Sunday, May 29, 2005

UnSecret Womens Business (Part I)

This week, I was fortunate to attend consultations arranged by 2 Australian Muslim women’s groups. I thought I might share with readers what I saw, thought, interpreted, misinterpreted and probably misunderstood from each meeting. If it gets too long (given my ability to be long-winded and bombastic), I might turn it into a 2-part series.

The first consultation took place on Thursday 26 May 2005. It was held at and organised by the Muslim Womens Association at their offices in Lakemba in south western Sydney.

The MWA like to refer to themselves as the ‘United Muslim Womens Association’. And they certainly put on a united front on this evening.

The president, Sally Mousa, spoke and introduced the association and the project. Sally is a young Australian woman of Iraqi background. She holds a number of tertiary qualifications (including, I believe, a Masters in Social Policy).

I first met Sally in 1999. She was then an undergraduate student and worked in a department store in Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD). She was your typical northern Sydney girl (with a slight Canadian twang). At the time, there was a debate raging about hijabs in Turkey. Sally decided to join the debate and placed a piece of cloth on her head. No one in the photographic section of the department store where she worked seemed to mind.

At that time, Sally impressed me as someone with enormous stores of energy. Frequently, she would passionately disagree with me, and it was so refreshing to meet a Muslim female with an opinion and the willingness to express it.

And now our Sr Sally was standing at the top of Sydney’s oldest Muslim women’s organisation. The changes she was implementing were quite obvious.

For a start, not everyone working in the organisation had the same surname. The MWA, like many organisations part of the oldest of the 3 Islamic Councils in New South Wales, had for years been plagued with nepotism. It seemed getting a job or an executive position was impossible unless you were somehow related to one of numerous Lebanese royal families.

Sally was upbeat about these changes, describing it as a process of injecting new blood whilst maintaining links with the MWA’s founding members. She also introduced the program being funded by the NSW Attorney General’s Department. The “Step Up” program was a project funded in order to fight racism and discrimination against “Muslim and Arab” communities.

As part of the program, 2 project officers were employed. One had a predictable surname, but both were employed on their merits. And those attending the consultation represented a broad cross-section of the community. Well, they probably did. At least I was told that many other people were invited.

As usual, I could not restrain myself from making controversial remarks. The crescendo arose when I dared to suggest that there are at least 2 other Muslim Women’s groups who could be consulted and that the MWA should consider talking to “even Muslim women’s groups with whom you do not see eye to eye”.

The employed general manager of the MWA, formerly the MWA president for around a decade, immediately jumped in with: “Brother Irfan, we have our contacts and we will be using those”.

Well, that’s what I remembered her saying. They recorded the whole affair, as did a whole bunch of angels sitting on people’s shoulders. So I’d better shut up.

But enough of my SBS (scientifically- balanced smart-ass) comments and subtitles. What impressed me about the night was as follows:

1. MWA were open, up-front and transparent about how much funding they received and what it was for. They told us what their budget was.

2. MWA were slick. For years they have been doing work that no one else has been prepared to touch. And now they are realising that there is no harm in telling others what they do. You have to be seen to be doing something, not just doing it.

3. The entire meeting was conducted in the English language. Everyone there spoke English, including an executive member of the Lebanese Muslim Association.

4. The meeting was being recorded.

5. Executive and staff members were taking notes. They genuinely appeared interested in what we armchair critics had to say.

6. We all got a nice show-bag with 4 copies of the suitably funky ‘Reflections’ magazine.

7. I didn’t cough like a dying man after eating the “man’oosh” (or as us Urdu-speakers call it, the “man’oos”). And cheese pizzas were also quite tasty.

8. My errant Fiji-Indian cousin phoned me just at the right time to talk about her boyfriend troubles. I was just about to ruin my diet by grabbing the bottle of creaming soda when my phone started vibrating. I was able to do some on-the-spot counselling outside in the cold dark Lakemba night, something MWA staff must do everyday.

