left up to the conscience of the individual seeking office; of course, that person is more likely to have a better chance of winning if they have the support and backing of a party behind them, insha’allah. (I also agree with Ali regarding the Islamic positions on carbon credits and age of consent.)

#3 Amir on 03.04.07 at 11:19 pm

Ali: Yes, we can agree that protecting the environment is a good thing and is generally supported and encouraged by Islam, however, the disagreement comes as to how we should do it. For example, an alternative to a carbon trading scheme might be the introduction of some sort of Pigouvian Tax in which governments attempt to address the same negative externality (emissions) through a different means. One can invoke religious arguments for either, but my point is that these are the sorts of issues that politicians deal with and there isn’t necessarily a clear and definitive Islamic position on either.  For this reason, I find the idea of an “Islamic Party” or an “Islamic Platform” to be rather strange because politics is mostly focused on these things rather than on foreign policy, religious freedom and so on (things which there is relatively more homogenity of opinion about within the Muslim community).

JDsg: I agree and I think it’s generally a good thing regardless of the party or the religion of the candidate. Muslims have as much right as everyone else to engage with the political process and seek office. In fact, regardless of the party, I think a genuinely Muslim candidate displaying authentically Muslim values and morals in their behaviour (without necessarily advertising or proclaiming their faith) would be a very positive development. Of course, this isn’t something unique to politics but carries across to any domain where a person is in the public eye or the ability to influence or communicate with large numbers of people.

#4 E. Mariyani on 03.04.07 at 11:44 pm

This furthers the perception of Islam as a “political ideology”; which seems to mean a potpourri of mostly Leftist economic nostrums wrapped up in some Rightist social conservatism and then rebranded as “Islam” with a foreign policy that starts with opposition to Israel and ends with opposition to America. ….However, there is hardly a definitive Islamic position on many of the contemporary political issues we face.

Hmm. Let me get this straight: (1) there is no general Islamic political position on many contemporary issues, but (2) there is a general Muslim political position on many contemporary issues.

Both (1) and (2) sound like gross and inaccurate generalisations to me. If gross generalisations are acceptable, then wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, based on evidence from actual Muslim-dominated regimes, that if anything, Muslim political ideology when put into practice amounts to a potpourri of mostly Rightist economic free-for-all policies most beneficial to rent-seeking corporations?

#5 Amir on 03.05.07 at 12:22 am

EM: Yes, I don’t think there is a definitive and absolute position on many of the issues which are the ‘important’ political issues of the moment. However, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be positions which are dominant within the community but for historical, social, cultural or economic reasons. Or even because the majority of people think that this is the most Islamic point of view on the issue. My comment was more related to trying to cobble together a platform addressing this myriad of issues and then promoting it as The Islamic Party or The Islamic Platform.

The comment about many Muslims being on the Left economically but on the Right socially is based on my own observations and what I have seen of some surveys conducted by Muslim organisations around election time. This may, of course, be entirely wrong and the Muslim community might really be better characterised as a bunch of free-wheeling Rothbardian anarcho-capitalists champing at the bit to sell off the roads, privatise the judicial system, and tear the state to shreds :)

However, my experience and observation is that there is a leaning towards the Left amongst politically-aware or politically-active Australian Muslims. In the past, this was demonstrated by Muslim support for and participation in the ALP and, more recently, this has been demonstrated by public Muslim support for the Greens and Socialist Alliance. I have heard, for example, Imams at masajid actively encouraging people to vote for the Greens or ALP candidates, and allowing operatives for either party to hand out promotional material. This isn’t surprising: these parties, unlike the Liberals, have demonstrated an interest in Muslims and Muslim causes; many Muslims come from the demographic groups that these parties, particularly the ALP, have the most influence and support in; and the Left’s traditional focus on social justice naturally appeals to people whose own religious traditions encourage similar sentiments.

As for my tongue-in-cheek comment about Rightist social conservatism, then I was pointing out that although many Muslims might find common cause with the social justice and economic views of the Leftist parties such as the ALP, the typical Muslim view on issues such as homosexuality or reproductive rights may not sit as easily on that side of politics as it does within the Right.

