Visit Website Latest News

Identity

Multiculturalism

Scenario

Five years ago Sadia and Abdullah and their family came from Indonesia to Australia to live. They have settled in well. They are both hardworking, intelligent and outgoing people, as well as being deeply religious. Their children have fitted in at the local school, where two of their sons enjoy being part of the school’s Australian Rules footy team. Their daughter Ruba is a lively, well-coordinated eleven-year old who is a ‘natural’ at netball. Her school would like to select Ruba to play in the school side but she, as the child of observant Muslims, is obliged to wear modest dress and the hijab, the headscarf customarily worn by Muslim girls and women. Her parents feel for Ruba but are firm in their insistence that the wearing of modest dress is pleasing to Allah and the right thing to do. Though they are glad to live in Australia, they are shocked at some of the excesses of behaviour and permissiveness of Australian society and do not want their children to take that path. Ruba partly understands her parents’ stand but badly wants to play, and she also notices that her brothers have no constraints on their participation. The school allows students the freedom to wear the hijab and dress according to religious requirements but expects that members of the sporting teams representing the school will wear the team uniform. Should the school relax its expectations so that Ruba and others can participate? Or should her parents adjust to the fact that they are living in a society where social mores are different, and allow their daughter to wear the usual netball outfit?

What are the implications of this simple dilemma for how Ruba will come to understand herself as a Muslim, as an Australian, as a woman? What are the implications for Australia? Ought Australia, as a free, multicultural society, accommodate the customs and values of all those accepted as immigrants?  Is any other response simply racism? Or is it reasonable to expect that those who make a home here will adjust to ‘the Australian way’ and adopt an Australian identity?  Will this happen inevitably as particular cultural identities merge in the second and succeeding generations?

Your browser does not support Flash content. Please download and install the latest version of the Flash plug-in to view this content.