But seriously, MWA cop a lot of flack from their communities. And the flack is generally well-deserved. I mean, how dare they fight domestic violence? And who are they to protect women of all faiths from violence and homelessness by establishing a refuge? How dare they provide a properly functioning referral service for women in crisis? And worst of all, how dare they speak English!!

As this entire essay is going from sublime to ridiculous, I had better mention the name of one more MWA founder with whom the MWA has every right to be proud of. This founder was a pioneer in giving Muslim women voices in mosque and community affairs. This founder urged Muslim women to be educated and to protect their rights. This founder frequently shields these women from personal attacks made by disgruntled fathers and husbands resentful that they had no one to use their fists on.

This founder has always defended and supported the MWA and every other Muslim women’s group. This founder was a pioneer of Muslim women’s activism, perhaps our community’s first true feminist.

This founder was and remains a bloke. He is an Imam. He is currently risking his life in Iraq trying to free an Australian hostage. This founder was Imam Taj ad-Din al-Hilaly. Had he been present on the night I am sure he would be proud of how far the MWA has gone since it was founded over 2 decades ago!

To be continued …

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Monday, May 23, 2005

Muslim Australians - A New Study

Abdullah Saeed and his team at the University of Melbourne have put together a superb booklet entitled "Muslim Australians - Their Beliefs, Practices And Institutions". The book is some 80 pages long and introduces the fubdamental beliefs, practices and institutions of Islam as it exists in Australia.

The book is written for high school students and for persons with little exposure to Islamic literature. Aussie Muslims can also benefit from gaining an understanding of their community and its interactions with the broader community.

And many of our pre-conceived notions about Muslims are dealt plenty of blows by this study. It stunned me that Auburn in central Sydney has a higher proportion of its population as Muslim than Lakemba or Bankstown, with some 33% of the population being of Muslim background.

This is a superb initiative, and you can pick up your free copy by clicking here ...

Abdullah Saeed and his team (including the exceptionally funky Umm Yasmin of fame) deserve to be congratulated on their efforts. I also deserve to be given congratulations in monetary format for the free plug I have provided to this wonderful publication. I trust the cheque is in the mail.

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Sunday, May 22, 2005

A Night With The Brethren (Part I)

Muslims come in all shapes and sizes, colours and flavours. They speak all different languages at home. And like all major religions, Muslims have different denominations with different understandings of Islam.

Yet regardless of colour or sect or belief, Muslims all become equally upset when neo-Conservative commentators and shock jocks speak with ignorance about Islam and Muslims. Usually the ill speech consists of the presentation of a huge conspiracy that Muslims are conspiring to destroy western civilisation. The ill speech is often made to sound less defamatory by pretending that a clear distinction exists between “Islamists” and the “moderate” Muslims.

Daniel Pipes is a great supporter of the notion that “Islamists” are evil and must be destroyed. He estimates that 10-15% of Muslims are “Islamist”. In a community of 1 billion people, that means that at least 100 million of these are eligible for elimination.

Hitler killed 6 million Jews. Daniel Pipes would like to see 100 million Muslims eliminated. Who is more dangerous?

Of course, what hate-mongers like Mr Pipes do not focus on is the enormous diversity of faith and culture that exists within Muslim communities. I witnessed that diversity first-hand on the evening of 21 May 2005 when I attended a cultural night organised by the Ismaili Shia community in Sydney.

The Ismailis are a small sect that branched off from the mainstream varieties of shia (being the ithna ashariyya and the zaydiyya). The spiritual leader of the branch of Ismailis I met was the Agha Khan. Hence, this branch are often described as ‘Agha Khanis’.

The bulk of the Ismaili Muslims I met that night hailed from Gujrat in the Indian sub-Continent. They form a large minority within a broader Ismaili community that find their homes in Central Asia, China, the Middle East and Africa. Most of my Indian Ismaili friends travelled widely, and many settled in Pakistan following partition in 1947. Many speak Urdu and Gujrati, but almost all speak fluent English.

