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

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Respect to the Irf ! said...

When I first heard all the hype around the Mozzie comunity about the 'great Shaykh' Khalid Yasin I thought I would see what the program was like...instantly, I recoginised he was a 'jive talking preacher' akin to American tele-evangelist Benny Hinn. Secondly the guy is an ultra-fundamentalist, then type of guy who would happy kill any other Muslim of any other 'form' of Islam, if he were running the show.

I am glad he was found out, as he has for one, betrayed the trust of the Australian Muslim community and secondly he is a man who wants to take us all back to the stone age, which is against the whole "Spirit of Islam" to quote Amir Ali.

sumbluqi said...

"Sumbluq" ...classic it another irf original. e mate