Education is needed in schools to counter radical ideologies, not law enforcement intelligence gathering operations, according to a Charles Sturt University (CSU) academic.
Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp, Director of the CSU Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation and lecturer in theology, philosophy and history, has commented on the announcement by New South Wales Premier Mr Mike Baird on Tuesday 28 July that a state-wide audit of prayer groups in public schools will be conducted in response to concerns about a small number of students being potentially exposed to violent extremist ideologies.
"Schools are places of education, so solutions should also be educational and not security-centric," Professor Mehmet said.
"This intervention gives the impression that it is a law enforcement intelligence gathering operation that will inevitably assist in the gathering of intelligence on children.
"There is no focus on rehabilitation or counselling, and it is entirely inappropriate that law enforcement should be the first port of call.
"This intervention goes against widely accepted international research that radicalisation cannot be reduced down to a tick-the-box 'indicators' of radicalisation."
Professor Mehmet said there is insufficient structure currently available in the NSW school system and curriculum to tackle this important issue.
"Principals and teachers are not in a position to understand the complexities of what is required in Muslim classes and groups. Principals and teachers need Islamic awareness courses."
Professor Mehmet said the Premier needs to consult with professional educators and expert providers of Islamic educational services, and that the CSU Centre for Islamic Studies and Civilisation, in partnership with Islamic Sciences and Research Academy of Australia, can provide educational and information consultancy services in this regard.
Media note: Contact CISAC to arrange interviews with Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp.
On Sunday, 19 April 2015, Islamic Sciences and Research Academy launched its Melbourne Centre with a significant event that attracted 150 guests representing various Islamic organisations and educational institutions in Victoria.
The momentous event officially commenced with Qur'an recitation by Dr Bekim Hassani, the Imam of the Albanian Australian Islamic Society Mosque. This was followed by a welcome speech by the General Manager of ISRA Melbourne, Omer A. Ergi, who thanked the Muslim community for its support in starting ISRA in Melbourne, highlighting how important it was for ISRA to have the Muslim community behind this initiative. The Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Associate Professor Tracey Green also noted this aspect of ISRA in her speech as she commented on how ISRA was recognised within CSU as having good relations with the community. This in turn made a significant contribution to the success of ISRA. Tracey also noted the close relationship, which existed between CSU and ISRA, a relationship which she said "CSU hopes to foster and further develop."
Zuleyha Keskin, the Course Coordinator, shed further light on the courses offered by ISRA. While highlighting that there were some amazing educational initiatives within the Muslim community in Melbourne, Keskin stated that, "there was a need to provide a combined classical and contemporary Islamic learning at the university level within Australia. These courses have filled this gap." Keskin continued by explaining the course structure of the three main courses offered; Bachelor of Islamic Studies, Master of Islamic Studies and Master of Arts (Classical Arabic). The flexibility of the courses was notable, catering for the busy schedule of Australians.
Associate Professor Mehmet Ozalp gave further insight into activities of ISRA by elaborating on the vision of ISRA in an evolving Muslim community, particularly ISRA's focus on providing Islamic education to all segments of society from schools to professional bodies, with the CSU courses being an important component of the educational services provided. Ozalp emphasised the importance of developing research projects where Muslims lead the research on Muslims rather than Muslims being the object of research. "I can envision a day where we establish a think tank comprised of 10 researchers who are constantly churning out research about Islam and Muslims in the West" said Ozalp.
After the stimulating and insightful talks about ISRA, Melbourne ISRA was officially launched by Mr Mesut Lelik, the CEO of the Selimiye Foundation. The evening was wrapped up with reflections from the floor. Associate Professor Aladin Zayegh from Victoria University highlighted the importance of formal recognised education in today's society to ensure the Muslim community is at a par with the wider society. Professor Akhtar Kalam from Victoria University noted how he was excited by what ISRA was seeking to achieve while Sheikh Mustafa Saraqibi from the Islamic Council of Victoria congratulated ISRA for undertaking this imperative initiative.
Having received such feedback from the launch, it was timely to discuss the ISRA courses with some of the Melbourne students who started studying in March 2015. Waeza Mahomed Osman, a mother of three, is a Nursing Clinical educator as well as an after hour hospital coordinator in a private hospital in Bundoora explained why she chose to study the Bachelor of Islamic Studies; "I have always been searching to study. But I wanted to study something which would benefit me and my surrounding." Omer Yucel who is an accountant by profession, working in a corporate company full time, explains that the biggest motivation was wanting to become a teacher. "I was confused about what I wanted to teach and eventually decided that I would enjoy teaching religious studies as it would also be a means for me to learn. But of course in order to teach you need the knowledge, hence my enrolment into the course." Meryem Aker, who finished her VCE only last year, talks of her dream to study traditional Islam, something her dad had done. "I intended to study Islamic Theology at the university my father had studied. This meant that I would leave my family, my home, and my friends to go thousands of miles across the world. But then I heard about ISRA and found it so convenient that I can undertake such a course here in my home, Australia."
Omer explains how he looks forward to the classes. "I feel the information I take with me is not only a qualification but actual knowledge I want to absorb and apply to my life. The easiest example is learning about the best example! Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W)" he explains. Through the knowledge Waeza attains, she hopes to "discuss evidence based religious issues with the world which so heavily relies on proof and evidence." Another major goal of Waeza "is to clarify the many misconceptions that exist out there about Islam." She believes that learning Islam in the style of expression which mainstream society is familiar with, is essential for effective communication. Meryem, herself only a teenager appears in deep thought as she explains; "Our children, our youth deserve to be taught Islam in the right way and I believe it is a responsibility upon myself to fulfil this responsibility."
ISRA and CSU takes enrolments all year round. To commence in session 2 (July 2015), email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.