On my way to the City last Monday I found myself travelling on the train with a Muslim family. Sitting next to Dad were two little boys singing nursery rhymes in English. Like all young children, they were boisterous and excited about what was obviously a family outing. Alongside these little boys sat Mum. She was wearing a black burqa.
Burqa’s are in the news these days as two well-known Senators call for their ban in Australia. All sorts of accusations are being made suggesting burqa’s are somehow connected with terrorism. They are, we are told, “a national security risk”.
Well, none of us on that north-shore train service appeared to be any danger last Monday! Everything seemed pretty normal except this mother had decided to fully cover her body, obviously for cultural and religious reasons.
I do not pretend to understand why. But my Christian faith teaches me to be open and respectful towards others. And here I think of St Paul. In our Bible reading today (Philippians 3) Paul reminds us that he was once a narrow-minded, self-righteous leader who persecuted others because they were different. But now Paul speaks of the “value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord”. And here, Paul discovers a new found freedom. It’s a freedom that releases him from all sorts of fears and anxieties based on his suspicions of the “other”.
Most of Australia’s 400,000 Muslims are seeking a better life here. Like the rest of us, they are appalled at the butchery that is taking place in Syria and Iraq at the hands of IS.
So, to label Muslim women as security risks is quite wrong to me. It smacks of ignorance and intolerance.
With the terror that is taking place in the Middle East I pray that we, as an Australian community, will be kind and compassionate to one another.
Fear is the opposite to faith. So, rather than banning the burqa, let us maintain a deep faith in the one who calls us, indeed, commands us, to love our neighbours!