The Ismaili community are extremely organised, and have a very slick public relations machine. Many of our allegedly mainstream Muslim organisations could learn a lot from this small Ismaili branch about building bridges with their host communities and communicating their contributions and achievements.

The night commenced with drinks and tandoori chicken. I felt right at home in the company of ‘desi’ (i.e. from the home country) people. There were plenty of saris floating around, and I even noticed mums eyeing me as a marriage prospect for some female relative.

How on earth did they think I was single? "Hindustani aur Pakistani ma'o ko sab kuch patha lag jaatha hai" (more or less translated as "Indian and Pakistani mums have a unique system of matrimonial telepathic radar"), my mother used to say.

The Communications & Publications Director of the Australia/New Zealand wing of the international Ismaili community addressed a mixed crowd of politicians, civic leaders and other people of actual and supposed influence. He cited the verse from the Quran in which God says that He created us from one male and one female, then making us into tribes and nations so that we may come to know each other, not hate each other.

The Director went onto mention the Clash of Civilisations thesis of Samuel Huntington. He said that in reality, civilisations can only enrich each other, and that a clash of civilisations was impossible. Sadly, what was possible was a clash of different forms of ignorance. And so it is when ignorance spreads within and between communities that conflicts begin.

It was not hard to read between the lines of the Director’s message. On the one hand, he was signalling that "Agha Khanis" were mainstream Muslims and mainstream Australians, and that most Muslims are of this description. On the other hand, he was telling his audience (which included a close Parliamentary colleague of the Prime Minister) that Muslims are not a monolith and are not to be treated as the enemy.

His message is hopefully still ringing in the ears of the Mayor of Baulkham Hills Shire (where the function was being held). The Shire Council had recently shown its commitment to the Muslim communities by refusing to allow a development application from a Muslim to build a small inconspicuous prayer facility on his property. The property was located in the heart of an industrial zone and on a main road, well away from residential areas where parking and noise may have affected residents.

The Director’s message was later expressed to me in more stringent language by some young Ismailis I met. They are highly educated, articulate young men and women who had travelled far and wide. Their view of the world was far more realistic than so many Muslim young people from mainstream sunni and shia communities (many of whom had rarely ventured outside of the Muslim ‘ghettos’ of south western Sydney).

To be continued ...

© Irfan Yusuf, 2005

(Irfan Yusuf is a workplace relations lawyer and freelance writer based in Sydney. He does not belong to the Ismaili community, and the comments he makes in this article are not a reflection of the official position of the Ismaili jemaat. All inquiries (including from the desi mums!) should be sent to

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Sunday, May 15, 2005

COMMENT: Now Is Not The Time ...

Imagine your brother or son working as an engineer in Iraq has been kidnapped by insurgents. Imagine you have been told by your elected officials that they will not negotiate with his captors.

Then imagine if you know that an Australian Muslim leader may be able to help. What will you do? Will you refuse to take a chance because of anti-Semitic remarks he made about Jewish people over a decade ago? Will you not approach him because of recent remarks he made in Lebanon during some Friday sermons?

Of course not. You would do anything to save your loved one.

The Howard government sent thousands of young Australian servicemen and women to Iraq. Many of these young Australians are still there, risking their lives to keep (or rather, create) the peace. Yet the Howard government has said that it will not negotiate with those holding an Australian citizen captive.

I am sure Ministers will be wishing there was some way they could save Mr Wood without giving terrorists the legitimacy that they simply do not deserve. And revelations in the Sun-Herald on May 15 of a gentleman’s agreement between Mr Ruddock, Keysar Trad and Imam Hilaly are proof that the Government is trying to do what it can.

Yet two issues arising from this whole affair are of particular concern.

