Engaging with the ‘Other’: Issues in Muslim and Non-Muslim dialogue

Mohamed Wehby, HIKMA Research:

HIKMA Research is a multidisciplinary collaborative effort constituting higher degree research students from various universities in Australia and across multiple disciplines of study. On 30 June 2017, HIKMA Research hosted a workshop in Sydney to discuss issues of inter-faith engagement and dialogue.

Wrestling with contemporary challenges that concern the future of Australia and the world is not accidental nor automatically realised but is the outcome of dialogue and engagement. These challenges recall the need for a collective transition from orientations that are only retrospective to a method involving both retrospection and a subsequent prospective orientation, which will provide a foundation for understanding ‘where we might go next’ (Funk & Said, 2004). The issue of engaging with the ‘Other,’ when revisited vis-à-vis the contending forces of fundamentalism and Islamophobia, provokes Australians’ dialogical imagination as a necessary element of the collective body. This is inherent with possibilities for reaching a common consensus, and distinct by cultural diversity. Here lies the importance of inserting adequate resources1 and public knowledge of suitable procedures in the Australian Muslim community, conducive to enriching Australian–Muslim civic participation across various public spheres.

American anthropologist Edward Hall (1989, p. 1) notes that: ‘Despite our faith in technology and our reliance on technological solutions, there are no technical solutions to most of the problems confronting human beings’. In the age of digital media, power is no longer confined to tradition, charisma or legal bureaucracy but now also encompasses new realms of virtual space through the medium of cyberspace and electronic communication. In this messy reality, ideological mobilisation and antagonistic behaviours ironically take place on the stage of digital media, in which individual persons passively consume information and actively reproduce misinformation (Han, 2017). More information is creating misinformation, and communication is being stripped of face-to-face encounter. Amid such developments, the question of Muslim and non-Muslim dialogue must undergo critical self-revision to move beyond constructed boundaries and stereotypes underpinning the ‘superficiality’ of the supposed mainstream ‘dialogue’. As Paulo Freire (1996, 69–70) puts it:

And since dialogue is encounter in which the united reflection and action of the dialoguers are addressed to the world which is to be transformed and humanized, this dialogue cannot be reduced to the act of one person’s “depositing” ideas in another, nor can it become a simple exchange of ideas to be “consumed” by the discussants.

Hence, contemporising public awareness of the multitude of factors and novel risks associated with fundamentalism and Islamophobia would inevitably reveal newer aspects of meaning crucial for understanding the Australian ‘Self’ in relation to the multi-dimensional challenges of the Australian context vis-à-vis the global context of the 21st century.

Such is the spirit of the age2, which constitutes an umbrella under which one can avoid the bitter experiences of repeating the same mistakes. As a consequence, the forthcoming generations would develop an immunity against becoming aloof to the salient issues concerning their Australian society, while actualising their capabilities through institutionalised and meta-institutional means for reaching their full human potential and being a force for co-operation and human development. In sociological terms, this would entail a viable shift in the pedagogy of religious education, civil society, community awareness and the meaning of public spheres. A concerted effort between religious establishments, social workers, think tanks, mass media, government agencies and civil society associations should introduce the practice of sociological imagination3, with its concern to enable navigation in and understanding the meaning of our historical age by informing religious curricula and symbolic meanings of belonging with an account of the language, representations and desires pertinent to the Australian multicultural context. Henceforth, ‘the criteria of validity are not quantitative or informational; they are narrative and experiential’ (Bauman, Jacobsen & Tester, 2014, p. 4). As such, this critical understanding of the context should be connected to the daily lives of people, through building cultural awareness of the popular stories of the personal issues of lived experience, paying vital attention to particular anxieties, hopes and aspirations (Bauman, Jacobsen & Tester, 2014, p. 5).

As a think tank bringing together the riches of multi-disciplinary research and advocacy, HIKMA Research tries to partner with community organisations, educational institutions and religious centres to enable the implementation of relevant social policies. These policies are aimed at lifting the practices of social engagement with and collective alertness to social contradictions and potential inter-generational disparities. In practical terms, HIKMA Research disseminates the socially consequential forms of knowledge and expertise, not only identifying how certain problems rise to public attention or who controls them, but also the conditions and social work necessary to transform them into functional tasks (Eyal, 2013). Expertise here is redefined as an open-ended network linking together stakeholders, devices, and institutional and spatial arrangements. Hence, it becomes increasingly difficult to overlook the long-term implications of such an initiative for creating a new institutional matrix responsive to immediate problems and anticipative of forthcoming risks.

The road to the future begins by re-appreciating the fusion of horizons, emphasising common grounds of understanding and describing ‘that preliminary condition of a synthesis of the experiences of separate histories but a shared future’ (Bauman, 2011, p. 86).  Within this instance, the universal wisdom of Prophet Muhammad is calling upon humankind today to realise their common fate and shared responsibility, as highlighted in the following prophetic tradition:

The example of the person abiding by Allah’s [God] order and restrictions in comparison to those who violate them is like the example of those persons who drew lots for their seats in a boat. Some of them got seats in the upper part, and the others in the lower. When the latter needed water, they had to go up to bring water (and that troubled the others), so they said, ‘Let us make a hole in our share of the ship (and get water) saving those who are above us from troubling them. So, if the people in the upper part left the others do what they had suggested, all the people of the ship would be destroyed, but if they prevented them, both parties would be safe (Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 44, Number 673).4


  1. This includes preparing handbooks, producing audio-visual presentations, organising educational workshops, undertaking social studies and collaboratively reconstructing curriculum materials for schools.
  2. The spirit of the age refers to “…configuration of people and their culture over a time and across a space that constitutes their world and which can be characterized in a word or a phrase, and thus distinguished from other epochs” (Albrow, 2014, p. 12).
  3. The sociological imagination is a humanist sociological practice coined by C. Wright Mills whereby individual problems are translated into collective struggles (Wright, 2000).
  4. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/isl/bukhari/bh3/bh3_672.htm



Albrow, M. (2014). Global age essays on social and cultural change. Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann.

Bauman, Z. (2011). Culture in a liquid modern world. Malden, MA: Polity.

Bauman, Z., Jacobsen, M. H., & Tester, K. (2014). What use is sociology. UK: Polity Press.

Freire, P. (1996). Pedagogy of the oppressed. UK: Penguin Books.

Hall, E. T. (1989). Beyond culture. New York: Anchor Books.

Han, B. C. (2017). In the swarm: Digital prospects (E. Butler, Trans.). US: MIT Press.

Mills, C.W. (2000). The sociological imagination. UK: Oxford University Press.






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