Submissions have been made by a number of Muslim community organisations conveying concerns with introduction of a Bill in the Australian Federal Parliament to outlaw public display of “prohibited symbols”, that has the potential to include the text of Islamic declaration of faith (Shahada).
The Shahada is simply translated as two phrases:
There is no god except Allah
Mohammad (s) is the Messenger of Allah
The Bill seeks to amend the Criminal Code Act 1995 to, among other things, create offences for publicly displaying prohibited Nazi or Islamic State symbols, and trading in items bearing these symbols.
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security has commenced a review of the Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols and Other Measures) Bill 2023.
The bill was initially introduced to ban the Nazi Hakenkreuz (swastika) symbol as Australia tries to deal with a rise in Neo-Nazi activity while the Islamic State flag was not in the initial bill but has now been included.
The ISIS flag uses the Shahda written in Arabic in white, set on a black background using the font based on the historical Seal of Prophet Mohammad (s).
The proposed bill will render not only the ISIS flag to become a prohibited symbol but anything that “so nearly resembles” the ISIS flag such that “it is likely to be confused with, or mistaken for” the ISIS flag, also to be banned.
This has the potential to include any depiction of Shahada written in Arabic in various calligraphic fonts displayed in public, in documents, newspapers or magazines.
In its submission, the Australian National Imam’s Council (ANIC) states:
“Unfortunately, the Prophet’s seal has been distorted and misappropriated by ISIS for their own violent and extreme agenda. It is essential to point out that the fallacious views espoused by ISIS are universally condemned by Muslims, including by ANIC and the Australian Muslim community.”
“However, the sacred words found on the ISIS flag and the seal of Prophet Mohammad (s) have unfortunately been hijacked by their contorted ideology, denying other Muslims in utilising these words and images freely and without judgment.”
“The proposed prohibition relating to the symbols referred to above will unjustifiably restrict and marginalise Australian Muslims. Accordingly, consideration needs to be given to ensure that Australian Muslims are not so restricted from referring to and/or utilising or displaying the seal of Prophet Mohammad (s) or the colours of his flag.”
The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) has prepared a comprehensive 19 page submission dealing with the issue in detail with images of Seal of the Prophet (s), various versions of Islamic flags bearing the Shahada including that used by ISIS and a variety of merchandise depicting the Shahada in various forms.
The AFIC submission points out that:
The Bill provides no definition of what constitutes a prohibited symbol beyond the wording of s.80.2E itself. This provision simply states:
“80.2E Meaning of prohibited symbol.
Each of the following is a prohibited symbol:
(a) the Islamic State flag.
(b) the Nazi Hakenkreuz.
(c) the Nazi double-sig rune.
(d) something that so nearly resembles a thing to which paragraph (a), (b)
or (c) applies that it is likely to be confused with, or mistaken for, that
Given that the Islamic State flag is just two items of Arabic writing on a black background the significant and real concern with the interplay between sub-section (a) and (d) above would be that the Arabic writing itself becomes the prohibited symbol. This is clear from the wording of the explanatory memorandum itself.
ANIC has conveyed the concerns of the Muslim Community in relation to the bill as follows:
1. The risk of conflating the core principles of the Islamic faith with violence and criminality;
2. Depriving the Muslim community, who strongly condemn ISIS ideology, of using what are widely accepted Islamic and historical symbols;
3. Law enforcement agencies facing difficulties distinguishing and interpreting these symbols, particularly due to their Arabic script, leading to confusion amongst the general public, pre-judgment and prejudice in the conduct of any enforcement procedures and actions; and
4. Noting that the ISIS flag, in particular its content, is not exclusive to or synonymous with ISIS, as it holds broader significance within the Islamic community worldwide.