Monday, October 24, 2005

Halal Snippets – 24/10/05

The PM is still insisting that the proposed anti-terror bill will become law by Christmas. And why shouldn’t he be so confident given that he has effective control of the Senate. Further, he has a compliant bunch of Muslim leaders who will do whatever he tells them to do.

Judas Iscariot is said to have betrayed Christ for a few pieces of gold or silver. The Uncle Letmesplaynyoo’s that rule Muslim peak bodies will happily sell out their community for a few extra government grants. They have refrained from criticising despotic Arab countries for years in return for grants. Do you really expect our migrant uncles to behave differently toward Mr Howard?

One of these Uncles was rewarded by some Young Turks last night. Mr Ali Roude, the school principal with no Higher School Certificate, was awarded the Affinity Intercultural Foundation’s “Muslim of the Year” award. Mr Roude was one of the PM’s favourite Muslims who attended the summit held earlier this year. He has also been an executive member of the near-defunct Islamic Council of NSW since … well … since the last Ice Age.

And the ICNSW are still living in the Ice Age. Their website hasn’t been updated for ages. If you don’t believe me, go to their media section. The ICNSW has a radio station whose management still haven’t realised that their plane has in fact left Beirut airport and arrived in Sydney. Their schedule of Arabic programs is chockas while they have no programs listed on their English schedule.

AMCRAN continue with their valiant efforts to inform and agitate against the anti-liberty laws being introduced for formerly liberal Prime Minister John Howard. But do you think AMCRAN are getting any assistance from the wealthy Muslims and their organisations? I think there would be a greater chance of Sophie Panopoulos wearing a hijab to Parliament than of middle-aged migrant Muslim men providing funds to useful campaigns.

The Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG) has been established, though I can hardly hear a peep from them on the new laws. In fact, no one yet knows what they are doing. I checked AFIC’s website (AFIC Prez was chairman and official spokesman of the group and actively supports the anti-liberty laws), but I have seen no reference to the Reference Group.

It seems Mr Howard is happy to spend millions on educating us about our WorkChoices, but won’t tell us when he gives police further powers to detain and then shoot us.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Tax Fraud & Communal Stinginess

I have a friend who works in the Australian Taxation Office. His work involves investigation and prosecution of persons defrauding the Commonwealth of taxation revenue. The ATO recently had a big win with the successful prosecution of an Australian family of Israeli background who ran a series of fashion stores across Sydney.

The family was known for their generosity and philanthropy. Many Jewish community charities were beneficiaries of the largesse of the family. Yet they were eventually prosecuted and convicted.

I was sitting with another friend of mine one night. He and his wife live in the shadow of the Gallipoli Mosque in Auburn. Like many young Muslims, he has plenty of good ideas but few people to support him financially.

We sat up making a long list of projects urgently needed in the Muslim community. Our list included: media response teams, lobbying on law reform issues, training of imams locally, academic scholarships, organizing (in a similar sense to trade union organizing) and a range of other projects that will bring long term benefit to Muslims and other Australians across future generations.

This was just the tip of the iceberg. We could think of so many more projects. But the problem we face is money.

My friend struggles to pay rent and look after his small family. He has plenty of talent and energy. But community work doesn’t pay his bills or butter his bread.

I have my own legal practice. I do a little bit of freelance writing for which I get paid. But my health situation limits how much work I can do. Notwithstanding the large load of debts on my head and no limit of personal obligations, I still manage to do get some work done.

Then I look at the young couple and small group of volunteers that make up AMCRAN. This small bunch has produced work defending and protecting civil rights (indeed basic human rights) which will hopefully protect all Australians. AMCRAN’s work, especially their paper on the PM’s anti-terror proposals, placed the issue on the national agenda.

But who pays Waleed to do this work? Who puts butter on the bread of Agnes and her small group of volunteers?

We have enormous resources in our community. Since 1996, Muslims and other New South Welshmen have been benefiting from the sound economic management of the current governments, both Federal and State. We’ve had low interest rates, booming property prices, plenty of money to pay for our first homes, stamp duty exemptions and a generally booming economy.

Muslims have been making plenty of money. In 2001/02, I opened an office in Auburn. I saw with my own eyes Muslims paying deposits to real estate agents for houses using cash.

There is plenty of money in this community. Yet activists who are doing important work to protect our human rights and our welfare are struggling and working tirelessly despite strained personal circumstances.

Meanwhile, there are organizations which are not working effectively. These bodies obtain millions of dollars in government funds, and use the money to employ family members of their executive. No real or tangible benefit is often seen from such projects, which are often funded as a means of paying back loyal organizational heads for political and other favours.

I have acted for a number of these organizations in the past. I have been forced to reduce my fees in the name of “community spirit”. Meanwhile, those instructing me have enjoyed luxurious lifestyles and often earned higher salaries than myself.

I remember acting for one Muslim school in Sydney in an unfair dismissal matter. I was being asked to reduce my hourly rate to one third of the usual rate. The school principal from who I was obtaining instructions was earning perhaps the same yearly salary as myself. Yet it took that school some 18 months to pay my bill, despite the severe reduction in price.

Of course, there is no point mentioning the various royal families that make up the Islamic industry in Sydney. They know who they are, and so do we. What concerns me is the fact that there are plenty of Muslims living n the “ghetto” areas sitting on piles of gold and silver.

Much of their wealth has not been declared to the ATO. Many are siphoning money overseas, and are engaging in the same tricks which the Israeli-Australian family mentioned at the beginning was doing. The difference is that the Israeli family was actually proving useful members of their communities. Many prominent Jewish Australians came to court to testify as to the generosity of the family. Many saw their conviction as a tragedy to fall upon the Jewish community as a whole.