As I said, I think political engagement is a good thing for people in general, regardless of their faith and regardless of which party they think best represents their interests. My only concern is when particular positions are elevated to being “Islamic positions” and candidates campaign on that basis.

If gross generalisations are acceptable, then wouldn’t it be more accurate to say, based on evidence from actual Muslim-dominated regimes, that if anything, Muslim political ideology when put into practice amounts to a potpourri of mostly Rightist economic free-for-all policies most beneficial to rent-seeking corporations?

Unfortunately, that would be largely accurate. One could also say that the dominant political ideology in some parts of the Muslim world is based around two key tenets: how to keep the Rentier state ticking along; and how to expand the public service fast enough to ’solve’ your unemployment problem. Oh, and throw in some authoritarianism too.

#6 Asad on 03.05.07 at 1:27 am

assalamalaykum

Amir, you have a point and I think this is why we haven’t had much success whenever Muslims have tried to organise politically. There isn’t an area in Australia where a candidate can be elected by Muslims alone. In fact, it probably works against them if they are seen by the nonmuslim voters as a candidate for Muslims instead of the entire community.

#7 Osama Saeed on 03.05.07 at 5:37 am

I’ve never been able to understand the obsession amongst some of having Islamic parties. They either:

1. stand no chance of winning, unless the population of an area has substantial numbers of Muslims (and even then it is quite an assumption to think Muslims will vote for them)

2. Even if they did win, they would be able to achieve precisely nothing as an minority/independent representative

It’s time proponents of this strategy realised that it is the political parties that are always in power, and they are not inherently inimical to Muslim interests. It’s just if Muslims don’t engage with them, they will be.

#8 Shadower on 03.05.07 at 4:17 pm

Great stuff by the sisters. I wish them all the best.

An Islamic party would have no support at all in the wider Australian community, so it would be pointless. Rather a lobby group to represent Muslims would be a better idea for people proposing the political party idea.

Muslims do need to start taking more active participation in the political process in Australia. And it is good to see this finally occurring.

#9 George Carty on 03.05.07 at 7:48 pm

One could also say that the dominant political ideology in some parts of the Muslim world is based around two key tenets: how to keep the Rentier state ticking along; and how to expand the public service fast enough to ’solve’ your unemployment problem.

Amir, what do you think is the best solution to the “rentier state” problem in the Middle East?

#10 Baybers on 03.05.07 at 8:29 pm

There are several dysfunctional models of Muslim political action at the heart of which lie a misunderstanding of politics itself

Lets begin with MAB’s anti-war movement in the UK. They dealt themselves into the political contest without the infrastructure or will to wage a political campaign. The tone and rancour of their campaign as well as their relationship with demagogues meant that they cast themselves and Islam with the politics of the unreconstructed hard left. Their outspoken stance against the Israel lobby also meant that they acquired enemies on the right. They did all of this in service of foreign causes which had little or no influence on the daily lives of their constituents; British Muslims. They were easily tagged as Islamists political ideologues and forced even their friends in the Labour party to create and deal with the absurd Sufi-ZZ-Top council of Britain.

Hilali and AFIC’s failure to build bridges with the mainstream polity of Australia. As grand mufti of the Australia, he could have used his leadership to have influence with both political parties. Because of his public remarks and those of other Muslim groups they have alienated one side of politics, the side with which Muslims share many common threads of social policy.

But finally is the underlying belief amongst some Muslims that it is beneficial for Muslims in general to be elected to state and federal parliament, which is false. It is no use at all to have a state or federal member.

It is much more useful (and easier) for Muslims to be elected to municipal councils.

But the hotly contested award for the most dysfunctional Muslim political intervention in a western country goes to:
Drum roll please…….

Muslims for Bush

#11 Amir on 03.06.07 at 9:17 am

Amir, what do you think is the best solution to the “rentier state” problem in the Middle East?

