Uncovering Islam’s Hidden Beauties
By Siti Satyawati
“During the past ten years, I have learned as an individual the value of remaining patient in the face of calamity, while maintaining a steadfast commitment to promoting the message of multiculturalism.”
Editor’s note: Siti Satyawati is an Indonesian Muslim woman from Australia. She is a mother of five and a student who works and volunteers at the Muslim Women’s Support Centre based in Perth, Western Australia.
As an Indonesian Muslim woman living in Australia, religion has played an important role in my life experience. Although I was born into a Muslim family, this did not automatically make me a practising Muslim. As I navigated my identity during my teenage years, I had many questions, ranging from “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?” to “What is the purpose and meaning of life?” and “Does Almighty God really exist?” I went through a period of searching within myself and learning about different religions until I reached a sound conviction and certainty about Islam as my way of life.
I moved to Australia with my family in 1986. At the age of 17 I graduated from high school, and by 19 I was married to an Australian Muslim convert. I am now a single mum with five children between the ages of 8 and 18 years. In 2010, after having been away from formal education systems for almost 18 years, I went back to school as a full-time student to pursue a Diploma of Community Services and Works at Polytechnic West in Thornlie, Western Australia. One of the requirements of my program is the completion of a Supervised Field Placement, and my college generously facilitated my placement at the Muslim Women’s Support Centre (MWSC), a nonprofit organisation that provides a variety of social support and advocacy services for Muslim women of all backgrounds, as well as cross-cultural trainings to promote cultural sensitivity and inclusion.
At 38 years old, I did not have any formal work experience prior to my placement at MWSC. As a Muslim, I believe my faith encourages me to be an active citizen of this country and contribute to the betterment of society. My studies and my work and volunteer experience at MWSC have made it possible for me to contribute to society in new ways; I am now in a position to encourage women who have been away from work and study for a long period of time because of their commitment to motherhood, a most honoured position in Islam, to study and work in other areas that they are passionate about, and to learn new ways to support the advancement of their communities and society as a whole.
We have opportunities for increasing understanding across cultures and faiths all around us. While at work, I recently overheard my supervisor having a conversation with a non-Muslim visitor to the agency. It nearly brought me to tears listening to my supervisor explaining Islam patiently and with gentleness to the curious visitor. Indeed, Islam is such a beautiful religion, and often that beauty is hidden. I strongly believe it is my responsibility to uncover hidden beauties across cultural and religious boundaries by building positive relationships and creating a space for shared learning.
This work has become more important than ever in the context of a tense relationship between Muslims and non-Muslims in Australia, particularly after the tragedy of 9/11. The impact of the mass media in particular has contributed to a demonization of Islam and Muslims, contributing to the spread of Islamophobia. I have seen Muslim women, especially those wearing hijab, targeted because of the visibility of their faith.
Despite the emotional challenges of dealing with judgments and misconceptions about my way of life as a Muslim woman, there has been positive growth both for Muslim communities in Australia and for me personally. Muslim communities in Australia, like others around the world, continue to condemn terror in all its forms and actively engage with others in their societies to clarify and share the true message of Islam. During the past ten years, I have learned as an individual the value of remaining patient in the face of calamity, while maintaining a steadfast commitment to promoting the message of multiculturalism. With this value in mind I also commit myself to life-long education, through which I am certain I will continue to be empowered, and in turn help to empower others.
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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.