“Difference in Islam is healthy”

(The Nut Graph) "IF you publish this, and I get kicked out of the country, I know who to thank," says Susan Carland towards to the end of our interview. There is a reason for Australian Carland, who was recently in Malaysia, to be cautious. Speaking up as an outsider about Islam in Malaysia has its risks.

But it was not for nothing that Carland was named this year in 2009 as one of several Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow by the UN Alliance of Civilisations. In 2004, she also received the Australian Woman of the Year award.

Carland lectures at Monash University's Melbourne campus on gender studies, politics and sociology. She is also the co-creator of comedy panel and sketch programme Salam Cafe, which airs on Australian national TV.


In mid-June, Carland visited Malaysia with the support of the Australian government to conduct talks and hold meetings with Malaysians. In a candid interview with The Nut Graph in Kuala Lumpur on 11 June 2009, Carland talks about being a Muslim woman, the hijjab and apostasy.

TNG: What is being a Muslim in Australia like, nowadays?

One of the good things that came out of 11 September was that Muslims were put in the spotlight. We could either have been cross about the whole situation, or take advantage of it. A lot of Muslims in Australia chose the latter. They used the tension of the time to their advantage, in terms of trying to change negative perceptions of Islam. Through media and through community work, for example.

There's been eight years of engagement between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities, now. A lot of the fear we had for each other has been allayed. I walk around in my hijjab, and it's really not a big deal.

We have to ask: how have Malaysians been reacting to seeing you, a Caucasian woman, in a headscarf?

My husband and I first came here for our honeymoon. I had only been a Muslim for three years, by then. I became Muslim just before 11 September. So as soon as I converted, we were really in the spotlight — there was a lot of animosity. I thought: "When I come to KL, I'm finally going to belong, and no one's going to look at me funny."

When I came here, I found more people staring at me than they were back home. They were practically falling off their motorbikes.

During our honeymoon, we went to one of the main masjids to pray. When we got to the door, they let my husband in, but they looked at me and said: "No, no, only Islam." I was seen as something of an anomaly, I suppose.

There has been less staring this time around, though.

At PAS's 55th muktamar, some party delegates took the press to task because some women journalists didn't cover their heads. This is just one example of the ongoing debate over whether women — not necessarily just Muslim women — should cover their heads. What's with this fixation about headscarves?

The whole world, Muslims and non-Muslims, is obsessed with the headscarf. We cannot get past this one issue.

Read more at: http://www.thenutgraph.com/difference-in-islam-is-healthy