Well, it’s a difficult problem because, for most of these countries, their comparative advantage lies in oil production. Therfore, taking a Ricardian view of international trade, this is what these countries should be focused on. As such, it’s very easy to end up a rentier state because they simultaneously attempt to offer their constituents a defacto welfare state but without the taxation which usually accompanies it.

Obviously, there isn’t much incentive for these countries to change their model but it seems one of the issues is that oil production and export is government-controlled. Therefore, the government is the sole recipient of these resource rents and then redistributes a portion of that through the provision of its various services (services which might otherwise have been funded by taxation). This isn’t, in itself, a massive problem but where it becomes problematic is because the model lends itself well to authoritarianism because it means governments are neither accountable to their population through the ballot box or through taxation.

So, I think, one part of the solution has to be the privatisation of oil production and a liberalisation of that sector. This has flow-on effects, of course, in that the government would either need to start taxing its citizens or start winding back some of its overt and covert welfare programs (an example of a covert program being the bloated and inefficient public service). Naturally, I would prefer the latter ;)

#12 sindbad on 03.07.07 at 10:38 am

Salaams,

Baybers: “But the hotly contested award for the most dysfunctional Muslim political intervention in a western country goes to:
Drum roll please…….

Muslims for Bush”

This group is different from others because it isn’t doing it for money…I think, and is not really influentional and laughingly mocked at
as it should. These bunch of Muslims, on the other hand, have earned profitable contracts:

http://secularislam.org/blog/p.....3/Speakers

The Sufi Muslim Council is another money-grubbing self-appointed Muslim neocon group that has a peculiar habit of supporting war and sanctions against those damn “Wahabbis”, the scapegoats for everything that is wrong with any Muslim person or country and the bearers of innumerable myths about what the propagandist Bernard Lewis may refer to as “Muslim rage” against Western modernity.

About the sisters running for Parliament, way to go!

#13 Mussulmaan on 03.07.07 at 7:07 pm

The Sufi Muslim Council of Britan is what happens when governments fund munafiqs in our community to do their bidding

this site discussing the council in some detail
http://sufimuslimcouncil.blogspot.com/

this is a photo with the leader
http://photos1.blogger.com/blo.....hisham.jpg

he is also the spiritual advisor to the homocidal “Islam Karamov” of Uzbeckistan who wanted to name January after himself.

But after seeing a photo of “Sheikh” Kabbalah I can only think of his immense white beard.
somewhere in the Arctic circle there is a slightly bewildered Polar bear walking around with bare buttocks.

#14 mekhapes on 03.08.07 at 10:24 pm

Interesting article. To your first query of whether Muslim engagement with the political process is a good thing, I can only ask in return if you think democracy is a good thing. That is to say whether you feel you, as a citizen, should have an active say in how you’re governed. As a citizen, I would like to have my rights and liberties safeguarded and, therefore, will partake actively with the political process to ensure this. Should a citizen who happens to be Muslim be denied this right? Of course not. Therefore, yes Muslim engagement with the political process is a good thing if Muslim citizens wish to have a say in how they are governed.

As for your second query, I’m not entirely sure what you’re asking. If you’re questioning the concept of whether a political aspirant should be allowed to choose their specific political platform, then yes, absolutely. In a democracy that is truly representative, a political candidate must make his/her views, values and beliefs clear on a variety of subjects (conservation, civil rights, gun control etc.). It is then left to the electorate to vote and, thereby, indicate either their support for, or opposition against, these said views.
Should these rights be denied to candidates who state their views are based on an “Islamic platform”? I see no reason why.

On the other hand, if you’re asking whether these same candidates can benefit from the support of an established political party, then, again, absolutely. If I was a political aspirant and I felt my views were broadly reflected by the Liberals, I see no reason why I shouldn’t join that party. The stigma that is currently assocoated with the word “Islam”, specially in the political spectrum, is one that must be challenged, for the sake of democracy.

Based on my views and beliefs, I would probably be classified as a conservative on certain issues and liberal on others. The fact that I’m Jewish isn’t the overriding factor in my political standpoint. Nor should it be. I should and will judge each issue on its own merit when I vote. I cannot just blindly vote for any “Jewish” candidate or any “pro-Israel” cadidate, as I do not support all things that bundled under the “Jewish” label nor am I pro-Israel on all issues.