But when some of our own wealthy families are investigated and convicted, I doubt many prominent Muslim activists will be providing similar testimony. I certainly won’t be assisting in this regard, though I will be happy to provide professional services. For a fee, of course!

Our own wealthy Muslims do little. How else do we explain the fact that so many useful community projects are being undertaken by volunteers who struggle for their livelihood? Imagine if AMCRAN had a budget of $200,000 per year. How much more work could they do in relation to agitating for civil and human rights?

We really have no right to complain when the government wants to give police powers to shoot Muslim terror suspects. After all, the biggest source of terror for our community is our own failure to protect our own rights. Australia provides us with economic, political and other forms of freedom that we could only dream of if we were back in Turkey or Lebanon or Egypt or even Indonesia.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Friday, October 21, 2005

COMMENT: Stanhope for Emir

If for some crazy reason Muslims in Australia decided to form their own separate state, I know who would be my pick to lead them.

It would not be our non-English Speaking Mufti. It would not be the majority of Imams who refuse to learn English and who have no understanding of our culture, politics or values.

It would not be the incompetent Uncle Letmesplaynyoo’s that rule the roost of any Muslim peak bodies. It would not be the heads of any of the three pizza councils or Lebanese royal families that claim to represent Muslims across New South Wales.

My pick for Emir would be the Chief Minister of the ACT, Jon Stanhope. Why?

Well, for a start, Mr Stanhope actually believes in consulting ordinary Muslims. He has shown that all along in his dealings with the two major Islamic groups in Canberra – the Islamic Society of the ACT and the Canberra Islamic Centre.

Following a meeting with ordinary Canberra Muslims, Mr Stanhope took the unprecedented step of releasing on his website the draft Anti-Terrorism Bill 2005. Mr Stanhope wanted all Australians to know how their rights were being affected.

Mr Stanhope’s actions generated sufficient debate to force the Prime Minister and the “house nigger” ALP Premiers to agree to further debate on the laws. Prior to that, it appeared some of our state premiers were happy to throw out their ALP membership cards on issues pertaining to national security.

Compare Mr Stanhope’s preparedness to consult with people to Dr Ameer Ali and Mr Shafiq Rahman, the two Uncle Letmesplaynyoo’s of the community. Following a meeting of the Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG), Uncle Ameer decided to endorse the PM’s proposed amendments without even having read them.

As for Uncle Shafiq, when he isn’t taking orders from the Royal Family, he is too busy inviting the Attorney General to dine at his house.

The pair penned a document dated 27 July 2005 condemning extremism and terror. The letter was addressed to a whole bunch of religious and organisational leaders and … wait for it … “Prominent Muslims”.

And who are the “prominent” among us? Who knows? Who cares? Uncle Ameer and his executive don’t. When the writer recently contacted him to ask some questions, he was told by Uncle that he was only accountable to members of the AFIC Federal Council.

And who is the Federal Council? It is the chairs of the various state councils. Three of these are dummy councils AFIC recently set up. The Muslim Council of NSW has an e-mail address of, and its phone number (Ph: (02) 9648 1070) always rings out without anyone answering.

Another good reason to have John Stanhope as our Emir is that he can actually speak English. Further, he knows something about legal, political and public policy matters. John also knows something about the media.

Compare this to AFIC. Their press release dated 2 October 2005 was a good lesson in how NOT to write a press release. The second paragraph commenced with …

“Conference being held at the Novotel Hotel in Darling Harbour …”

Now call me picky, but I honestly believe that correct grammar in press releases and correspondence is an important indicator of an organisation’s professionalism and their advocacy abilities.

Further, none of AFIC’s recent press releases have included any discussion of the serious issues surrounding the latest round of anti-terror laws. Nor have AFIC made public any meetings they have had with Backbenchers, Ministers or Shadow Ministers and the State Premiers and Territory Chief Ministers.

Further, we have absolutely no idea of what is going on at any of the meetings of the Reference Group. For all we know, they could have agreed for all Muslims to convert to Buddhism by Christmas. Apart from the website of the Minister for Citizenship, we have no idea what the MCRG are telling the government.

So there you have it. We have on the one side our middle-aged Sub-Continental and Arab first generation migrant men (and in the MCRG, a few token women) that dominate peak bodies. Men who cannot speak or write proper English. Men who refuse to consult with the people they claim to represent.

A final reason to have Jon Stanhope as our Emir is that he is properly resourced and has staff to assist him in research, speech writing, media and policy development. Mr Stanhope is always on top of the issues affecting his Territory and the nation.

On the other hand, unless you have experience in halal meat or are related to someone high up in the organisation, don’t expect to any of our peak bodies to employ you. Since K.S. Seyit’s departure, AFIC has not employed any media officer.

As for the Islamic Council of NSW, they have established a media committee of one. She holds meetings with herself on Thursday mornings at 10am in Lakemba. Perfect timing to attend a meeting if you don’t have a job or a life.

Basically our peak bodies are our worst advocates. In the past 2 weeks, I have published op-ed pieces in Brisbane, Canberra and New Zealand. I have also addressed the Australian Institute of International Affairs. AMCRAN has issued numerous press releases and a plain-English summary of the new Anti-Terrorism Bill. The Islamic Council of Victoria and FAIR have issued numerous press releases and appeared in the media.

