While it’s her husband, Project host Waleed Aly, who gets most of the attention as representative of Islam in Australia, Susan Carland is also a public figure and regularly appears in the media to discuss Islam. Like her husband, she claims that terrorism and misogyny carried out by Muslims has nothing to do with Islam. In fact she argues that the main problem is us Australians holding such negative stereotypes about Muslims.
Carland, as her name would imply, is an Anglo-Australian and was raised in a Christian household attending her local Uniting Church in her youth. However, like many teenagers she was looking for something that would give her greater meaning. Islam, because it is a religion that pervades every aspect of a person’s life, was of course attractive to someone like Carland and she converted.
Carland is currently an academic at Monash University who has just completed a PhD in sociology. She is also regular panellist on various news programs especially on the ABC and is also a corporate event speaker. Given that she is a Muslim convert in the safety of the west she can easily present a rosy view of how peaceful and liberating Islam is.
Ever since her conversion she has worn the hijab, which she does not consider restrictive or repressive. In fact the only downside is ‘people’s negative stereotypes and assuming what I am, or can or can’t do, or [how I] feel about things’. Being brought up in a free society such as Australia and having had a choice to convert to Islam this is easy for someone like Carland to say, but you cannot say the same for most women living in the Islamic world.
We also have to remember that wearing the hijab is designed to hide women’s bodies away and almost ingrain in women a sense of shame about their bodies. This is something which Carland demonstrates too, and is of the belief that she is not letting her body be objectified, “In a society where women’s bodies are used to sell everything from toothpaste to cars, [for those women] covering [their] body is about…saying ‘I’ll decide who sees my body’’. One could interpret this comment as apparently western men cannot control their sexual urges and women must cover up to protect themselves.
Carland is likely to be back in the public spotlight later this year with the release of a book called ‘Fighting Islam’, which is a book version of her PhD thesis published through Melbourne University Press. Although the book is not yet available to read you can tell a bit about what it will say from its blurb on its promotional page. The book states that you can be a feminist and a Muslim and that there is a growing women’s liberation movement supported by Muslim men within Islam. In fact, according to Carland one of the main hindrances is ‘condescension from non-Muslims’.
It sounds like according to Carland that achieving women’s liberation in the Islamic community is easy, if only it was. You don’t need to look very far to know that sadly women in the Islamic world suffer horrific amounts of injustice and violence. From female genital mutilation, forced marriages, honour killings and their legal status being below that of men. Most of this is justified by passages in the Quran and practiced under Islamic sharia law.
Critics of Islam such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali lament that if only western feminists paid attention to the oppression of women in the Islamic world and both Islamic and non-Islamic women in the West, stating about Europe “The current situation in Europe is deeply troubling: not only are Muslim women within Europe subject to considerable oppression in many ways, such norms now risk spreading to non-Muslim women who face harassment from Muslim men.’’
If there really is a growing feminist movement within Islam trying to grant women greater freedom, as Carland is trying to convince us, of course that is welcome. However it would appear that Carland’s book is more about communicating there is no problem within Islam and that all stories you are told about women in Islam are wrong so don’t worry about the influence of Islam here in Australia.
It is also worth pointing out that it is probably easy for someone like Carland in a free country such as Australia to advocate for feminism within Islam, maybe not for a woman living an Islamic theocracy which would be quite dangerous. It can also be added that both are actively marching against teachings in the Qu’ran, the former lives in a non-Islamic country while the latter live in traditionalist countries that follow Islam to its most basic law.
But when Australians continue to see more burqas out on our streets, more Islamic terrorist plotters being arrested, child brides now becoming a growing concern, senior Imams such as Sheik Shady preaching vi0lence towards woman and homosexuals, you can understand why Australians tend not to believe people like Carland and her husband when they say you are all being whipped up into a frenzy of so called Islamophobia.
It doesn’t matter if Carland is able to portray Islam in a postive manner by manipulating theological references in order to claim that terrorism and misogyny have no basis in the religion. We judge a religion based on both its teachings and most importantly the actions of its adherents. So unless Carland’s book presents evidence of a widespread enlightenment occurring in Islam I doubt mine and other Australians’ concerns about Islam are going to be put at ease.