Similarly, voters who are Muslim must also ensure that the candidate they vote for accurately represents their views, regardless of his/ger religion or supposed platform.

#15 Baybers on 03.09.07 at 6:51 am

Mekhapes,

If you look back through our archives you will find that we believe that democracy is a very good thing. A large part of the dysfunction of contemporary Muslim societies can be attributed to their totalitarian forms of governance.

As for Amir’s point, I think he was trying to say that whilst Islam is pro environment there is no single Islamic environmental policy. A wide variety of environmental policies may all be “Islamic”.

#16 Malikeh Micheals on 03.18.07 at 11:02 am

Hello and Salaamns to all who have commented for and against this topic.

Australia is a democracy and it is positive to have open debate and allow people to express their views.

I will say that the other candidates Barabara Perry (ALP) is a strong Chistian and Le Lam (Unity) a Buddhist and no mention has been made of their religion. I am a Muslim, an Australian and from an English speaking background so therefor can say I can represent people on a broad range of issues. I am also a mother and an environmentalist ( I have a law degree and have studied some environmental law). I am happy to enter the mainstream political arena as a Muslim as I hope it will help the general population understand that people can follow a religion whether it be Christian, Buddhist or Muslim and participate incommunity the same as everyone regardless of religion or cultural background.

I am a Muslim, yes, but I am running on The Greens platform of social justice and environmental sustainability. I am happy to represent Muslims because I am a Muslim and understand the issues and lobby for equality. I do however stand for all people in my community, regardless of their religion. Australia is a pluralist society where we can wear scarves, have beards and dress how we like, whether that be covered or the opposite. Many Muslim countries do not allow mthese freedoms.

The Green’s platform for Auburn includes reducing Greenhouse gas emissions with the use of renewable energy and fuel; promote grey water and water recycling; offering more services for the community including more ESL teachers in schools and NESB education and settlement services for migrants and refugees to help settle in Australia; a good public transport system to reduce car use and better support and education services for women and children.

#17 mekhapes on 03.22.07 at 8:18 pm

Baybers,
Could you please clarify what you mean specifically by “the dysfunction of contemporary Muslim societies”? Is there a specific dysfunction you are referring to that affects only contemporary Muslim societies? I ask as I’m unaware of a single such political or social malady that singularly affects a specific society, based on that society’s religious affiliation.
I was also unaware that totalitarian forms of government are a specifically Islamic dysfunction.
Totalitarian governments can and do, as you are, of course, well aware, manifest themselves in all societies, regardless of race colour or creed.
What I’m getting at, Baybers, is the connection being made here between the religion, Islam, and all sorts of socio-political issues. Can one state that a certain country is poor because it is populated by Muslims? Or that another is rich because it is populated by Christians, Jews or Athiests?
You may label me cynical, but I am deeply suspicious of the drive to link all sorts of socio-political maladies on a specific religion. We saw the Nazis successfully link pre-world-war-2 Germany’s numerous maladies on the Jewish population along with a variety of other scapegoats. We’re all aware of the results.
As I stated in my earlier post, responsible voters must investigate each individual political candidate or political party’s manifesto, policies, views and beliefs before voting for them. This seems obvious in statement, but, unfortunately, is somewhat sublime in today’s society. The point is this: don’t just vote for someone because they are the ‘Muslim’ candidate…or the ‘Jewish’ candidate etc. As you stated, there may be no specific Islamic environmental policy. There is also no specific Jewish environmental policy nor a Gay and Lesbian environmental policy. In fact, the policies of the ‘Green’ party in one country may be quite different from those of the ‘Green’ party in another country. In spite of this, there are Muslim, Jewish and Homosexual politicians. As well there should be.
It is not sufficient for a candidate to say “I’m a Muslim, vote for me”. I think voters are too smart to fall for this and will question such a candidate to specifically detail their policies.
There are today a number of forces, both from within and external to Islam, whose goal is to align Islam with a specific set of views and values. This should not be permitted. I am conscious
that you play into this when you suggest that a rather large and diverse set of nations all suffer from “the dysfunction of contemporary Muslim societies”. As there is no specific Islamic environmental policy, there isn’t a specific dysfunction in Muslim societies.

