Sunday, July 24, 2005

Monty Python Muslims Fight For Control Of The Fringe

In 2000, Muslim students in Sydney organised a conference at the University of New South Wales. The guest speaker was Abdullah Idriss, a respected American Muslim speaker who has helped bring the disparate Muslim communities there under a single network.

Idriss organised a gathering of various Muslim factions, from mainstream to fringe, to discuss their differences in a private forum. He hoped to focus on the fact that Muslims agree on most things, and that these were of far greater importance than any sources of division.

Amongst the speakers was a representative of the radical Hizbut Tahrir (HT), the Muslim equivalent of campus Marxism. HT believes that political and economic systems are only fit for Muslim participation if they meet HT’s narrow definitions of “Islamic systems”.

The HT have never been all that popular. Even those sympathetic to their rhetoric regard them with disdain, if only because they cannot provide any blueprint for achieving their goals.

When a leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim party, Nahdatul Ulama, visited Sydney as a guest of the Centre for Independent Studies, he stunned his audience with the revelation that most Indonesians associated sharia with commercial dispute resolution and banking. Other mainstream Muslim legal thinkers such as Professor Khaled Abou el-Fadl of the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) have found strong commonalities between sharia and common law systems.

Australian understandings and discourse on sharia are perhaps best reflected in 2 books published by Australian authors. At the beginning of the 20th century, Imam Imamovic of Brisbane wrote his “Outlines of Islamic Doctrine”, and included a detailed analysis of mainstream Sunni views of Islamic law.

In more modern times, UTS academic Jameela Hussain has had the second edition of her book “Islam Its Law & Society” published by mainstream legal publisher The Federation Press. The first edition of her book quickly sold out, and her undergraduate course on Islamic law has proven popular with students wishing to supplement their law degrees with an element of comparative law.

Muslim approaches to western legal systems tend to accommodate and encourage Muslims to use and participate in these systems. Such participation is seen as justified in Islamic law.

But in HT ideology, sharia (Islam’s broad legal tradition) is narrowly defined. Sharia is treated simplistically, almost as a software program, with Muslims being the hardware. The download process is the establishment of an international caliphate. And how does one reach caliphate? Who knows? HT certainly don’t.

Returning to the 2000 seminar, another participant was Sheik Abdus Salam Zoud. Sheik Zoud was trained in Saudi Arabia and follows the fringe salafist cult. He regards shias and sufis as being outside the pale of Islam. He also rejects mainstream Sunni Muslim beliefs on the nature of God, as well as rejecting Sunni Muslim insistence on following one of four orthodox summarised legal “checklists” (known as “madhab’s”) for their personal and social liturgy.

Zoud’s views are also on the fringe. I believe his views are more dangerous than those of HT. Though he agrees with their rejectionist stance, he and his salafist cult have always opposed the HT groups.

Zoud gained notoriety in Muslim circles after overseeing a series of video nights at his musalla (prayer hall). These included “jihad” videos showing Arab salafist fighters in Chechenia decapitating dead Russian troops and kicking their heads like soccer balls. Muslims were horrified by this clear breach of sharia laws forbidding desecration of human bodies.

While addressing the 2000 conference, Zoud told delegates that he had sought special dispensation from the Australian Electoral Commission. He had written to the AEC advising that his understanding of Islam made it sinful for him to vote and participate in a democratic political system.

The cynicism with which Sheik Zoud’s views were greeted at the seminar were summed up by a question from one delegate who asked Sheik Zoud why he was prepared to accept social security payments from the same political and governmental system. Zoud responded that taking money from the system was permitted, but voting was not.

The views of HT and Zoud are regarded by Muslim Australians as ugly and disgraceful. This explains their inability to gather large crowds at their events, despite having sophisticated and slick marketing campaigns running for weeks before each event. Muslim Australians have become accustomed to smelling an HT or salafite cultist rat a mile away.

Perhaps most promising is the fact that these two fringe groups are ripping each other apart, competing for their narrow fringe market much like competing factions in Monty Python classic The Life of Brian.

A visit to the forums of the website will show what most mainstream Muslim youth think of these fringe elements. Their simplistic logic and “Microsoft Sharia 2000” approach to complex legal and political issues has made them the laughing stock of Sydney Muslims.

(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer, former president of the Macquarie University Muslim Students Association and former president of the Islamic Youth Association of NSW.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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dawood said...

HT and the Salafiyya arguing with each other is perhaps one of the best things that can happen for the mainstream Muslim community here in Australia.

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