Tuesday, September 20, 2005

COMMENT: Time To Come Clean

Recently I read the announcement by our Citizenship Minister, John Cobb, about a Muslim Community Reference Group set up in the aftermath of the Prime Minister’s Summit with Muslim leaders.

Among the names was that of an allegedly non-aligned young Muslim male. Non-aligned? Really?

I have known the young chap for some years now. He is associated with a body called “Darul Fatwa Islamic High Council of Australia”, an alternative umbrella Muslim body competing with the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) for leadership of the deeply fragmented Muslim Australian faith-communities.

Darul Fatwa is an organisation which is based in Lebanon, and it follows the teachings of one Sheik Abdullah Hareri al-Habashi. Among Lebanese Sunni Muslims, this group has a controversial history of cooperation with the Syrian occupation forces.

In Australia, representatives of this group have been involved in attempts to take over a variety of mosques. At one stage during the late 1980’s, they had taken over the King Faisal Mosque in Commonwealth Street Surry Hills. Their first act was to close the library and burn thousands of dollars worth of Islamic literature which they regarded as heterodox.

In the near future, and on the other side of the ideological spectrum, Mr Ruddock will be dining and enjoying the hospitality of a man who is now known as “Sheik Shafiq Khan Abdullah”. Uncle Shafiq (as I always call him) is an old Pakistani gentleman who used to represent interests of the Libyan Islamic establishment in Australia. After having a falling out with the Libyans, Uncle Shafiq then fell into the lap of the Saudis.

Over the years, Uncle Shafiq has sent numerous young Muslim Australians to study in some of the most conservative Wahhabist institutions in Saudi Arabia. Wahhabism is the name often given to the official religion of Saudi Arabia. I have described some of the characteristics of this sect in an article published in the New Zealand Herald in the context of a visit by Wahhabist preacher Abdur Rahim Green:

Green is part of a minority so small it could not even be regarded as a sect. He belongs to the "Salafi", an offshoot of a small fringe sect known as the "Wahhabis". The Salafi strain includes elements from the benign to the outright dangerous. Osama bin Laden belongs to the Salafi strain. But so do most Saudi religious authorities. The various Salafi strains have a number of common
features. Salafis take an anthropomorphic view of many of God's attributes. For instance, when the Koran speaks of God's hands, most Muslims take this metaphorically. But Salafis insist God literally has two hands. They regard anyone who rejects this view as "kafir" (infidel). As a result, Salafis regard most Sunni Muslims as kafir. But it isn't just Sunnis that Salafis reject. Salafis reject Shia Muslims as kafir. And their worst venom is reserved for Sufi Muslims (both Sunni and Shia).

… Salafis regard many Sufi teachings as outside Islam. One of Green's fellow Salafi preachers, an African-American named Dawud Adib, once told an audience at Melbourne University that a prominent Sufi text written by Imam Ghazali (known in Europe as "Algazel") was worth less than
a mosquito wing. Because the Salafis reject mainstream Islam, they are regarded as being on the very edge of the Muslim fringe.
I doubt Uncle Shafiq subscribes to such fringe theology. But he does represent the interests of Saudi organisations and institutions that sponsor this fringe from which al-Qaida and so many other terrorist groups have emerged.

The point here is not so much the theology. What is really at issue is the failure of many of the PM’s favourite Muslim leaders to chalk out an indigenous Australian vision of Islam. Most of the PM’s select leaders are still clinging to foreign regimes of questionable democratic credentials who have provided (and in some cases, continue to) support and finance to these Islamic institutional operations.

If the PM wishes to be seen hob-knobbing with this crowd, that is his business and his risk. But what the PM must be prepared for is scandal. Because when the spotlight is put on many of these bodies, there will be scandal and plenty of it.

Many of these bodies have actively sought to push mainstream Muslim Australians away from their institutions. Others represent the most laughably incompetent bunch in the Muslim communities. One school principal invited to the Prime Minister does not have an HSC. He has been the chairman of a peak NSW Muslim body for over 2 decades.

His younger brother was hand-picked to lead a rotten borough “Islamic Youth Association”. The same brother was employed by the umbrella body as an employment case manager. He went onto win a job-search tender under controversial circumstances in 1998, and is yet to have paid the consultants who helped him write the tender.

So you win a $2 million contract, but you won’t pay $4,500 to your consultant. Makes sense?

Lack of professionalism, incompetence, nepotism, jobs for the boys. All the hallmarks of so many of Mr Howard’s favourite Muslim leaders. If it happened in the ALP, Mr Howard would be gleefully scandalising it in Parliament. But he invites the same types of people to be partners in national security.

This culture of nepotism and incompetence was fostered in organisations which always relied on overseas governments and bureaucracies to butter their bread. In Saudi Arabia, all senior government posts are held by the Royal Family and their cronies (including the bin-Ladin’s). In NSW, select Lebanese, Pakistani and Fiji-Indian families are ruling the roost.

It is time for Muslim community bodies to come clean on the exact extent of their links to overseas groups and bodies. They need to disclose the exact extent of their past and present financial and other links to various regimes and religious institutions in Muslim countries. These people claim to speak for Muslims, most of whom have only tenuous links to countries outside Australia. Aussie Mossies have a right to know, especially now that our national security and not just communal reputation is at stake.

Words © Irfan Yusuf

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