#18 Baybers on 03.22.07 at 9:20 pm

Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful comments.

I would begin by saying that I agree with most of what you say. The totalitarian systems of government in large parts of the Muslim world are not a function of those countries being Muslim nor do they have any intrinsic basis in Islam (although some have Islamic embroidery to cover them), Rather they are a function of poor eduction, post colonial structures and very poor systems of economic and social policy. It is common throughout the developing world and not specific to the Muslim world.

The Muslim world is dysfunctional because it is part of the developing world and not because it is Muslim. If you believe that unfair associations are being made between Islam and the dysfunction of Muslim societies then I could not agree with you more.

As a Muslim I feel this pressure more than perhaps you do. It was one of the reasons we have this site.

I also agree that candidates should be judged on their policies and not as the “Islamic” or “Jewish” candidate. As a broader point I don’t think that a Muslim candidate should be a partisan for the Muslim community, rather they more correctly fulfill their religious obligation by governing in the interests of all society and not just narrow sectional interests.

If you read through the archives of this site you will see where we have demonstrated moves to align Islam with a particular western political philosophy (socialism) with which it is almost completely antithetical. Although you say it should not be permitted, I say it should be debated and Muslims will generally decide correctly if given the opportunity to do so.

However I do believe that Muslim societies do have a totalitarian forms of government. These systems of governance are not a result of being Muslim as they occur elsewhere. In Muslim societies it is paradoxically the secular modern forms of government (socialism and its variants) that are the most totalitarian. There are two exceptions only to this rule.

#19 Baybers on 03.22.07 at 10:26 pm

The other point that I wish to make is a linguistic peculiarity amongst Muslims.

when we want to critique something in the Muslim world, pious Muslims refer to it as a “Muslim” problem as opposed to an “Islamic” one (which we do not believe can ever occur).

That is why nobody here believes that the dysfunction in large parts of the Muslim world is an “Islamic” problem

#20 mekhapes on 03.23.07 at 2:03 am

I agree with everything in your posts. One of the accepted ‘truths’ of this debate is that totalitarianism is not
symptomatic of any particular religion. Rather, it is one of the resultant effects of myriad causes. However, given
that the particular form of totalitarianism you are referring to evolved in an Islamic environment, it is no surprise
that Islamic ‘embroidery’ was used to insinuate it into its particular society.

I feel that a Muslim candidate can very ably represent the interests of the Muslim community. Although, one
should keep in mind that a non-Muslim candidate can also, very ably, represent the community’s interests. In
fact, in most pluralist societies today, we see Conservative Muslims, Liberal Muslims, Socialist Muslims etc. No
specific Muslim candidate, Conservative, Liberal or other can say they’re the ONLY ones representing the
Muslim community. As you indicated, these candidates may choose to stand for any platform they want, the
community, however, is responsible for choosing its representative.

It goes without saying that we must be wary about what label these political parties or candidates operate under. The community must look past the metaphorical ‘wrapping’ and check the ‘ingredients’ of their prospective choice. Taking socialism as an example, many political movements originating in Muslim countries have used the label of socialism. So has Zionism in the Jewish world. As had the Nazis in Germany. Each of these philosophies embraced some supposed variant of socialism, yet they are all antithetical to each other.

I guess I’m very cynical about the misleading hype and marketing that comes naturally to politicians and seek the actual, real policies and substance beneath the applied label. I cannot stress the dangers involved if a society becomes complacent in choosing its representatives. One example of this trend is in Zionism where the philosophy gained acceptance as a socialist movement for the traumatised Jewish population of post-war Europe but today mainly exists to provide blanket justification for any action taken by the state of Israel. It is this hijacking of a philosophy, and, thereby, of a society’s rights that is the main result of a complacent and uninformed or uninterested electorate.

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