Thursday, July 14, 2005

Some Questions for Australian Muslim Leaders

We have a number of peak Muslim bodies operating in Australia. Each state and territory has an umbrella body consisting of various local mosque management societies and other bodies. At federal level, these state and territory councils come together to form a national Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

In the wake of the London bombing and increasing backlash against Muslim Australians, the focus is now on Muslim organisational leaders and imams of mosques. Muslim Australians are looking to their leaders for direction and for adequate response to the many questions thrown at Muslim communities from hostile and/or frightened elements in the broader community.

Recently, some fringe elements have attempted to hijack Australian Muslim discourse. The results have been disastrous. Some months back, a young salafist imam in Sydney suggested that women who dress a certain way are eligible for rape. He later fine-tuned his remarks by effectively saying that he felt such treatment should be reserved for Muslim women.

And now, a salafist imam from Melbourne has sparked outrage by defending Usama bin Ladin and doubting bin Ladin’s involvement in September 11.

But is it merely fringe imams who put their feet in it? What about the Muslim mainstream? And who are the Muslim mainstream in any case?

Does Sheik Hilali, the man appointed by AFIC to act as mufti of Australia, represent mainstream Muslim opinion? Is it possible for an imam with an interpreter at his side at all times to represent largely English-speaking Muslim communities?

Sheik Hilali is no stranger to controversy. He is still haunted by his comments made 20 years ago concerning Jewish Australians. At the time, his expulsion from Australia seemed imminent. It was only with the intervention of the then acting Prime Minister Paul Keating that Hilali was allowed to stay.

To secure Hilali’s immigration status, AFIC created a new position of mufti. Yet no one on the AFIC executive at the time had any idea what the new mufti’s role would be. Was he to act as Senior Counsel, giving legal advice on curly issues of Islamic law? Was he to act as official community spokesman? Was he to be the official representative of all Australian Muslims?

Muslim Australians were never consulted in any formal or structured way about the decision to make Hilali mufti. But then, AFIC rarely bothers to consult Muslims on anything. Instead, its decision making processes are similar to those of certain dictatorial regimes of Muslim countries.

Indeed, AFIC has not even made any serious effort to understand the communities it claims to represent. AFIC has never conducted any survey or study of the composition, needs and sentiments of Muslim Australians.

And so Muslim Australians are represented by an irrelevant national body and a non-English speaking mufti. And Anglicans thought things were bad in the Sydney diocese.

Increasingly Muslim Australians are finding their leadership ill-equipped to handle delicate issues. For instance, the attempts by some leaders and imams to link the London bombings to Iraq have made Muslim Australians sound like something out of the Green Left Weekly.

And now all Australians (Muslims and otherwise) are openly asking certain questions. What will Muslim leaders and imams say if Australia is targeted? What message will Hilali and the chairmans of the 3 NSW Islamic councils give to re-assure Australians that they should continue to tolerate Muslim presence? What steps will Muslim leaders take to moderate Australian Muslim discourse?

And most important of all. Given that most Australian Muslims are never consulted by their leaders on key issues (including the appointment of a mufti), to what extent to organisations like AFIC and individuals like Hilali and Omran really represent the views and aspirations of mainstream Muslim Australians?

(The author is a Sydney industrial lawyer who has represented various Muslim peak bodies and school in industrial matters.)

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It is imperative that we prescribe the medicine; all this article is suggesting is the well diagnosed episode/illness that many (us)Moslems are aware of.