Is religion more important than unity in Australia?

Published: October 29, 2015
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Australian school criticised for allowing Muslim students to leave the assembly hall before the national anthem is sung. PHOTO: THE AUSTRALIAN

During my school days, students would queue in the main ground and proudly sing Pakistan’s national anthem during the morning assembly. Singing the national anthem brought everyone together, nurturing inclusiveness and a sense of unity.

The school had students from different religious backgrounds, although the majority was Sunni Muslims. Singing the anthem instilled love for Pakistan from an early age and brought everyone together in solidarity. Those were the only times when Jinnah’s Pakistan twinkled in the eyes of everyone and reminded us of his quote,

“You are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed. That has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

In light of this, my indignation at Cranbourne Carlisle Primary School does not seem unwarranted. It has come under scrutiny for allowing 30 to 40 Muslim students, aged eight to 10, to walk out before the school sang Australia’s national anthem. This was done to not hurt their religious sentiments as it was Muharram and Muslims consider it a month of mourning. The school sports the motto “many cultures one community” but seems to have shot itself in the foot by allowing its students to walk out of their community and nation’s national anthem.

Photo: Sabeer Lodhi

Since when did the unfortunate Karbala incident become a cultural event? Countries like Pakistan lost their plot when they blurred lines between culture and religion and now Australia seems to be following suit through its ‘progressive policies’ that are breeding more exclusion than inclusiveness.

Australia is a democracy and an individual should have the right to choose. But singing the national anthem of a country goes at the heart of its identity and culture. By allowing the children to walk out, the school administration might have wanted to be sensitive to their religious sentiments but ended up amplifying the line between ‘us and them’ and breaking barriers of ‘one community’. The school has 440 children that hail from 21 different countries. By allowing 40 Muslim students to walk out, the school administration separated them from the rest of their peers on religious pretexts and showed that religion is more important than unity, giving them a sense of entitlement. On the other hand, students who stood there for the national anthem could grow up to see Muslims as ‘others.’

The fact that they were allowed to exclude themselves on religious pretexts is questionable. Allowing religion to seep into the school system is a dangerous step that can promote radicalisation as children have vulnerable minds which are shaped by situations around them. Schools should not have to adapt to different religious sensitivities. Religion and its values should belong to individuals and practiced accordingly.

There is a genuine concern of Islamophobia seeping into the Western society but Muslims will have to learn to adapt to Western culture and values instead of expecting others to adapt to their way of life. In this case, students should have stood in the assembly to show respect to the anthem of their host country while being given the right to not sing it. By allowing them to walk out of the assembly, the school might have catered to their religious sentiments but ended up hurting the nationalism of many Australians and promoting exclusion.

Sabeer.Lodhi

Sabeer Lodhi

The author is studying at Monash University, Melbourne. He is a student and supporter of human rights with a focus on gender equality, minority rights and feminism. He tweets as @sabeerlodhi (twitter.com/sabeerlodhi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Prabin

    Moslems are tastings their own medicine. 1400 years of prosecution against kaffirs.Recommend

  • Soul Speek

    Religion is a personal issue between God and Man. This single incident has created more hatred for muslim community in Australia than any other event. Now all Australians are questioning why did they allow muslim immigrants in their country!

    One should be patriotic towards the country which gives you and your family security, livelihood and education.Recommend

  • SuperNeo™

    Country First always !!!
    where ever in world religion has given priority over nation are shambles.Recommend

  • pk

    Western countries became too liberal to maintain political correctness. Today the children refused to sing national anthem and walked out of school. Tomorrow they will ask native Non-muslims to walk away from Australia as too many Non-muslims around will hurt their religious sentiments.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Have to fully agree with you on this……by allowing the students to walk out the school was wrong but the actual harm done was by the students to themselves.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Why what is good for Australia is not good for India? Why Indian converts to alien Abrahamic faiths want to keep alien fake identity, disown everything native and create disunity in India?Recommend

  • OWR

    Sabeer, I also went to primary school (admittedly for only 6 months) in Karachi. But the rest of my time was in Sydney. It’s easy to take Islam for granted in a country where everyone can pronounce your name, especially when you are an upper-class “liberal” with servants cooking your meals and cleaning your “latrines” (as some of my cousins had the benefit of). The challenges Muslim kids (mostly not from South Asian backgrounds) face in Australia are very different to those faced by kids in Clifton or an upper class area in Islamabad.

    I have adapted so much to Aussie culture. And I am grateful that Australia doesn’t treat its Muslims as atrociously as Pakistan treats its Christians. But all this “integrate” business is getting too much. Aussie Muslim kids have had this monolithic “Muslim” identity thrusted upon them. When I was growing up, my mother used to be frowned upon in the shopping centre for wearing a sari. Now everyone looks at her strangely for wearing a loosely draped dupatta.

    Anyway, enough of the rant. See you in Melbourne.Recommend

  • alsarg72

    A good article. Thank you.

    Rather worrying. This sort of thing is not something we expect to be happening in Australia.Recommend

  • Ajay

    The title of the blog itself is wrong. What muslims practice in the name of religion is not religion. It is dogma. Religion is the path to achieve divinity and spirituality. Unfortunately the type of religion muslims practice leads to division of society.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Muslims did not want to say Vande Mataram so they demanded new country. Majority in that country did not want 4% Urdu speaking minority impose their language on majority Bangali, so they separated after bloody struggle in which 3 Million Bangalis gave their life, 11 Million ran to India as refugee and half a million got gang raped. Recommend

  • Alam

    Brother,

    You must understand one thing…Whatever is going on in this world in every country, one thing is very common…one side are natives and other sides are converts….converts are common…clap is done through both hands…These things reflect have a direct impact on what actually you are taught at home by your parents…professional and personal life should be totally different..if u mix these two…u are bound to fail…this is what is happening today…and if u send terrorist into one country and that country kills him..he becomes martyr for another country people…if this is the case,….u can understand what is the future of that country………best of luck…coming days will be more difficult if u do not get out of 7th century mindset……..Recommend

  • Fahimuddin

    Very good analysisRecommend

  • Balban

    Vande Mataram features in an anti-Muslim polemic. It is only natural that we refuse to sing it. In any case there were far greater issues too.Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    prove me in which words in which line? What are the greater issues?Recommend

  • Salim Alvi

    Prove in which words in which line? What are the greater issues?Recommend

  • Ajay

    The more rigid or more dogmatic you are towards your religion, the more weak you make it. True spirit of religion doesn’t get weakened if you adopt to the good features of culture of the land where you live. Saying no to singing praise of your motherland ( Vande Mataram) and refusing to let muslim children practice Yoga in schools are some examples of closed minds. The Indian tradition of Islam was always Sufism based philosophy and not the Saudi style hardline which Pakistan adopted and its society is paying for the shortsightedness of its leadership.Recommend