Firstly, the attitude of neo-Conservative pro-Government commentators is cause for concern. At least 3 major columnists have made vicious attacks on Imam Hilaly, raising decade-old allegations of anti-Semitic remarks. These commentators express their distaste with Imam Hilaly being used as a go-between and a negotiator. Some have virtually accused him of using the Wood family’s grief to gain publicity for himself.

I am not the world’s biggest fan of Imam Hilaly. I have criticised him publicly in various Muslim and wider community forums (online and otherwise). But on this occasion, I simply cannot find fault with what he is doing.

Hilaly is an old man with a serious heart condition. His personal life is not the best, and his office is in turmoil after his translator and adviser of many years was removed. Hilaly is caught in the cross-fire of 3 feuding Islamic councils vying for hegemony over the affairs of the Muslims of NSW.

Yet at the drop of a turban, the Imam has rushed to a war-zone, risking his life to save the life of a fellow-Australian. Whatever Hilaly may have said about Jews over 16 years ago, I am sure Australians of Jewish faith (and indeed of all other faiths and no faith) will be hoping and wishing that Imam Hilaly’s mission is successful.

Now is not the time for allegedly conservative columnists to attack the Shaykh. Let him do his job. Iraqis (including the terrorists) will not take the Shaykh’s mission seriously if they go to the web and read respected columnists in major Australian media outlets attacking the Shaykh. Criticising the Shaykh at this time, apart from causing enormous distress to the Wood family, will effectively undermine efforts to free Douglas Wood.

But apart from the irresponsible comments made by commentators (tabloid and otherwise), there is a matter of greater concern. It seems that our foreign affairs apparatchiks in Canberra may not have the extensive knowledge and contacts in the Arab world needed to deal with such situation should it arise in the future.

That a country with such a large, diverse and educated Arabic-speaking community does not have more such people in our intelligence and foreign affairs agencies is cause for concern. How can we fight ‘Islamist terror’ when we do not have the people who can speak the language and understand the culture of many terrorist groups?

One important lesson our government can learn is that it cannot afford to ignore the potential for Arab and Muslim Australians to contribute to our national security and our diplomatic efforts. Muslims are not just good for securing IOC delegates’ votes for the 2000 Sydney Games, or for opening up export markets in halal meat.

If major Australian financial institutions, telecommunications companies and large commercial law firms are happy to involve persons of Arab and/or Muslim backgrounds in sensitive leadership roles, why can’t our government, intelligence and diplomatic agencies?

I am not suggesting that our government agencies activeky discourage the involvement of persons of a particular background. Nor do they discriminate. And nor am i suggesting that private sector personalities positively discriminate. And I certainly am not suggesting that positive discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion is the solution.

What I am saying is that, in the current environment, even the most Aussie of Mossies are not exactly the social flavour of the month. Years of bad press, especially since September 11, are taking their toll. And as the Wood saga shows, it is not just Aussie Mossies who are suffering as a result.

But it works both ways. Muslim Australians need to come out of the closet. They cannot allow the Islamophobic tendencies of ignorant shock jocks and infantile columnists to dictate the extent of their contribution to this wonderful country we all call our home. It is their duty to God that they show their service to Australia with greater gusto.

Australians need and deserve to be reassured. Aussie Muslims need to find voices that communicate in a language all Australians can understand and appreciate. Even if some claiming greater loyalty to Australia oppose them.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Leadership Lost In Translation

Recently, one of Australia’s most senior Muslim religious scholars made certain comments as he was leaving to lead an Australian delegation to Iraq. The purpose of the delegation was to seek the release of Australian engineer Douglas Wood.

Shaykh Tajeddine Hilaly was quoted as addressing the kidnappers. His statement included a claim that most Australians opposed the war in Iraq and the continued presence of foreign troops. He also allegedly to have said to the kidnappers: “We value your jihad”.

