Sunday, November 06, 2005

REFLECTION: One-Eyed better than none?

In the city of blind people, the man with one eye is king.

Sydney is a city of blind Muslims. And deaf. And just plain dumb.

Our institutions and mosques are dominated by first generation migrants with little better to do with their lives. Many are sincere and well-meaning but almost completely incompetent. How do I know this? Well, take the litmus test.

Look up the phone book. Dial up a body that has a bombastic sounding name. Say, the Islamic Society of NSW.

Ring up the Islamic Society of NSW. Good luck if anyone picks up the phone. And if they do, good luck if they can speak English.

Or better still, look up the AFIC website. You will find that the home state has a body called “the Muslim Council of NSW”. Call them. No one answers the phone. Send them an e-mail. I guarantee you it will bounce.

Go to a mosque and try to speak to the Imam. Good luck if he can speak English. Ask the Imam a question about jihad or some other controversy in the media. Or ask him about Usama bin Ladin. Again, good luck if you get a coherent answer.

When I was growing up, the only Qur’an translation I had was that of one “Molvi Muhammad Ali” which was published by an Ahmadiyya publishing company. I used to go to Surry Hills Mosque (managed by the Islamic Society of NSW).

I remember in university joining the Surry Hills Mosque library. There was a $5 a year membership fee, and a wide variety of books.

The following year, a red-headed man named “Mehio” from the "al-Ahbash" sect told me that all the books had been burnt and the library closed down. He was on the executive of the Society.

Burning books. This is the stuff medieval Christianity was made of. This is what the armies of Ferdinand and Isabella did when they entered the Muslim cities and took them over. And the Federal Government has given these book-burners an FM community radio license!

Our organisations are dominated by people with sectarian and ethnic mentalities. We have an almost non-English speaking mufti heading a whole bunch of non-English speaking imams. Then we have groups like Darul Fatwa Islamic High Council whose idea of representing Muslims is becoming an attempted franchise of some Lebanese group.

Look at the PM's Muslim Reference Group. Most of the people are either from this category or are related to people in this category. I remember speaking to one younger member of the group. I asked her how she got involved with her particular mosque. her response?

"My uncles are involved, so why shouldn't I be involved?"

So with this being the picture of Muslim Sydney, is it any wonder that most Muslim kids brought up here could not give a rat’s backside about peak bodies or mainstream Imams?

Our institutions are unfit to perform any of the following roles:

1. Education of young people in their faith.
2. Answering difficult questions raised by journalists, work colleagues and friends.
3. Providing a safe and healthy environment in which to find partners without feeling like one’s reputation is about to be trampled on.
4. Providing a genuinely Australian view of Islam which is consistent with our Aussie conditions and culture (and by Aussie, I include Kiwis as well).

I learnt most of my Islam from reading books. I am not ashamed to say that most of the books I read were written by people who many terror “experts” would regard as extremists and fundamentalists.

But then, these same books were being distributed during a time when the real enemy was communism. Usama bin Ladin was a good bloke, and even John Howard was a huge fan of the Taliban fighters.

Books by Syed Maududi and Syed Qutb were popular because they were being handed out for free. We used to go to camps with these books, and we would pick them up when we would go to Uncle Shafiq’s place at the old Auburn Squash Courts to learn Islam from visiting Saudi professors of Islamic studies.

Islam was what we read, even if we never saw it in our elders. Aussie Islam was never presented to us. We had to develop it ourselves. At the same time, we had to deal with all the usual crap which fringe-dwellers have to deal with.

Aussie Mossies are fringe dwellers. We are kids of migrants, and were pressured to meet some undefined cultural expectations whilst remaining true to some cultural vision of Islam. Or we are converts often disowned by our families and looked upon as suspicious by allegedly observant cultural Muslim migrants.

Our needs are not catered for by mainstream Muslim bodies. Our views are ignored. So imagine how disgruntled we feel to see the Government continuing to consult with the very people that have marginalised us.

AFIC has not had a female executive member for over 20 years. Its youth adviser is a sheik in his 60’s who cannot speak English. It has no youth representation.

There are 3 Islamic councils in NSW, none of which can get along and which prefer to spend money on litigation than providing useful community projects.

Most mosques are divided along ethnic and linguistic lines. Imams are usually here on temporary visas and cannot speak English or understand the cultural problems facing young people.

Is it therefore any wonder that radical thick-Sheiks are so popular? They may like Usama bin Ladin, they may look like something out of Team America. But at least they can speak English!

So where does the al-Ghazzali Centre and its el-Presidente fit into all this?

The dude may not have serious qualifications in fiqh or sharia. He may exaggerate a little about his role in various things. He may appear to be the Forrest Gump of Sydney Muslims, claiming credit (or at least a role) for just about everything.

But you don’t need to be qualified to provide services that have some relevance to people’s lives. And this is where I have enormous respect for Afroz Ali (and yes, believe it or not, I do respect the dude).

I have never seen the Lebanese Moslems Association hold pre-marriage classes. Can someone tell me the last time AFIC or the ICNSW diverted a few thousand dollars from their civil litigation/war fund to hold retreats for young Muslim couples and individuals to learn real life skills? And when have Mr Howard’s favourite assassins, the al-Ahbash cult, ever bothered to feed poor street people in Sydney?

Afroz may not have fiqh qualifications, but when was the last time you saw an Imam make time to teach the ordinary 30 year old how to make wudhu (pre-prayer ablution)? And at least Afroz makes the time to show you and does so without making you feel like a fool. And at least he does it in English.

(Or Urdu, if you ask nicely.)

Yes, Afroz may not be qualified. But those with qualifications are sitting in their offices on their backsides doing sweet-FA. They are being paid wages and salaries from our Friday donations and doing zilch in areas where work really needs to be done.

So if Afroz wants to charge money to hold fiqh classes, I say you go and pay him and learn something. Or go and pay someone else and learn from them. Because don’t expect the Roudes or the Mehboobs or the Shafiqs or the Mehios or various other irrelevant migrant cultural Muslim leaders to care about you. They never have, and they probably never will.

Over 50% of Muslims in Australia were born in Australia. Yet we are the marginalised ones. We have a blind leadership, and most of us are walking around with one eye open. Get help from whoever and wherever you can.

If that means hanging out at Byron Bay doing yoga classes all day, do it. And if it means going to fiqh lessons with the al-Ghazzali Centre, do it.

I regard the works of Syed Maududi and Syed Qutb as seriously flawed. They have little in the way of traditional methodology, and their work inspires love of Islam and not love of Allah. But that was where I started. We all have to start somewhere.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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