Study reveals public attitudes toward hijab-wearing in Australia

Date: 07/04/2009

A University of Western Sydney researcher has revealed the majority of Australians are supportive of Muslim women's decisions to wear traditional Islamic headscarves.

Professor Kevin Dunn, a multiculturalism expert from the UWS School of Social Sciences, has conducted an analysis of recent public opinion polls and attitude surveys of more than 1300 people.

The findings reveal that, although there is a level of intolerance toward the Islamic faith and people of Middle Eastern descent in Australia, there is little public objection to the hijab or the women who wear them.

Professor Dunn's analysis was released this week as a chapter of a new book, 'Beyond the Hijab Debates: New Conversations on Gender, Race and Religion.' Within the chapter, Professor Dunn reveals that any objections to the hijab are rare and isolated.

"Discussions about cultural intolerance and prejudice will often focus on the hijab, as it is the most well-known, visual representation of the Islamic faith," says Professor Dunn.

"There have been assertions from some political leaders and other personalities that ordinary Australians object to the traditional Islamic dress however, based on the findings of this study, these concerns are completely unfounded."

Research indicates that around 85 per cent of Australians support cultural diversity and are comfortable with the experience of cultural difference.

The majority of respondents, 81 per cent, were not concerned about Islamic women wearing the hijab in Australia.

Only 13 per cent of respondents expressed the view that wearing the hijab was inappropriate in Australia.

Professor Dunn says there is a widespread misconception that wearing the hijab is mandatory for Islamic women and for this reason, some Australians see the hijab as a representation of Islamic women's repression or a failure to assimilate into Australian culture.

"Australians have a strong sense of their democratic rights and are passionate advocates for people's freedom of choice, irrespective of culture or religion," says Professor Dunn.

"The most common response to survey questions was that Islamic women shared the rights of all Australians to freedom of religion and to individual liberty and expression.

"A large majority of the respondents exhibited sympathy for hijab-wearing and an understanding that it is no different to other forms of public demonstration of religion, such as catholic nuns wearing habits and crucifixes."

Professor Dunn says the results of the study are overwhelmingly positive and reveal that there is much more tolerance and acceptance within Australian communities than some people have suggested.

"However, the fact remains that 4.2 per cent of respondents expressed the view that headscarves should be prohibited - a small sample which nonetheless reflects a need for further education about Islam and cultural tolerance in Australia," he says.

'Beyond the Hijab Debates: New Conversations on Gender, Race and Religion' by Tanja Dreher and Christine Ho will be launched this week in Sydney.



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