As for the Indian and Arab Uncles’ Clubs, the AFIC and Councils and Societies, their sad attempts at advocacy (where they exist) have been about as effective as a hijab made of gladwrap.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

REFLECTION: Woman in Chains ,,,

Let’s be honest. Let’s not kid ourselves. Something is rotten in the state of Islam.

Over 50% of our 1.2 billion-strong faith-community are women. Yet the sad reality is that Muslim women are in chains.

Go to any Muslim-majority country. Go to any Muslim community anywhere across the world. You will see the Muslim woman in chains.

Some chains are made of metal. Some of culture. Some of prejudice and misogyny disguised as religion.

You don’t believe me? You think I am making this up? Then answer these questions.

When a family is shamed, why is she and not her male partner the one killed as part of some strategy to retain the family’s honour? Why do the village elders keep sentencing her and not him to be gang-raped? Why do they throw acid in her face when she dares work as a sex worker, but not in the faces of her clients?

Why is it ok for him to have girlfriends but fatal for her to have boyfriends? Why is she regarded as loose if she proposes to marry him and not vice versa? Why do they always forbid her from the mosque but never him?

Double-standards everywhere. And often expressed and enforced using violence.

Violence against women is endemic internationally. It is believed one in three women across the world experience physical or sexual violence at some stage of their lives. Almost all experience emotional violence.

But in the Muslim world and in Muslim communities, the figures are even higher. And the attitudes are indicative of the figures.

When a Sydney Sheik stood up and said women who dress a certain way were “eligible for rape”, many rushed to defend him. When the writer stuck his neck out and urged Muslims to condemn the sheik’s words in an op-ed piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, many condemned the writer as a traitor to his community.

Now, in Sydney, a lawyer defending three Muslim boys convicted of rape has asked the judge to take account “cultural factors” in considering the length of their jail sentence.

The sub-continental Muslim culture of the defendants, the lawyer argues, condones sexual violence against women.

That same culture makes a big deal about Sania Mirza’s tennis skirt, though ignores the tight cricket trousers of Irfan Pathan.

We are a faith-community suffering from multiple personality disorder. We apply one standard to the male side of our personality, and another to our female side. And we impose our double standards under the garb of tradition or sharia.

We speak of reviving the age of Muslim glory, when Muslims were the most civilised nation on earth. But what characterised that civilisation?

Firstly, women played an equal role in developing, teaching and transmitting religious sciences as men. Imam Shafei had some 40 teachers who were women. The Qarawiyin University in Morocco was founded by two women. Today, how many women scholars do you see writing about religious and cultural issues? How many Shaykhas and Maulanis are there?

Secondly, Muslims regarded the honour of a woman as sacred. There is the story of one Muslim woman who was kidnapped by the Byzantine empire. The Caliph in Baghdad wrote a letter threatening to send an army whose length stretched from Baghdad to Constantinople.

Today, Muslim Presidents and Kings and Generals do nothing to help women being mistreated and held in captivity in their own countries. Without international pressure, one wonders whether General Musharraf would have allowed Mukhtar Mai liberty within her own homeland.

Perhaps the most obvious example of our double standards is in our domestic relations. Many Muslim men regularly beat their wives. Unlike their non-Muslim brothers, Muslim men don’t require excessive alcohol or narcotics in their system to beat their wives.

There are few laws in Muslim countries protecting women from domestic violence. Worse still, those responsible for enforcing the law – police and the judiciary – are open to bribery by the usually wealthier male perpetrators.

Today, in 21st century Australia, Muslim women are subjected to domestic violence regularly. So often have I seen the names of the Prophet, his family members and companions listed as defendants in domestic violence cases in Local Courts across Sydney.

What makes the problem worse is that imams rarely mention the problem to their (mostly male) congregation. Muslim and ethnic language newspapers commonly read by Muslims rarely mention the issue. It is as if we are pretending the problem just doesn’t exist. Or worse still, it’s as if it isn’t even a problem.

Organisations like the Muslim Women’s Association are tackling the problem at the grassroots. Instead of being supported in their efforts, Muslim women’s groups struggle for community funding and survive on what little they can obtain from governments.

The Prophet Muhammad asked us to honour the wombs that carried us. On November 25, I’ll be celebrating my mother’s birthday. It will also be White Ribbon Day, the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. I will be joined by prominent men (including at least 2 Muslim men) as Ambassadors for White Ribbon Day. And what will we be campaigning about?
Violence against women is a men’s issue. Men need to take responsibility for the violence that men perpetrate on their mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. It is only when men take on the issue as a men’s issue that change can be effected.

This year, for the first time, Australian Muslim men are coming forward to take control of this issue. Muslim men are standing up and being counted. Muslim men are declaring that violence against women isn’t something we can be silent about any longer.

Because if we stay silent, we might as well be lending a hand to the perpetrators of violence.

Today it may be a stranger. Tomorrow, it could be our mother, our sister, our daughter. Paradise can be found under the feat of mothers. Yet millions of Muslim mothers and sisters and daughters are living in hell on this earth.

I urge all Muslim men, in Australia and across the world, to agitate, activate and educate on the issue of violence against women. We all must take a stand. Wearing a white Ribbon on November 25 is one small step. But unless we take the first step, we won’t reach the stage of perfection. And what is that stage?

It has been partially defined for us the following words of our Prophet. “The best of you is he who is best to his wife.”

The author is a Sydney lawyer and Ambassador for the 2005 White Ribbon Day.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, October 16, 2005

COMMENT: Adequate responses to the Anti-Terror Laws

Mr Howard is angry. He has every right to be. His Anti-Terror laws have been released earlier than expected. Further, his hand-picked Muslim leaders have not proven as loyal to his dictates as he would like.

