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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