Wednesday, December 07, 2005

AFIC ignores youth projects

Last week, 66 young Muslims aged 12 to 29 from across Australia gathered for a summit in Sydney. The summit was sponsored by the Federal Government and organised by the Australian Multicultural Foundation.

Why would the government sponsor an event like this? Isn’t it the role of Muslim leadership bodies to bring young Muslims together? After all, that’s what peak bodies from Jewish, Christian and other faith communities do.

All the major political parties have a youth wing, and young people are represented on the party executives and in pre-selections.

Over 50% of the Australian Muslim community were born in Australia and are aged under 40. Over 50% of the entire Muslim community are women. Yet these 2 key groups are not represented in the national Muslim body, the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

You would think AFIC would spend money on organising activities and initiatives to combat the problems of Muslim youth. You’d think AFIC would at least bother to do some research and consultations to find out what the problems facing Muslim you are. Think again.

AFIC’s executive consists entirely of middle-aged men, most of them first-generation migrants with poor English language skills. These men manage millions of dollars in assets and income. How is that money spent? Who is it spent on? What share goes to Muslim youth projects?

Recently, reports surfaced that AFIC was investing around $2 million in a new Muslim school in Victoria. You’d think spending money on a Muslim school was a youth project. Think again.

There are plenty of Muslim schools in Victoria. Many of these schools are struggling to reach enrolment quotas. In what way could an additional school benefit young Muslims, many of which have already left school?

Further, AFIC schools have refused to join the Australian Council of Islamic Education in Schools. Further, AFIC schools have refused to sign a charter of the Council opposing terrorism and all forms of extremism.

And given the attitudes displayed by AFIC spokesmen toward women, one wonders what sort of values would be taught at such schools. Who could forget AFIC President Dr Ameer Ali lecturing Australian model and Muslim convert Michelle Leslie on what she should and shouldn’t wear?

AFIC has not conducted any studies on the supply and demand for independent Islamic schools in Melbourne. Yet it expects Australian tax payers to provide it with funding for a proposal which Australia’s peak Muslim educational body opposes. I hope Education Minister Dr Nelson is reading this.

So what do Muslim youth really want? The communiqué from the National Muslim Youth Summit lists a number of items. These include real and pressing issues such as drug abuse, family violence, parenting programs and pre-marriage counselling. The summit also called for increased funding for media projects, apprenticeships, employment services, youth camps and youth services.

These projects cost money. AFIC has the money. $2 million could go a long way toward managing and funding such projects. At the very least, AFIC could resume holding a national youth camp, the last of which was held in 1987.

Instead of providing funding for such projects, AFIC expects the Australian government to cough up the money. As a Muslim, I am disgusted that a body claiming to represent me will not fund projects for an age bracket that makes up the majority of Muslim Australians. As a taxpayer, I am horrified that my taxes will be paid to private communal projects that should be funded from that community.

Instead, we see similar and much-needed services and projects being provided by groups led by radical sheiks in Melbourne and Sydney. I recently paid a visit to one youth centre in South Western Sydney. I found gym facilities, a tuckshop, a bookshop, internet terminals and a large hall that doubled up as a prayer room and indoor soccer facility.

But if I go to most mainstream mosques affiliated with AFIC, I find imams and leaders who cannot speak English and are almost completely disinterested in the needs of women and young people. It is these leaders whose delegates make up AFIC and who choose the AFIC executive.

Muslim leaders are refusing to provide much needed services to their communities. And taxpayers of all faiths are footing the bill. It is time Muslims took control of their leadership bodies from the increasingly irrelevant migrant men who currently rule the halal roost.

The author is a Sydney-based lawyer, a former Federal Liberal candidate and former President of the Islamic Youth Association of NSW.

© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Muslim leaders 'alienate' youth,5744,17447292%255E2702,00.html

MUSLIM youth in Australia feel misrepresented by their own community spokespeople and want to take charge of bridging the gap between them and the wider population.

About 80 young Muslims from across Australia have come together for a national summit in Sydney today to discuss a solution to the issues they feel most affects them.

By the end of the day, they hope to present an action plan to the Federal Government, which helped organised the event.

Summit participant, Mustapha Kara-Ali, 29, from Sydney said he felt that plan would mention concerns that Muslim youth were misrepresented by ethnic council representatives who often spoke on their behalf.

"I think leadership is a definite thing the youth want to drive," Mr Kara-Ali said.

"They feel alienated from their own community representatives who are a lot of the time from ethnic councils that have come from overseas with a lot of baggage with them.

He said Australian Muslim youth were in a better position to drive understanding of Islam as they were in touch with community issues and Australian life.

"When certain specific Sheiks go on TV and speak in Arabic needing an interpreter, at the same time having been in Australia for 20 years, .... this is a definite indicator that these people are not committed to integrating, participating and social interaction with the wider community," Mr Kara-Ali said.

"As long as these ethnic councils ... are there in place and are being supported by government then all that is doing is alienating the youth even further from being able to build these bridges."

Australian Multicultural Foundation executive director Hass Dellal said delegates would give the government their outcomes as soon as the summit concluded today and lodge a full report by next week.

"Some of these young people have felt they don't belong and what we want to ensure that there is a sense of belonging and how best they can participate," Mr Dellal said.

Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Minister John Cobb, who attended the summit today, said the meeting was one of a number of consultations with Muslim communities, following the prime minister's communique with community leaders on August 23.

"By the end of the day I hope they are going to say `Minister these are the things that you have to do' and those that we can, we shall," he said.

"By the end of this year we will have a target plan and earlier in the (new) year we will be putting that through."