Now is the time for all those committed to liberty and freedom in Australia to join hands and ensure that these laws cannot be passed without a huge stink. It is time for Muslim Australians, the ultimate targets of these laws, to join hands with other people of goodwill and struggle to defeat this illiberal legislation.

On this occasion, we cannot afford to show nepotism or incompetence or stupidity. We have to place our best foot forward. We need people to speak who are properly briefed and who understand the policy, legal, political and media environment.

That means that many of the usual suspects, many of the Uncle Letmesplaynyoo’s and leadership families will have to move aside. It is time for people in the ghetto to stay in the ghetto.

Sadly, up until now, we have had people speaking on our behalf who speak in thick accents (if they speak English at all) and who have little or no understanding of the policy and legal and political environment in which this debate is taking place. People who cannot articulate their concerns about this legislation without sounding like a bunch of communal whingers.

We need specialist voices in this debate, people who can attack the issue from all sides. We need lawyers, writers, journalists, academics, public servants, social scientists and other specialists. We need people in law enforcement, social policy and business. We need our best voices.

Inevitably, these are people on the fringe of the Muslim communities. They are people who spend most of their time interacting with the broader community. They are people who understand how broader Australia thinks and understands and feels.

Allegedly religious Muslims from the ghetto have to accept that their involvement in this debate may be a liability. People whose whole approach to society is based on reading Henry Ford’s “The International Jew”, whose minds are full of conspiracy theories or who are too busy setting up pamphlet caliphates should remain in their burrows.

Migrant Muslim leaders who have spent the best years of their life certifying halal meat or setting up secret bank accounts should stay out of this. People with links to tyrannical Arab Kingdoms should stay away, even if they do get to invite the Attorney-General to lunch.

Yes, these people can have a role. But it must be in the background. The front runners have to be people who can speak and understand and communicate and articulate to the broader community. Whether or not they are religiously observant.

Seriously, we just don’t have the luxury of stuffing up this one. I ask all those uncles who have at the back of their mind the possibility of returning home to have pity on us Muslims brought up in Australia.

You may be able to return to Tripoli or Karachi or Dhaka or Jakarta or Ankara or Ba. You may have only a few years left before you go six feet under the ground. But the majority of Aussie Muslims have nowhere to be sent back home. This is our home. And most of us are young and probably have many years ahead of us.

So be careful before you rush to open your mouths on our behalf. Because what you say has direct repercussions on us.

Yes, we need existing leaders involved. They can share with us their contacts and their knowledge. But they have proven time and again that they have little or no ability to articulate our views. The lacklustre response of these leaders to the London bombings is typical of the limitations of our organisational leadership.

Even more evidence could be seen at the most recent press conference of Mr Ruddock with the Muslim Reference Group. The irresponsible and negligent remarks of an AFIC President with woeful English language skills and no understanding of legal and public policy processes was clear for all to see. His subsequent back peddling on the anti-terror laws was an embarrassment to us all.

What these leaders need to do is stay in the background. They need to shut their mouths and consider stepping down from the Reference Group. Instead, they need to allow a proper and professional group to come forward, with representatives from each state.

That group or network should consist of people with the following types of expertise:

a. Media (print, radio and TV).
b. Public relations and public affairs.
c. Advertising and marketing.
d. Legal and law enforcement.
e. Academia, with an emphasis on politics, law and sociology.
f. Business, finance and banking.
g. Management and strategy.

Network members must be born or brought up in Australia, New Zealand or another Western English-speaking country. They should at least have a university degree and 5 years experience in industry, business and/or academia.

There are people across Australia in the Muslim community who have these skills. But don’t expect the royal families of Sydney or the Uncle Letmesplaynyoos to let these people take over. Instead, these people should come forward and network each other. They need to take the bull by the horns and take charge of the Aussie Muslim voice.

The campaign against these laws has to be led by people who are competent, experienced, articulate and able. They need to come together and network starting yesterday. They need to join with people of goodwill who do not label themselves as Muslim.

Muslim voices in Australia can no longer be hijacked by migrant voices with no respect for locally-born or brought-up Muslims. We Aussie Mossies need to take over. The migrant generation had their chance. Had they done the job properly, and had they left their irrelevant baggage at the airport, we would not be in the predicament we are in now.

Because if we don’t take over now, and if these laws are introduced, we might as well all move to New Zealand.

Yes, I know this sounds over-the-top. But if you read the draft Bill, you will realise our law-makers are even more over-the-top! And it is our liberties at stake. On this occasion, there are no second chances and no second prizes.

So if you feel you have the expertise in any of the areas listed and you know someone who thinks the same way as you, start working. Study the provisions of the Bill. Set up your networks. Agitate. Talk and write in a language ordinary Aussies can understand. Help defeat these laws.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, October 10, 2005

COMMENT: Hiding qualifications ...

Tonight I had a discussion with a colourful and lively Muslim activist based in South-Western Sydney. The gentleman, who runs a Centre devoted to “Islamic Sciences and Human Development” has claimed to have an undergraduate degree from the Islamic University of Madeena in Saudi Arabia.

He also claims to have ijaza (authorisation) to teach in particular areas of Islamic studies. These authorisations were allegedly obtained from a number of prominent Sunni scholars in Yemen and elsewhere.

On a number of occasions, I have asked the gentleman to show me his qualifications and to make them public. I have been doing this since as far back as April 2005, if not earlier.

