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Zain Ali: Murray Deaker and the question of Islam

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Sports Broadcaster, Murray Deaker.  Photo / Paul Estcourt
Sports Broadcaster, Murray Deaker. Photo / Paul Estcourt

What day is New Zealand's national day, is it Waitangi Day or ANZAC Day?

This was the question I posed to my first-year class on Islam and the Contemporary World. I posed this question in hope that I would get an insight into the underlying values of my students. If a majority supported Waitangi Day, then this would indicate a set of values linked to the treaty of Waitangi and its vision of biculturalism. Support of ANZAC day would indicate a set of values that were born from the brutal experience of war, and not from a treaty.

The results were unexpected; about 10 students raised their hands in favour of Waitangi Day, while 5 endorsed ANZAC Day. The majority of the 80 odd students didn't respond. The large number of non-respondents came as a surprise, and my best guess is that since most of my students are fresh out of school, they didn't as yet have an opinion on this question. This attitude may also be true when it came to the question of underlying values, that is, most didn't as yet have an opinion.

Consider then Khoder Nasser's broadside against broadcaster Murray Deaker. Nasser suggests that Deaker is a bigot, and that is why Deaker was so "uncomfortable" with Sonny Bill Williams (SBW) being a Muslim. Here are two very strong opinions at logger heads, although, I feel Nasser's has missed the bigger picture.

Consider the following two stories that have recently made the headlines. The first concerns the graves that were desecrated in Libya - the desecrated graves also included graves of New Zealand soldiers. This has deeply upset the families of these soldiers; the upset also extends to Maori.

David Rankin, who lectures on Maori culture at Unitec, writes that Maori and Pakeha soldiers 'gave the ultimate sacrifice, and letting these creeps, these crazed Arabs smash these stones and call them pigs and dogs is actually an offense to our country.' Mr Rankin also argues for the return of these soldiers to New Zealand, he writes that, 'Their spirits are crying out to be returned home, and we need to act on that before further desecration occurs.'

The second story involved New Zealander Sharon Churchill, who was held hostage and physically abused by an Egyptian man she had met in South Sinai. Mrs Churchill's parting words of advice for any woman considering a holiday romance in the Middle East was this: "Have a fling with them, [but] don't get into a relationship. Once you enter into any contract of marriage, you become their property."

Given these stories, one may being to wonder whether Deaker's comments are justified? The first worry is this, can Muslims respect 'western-kiwi' values, or will 'western-kiwi' values be disrespected in that same way as the graves in Libya.

The second worry is whether Muslims in New Zealand will continue to be peaceful; or, will Muslims play nice for a while then try and take ownership of everything, so that we 'become their property' - to be disposed of in any way they like. This is the bigger picture, and I wish Deaker had taken the time to explain what it is that troubles him about Islam. Deaker may not be fan of SBW, but feelings toward William's should not be confused will feelings toward Islam and Muslim. William's has never claimed to represent Muslims or Islam. But, I think Deaker has a point - he is right, in the sense that many do feel uncomfortable about Islam. And while SBW may not represent Islam or Muslims, he is a high profile Muslim, and there are many who look up to him as a role model. This is where there is concern.

I've been a fan of Deaker for many years now, and I know he has on a number of occasions challenged the view that sporting champions are role models. I agree with him - just think of Tiger Woods. The concern is that SBW, whether we like it or not, is seen as a role model by many, especially by many young folk. The question is whether the values SBW represents are the values we want our youth to support or embrace. I feel the ball is very much in SBW's hands; he can offload it to Khoder Nasser, but it would be better if he spoke to us about his own values.

* Dr Zain Ali, head of the Islamic Studies Research Unit at the University of Auckland.

- NZ Herald

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