A guide to Muslim diversity
‘This guide’s focus on difference and conflict is to assist us here in Australia to understand the diversity inherent in the broad Australian Muslim community and its link to the situation currently in the Middle East which has placed pressure on communities here.'
This guide is about diversity. It focuses on differences within the Muslim community, most especially when those differences have become problematic or led to conflict. Hence, this is not an account of how Muslims generally relate to diversity in their midst. As previously stated, a great number of Muslims are not aware that this diversity exists, having grown up in Australia or in a country where Muslim minorities do not exist. Please note that this guide also does not focus on the Muslim diversity that is celebrated or integrated well into the Muslim community generally – even though this is by and large the situation in Muslim countries and Muslim civilisations historically. Rather, the guide’s focus on difference and conflict is to assist us here in Australia to understand the diversity inherent in the broad Australian Muslim community and its link to the situation currently in the Middle East which has placed pressure on communities here.

The guide seeks to represent enormously complex and historically-bound events and differences in communities in a limited space. This guide does not reflect all the diversity in Islam, nor does it provide a full account of the groups profiled. Further reading is recommended but we see this guide as a beginning.

It is enormously difficult to adequately reflect the nature of the differences, and at times, the depth of feeling which communities may have about practices they have developed for the purposes of worshipping God. It is also difficult to adequately reflect why subtle but very important shifts in focus or emphasis in some traditions in Islam have led to conflict. But in the worship of God, many people feel there is a lot at stake and one must get it right. Additionally, these shifts in focus or emphasis, for some, means an undermining of Islam’s coherence because diversity ultimately leads to confusion for Muslims as to what one should be practising and how one interprets Islamic doctrine and belief. Some fear this can lead to fragmentation and perhaps even the collapse of Muslim identity and religion.

Finally, at some level this guide provides information in summary form and focuses on providing descriptions of minority communities. No information is provided on the majority Muslim community which is the Sunni Muslim community. There is already a wealth of information on what is often referred to as ‘mainstream Muslims’. This guide assumes basic awareness of Islam and Muslims in Australia.

For the sake of brevity, the guide generally refers to Sunni Muslims as a group without detailing their diversity. Sunni Muslims are also a diverse group, even though they constitute one branch of Islam. In addition to cultural, linguistic and ethnic differences, there is also diversity in levels of adherence, schools of thought and forms of emphasis on practice – either towards spiritualism, such as Sufism, or through a focus on the essentials of Islam, such as Wahabism and Salafism, amongst others.

How to Read this Guide