The most challenged community in Australia today is the Aboriginal community, the First Australians, who are working hard to regain their footing.
Aboriginal society suffered greatly from British colonisation and the imposition of western culture. Dispossession of their land, diseases and violent conflict resulted in numerous Aboriginal deaths. European contact undermined traditional Aboriginal authority, laws, culture and religion.
Colonialists introduced high levels of alcohol and tobacco consumption, gambling, and later, drugs and pornography. These had devastating impacts. Conservatively estimated social costs to Australia of drug abuse in 2004/05 were $55 billion, of which alcohol accounted for $15 billion, tobacco $32 billion and illicit drugs $8 billion.
These do not account for unmeasurable spiritual and mental damage. Alcohol is responsible for fire injuries, domestic violence, falls and road accidents. Further, social costs of problem gambling are estimated at $5 billion yearly. Almost 500,000 Australians are either at risk or are problem gamblers, each impacting 5-10 others. Aboriginal society is however, much more greatly affected.
Aborigines die from alcohol-related diseases at five times greater the rate for non-Aborigines. 2012 rates of sexual assault among Aboriginal children were 2–4 times those for non-Aborigines, while women were sexually abused six times the frequency for non-Aborigines. Aborigines who are problem gamblers are estimated at 10 times the mainstream rate. Consequences are desperate family financial situations and breakdowns, suicide and domestic violence.
The Government implemented the 2007 Intervention, responding to the “Little Children are Sacred” report, which detailed widespread sexual abuse of Aboriginal children. It found alcohol represents the gravest threat to children’s safety and recommended urgent action to reduce alcohol consumption.
Mainstream society has an awesome responsibility to overcome disadvantage and help revitalise Aboriginal society. This author proposes this could be achieved by convergence of Australian mainstream culture to reduce harmful effects with condemnation of excessive use of alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography.
Successful approaches are the proscribing of cigarette advertising, and starting to limit alcohol sales in Queensland. Similarly laws should be passed to restrict advertising of alcohol and gambling. Australian-based websites supplying demeaning pornography need be closed.
Western society prioritises individual rights at the expense of community well-being. Islam however, stresses achieving societal well-being and protecting vulnerable members by proscribing intoxicants and gambling, while assisting weaker citizens (Qur’an 4: 87, 127).
Peta Stephenson, author of Islam Dreaming, remarked, “Indigenous Muslims I met perceive a neat cultural fit between their traditional Indigenous beliefs and the teachings of Islam”.
The Qur’an advises, “They ask you concerning khamr (intoxicating liquor or drugs) and gambling. Say: “In them is great sin, and some benefit; but the sin is greater than the benefit.” (2:219).
Aboriginal society like Muslims recognises the importance of maintaining a strong Inner Spirit; alcohol and drugs weaken it. Avoiding these will strengthen the spirit and so engender healthy connections with family, community and country.
Rather than Aborigines assimilating in mainstream culture, mainstream culture should converge towards traditional aboriginal culture where alcohol, drugs, gambling and pornography were little or not used.
Aboriginal elements should be incorporated within the national culture. Mainstream society would also then be better off. This would be a sincere heartfelt way of saying to our fellow Aboriginal Australians regarding their historical treatment, “I am sorry”!