On the surface, these comments suggest that the Mufti, on behalf of all Australian Muslims, supports the actions of terrorists. These actions include the kidnapping of foreigners including Australians, as well as threats to execute foreigners if demands are not met.

Shaykh Hilaly is said to be the Mufti of Australia. According to his former adviser and translator, Keysar Trad, the position of mufti is equivalent to that of governor-general or archbishop. Further, the term ‘jihad’ is commonly translated as ‘holy war’.

Yet these are mistranslations of both terms, and the distortion of the true meanings of these terms leads to all sorts of misunderstanding and misapprehension.

Shaykh Hilaly was appointed to the position of Mufti by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, a national umbrella body claiming to represent all Australian Muslims. Yet the reality is that most Australian Muslims have never heard of AFIC. Indeed, I recall asking one local Australian Muslim whether he had heard of AFIC, only to be asked whether it was the latest brand of Cadbury chocolate!

Mr Trad, recently removed from the role of adviser to Shaykh Hilaly, does not hold any formal accreditation as an interpreter or translator. His acting as translator for Hilaly for such an extended period may well have contributed to the misunderstandings that have frequently arisen from the Shaykh’s speeches.

In reality, the term “mufti” means the giver of fatwa’s. The term ‘fatwa’ refers to a non-binding legal opinion on Islamic legal matters, perhaps the equivalent of an advice from a Senior Counsel.

The mufti is not a spiritual leader. The spiritual leadership of the Muslim communities traditionally has rested with the leaders of particular sufi orders (often labelled as “murshid’s”). Sometimes, the position of mufti and murshid is combined. For instance, the founder of the whirling dervish sufis, Jelaluddin Rumi, was both murshid and mufti, holding expertise in both legal and spiritual matters.

As for jihad, the literal meaning of the word is ‘striving’ or ‘struggle’. The Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying that the greater jihad is to struggle against one’s own evil inclinations. He has also said that the greatest jihad is to speak the truth in the presence of a tyrant.

So when Shaykh Hilaly was speaking about jihad, was he referring to a violent confrontation between occupying forces and rebels? Was he referring to the actions of kidnappers? Was he referring to the broader struggle for Iraqi independence or the even broader struggle for spiritual purification that (according to classical Islamic tradition) must be a precursor to a change in leadership?

Unfortunately, we do not know the answer. Shaykh Hilaly’s inability to speak English, and his frequent use (thus far) of an unqualified translator does not help matters.

So once again, Australian Muslims will be painted as terror-sympathisers because of the inability of Muslim leaders to articulate views reflective of mainstream Muslim opinion and in a language that most Muslims can understand. And in Shaikh Hilaly’s home state of New South Wales, the official leadership of the Muslim Council of NSW (the umbrella body recognised by AFIC) has been totally silent on the issue. The remaining two Islamic councils also appear to be ducking for cover.

If this sort of situation continues, and if mainstream Aussie Mossies continue to be too busy to improve their leadership situation, misunderstanding will continue to grow. And that is exactly what al-Qaeda wants.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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Friday, May 06, 2005

Rene Rivkin & Psycho-Stigmatic Ignorance

Celebrity deaths can cause a celebrity’s illness to also become a celebrity.

Rock Hudson's death from AIDS was among the first dominos to fall before governments spent serious dollars on safe sex campaigns and research for a cure. HIV/AIDS is now a sexy disease, not just an STD.

But mental illness will never get celebrity status regardless of how many famous people fall victim. There is nothing sexy about psychotic or mood disorders.

Cigar & Bipolar

The late Rene Rivkin, a prominent Australian stockbroker recently sentenced to gaol for insider trading, was not the first celebrity to suffer from what the ancient Greeks called "melancholia". Nor was he the first person to take his own life as a result. Yes, AIDS kills. But then, so does depression.

Rene Rivkin lived a flamboyant lifestyle. The son of Russian Jewish and royalist migrants who fled following the Leninist revolution, Rene was born in Shanghai. His family migrated to Australia. Rene grew up in a time when bipolar disorder in children was dismissed as bad behaviour or irresponsibility.

