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Us and Them: Muslim-Christian relations and cultural harmony in Australia

Australian Academic Press, 2009

Reviewed by Rev Brian Lee, a Uniting Church minister who worked in India for many years and has learned much about living in a multifaith society. He has also been involved in multifaith discussion and action in Australia.

In Us and Them Dr Ata gathers together and comments on a number of academic papers dealing with relations between Australia’s majority population and its Muslim minority. Most of these papers include statistical surveys and the interpretation of this data. Special emphases are on education and marriage in this context.

Dr Ata, a graduate of the American University, Beirut, and a Ph D from the University of Melbourne, has taught in Australian, American, Jordanian, West Bank and Danish universities and is the author of many books, several relating to Christian-Muslim intermarriage in Australia.

This is a book for teachers and education planners. Its first focus is the challenge and opportunity in schools. In his summary of the findings of surveys in Church-based and in Muslim schools he writes: “A sizable proportion of non-Muslim Australian students are ignorant about Muslims and Islam, and few believe that schools are filling the gaps in their knowledge,” while at the same time acknowledging that “intercultural and interfaith education in Australia has been transformed, refocused, and is in a constant state of evolution both in theory and in practice”. He has collected in this book 12 essays “connecting literacy scholarship and theory, reflection, popular culture, politics, history, psychology, contemporary youth issues, canonical and multicultural works to provide ideas for teachers to use”.

This is a book, too, for pastors of any faith community who encounter situations of interfaith marriage. The book’s second major focus is Christian-Muslim marriage, dealt with in 3 of its 12 chapters. Here we find results from the study of 100 such marriages, ideas for working with the families concerned and a discussion of the dynamics of mixed marriages. Since there are similar issues in any interfaith marriage, this book has a value beyond the specific situations dealt by this author and his sources.