Thursday, September 23, 2010

COMMENT: Race and religion ...

A number of people have responded to my piece published in The Age today by claiming that I have confused race and religion. The confusion seems to largely arise out of the beginning paragraphs:

In the early '90s, I was in the final stages of my university studies and had too much time on my hands. I started teaching Muslim scripture to year 1 and 2 kids at a south-west Sydney school. On my first day, the principal took me around to various classes to pick out the Muslim children for my class. We entered a year 1 classroom. The principal asked: ''Hands up, kids, if you are Muslim.''

A small, blonde girl put her hand up. The principal looked at her and said, ''But Jasmina, you don't look Muslim!'' The poor little girl started to cry.

It turned out the little girl's parents were from Sarajevo. Given the high rate of inter-marriage in her homeland, it is quite possible only one parent was Muslim in a Bosnian sense.

But what does it mean to be Muslim in a Bosnian sense?

Indeed. What does it mean to be Muslim in Bosnia? Is it the same as being Muslim in Malaysia? Or Indonesia? Or Lebanon? And which of the Bosnian women below aren't Muslim?

Some responses to my article included this ...

Islam is a religion not a race. Being Muslim is a choice.

... and this ...

You do realise, Irfan Yusuf, that Muslim is not a race. Neither is Christian. Do your bloody homework.

... and this ...

"What does it mean to be Muslim in a Bosnian sense?"
I guess it means that you come from Bosnia and practice Islam.
Not such a profound question, really.

Actually it is a very profound question. In Bosnia, there are basically three "nationalities". You are Serb, or you are Croat or you are Muslim. If you are not Serb or Croat, you are generally classed as a Muslim. It has little or nothing to do with what religion, if any, you practise.

To make matters more complicated, Bosnia is a country with a high rate of inter-marriage. So if a Muslim woman marries a Serb man, what are the kids considered to be?

This proved to be a huge issue during the Bosnian war of the mid-90's.

Then there is Malaysia, where the constitution seems to mix up being Malay with being Muslim. Except that Indian Muslims often don't get the same privileges as Malay Muslims.

Ethnicity and religion is often mixed up. Religion often is treated as more of a racial characteristic. One doesn't always have a choice.

One does, however, have a choice to have a good laugh at Daily Telegraph opinion editor Tim Blair and the Tea Partying wingnut brigade who congregated around his Daily Telegraph bog (no, that was not a typo). Here is Tim's latest attempt at analysis. Interestingly there is no reference to my physique as is so often the case. Perhaps Tim is finally entering adulthood.

UPDATE I: Why does Rupert Murdoch keep the likes of Bolt & Blair on the payroll? Serial fruitloop Glenn Beck might have the answer ...

"How does Rupert Murdoch keep me on the air ..."

Words © 2010 Irfan Yusuf

DeliciousBookmark this on Delicious
Digg!Get Flocked