Militant Aborigines embrace Islam to seek empowerment

By Kathy Marks in Sydney
28 February 2003

Militant young Aborigines are converting to Islam in
increasing numbers, and some are flirting with the
fundamentalist ideologies that have inspired recent

There are an estimated 1,000 indigenous Muslims in
Australia, including new recruits and descendants of
mixed marriages. Some Aborigines are embracing Islam
for spiritual reasons, but many say it gives them a
sense of worth that they have lacked as members of an
oppressed minority.

The religion has particular appeal for disaffected
young men who feel impotent after generations of
injustice and their position at the bottom of
Australian society. Solomon, a 23-year-old man
interviewed for a television documentary aired last
night, said: "It's not a part of our religion to stand
there and get stepped on. That's why Islam is so good
for the Aboriginal people."

The documentary, made by Australia's SBS Television,
featured some recent converts who profess to support
Osama bin Laden. Khalid, who converted to Islam more
than a decade ago while in prison, said: "Wherever you
are, Osama bin Laden, I love you, brother, and I pray
for you, because to me you're just a spiritual warrior
standing up for Islam and propagating freedom around
the world." Khalid, who has grown a beard and wears an
Islamic skullcap, claimed there were thousands of
budding Bin Ladens in Aboriginal communities. "If they
ever find Osama bin Laden, another 1,000 will pop up,"
he said.

Most Aborigines have been Christians since
missionaries arrived with the convict fleets two
centuries ago. But, like African American Muslims,
angry indigenous men are finding Islam empowering.
They have attracted the attention of the authorities,
which have been closely monitoring radical Muslims in
Australia since the 11 September attacks and last
year's bomb in Bali.

Solomon, who was introduced to Islam by workmates,
said he was told by the domestic intelligence agency,
ASIO, that if he left the country he would probably
not be allowed back under counter-terrorism laws. He
had wanted to go overseas to learn Arabic so that he
could read the Koran in the original, he said, but
ASIO suspected him of planning to attend a terrorism
training camp.

Karander Seyit, editor of the Australian Muslim News,
said: "The white Australian government has neglected
them. They need spiritual guidance and, if
Christianity is not willing to treat them like human
beings, I know Islam would. Society has marginalised
these people."

Justin, a law student in his early 20s, said: "I feel
that in Australia I don't have the right to exist as a
human being. Islam gives me the faith to think that
I'm a man ... it gives me strength to endure and not
lash out at all the things that we've been through."

But the experience of indigenous converts has not been
wholly positive. Some have been shunned by Aboriginal
communities, who reject them as traitors, and by
mainstream Muslims, who treat them with hostility at
the mosque.

Australia's most famous Aboriginal Muslim is Anthony
Mundine, a former rugby league star turned boxer.
Mundine caused a storm by asserting after 11 September
that the United States had brought the terrorist
attacks upon itself.

Those views were repeated by the men interviewed last
night. "America and Britain have been running around
too long as bullies," said Khalid. "Now they're
getting a bit of their own medicine back." 


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