Date: April 28 2005
A leader's controversial comments on rape do not reflect the view of the majority, writes Irfan Yusef.
Muslim websites in Sydney and Melbourne have been running hot in the wake of comments made some weeks ago by Sheik Faiz Mohamad, a graduate of Islamic law and lecturer at an Islamic centre in south-western Sydney.
Faiz's comments, that women largely bear responsibility for rape if they make themselves an object of sexual desire, have upset many in a religious community that is still haunted by images and stories of Bosnian refugees being gang-raped during the recent war. The fear is that as Australians outside the Muslim community become aware of his comments, a wider backlash will result.
Faiz has been described in some circles as a cleric. Yet Islam knows no priestly or clerical class. The word sheik literally means old man. In a religious context, sheiks are little more than religious lawyers, similar in status to rabbis in the Jewish tradition.
Faiz studied Islamic law in Saudi Arabia and is a follower of one of a number of fringe "salafi" groups. Salafi groups are regarded as heterodox, removing texts from their historical context and turning a religion whose name literally means peace into a violent political ideology. They are rejected by even the Saudi religious establishment.
I prefer the wisdom of Turkish sufis to the fires of hatred that al-Qaeda wannabes like to fuel. The beliefs of mainstream Muslims of all ethnic backgrounds are more reflected by whirling dervishes than rants of a small minority of hate-filled youngsters. This is especially the case with local Arabic, Turkish and Indian subcontinent communities, which are dominant among Australian Muslims.
In a public address last month, Faiz is reported to have said there is a victim of rape somewhere in the world every minute, and that the woman is usually to blame. "She displayed her beauty to the entire world. She degraded herself by being an object of sexual desire and thus becoming vulnerable to a man who looks at her for gratification of his sexual urge."
Not surprisingly, most in the Muslim community feel revulsion at his comments. Yet there has been little significant response from Muslim community leaders, when condemnation of Faiz's comments should have been swift.
In NSW, three umbrella Islamic councils compete to represent the Muslim communities across all cultural and language groups and have spent thousands of dollars fighting in the Supreme Court for governance of the Muslim community.
Muslims are not the only religious community suffering a crisis of leadership. I am yet to meet a Sydney Anglican who is completely happy with their church, and many Catholics are not exactly jumping for joy at the choice of a new pope.
However, most - if not all - cardinals, archbishops and rabbis at least speak English and don't need interpreters everywhere they go, so they are in tune with the thinking and mores of the wider community. With Muslims, it seems that language ability and understanding the local culture are the last criteria you need to satisfy to become a community leader.
This is why your average, anonymous Aussie Mossie (as local Muslims often refer to themselves) such as myself has to speak out. If we don't, people pretending to speak on our behalf will continue to say stupid things, and we will be the ones who have to bear the abuse of fellow Australians via the radio shock jocks and the broader community.
Yet Muslim community leaders sit back and do next to nothing or, worse, try to defend the indefensible comments of the likes of Faiz.
Meanwhile, your average Muslim will be too busy organising his or her business, or career; most Muslims are too busy getting on with life to worry about what some religious crackpot is saying.
So let me state for the record what I think most Muslims believe. Like other Australians, most Muslims believe rape is a crime; that rapists should and must be punished. Women and men are subject to sexual assault regardless of what they wear. And sadly, idiots of all religious denominations sometimes claim that women could avoid being raped by dressing more modestly, but I am yet to read any scripture or learn of a religion that justifies rape.
Muslims have to speak out. We cannot afford to rely on our non-English-speaking imams and feuding leaders to make incoherent noises while we are busy getting on with our lives.
In the present environment, where shock jocks and columnists are quoting our incompetent leadership, our silence will be treated as an admission of guilt.
More than 90 per cent of programs broadcast on Sydney Muslim radio stations are in Arabic, not English. Yet I doubt any of them will say a word about Faiz.
And if they do, it will be in a language most Muslims, indeed most Australians, will not understand.
Irfan Yusef is a Sydney lawyer.
(the Sydney Morning Herald find it impossible to spell my surname correctly. That's life!)
the following letter was sent to the Herald in response to the article ...
Learning to live with the Aussie Mossie
Thank you for publishing Irfan Yusef's article ("Muslims must speak out, or be condemned for their silence", Herald, April 28). His views probably do reflect the thoughts and opinions of most Muslims in this country. I have never heard the term "Aussie Mossie" before, and I couldn't help smiling at this very Australian sense of humour.
I, too, am tired of hearing shock jock comments in the media and rarely hearing from local Muslims. Thanks to Irfan Yusef and the likes of George Negus (his book, The world from Islam), at least we can start to understand and coexist with Australians of the Muslim faith.
Thursday, May 05, 2005