Last week, in what has variously been described as a “great day for multiculturalism in Australia” and an “absolutely sickening” “disregard [for] Australia’s constitution”, Ed Husic, federal Labor MP for Chifley, was sworn in to two parliamentary positions using a Koran. Whilst some of the commentary on this event was appropriately respectful and even congratulatory for a first-generation migrant achieving such high office, also making the news was the volume of vitriol poured in Mr Husic’s direction. The reason: that he swore in on a Koran, rather than a Christian Bible.
Of course, the entire purpose for swearing in on a Bible is not in endorsement of the values and beliefs espoused by Christianity, but rather is akin to swearing “on my honour” or “on the lives of my children” – a commitment on something that the swearer values. The whole idea of “swearing in” is a bit of an antiquated principle in itself, something that became amply clear with commenters mentioning that sworn-in witnesses to a criminal trial lied through their teeth, whilst a Muslim, having sworn on a Koran, told the unblemished truth. In a country where well under ten per cent of the population are regular church attendees (church attendance may be an unrealistic signifier of Christian attitudes, but good enough to go on), the reverence with which the other 90% of the population hold the Bible has to be open to question.
So swearing in a devout Muslim on a Koran has got to be at least as fit-for-purpose as swearing in an agnostic, atheist or non-practicing lapsed-catholic on a Bible. You might as well ask whether the specific bible in question is a King James or The Message. But let’s put that aside for now.