What has especially concerned me about the gentleman is that he has been holding classes on specialist disciplines in Islamic law and jurisprudence. He has been charging money for holding these courses. However, his manner of speech and the content of what he teaches and writes (including on Muslim Village forums of the website lead me to have serious doubts about his claimed scholarly credentials.

I have expressed my doubts on numerous occasions. I first doubted the gentleman when he made the almost laughable claim that my recognition or otherwise of Shaykh Tajeddine Hilaly as Mufti of Australia was a matter which affected my aqida (meaning more or less the orthodoxy of my expression of the articles of faith). H suggested that my refusal to recognise the appointment of Shaykh Hilaly as Mufti made my faith defective.

Tonight, the gentleman offered to show me his qualifications and his ijaza certificates. He would also obtain NAATI-accredited translations of the documents. However, he advised that he would prefer to do this at some stage after Ramadan.

The gentleman also made a few other claims, and he has permitted me to have these stated on the public record.

Firstly, he rejected the notion that traditional Islam requires a person asked to show his ijaza to do so. The gentleman’s position was that this is in fact not the case. He suggested that he should only show his students. Further, he said he reserved the right not to show someone whom he felt was discrediting or undermining him. He claimed that Imam Muhammad Idris ash-Shafei had refused to show his certificates of ijaza to five persons who were allegedly undermining the Imam.

Secondly, he claimed that he had studied with Professor Abdullah Saeed at the Islamic University of Madeena. He said Professor Abdullah Saeed was aware of this and had confirmed this to be the case.

Thirdly, the gentleman claimed that he is opposed to persons studying Islamic studies at mainstream universities in order to learn traditional Islamic sciences.

Fourthly, he claimed that the American scholar Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller had viewed the certificates of ijaza and the university degree of the gentleman and had permitted students in Shaykh Nuh’s circle to study fiqh (personal law and jurisprudence) with the gentleman.

Fifth, he stated that the Crescent Project cooking and feeding of the homeless was a separate project of his Centre and was not being done under the auspices of Just Enough Faith. Rather, the Centre was merely using JEF’s facilities.

I am of the view that the gentleman must make his qualifications public. It is not good enough that he just shows his students or even me. And I would make the same requirement for all shaykhs and imams, including and especially those who claim to be advising on sensitive matters (such as whether a particular financial product complies with sharia).

The Khalid Yasin fiasco has shown how important it is that we take such matters seriously. It is not good enough that we accept people at face value anymore. Those claiming the mantle of scholarship and claiming to be qualified to teach should be prepared to make their qualifications public.

30 years ago, when we were a small community, it was OK to get any old person to lead the prayers, give religious advice and deliver sermons. But in the present age, with scholars and imams under the microscope, it is essential that we insist on people being up front on the nature and extent of their qualifications.

Further, as more and more younger Muslims return to traditional Islam, it is essential that those espousing traditional Islam are honest and transparent about their ijaza and be prepared to show it.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, October 09, 2005

The Purpose of Life is not billygoats from Byron Bay

Muslim Australians don’t seem to have a good record when it comes to religious instruction. We have a range of people describing themselves as imams or sheiks or maulanas or using some other title.

Yet we have no system of accreditation for imams. It seems anyone can stand up and claim the mantle of Islamic scholarship. And if they speak even half-decent English and have some charisma, they can be believed and followed.

The Australian Muslim community is like the Byron Bay of Islam. I could go to Byron Bay, set myself up in some cottage, wear a sari or some other crazy dress and call myself “Sheik Abdullah as-Sumbluq”. I could set up the Sumbluqiyya Sufi order, and thousands of Kiwi backpackers and hippies would pay $200 a session to be part of it all.

I’d place advertisements in the Byron Bay Echo newspaper. “Come and hear the greatest Sufi master this side of India. Come and hear the great Sheik Mohiyuddin Abdullah Abu Jahash el-Sumbluq”. People would turn upto my Zawiya Ashram, enter the door, place four $50 notes in the bag and walk in to watch me miming qawwalis played from a hidden stereo set. And because I probably weigh only a few kilos less than the late Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the stoned hippies will believe me.

And all the time, while I would be counting the cash, I’d be laughing. Until a smart journalist (perhaps someone from the Sunday Program or 4 Corners) exposes me as a fraud. Then people will realise that Sheik el-Sumbluq is really just some bloke.

Some really gullible people hang out up at Byron. And Muslim Asutralians, especially young people, are some of the most gullible of all.

So it shocked me to see otherwise intelligent people like lawyer Adam Houda supporting and promoting a man who lied about his qualifications. To think my colleague could be director of “Purpose of Life Broadcasting” without checking whether the esteemed Sheik he was promoting was even a Sheik at all. And what explanation did Adam give?

“The Muslim youth have copped an absolute battering in the media since 1998, which has, and I've seen it first-hand, which has affected their self esteem and their confidence. Khalid Yasin instils a lot of pride in the youth and reminds them, that as Muslims, they've got a lot to be proud of … As far as the young people are concerned, he's like a superstar. They find him very appealing. He's Afro-American. They find him a little bit hip for a so-called sheikh.”

Yes, I agree that Muslim youth have copped a battering. But surely if you trust someone just because they sound a little like Malcolm-X, won’t you end up copping an even greater battering?

So why does this problem exist? Why do we have so many weirdos and wackos masquerading as sheiks? Are we all as high as a bunch of Byron Bay backpackers?

Recently, American Muslim Gary Edwards told a Muslim audience that we should insist people claiming scholarship showing and proving their qualifications when asked.