Rene went into the finance industry and took the stockbroking world by storm. He was the stockbroker to many in Sydney’s high society, and enjoyed lighting up a cigar in front of photographers and their accompanied scribes.

But Rene was also an extraordinarily generous man. He donated millions to mainstream charities such as the Salvation Army. He rarely gloated over his good deeds, preferring the public image of a man drowning in fabulous wealth.

A Wealth of Unhappiness

Rene had it all. A beautiful and adoring wife, intelligent and successful children, a business that operated like a mint and plenty of friends in high places. When he was being sentenced by the Supreme Court of NSW, a long line of Sydney luminaries from politics, media and business attended court to give testimony on Rene’s good fame and character.

Rene was sentenced to weekend detention. On his first day in gaol, he collapsed and was taken to hospital. Eventually he was diagnosed with a brain tumour which had become active after years in a benign state. Yet more troubling to Rene was the diagnosis of one of Sydney’s top psychiatrists. Rene was found to suffer from bipolar disorder, often referred to as manic depression.

All the wealth and friends and family support could not stop Rene from feeling like a social outcast. The media treated him like some kind of fake, a man who was perfectly ok and was merely acting to avoid serving his time in gaol.

Most people committing suicide to avoid responsibility for their actions do so before they can get caught. Rene had already faced the music. He had enough wealth to live a comfortable life even after the conclusion of his sentence. He had nothing to lose in a material sense. But his mind was playing games with him.

Millions of us who have suffered depression can relate to Rene's decision to take his life. It seems totally irrational. And it is. But when it comes to suicide, there is often a thin line between genius and insanity. And even persons with the biggest hearts, the best minds and the strongest faith can feel the urge to dig their own grave.

Not the First to be Damned

Many prominent people have suffered from mood disorders. Winston Churchill spoke of his "black dog". Spike Milligan must have found it hard to be funny when going through a bout of depression. It's as if one needs to be a genius to get bipolar disorder (also referred to as manic depression).

Yet many other people, prominent and otherwise, also suffer in silence. Why? Because despite all the campaigns and websites and publicity, depression continues to carry a stigma that can destroy a person's professional and personal life.

People still think a mentally ill person is just `crazy', that they cannot function properly, cannot make responsible decisions, cannot hold down a job or build a career.

Worse still, if a person claims mental illness as a factor in their commission of a crime or some other legal wrong, many will quick to point the finger and cough the words "bullshit, bullshit".

When the Rivkin family bravely allowed the national Australian broadcaster ABCTV program `Australian Story' to enter their private life, many were surprised by the revelations that followed. Many more were sceptical about Mrs Rivkin's claims that her husband suffered from bipolar disorder.

But anyone who has suffered from bipolar disorder (or cared for such a person) could have seen the symptoms loud and clear. '

Psycho-Stigmatic Ignorance

The social stigma associated with mental illness can have tragic results. Thousands of people go about life with undiagnosed depression. Thousands waste their own (or someone else's) hard-earned wealth because of a typical symptom of bipolar disorder. And thousands are too scared to seek help in case they are diagnosed. Many, like Mr Rivkin, choose to take their own life.

The ignorance out there on the community of facilities available to the mentally ill is truly frightening. The lives, reputations and assets of mentally ill people can be protected, but few know how this can be done.
Few people have heard of the Guardianship Tribunal, the Mental Health Review Tribunal, the Protective Commissioner, the Public Guardian or other bodies in NSW that typically involve themselves in decision­making on behalf of the mentally ill.

Fewer legal advisers know how such decisions can be reviewed or appealed. I recently spent 6 months working as a Senior Legal Officer at the Office of the Protective Commissioner (OPC). Few private lawyers of OPC clients I spoke to during that time had any idea of how the substitute decision making system operated.

