The Anglican Parish at Hunters Hills

Hanan Dover addresses Christians of the Anglican Parish at Hunters Hills, Sydney in the Soundings Series of dialogues.

On 30 November Soundings welcomed Hanan Dover, psychologist and founder of Mission of Hope, to share her knowledge of Islam and insights of Australian Muslims.

Four degrees, and currently studying her fifth, she said with a smile, means that she is taken more seriously as a Muslim woman within her community.

Hanan wears the hijab and explained that it is worn in worship towards God; the hijab did not start with Islam but was an extension of previous religions but was an historic covering a woman’s hair. As a primary schoolgirl, Hanan was reluctant to wear the hijab to school at first, but was strengthened in resolve by comments by her teacher who made racist remarks such as “are you wearing it to keep your brains together?” whilst she wore the hijab.


Tenets of Islam

Islam strives for peace as well as justice. She explained the basic tenets of Islam as the five Pillars namely the Shahadah, Salat, Saum, Zakat and Hajj.

Declaration of faith, the shahada, that there is only one God, the Prophet Mohammed has brought the final message (previous prophets included Abraham, Moses and Jesus).

The practice of prayer, salat, five times throughout the day.

Purification, zakat, by supporting the poor, in charity, donating a percentage of income.

The Fast of Ramadan during the day for a month stimulates reflection, also abstain from bad habits.

Pilgrimage, Hajj, to Mecca, in Saudi Arabia once in a lifetime.

The Quran and Hadith, sayings of the Prohet Mohammad (s) are the authentic sources used to derive religious rulings. The Quran is written in the classic Arab version, not colloquial Arabic or translations into other languages.


Diversity within Islam

Hanan Dover is the voice of young Australian Muslims, born in Australia and raised with both faith and multicultural understandings. She sees the Australian schooling system being central to understanding Islam in a reflective, and more intellectual view of the religion.

Hanan has identified that hers is an intellectual jihad, wanting to add to the literature on the psychology of religion. Most of the research linking religion and psychology has been about Christianity and Judaism, and much work is needed, for example, on the disaffection which can be felt within a society which allows generic prejudice against Muslims.

“The Muslim community” is made up of many communities from many cultures and lands of origin and languages, just as “the Christian community” is diverse, developed from cultural influences overseas and changes within Australia. Hanan remembered no issues here between the Sunnis (90%) and the Shiite (10%) until the Gulf War.


Radicalisation — faith vs external influences

As a psychologist and Muslim, Hanan Dover well understands the effects of prejudice here against Muslims, that feeling that, no matter what, you will still be seen as Muslim and linked to overseas conflict and fears of terrorism. She says, “There are more schools and mosques than ever, and active leadership of youth. The people who are going overseas are in a world most probably influenced by preachers on Google and YouTube.”

ISIS is a militant group claiming to be the central force of Islam, fighting in Syria and Iraq. Its actions have become a dominant news topic recently, and the problem is that in popular media all of Islam is affected by assumed identification with ISIS. In the media, the politics of an issue dictate the par- ticular narrative. A reporter may not know whether dead people really were militants or civilians, but soldiers are reported as having killed militants because they cannot verify who they killed. While the white, religious, non- Muslim man beheaded his room mate in Oklahoma last month, he was conveniently given the mentally-ill card, a Muslim in Australia is not, he is often referred to as a “terrorist”.

Hanan pointed out that since Sept 11, Muslim leaders have condemned Muslims for committing a crime, rather than understanding the cultural forces of resentment. She explained that in this country understanding that ISIS cannot be identified with Australian Muslims must come from the top. When the Government doesn’t speak out, their unspoken message feeds Islamophobia. When they do, that concept “Team Australia” sounds a ‘them’ vs ‘us’ in many ears, and Australian Muslims feel distanced and unheard. The Government’s assumption seems to be that the modern face of terrorism is Islam. When a politician calls people “Muslim extremists”, they are not differentiating between the acts of “militants” and Islam as a religion.

Questions probed at the extent of equality for women [a problematic area lingering in the Sydney Anglican Diocese]. There are Islamic theological schools for women, to prepare teachers for women who want to be taught by women.

Assimilation was suggested, yet for many people religious observance of prayer and dress are essential [the Amish in the U.S. and Orthodox Judaism are parallels]. Special provisions to include Islamic law and privacy for women were questioned, and in answer Hanan referenced other diversities within Australia. Complexities reverberate in Hanan’s lively proclamation of her strongly Australian identity that is consistent with her lived experiences, voiced while wearing the visible hijab of faith.

We were fortunate to hold such an interfaith exchange, conscious of shared religious precepts and our imperative to reach out to our neighbours and to help those in need. In how many places and times in the world could such a Sounding be possible? Our thanks go to Hanan Dover for her impassioned and intellectual gift of knowledge, and to Geoff Oddie for inspiring the session.