ASSOCIATE Professor Mehmet Ozalp, a theologian, author, academic and founding director of Charles Sturt University's Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, will present the university's next "Explorations Series" free public lecture.
The lecture will be held at Bathurst Library at 70 Keppel Street on Tuesday, September 17 at 6pm.
Associate Professor Ozalp, who has worked in the interfaith and intercultural field in Australia since 2000, says meaningful interaction between Muslim Australians and non-Muslim Australians can only begin when the 2.6 per cent of Australia's population who are Muslims feel comfortable to integrate into the community.
"An issue we have is that some segments of the Muslim population tend to resist integration into the community.
"Economically, they are integrated well. Socially, they are, maybe, halfway there. But identity integration is not there at all.
"Simply put, it's a sense of belonging. And it's not that all Muslims are necessarily resisting this type of integration, it just takes time. It's a natural progression.
"And we have to remember we've, on average, had two generations of Muslims living in Australia."
IN OTHER NEWS AROUND BATHURST:
The other side of the coin, according to Associate Professor Ozalp, is that non-Muslim Australians need to make Muslims feel they belong.
And this can be extremely difficult given the levels of unconscious bias or religious hegemony that come into play.
"Religious or cultural hegemony breeds thoughts like 'if you don't accept our values, go back to where you came from'.
"Such language, together with a dose of discrimination and racism, will make Muslims feel they aren't accepted as Australians and they just don't belong.
"If people are always reminded that they don't belong to this country, eventually they'll start to think 'maybe I don't'."
Associate Professor Ozalp has identified two significant roadblocks to seamless and harmonious Muslim integration into Australian society - ignorance, and a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
"Most Australians don't know much about Islam or Muslims. What's worse, the knowledge they do have is based on what is presented to them by the media. And the media will only ever cover the sensational or that which is out of the ordinary.
"So people's knowledge of Muslims and Islam will always be skewed. Where you have a lack of knowledge, you have a lack of understanding.
"Conversely, some Muslims will say they are happy to live in Australia and then are critical of Australians, or sceptical of the western world. But have they ever had a meaningful conversation with an Australian?"
Individuals, organisations and governments all have roles to play if relationships between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians are to progress.
And, Associate Professor Ozalp says, everybody bears some responsibility. Individuals can only do so much - but they can make a difference.
Register at csu.edu.au/explorations to hear Associate Professor Ozalp speak in conversation next week at the Bathurst Library.
An extended version of this article is available at https://insight.futurestudents.csu.edu.au/islam-in-australia-reconnecting-with-our-humanity/