The Next Epidemic

Governments continue to show lack lustre support to the mentally ill, their carers and the facilities that can provide assistance. Yet as funds for mental illness related services are drying up, more Australians are joining the ranks of sufferers. The ranks of this fringe of society are growing rapidly.

We know that as people get older, the chances of them suffering depression are greater. Our ageing population makes mental illness a more common feature of our community.

We also know that recreational drug use can trigger such illnesses. Drug use is not just the practice of young people from lower socio-economic backgrounds. It is common parlance to speak of big-firm lawyers and accountants and other young professionals from the big end of town using speed and cocaine. Drug induced depression is a major cause of our country having one of the highest rates of youth suicide in the world.

In short, we are facing an epidemic of mental illness. Unless our governments and policy makers take this epidemic seriously, people will continue to suffer in silence. And unless we as a community change our attitudes to mental illness and treat sufferers with respect and sensitivity, our governments will have little incentive to change their policy priorities.

If even the death of a celebrity like Rene Rivkin cannot increase awareness of mood disorders and save thousands of others from a similar fate, one wonders what will.

© I Yusuf, 2005

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Thursday, May 05, 2005

Muslims must speak out, or be condemned for their silence
Date: April 28 2005

A leader's controversial comments on rape do not reflect the view of the majority, writes Irfan Yusef.

Muslim websites in Sydney and Melbourne have been running hot in the wake of comments made some weeks ago by Sheik Faiz Mohamad, a graduate of Islamic law and lecturer at an Islamic centre in south-western Sydney.

Faiz's comments, that women largely bear responsibility for rape if they make themselves an object of sexual desire, have upset many in a religious community that is still haunted by images and stories of Bosnian refugees being gang-raped during the recent war. The fear is that as Australians outside the Muslim community become aware of his comments, a wider backlash will result.

Faiz has been described in some circles as a cleric. Yet Islam knows no priestly or clerical class. The word sheik literally means old man. In a religious context, sheiks are little more than religious lawyers, similar in status to rabbis in the Jewish tradition.

Faiz studied Islamic law in Saudi Arabia and is a follower of one of a number of fringe "salafi" groups. Salafi groups are regarded as heterodox, removing texts from their historical context and turning a religion whose name literally means peace into a violent political ideology. They are rejected by even the Saudi religious establishment.

I prefer the wisdom of Turkish sufis to the fires of hatred that al-Qaeda wannabes like to fuel. The beliefs of mainstream Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds are more reflected by whirling dervishes than rants of a small minority of hate-filled youngsters. This is especially the case with local Arabic, Turkish and Indian subcontinent communities, which are dominant among Australian Muslims.

In a public address last month, Faiz is reported to have said there is a victim of rape somewhere in the world every minute, and that the woman is usually to blame. "She displayed her beauty to the entire world. She degraded herself by being an object of sexual desire and thus becoming vulnerable to a man who looks at her for gratification of his sexual urge."

Not surprisingly, most in the Muslim community feel revulsion at his comments. Yet there has been little significant response from Muslim community leaders, when condemnation of Faiz's comments should have been swift.

In NSW, three umbrella Islamic councils compete to represent the Muslim communities across all cultural and language groups and have spent thousands of dollars fighting in the Supreme Court for governance of the Muslim community.

Muslims are not the only religious community suffering a crisis of leadership. I am yet to meet a Sydney Anglican who is completely happy with their church, and many Catholics are not exactly jumping for joy at the choice of a new pope.

However, most - if not all - cardinals, archbishops and rabbis at least speak English and don't need interpreters everywhere they go, so they are in tune with the thinking and mores of the wider community. With Muslims, it seems that language ability and understanding the local culture are the last criteria you need to satisfy to become a community leader.

This is why your average, anonymous Aussie Mossie (as local Muslims often refer to themselves) such as myself has to speak out. If we don't, people pretending to speak on our behalf will continue to say stupid things, and we will be the ones who have to bear the abuse of fellow Australians via the radio shock jocks and the broader community.