“If just having a beard and wearing a cap makes you a sheik, I know plenty of billygoats who could qualify!” Mr Edwards said.

Yet in Australia, there is little or no way of checking someone’s qualifications. And it isn’t as if a classical accreditation doesn’t exist. Before modern universities were established to teach Islam in Muslim countries, scholarship in Islamic sciences was handed down using a system of “ijaza” (authority).

What this meant is that a qualified person (i.e. one possessing an ijaza) would hand-write a certificate for you once you have satisfied him/her that you had reached the required level of proficiency. That authority could be for a certain chapter of a certain book or it could be for an entire discipline.

As a scholar, you were required to carry your ijaza documents with you everywhere. If you expressed an expert opinion on something, people could ask you to show them your ijaza documents. They could then ascertain whether you are qualified to express that opinion. If they suspected your documents were forged, they could write to the scholar who gave you the document and check.

In today’s world of e-mail and photocopying, it is even easier for this system to work. Yet today, we have people in Sydney holding classes and charging money whilst claiming to have university degrees and traditional ijaza documents. Yet when asked to show their qualifications, they refuse.

Which is fine by me. I urge Sarah Ferguson from the Sunday program to investigate a range of imams and so-called sheiks teaching in Sydney and Melbourne. I want her to show us who are the real scholars and who are just Byron Bay billygoats.

Muslim youth deserve better. We keep complaining about unqualified people like Daniel Pipes giving fatwas about how nasty Muslims are and how lynching Muslims is the best policy to fight terrorism. Yet we are no better if we are happy to sit at the feet of any charlatan claiming the mantle of scholarship.

If I want serious Islamic scholarship, I’ll go to Daar Aisha. Although I hope the instructors there will be happy to show me their qualifications now that I trust just about nobody.

If you want to learn Islam, search for qualified people. Ask to see their degrees and ijaza documents. I’ll be asking to see Gary Edwards’ papers next time he comes here. But if you don’t take your Islam seriously, sell your soul to Sheik el-Sumbluq and his billygoats up at Byron Bay.

The author is a Sydney lawyer who is happy to show his 3 university degrees to anyone who wants to see them. However, he is somewhat ashamed of his academic transcript!

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, October 06, 2005

COMMENT: Government’s Hand-Picked Muslims Oppose Human Rights

Last night, I attended a meeting at the Sydney Town Hall. Speaking at the meeting were representatives from politics, business, media and community. The meeting was to launch a new Human Rights Bill to protect the human rights of all people in Australia.

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser joined Greg Combet and Susan Ryan. People of all ethnic and religious backgrounds were present to pledge their support for the Bill which sought to overcome the rigours of proposed anti-terror laws.

The meeting was organised by the online magazine New Matilda. The meeting heard a moving speech by a young Australian Year 12 student who spent years in immigration detention. Her crime was to escape the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and seek asylum in Australia.

Nahid Karimi attends Holroyd High School. She is of Afghan origin and wears a piece of cloth on her head consistent with her Afghan ethno-religious customs. Nahid was preparing to break her fast as she spoke of watching 3 persons commit suicide before her eyes at the detention centre.

I have never seen such an enormous outpouring of compassion from decent Australians as I saw last night. Nahid is just one of many thousands of people who will need immediate protection from a Human Rights Bill.

Malcolm Fraser also spoke passionately about the need for the Bill. He gave listeners some indication of the draconian nature of the measures contained in existing and proposed anti-terror laws. He was followed by former departmental head and New Matilda Chair John Menadue, who confirmed that any such laws would compromise civil liberties in ways unimaginable.

The Human Rights Bill was drafted by a panel of prominent lawyers led by a respected legal academic from La Trobe University. Both lawyers and activists were at the heart of the drafting process.

Compare this to the hand-picked Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG) which consists of non-lawyers who are relying on one briefing from the Attorney-General and are backing laws whose provisions have not even been drafted.

The rhetoric of the MCRG is typical of what the government expects from this group. Following the Group’s meetings in Canberra, President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils Dr Ameer Ali expressed satisfaction with the safeguards contained in proposed legislation.

Dr Ali’s language must have re-assured the government enormously. His choice phrases included:

“We can now sell these laws to our community.”

“We put our trust in the government.”

“Discrimination is against the constitution. We are happy with the safeguards.”

Having acted as legal adviser for AFIC, the Islamic Council of NSW, three Islamic schools and 4 mosque managing societies, it seemed clear to me that Dr Ali had not obtained any legal advice before making his remarks.

It also seems clear that Dr Ali has not consulted with members of his community. His entire focus is on selling the new legislation to Muslim Australians. How he will do this remains to be seen.

In NSW, the state that has the greatest number of Muslims, AFIC appears unrepresented. Having created 2 dummy councils, it appears neither have AFIC’s stamp of approval. Dummy councils have also been created in other states.

AFIC’s website allows readers to download the latest edition of its newspaper, the Australian Muslim News. And when was this edition published? November 2002.

AFIC has never commissioned any study of Muslim Australians, their views and attitudes and their demographic and other trends.

In the last 20 years, AFIC has not had a single female executive member. Women make up over 51% of the Muslim Australian community.

The MCRG consists of representatives from various Muslim groups. The majority of the Group were born overseas and are aged over 40.

Yet the most recent community study (conducted by Professor Abdullah Saeed from the University of Melbourne and funded by the Department of Immigration) shows that the largest ethnic block of Muslim Australians were those born in Australia. Further, over 50% of Australia’s Muslims are aged under 40.

