Overcoming Religious Prejudice

A new report detailing the experiences of abuse, prejudice and discrimination against Muslim women in Victoria sheds a light on the lived reality of Islamophobia in our society.

The report has been compiled by April Kailahi, the Interfaith Community Development Officer for the Uniting Church Synod of Victoria and Tasmania.

In its attempt to unpack the issue, the report explores the impact of prejudice upon both identity and belonging as Australian Muslim women, as well as the many challenges women face to accessing justice.

April Kailahi shares more.

  1. How did the report come about?
    The report came out of a five-year project I co-ordinated as the Interfaith Community Development officer within the Synod of Victoria and Tasmania working alongside Victorian Muslim women. We held five participatory-action orientated workshops across five municipalities, listening to and talking with women who have experienced racial and religious prejudice. In compiling this comprehensive report, the authors ensured the women’s voices were at the forefront. We could not speak for or speak over anyone, all we could do was shine a light and hold these precious stories up.

  2.  What does the report tell us about life for Muslim women in Australia?
    Let me answer with a quote from the report which helps to explain how many of the women I’ve spoken feel:
    “The perils of being Muslim in the West equate to grief for the loss of innocent lives in Paris/Beirut/Palestine/Syria, experienced in tandem with acute anxiety about my own safety. Always. I leave the house vigilant in case of reprisals, knowing I may well be the target of someone else’s angst for atrocities unrelated to me.”
    This heartbreaking quote underpins the normalisation of prejudice incidents. Many women I spoke to experience prejudice and abuse so often that it becomes their normal. No one should have to live like that.
    The accumulative effects of implicit and explicit prejudice impact upon the lived experiences of women, yet women are told all the time to just ‘get over it’ and unfortunately, this is seen as resilience.
    We need to change the way we see resilience as being the onus of the victim and look at the structures that perpetuate prejudice.

  3.  Out of all the recommendations, what is one thing that would make a big difference to the lives of Muslim women in Australia?
    If I were able to make the art of compassion a recommendation, I would have. I believe this would make the most difference to the lives of everyone living in Australia.
    My wonderful colleague sent me this quote by Pema Chödrön the other day,“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognise our shared humanity.”  
    We need to examine the structures and systems that perpetuate inequity and prejudice, in our media, our institutions, our own behaviour. It takes commitment, but these can be changed.

  4.  What can Uniting Churches do?
    Don’t think about interfaith as learning about the “other”. Reach out to your local Mosque/Gurdwara/Synagogue/community centre and build relationships with you neighbours, which are deep and meaningful and based on more than commonalities. Let us be better at trying to understand not just the ‘other’, but most importantly, ourselves. We all have a right to live free from fear and flourish.