The issues of diversity, identity and different groups within one faith community all generate difficulties around the use of language. Groups which form around essential questions such as what does the message (religion) of God mean and how should that meaning be reflected in practice, generally strive to find and embody the ultimate truth to these two questions. Hence, they can feel diminished by simply being labelled as a sect or a school of thought. We have, therefore, decided to use the terms, ‘branch’, ‘group’ or ‘tradition’, as appropriate, by way of respecting the various communities we are about to explain.
This publication is not a complete description of the diversity of the Muslim faith. As previously stated, this guide focuses only on Arabic Alawites and Turkish/Kurdish Alevis, with some information on Shiism because both traditions emerge from or have a great deal in common with the Shia branch of Islam.
Muslim diversity lies at the heart of the formation of Islam and yet, a great number of Muslims are not aware of that diversity or the nature of the differences between the different branches of Islam. In Australia, there is still less awareness of Muslim diversity and its impact on Muslim identity and migration to this country.
Muslims continue to be thought of as an homogeneous community, and the diversity that is recognised among Muslims relates only to differences in ethnicity, culture and language. But in fact, there are enormous and complex forms of diversity in how Muslims have come to understand Islam.
While Muslim diversity has been a source of great strength for Islam, it has also been a source of difference that has been manipulated and utilised to generate conflict; invariably, this conflict has been based on political rather than doctrinal or theological differences. Hence, what should be a source of dynamism and growth for the Muslim spirit has instead become a source of its vulnerability and struggle.
Despite Muslim migration to Australia dating back to the 1860s and the fact that today Muslims are migrating here from all over the world, the diversity among Muslim Australians has been largely invisible. We believe that highlighting this diversity not only allows us to avoid the sectarian tensions that are occurring overseas, but additionally, brings a greater public understanding of Australian Muslims as a set of rich and dynamic communities, complementing Australia’s already impressive diversity. It also will assist us to enhance the inclusion of minority communities within the mainstream Muslim community.
Finally, this guide is also designed to act as an antidote to the many myths and fabrications which exist today about minority Muslim communities that have left them vulnerable to vilification and violence.