The government has therefore received a rubber stamp from a Group that is unrepresentative and not reflective of the reality of Muslim Australia. That Group has chosen to endorse legislative provisions which at this stage do not exist.

So who will protect the rights, interests and liberties of Muslim Australians? Will the Group have the ability to communicate the safeguards contained in laws which it has not yet seen? Will the Group and the Attorney General make public the briefing received before the Group endorsed the proposed package of legislative provisions?

Who knows? What we do know is that we have been told by the good folk at what their Human Rights Bill has to say. And as an Aussie Mossie, I think I have more faith in Susan Ryan, Malcolm Fraser and the Bill’s supporters than in the Reference Group.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Monday, October 03, 2005

Terrorising Indonesian Religion

With every bombing in Indonesia, it is tempting to agree witb the usual statements of fear-mongers. They hate us. They are out to kill us. They need to be stopped. They are jealous of our liberties.

But who are they? And who are we?

Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation on earth. It is also our closest neighbour. This in itself is enough to send shivers down the spines of those who claim Indonesian Islam is the problem. The same people will talk about shutting down madressas, about tightening immigration requirements for Indonesias. Perhaps even about demanding refunds on tsunami aid dollars.

But anyone who knows something about Indonesians and their Islam will know Islam itself isn’t the problem. I have never been to Indonesia, but I have met a few Indonesians in my time.

One Indonesian I met was Mohammad Fajrul Falaakh, an academic lawyer and executive member of the largest Islamic organisation in the world known as Nahdlatul Ulama (Arabic for “The Council of Scholars”). He visited Australia and New Zealand in 1992 as a guest of the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS).

Falaakh made some points during his Sydney lecture which startled many in his conservative audience. He said that election results since the 1950’s show that the popularity of political Islam is dwindling in Indonesia. He also gave a 5-point summary of Sharia law which showed it to be almost perfectly consistent with the highest aspirations of any liberal democrat.

Those 5 Sharia principles were centred around protection of certain individual and social rights. These rights included: religious freedom, life, mental health and sanity (known in technical Sharia terminology as “hifzul aql” or “protection of reasoning faculties”), property and economic assets, and marriage and family.

Perhaps those committed to fighting Islam in the name of some allegedly coherent vision of conservative Judeo-Christian ethics could show which of these values conflicts in any way with what most Australians hold dear.

If we were to ponder over Falaakh’s list, it should not surprise us that Indonesia is at the forefront of the war against terrorism. It should also not surprise us to learn that perhaps the biggest factor in the election victory of Indonesian President SBY was his commitment to get tough on terror.

Indonesians – Muslim, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist – are all victims of terror. For every 1 Western victim, at least 3 Indonesians die. Indonesia’s fragile economy and nascent democratic institutions are under attack.

And understanding Indonesian Islam will perhaps give some indication of how committed Indonesians are to the fight against terrorism. No army brought Islam to this part of the world. Islam was first introduced by Yemeni traders some 7 centuries ago who practised a form of orthodox sunni Islam grounded in the spiritual traditions of Sufism.

Indonesia was then a mix of various tribes who spoke different languages and dialects and whose cultural connection was expressed in trade. Yet Indonesians had no common script, system of numeracy or method of resolving disputes (apart from the use of weapons).

The Yemenis are believed to have introduced a common accounting system based on the use of Hindu-Arabic numerals. More importantly, the Yemenis introduced Sharia, a word which literally means “the way to a watering place”.

Wells and watering places were traditionally places of rest during the long desert journeys in the Arabian peninsula. For the Indonesians, Sharia meant a basic procedure for resolving commercial disputes based on conciliation and an understanding of how merchants think. Sharia commercial law was less about right and wrong, and more about watching the bottom line.

For this reason, Falaakh mentioned in his CIS lecture in Sydney that for Indonesian Muslims, Sharia is less about chopping hands and stoning adulterers as it is about resolving commercial disputes, non-interest banking and financial products.

Indonesian Islam has been tarnished by the recent terrorist attacks. But more than that, Indonesian Muslims have been offended and affronted. The recent attacks took place during the sacred Islamic month of Sha’ban, hardly a few days before the sacred Islamic fasting month of Ramadan. During these months, all forms of war and shedding of blood is strictly forbidden.

Ramadan is a month of fasting, generosity and meditation. The Prophet Muhammad, a direct ancestor of the Yemeni traders and of many Malays and Indonesians (including former President “Gus Dur” Wahid), is reported to have said that God shackles Satan and the lesser devils in chains during this month.

But now, it seems the devils of terrorism are being let loose. And as always, Muslims are the victims. In this case, the innocent Hindus and Buddhists and Muslims and Catholics and Protestants that inhabit world’s largest Muslim country are victims.

The ideology of terrorism bears little resemblance to mainstream Indonesian Islam. Though terrorists may use religious rhetoric and symbols in their war on Indonesia, we should resist the temptation to attribute blame to the faith that brings peace to the lives of millions of our closest global neighbours.

The author is a Sydney lawyer and occasional lecturer in the Department of Politics & International Relations at Macquarie University.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Sunday, October 02, 2005

COMMENT: Al-Ghazali and Billygoats

At the inaugural Deen Intensive organised by the Forum of Australia’s Islamic Relations (FAIR), Gary Edwards (also known as Naeem Abdul Wali) spent some 10 hours speaking about the meanings of 7 verses of the Qur’an.

At the conclusion of the workshop, Mr Edwards took questions from participants. One question involved scholarship and the means by which Islamic scholarship is passed on. The question was directly relevant to why Mr Edwards was in Australia.

