Saturday, November 05, 2005

COMMENT: Qualified and Unqualified Lunar-tics

If you believe what you read in The Australian newspaper, you’d think all Muslim Australians are part of some huge conspiracy to destroy liberal democracy. Allegedly, we are all following thick-Sheik Omran and are ready to strap ourselves with bombs and head up to Byron Bay in time to cause maximum casualties at schoolies week.

But if you have ever employed Muslims from more than 3 nationalities, you will know this is all crap. Why?

Well, for a start, the buggers can’t even agree on when Ramadan begins and ends. Each worker wants to take a separate day off for Eid or Bayram or Hari Raya (you could be forgiven for thinking these are 3 separate holidays!).

Not only that, Muslims don’t have any set hierarchy for religious scholarship. It seems anyone can get online and start spurting out fatwa after fatwa and claim qualifications and credentials.

In an earlier piece, I raised the prospect of being shown qualifications from a dude who heads up a “Centre for Islamic Sciences and Human Development” from a garage in Bankstown (actually, now it's from his wife’s clinic in Lakemba).

I have been asking the chap for proof of his qualifications since April 2005, if not earlier.

Now let’s re-visit some of his claims.

a. Mr Ali claims to have a degree in Islamic law from the Islamic University of Madeena, the same institution from where thick-Sheiks Omran and Zoud studied.
b. Mr Ali claims to have studied with Professor Abdullah Saeed of Melbourne University at Madeena.
c. Mr Ali claims to have ijaza’s from a number of scholars including Habib Ali and a range of other respected and eminent Yemeni shuyukh (plural of “shaykh”).
d. Mr Ali claims that Shaykh Nuh Keller has authorised his students to study hanafi law under Mr Ali.
e. Mr Ali runs a course in usool al-fiqh (principles of Islamic jurisprudence and legal methodology) which has been advertised as providing a diploma recognised by various institutions (depending on which day you ask him, it could be the Zaytuna Institute or al-Azhar).
f. Mr Ali claims to display his ijaza certificates and degree at the Park Road Mosque in Auburn where his classes are held.

Mr Ali has entered the fray with his views on moon-sighting. I think he has every right to express a view. So does my mum, my 9-year-old nephew and my 30-year-old Hindu cousin.

Each year, Mr Ali and his students head down to Ashbury to site the moon. It is an excellent initiative, and represents a revival of a tradition which is still followed in many Muslim countries.

By the method of moon-sighting with the naked eye, the festival of Bayram/Eid/Hari Raya should have been on Friday. But the majority of mosques (and Muslims) celebrated Eid one day earlier. Why?

A large group of Imams joined together with the AFIC-appointed Mufti Sheik Hilaly and decided to pray Eid with the rest of the world. They did not insist on localised moon-sighting.

That is their opinion. They are imams. They have qualifications. They have credentials. Mr Ali doesn’t. Or at least he hasn’t shown any.

One aspect of Islamic scholarship is its ability to inculcate humility. The following example of Mr Ali’s humility is taken from the Muslim Village Forums

“We have the appropriate knowledge and expertise and will involve only knowledgeable people from our contacts to discuss this matter.”

Now before I go any further, allow me to disclose my own bias. I actually agree with Mr Ali’s views on moon-sighting. I agree with the position taken by those scholars insisting the moon has to be sighted with the naked eye.

But I agree with them because they are scholars. They actually have credentials and qualifications which are published. They don’t hide their qualifications. They don’t make excuses or delay displaying their qualifications. Nor do they insult other qualified scholars just because they hold different views.

So let me make the point clear. Mr Ali has promised me that he has qualifications and that he will show them to me after Ramadan. I request that he do so under the following conditions:

1. That the following Imams and elders be present at the time: Imam Tajeddine Hilali, Imam Abdurrahman Asaroglu, Imam Salih Mujalla, Imam Nazeerul Hasan Thanwi, Dr Shabbir Ahmed, Shaykh Abdul Muiz and Dr Muhsin Labban;
2. That the display be held at the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque or the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque;
3. That all qualifications and ijaza certificates be produced; and
4. That all Imams also provide evidence of their qualifications (heck, you have to be fair); and finally
5. That I bring my lawyer’s practising certificate so I can certify the copies.

I think it is an open secret that I am of the opinion that Afroz Ali does not have the qualifications he claims to have. If that be the case, it means those learning specialist disciplines from him (such as usul al-fiqh) are doing so at their own risk. If they are happy to pay money for such knowledge, then I will be happy to travel upto Byron Bay to obtain therapy from a billygoat in a bikini.

On the other hand, if it turns out that Afroz Ali does have the qualifications he claims to have, and if the senior shuyukh listed above can testify that these are valid qualifications, I will happily eat humble pie and make a $500 donation to the al-Ghazali Centre.

Words © 2005 Irfan Yusuf

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