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The role and importance of Islamic studies and faith in community Islamic schools in Australia

Cultural awareness Language and languages Islam Religious education South Australia Northern Territory
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A 2015 study by the International Centre for Muslim and non-Muslim Understanding (MnM) (Hassan, 2015) indicated that Australian Muslims represent 2.2% of the total population. With this figure, Islam is the third largest religion in the country after Christianity and Buddhism and the second fastest growing religion after Hinduism. However, the Australian Muslim population is also one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse religious communities in Australia. According to the MnM study, which used census data to create a profile of Australian Muslims, Australian Muslims come from 183 different countries. For example, in 2011, 62% of Australian Muslims were born overseas, whereas only 38% were born in Australia. Of those born overseas, around 42% were of North African or Middle Eastern origin and more than 58% were from elsewhere, including 25% from South and Central Asia, 10% from Europe and 4% from sub-Saharan Africa. Another important feature of the Australian Muslim population is its extreme linguistic diversity: the Muslim population speaks a range of languages, including Arabic, Urdu, Turkish, Persian, and Bahasa Indonesia, to name just a few.

Despite these ethnic and linguistic differences, knowledge of the Quran and the Arabic language is essential for any Muslim in order to perform their daily religious duties and rituals as well as to identify as a Muslim. For Australian Muslims, this raises the crucial question of maintaining and developing their Islamic values. Equally important are the ways in which they impart these Islamic values to their children. For example, a study by Clyne (2001) indicated that ‘many Australian Muslim parents expect their children to go to schools that could provide an education that is islamically oriented in terms of religion, culture and moral values’. A similar study by Raihani and Gurr (2010) confirmed this view and indicated that the Islamic schools created in the different parts of the country do not seem to have been able to accommodate all Muslim students. As a result, Islamic community schools continue to gain traction and, in parallel with the Islamic schools, contribute significantly to the provision of Islamic education services to a large number of Australian Muslim children.

This case study reports on the role and importance of Islamic studies and faith in community Islamic schools in Adelaide and Darwin. Islamic studies are defined here as studying the Quran (developing Qur’anic literacy) as well as learning the Arabic language. Islamic community schools in Australia, referred to as heritage schools in North America and as complementary or supplementary schools in the United Kingdom, are generally run independently by the Muslim communities or jointly with a local mosque or with Islamic foundations or cultural centres.

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