Edwards is director of the al-Kawthar Institute in Arizona, and is part of the growing “Traditional Islam” (TI) movement. TI seeks to revive the orthodox and traditional method of transmitting Islamic sciences by means of chains of narration.

Under the TI model, a person’s knowledge of Islamic sciences derives its legitimacy from the person holding a published ijaza or authorisation from someone who themselves has ijaza and is part of a chain of ijaza going all the way back to the Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him and his household).

The chain of ijaza is known as a silsila. Apart from being the name of an old and highly unsuccessful Bollywood movie, the term is used to define a chain of narration and transmission of knowledge from teacher to student. The student is in fact a possible future teacher who will in turn transmit the knowledge to other students.

The TI model has been vilified in recent times by the neo-Conservative salafi movement which seeks to discredit the twin-poles of ijaza and silsila around which all traditional Islamic sciences rotate. The Islamic neo-Cons have themselves been discredited for generating terrorist movements responsible for a spate of attacks on civilian targets, the brunt of which all innocent Muslims have felt in one way or another.

TI is exemplified in Sydney by a variety of practitioners. Each Friday night, a retired academic and economist Dr Mohsin Labban leads a session of young couples and families on a spiritual journey firmly rooted in the TI movement as taught in al-Azhar University in Cairo.

Other TI practitioners include Sheik Shady Soliman who teaches students at the UMA Centre in Lakemba. Then there is the Daar Aishah Sharia College in Punchbowl, an institution which focuses on transmitting traditional Islamic sciences to women.

In recent times, and under the influence of Gary Edwards and Dr Tariq Ramadan, groups like Daar Aisha Sharia College and Islamic Realm have championed the cause of TI. The Andalus Bookstore has become almost soul distributor of popular TI works by writers such as Hamza Yusuf, Haddad and Esack (though some TI practitioners frown on Esack’s liberation theology).

Some local institutions flirt with TI, but have some reluctance to embrace the TI cause fully. Amongst them is the al-Ghazali Centre for Islamic Sciences & Human Development (I will refer to it as “AGC”).

The AGC is directed by Mr Afroz Ali, an Australian architect of Fiji-Indian origin. Mr Ali is a charismatic speaker and has been involved with a variety of excellent initiatives under the auspices of the AGC. Amongst them has been a joint venture with the group Just Enough Faith to feed the homeless of Sydney.

Mr Ali has also been holding classes in Sydney. Many of these classes involve topics not specific to theology but more to do with personal development. The Marriage Courses have been particularly popular and have filled a huge gap which has been left by the inability of most local imams to communicate Islam’s sexual values without bogging students down in cultural irrelevancies.

However, in recent times, Mr Ali has commenced teaching courses in specialised schools of law and jurisprudence. As part of the promotional drive for these courses, Mr Ali has made a number of claims.

Firstly, Mr Ali claims to hold an undergraduate degree in Sharia Law from the Islamic University of Madeena in Saudi Arabia.

Secondly, Mr Ali claims to have a number of ijaza’s from qualified teachers in a number of subjects. These include ijaza in aqeeda (expression of creed), hanafi fiqh (jurisprudence of the school of Imam Abu Hanifa and his students) and other topics.

Thirdly, Mr Ali has claimed in the past that his courses will enable a graduate to be awarded a Diploma in Sharia that will be recognised by various institutions including al-Azhar in Egypt.

From time to time, Mr Ali has engaged scholars and lay persons in open debates on various theological issues. He has frequently criticised the qualifications of others, and has even gone to the extent of using disparaging language regarding established scholars such as Professor Abdullah Saeed.

Yet when asked to produce his own qualifications, Mr Ali has been reluctant if not extremely hostile to the suggestion. In this regard, he is not the best exemplar of TI.

Returning to the Deen Intensive referred to at the beginning of this piece, Gary Edwards was most surprised to hear of persons claiming qualifications to teach specialised Islamic sciences yet not being prepared to produce their qualifications when asked.

For Edwards, the mere wearing of a beard and turban is not enough to make one a scholar. “You can put a beard and turban on a billygoat”, Edwards remarked.

Further, Edwards suggested that anyone not prepared to show their ijaza before teaching was engaging in deception. Such refusal showed a fundamental character flaw, and people learning religious sciences from such persons were risking their own souls.

Edwards likened the refusal to show one’s ijaza to getting married to someone whilst hiding one’s true matrimonial status or refusing to show one’s drivers license when requested by a police officer.

In light of Mr Edwards’ comments, it would be most helpful if Mr Ali and indeed all teachers of Islamic sciences were prepared to show the precise nature and extent of their qualifications in those sciences.

Any teacher who charges money for teaching Islamic sciences and claims to be qualified yet refuses to show their qualifications should be reported to the NSW Police. Such teaching could, in my opinion, constitute an offence of obtaining benefit by deception. Further, they should also be reported to the NSW Department of Fair Trading for breaches of relevant provisions of the Fair Trading Act.

I have no problem with unqualified persons teaching Islamic sciences. If people are stupid enough to learn their faith from unqualified people, that is their problem. But those who claim the mantle of TI yet refuse to follow a simple precept of TI practitioners (i.e. disclosing and showing one’s qualifications) should be exposed.

I certainly hope that Mr Ali is in fact qualified as he claims. I hope he is prepared to show and publish his qualifications, especially now that I have made my request public on at least 3 occasions. And I certainly am not the first to do so.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

Bookmark this on Delicious


Get Flocked

Stumble Upon Toolbar