Yet Muslim community leaders sit back and do next to nothing or, worse, try to defend the indefensible comments of the likes of Faiz.

Meanwhile, your average Muslim will be too busy organising his or her business, or career; most Muslims are too busy getting on with life to worry about what some religious crackpot is saying.

So let me state for the record what I think most Muslims believe. Like other Australians, most Muslims believe rape is a crime; that rapists should and must be punished. Women and men are subject to sexual assault regardless of what they wear. And sadly, idiots of all religious denominations sometimes claim that women could avoid being raped by dressing more modestly, but I am yet to read any scripture or learn of a religion that justifies rape.

Muslims have to speak out. We cannot afford to rely on our non-English-speaking imams and feuding leaders to make incoherent noises while we are busy getting on with our lives.

In the present environment, where shock jocks and columnists are quoting our incompetent leadership, our silence will be treated as an admission of guilt.

More than 90 per cent of programs broadcast on Sydney Muslim radio stations are in Arabic, not English. Yet I doubt any of them will say a word about Faiz.

And if they do, it will be in a language most Muslims, indeed most Australians, will not understand.

Irfan Yusef is a Sydney lawyer.

(the Sydney Morning Herald find it impossible to spell my surname correctly. That's life!)

the following letter was sent to the Herald in response to the article ...

Learning to live with the Aussie Mossie

Thank you for publishing Irfan Yusef's article ("Muslims must speak out, or be condemned for their silence", Herald, April 28). His views probably do reflect the thoughts and opinions of most Muslims in this country. I have never heard the term "Aussie Mossie" before, and I couldn't help smiling at this very Australian sense of humour.

I, too, am tired of hearing shock jock comments in the media and rarely hearing from local Muslims. Thanks to Irfan Yusef and the likes of George Negus (his book, The world from Islam), at least we can start to understand and coexist with Australians of the Muslim faith.

Neil Feller
Potts Point

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005

A Prayer For My Presbhyterian Brother

Douglas Wood is an Australian engineer working for an American company in Iraq. He has been kidnapped by a group claiming to be acting in the interests of the Iraqi people and their independence.

I wish I knew how kidnapping an Australian serves the interests of Iraqi people. Yes, I know our government has sent troops to Iraq. In doing so, it has ignored the wishes of millions of Australians who oppose the war.

Australians of all races and religions and political persuasions oppose the war and the occupation. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus. And Muslims like me. Leftists, Labor voters and Liberals (small and big “L”). And Conservatives like me.

But the troops are there now. Saddam is in custody. Iraqis have the chance to re-build their country. Independence is their right. But how will it be achieved by kidnapping an Australian engineer?

Kidnappings and harming civilian workers will do little to help us convince our countrymen to oppose continuing occupation.

Kidnappers who claim to be acting for Islam should be asked to show one verse from the Qur’an (the Muslim scripture) or one hadith (reported saying of the Prophet) which supports their actions.

The Qur’an never taught us to hate others. It never taught us to attack those who are trying to help re-build shattered lives.

The Qur’an taught us to pray for others and for peace. Islam is an Arabic word that literally means peace. Yet I don’t see much peace being evidenced in the actions of the kidnappers.

So I guess it is time for me to pray for Douglas, my Presbhyterian Christian brother and a fellow Australian.

God, you created men and women in a state of freedom from impurities. Grant your servant, Douglas Wood, freedom from all impurities of heart and mind. Grant the prayers of his family and friends who pray for his liberty.

God, you control the hearts of all men and women. Change the hearts of those keeping Douglas in captivity. Guide them to understand that kidnapping innocent civilians achieves nothing for the cause of Iraqi freedom.

Lord, hear our prayer for the sake of Your Beloved Chosen One (Mustafa), Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him). Amin.

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