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Australia’s Indigenous Peoples and Islam: Philosophical and Spiritual Convergences between Belief Structures

There is a growing scholarly interest in Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ engagement with Islam. This interest has highlighted some significant historical points of contact, such as with the Makassan fishermen, the Afghan cameleers, and the Malay pearl divers. Historical engagements with Islam, such as these, have influenced the contemporary identity formation for some Indigenous peoples, by acknowledging the historical connections without embracing Islam or identifying as a practicing Muslim. That some Indigenous people with no known familial historical engagement with Islam have embraced Islam has raised surprise, concern, and confusion. As it has primarily been historians, sociologists, and anthropologists that have heretofore been attempting to document and understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ engagement with Islam, it is unsurprising that the suggested reasons for such engagement have been historical, sociological, and anthropological. Without dismissing or contradicting the existing research, this paper will suggest that current literature does not explicitly account for philosophical and spiritual convergences between the belief structures of Australia’s Indigenous peoples and Islam in the explanation of both historical and contemporary engagements.

Tasawwuf ‘Ustraliya: Prolegomena to a History of Sufism in Australia

Tracing the history of Sufism in Australia is a challenging task. The reasons for this include the wide dispersal of source materials, the primarily oral transmission of Sufism and the diversity of the manifestation of Sufism. Detailing a history of Sufism in Australia is not possible in a short article. Rather than attempting to do so, this article will emphasise it is a neglected area that deserves significant scholarly attention. Contrary to reports that Sufism’s traditional hiddenness makes it unexaminable, this article surveys Makassan and cameleer engagements with Australia, as well as early media reports, to show that Australia has a rich and diverse heritage of Sufism. This is not without some challenges and raising these will support any study that attempts to engage Australia’s Sufi heritage, especially those that attempt to detail the earlier emergences of Sufism within Australia. Some solutions to the challenges of studying the history of Sufism in Australia will be proposed. In this light, Sufism in Australia can be seen to make an important contribution to the development of Australia generally and Australian Islam specifically.

The Role of the Sufi Centre within the Muslim World

For Muslims generally, and Sufis in particular, the Sufi Centre is often the heart of a community across the Muslim world. Known variously as a zawiya, ribat, khanaqah, tekke, and dargah, the development of these institutions shows some historical diversity that has converged into a soteriologically significant place for individual development and congregational worship. In tracking the historical development of these institutions, this paper highlights how the once literal meanings have retained symbolic significance in referencing the functions of a Sufi Centre. There have been some scholarly attempts to make specific distinctions between these institutions. However, the convergence with regard to function and content has meant the differences are often indicative of location and/or cultural heritage, and the titles used to refer to a Sufi Centre have become almost equivalent.

Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah, Muslim Sufi Saint and Gift of Heaven

This book is the first study to highlight the constant interconnections between Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah’s works. While the bulk of this work covers the worldview of Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah, it begins more generally with some comments on the need for reappraising approaches to Sufism and its relation to Islam. Accessible for anyone interested in Sufism, this work will appeal to scholars of religion in general and Islam in particular.

About Me

Abu Bakr Sirajuddin Cook is a Research Fellow at Almiraj Sufi and Islamic Study Centre, Australia. He received a doctorate from the University of Tasmania in 2014 and has furthered his Islamic Studies with Charles Sturt University. Abu Bakr has published on Ibn Sab’in in the Journal of Islamic Philosophy and on various aspects of … Continue reading About Me