Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Albrechtsen patronises Muslim women?

There was more than one reason many attendees at The Journalist & Islam conference were unimpressed with Janet Albrechtsen’s lacklustre performance.

Albreachtsen refers to one such reason in her latest column in The Australian. She alludes to the complaints of a number of participants, identifying them by their headgear:

HER voice shaking, the young woman in the hijab sitting about five rows back from the podium was clearly angry with me. As were other women in the audience, some in hijabs, one wearing a nikab, only her eyes visible through a narrow slit. Angry with me for writing about Muslim women.

Of course, the young girl present said nothing of the sort. What she objected to was the obsession of allegedly conservative columnists like Albrechtsen to speak with authority about Muslim women. Especially when there are plenty of Muslim women quite capable of speaking for themselves.

Janet sort-of alludes to this objection later into the article:

Apparently, white Christian girls should not write or speak about such things. My error, they said, was to presume to speak on behalf of Muslim women.

My recollection of the girl asking the question was that her skin colour wasn’t exactly tanned. In deed, my guess is that if she took off her hijab, the young lass (like so many girls of Lebanese and Palestinian extraction) probably had red hair. The girls sitting next to her (including the one described by Albrechtsen as the "one wearing a nikab, only her eyes visible through a narrow slit") were virually all Anglo-Australian.

Is it the case that, in Albrechtsen’s narrow world of “white Christian girls”, a woman ceases to be white and Christian when she covers her hair and/or face? If so, perhaps that makes Mary, the mother of Christ, just another nasty foreign woman of Middle Eastern extraction.

Albrechtsen doesn't mention another issue her Muslim critics caught up with her on. During question-time, Albrechtsen repeatedly alluded to an ongoing battle within Muslims for what she described as the "soul of Islam". Yet when one of these women pressed her on how she defined the soul of Islam, Albrechtsen asked incredulously: "How should I know?"

Quite a few members of the audience laughed. It really was an embarrassing moment. Here was an alleged authority, a syndicated columnist, caught out lecturing Muslim women on their faith. And then being unable to define basic terms. Unable to set the parameters of her discussion.

From what I could gauge of Albrechtsen's speech, the battle for "the soul of Islam" is one that pits women allegedly critical of Islam against woman who still regarded some form of Islam as a substantial source of their identity.

How do i reach this conclusion? Because of the emphasis she placed in her speech on one example. This also happened to be the sole example Albrechtsen mentions in her column – the former Dutch politician and ex-Muslim Ayaan Hirsi Ali.

No doubt Albrechtsen will have read my review of Hirli Ali’s book which appeared in The Oz.

She may have also read recent reports about the authenticity of Hirsi Ali’s work which have appeared even on right-wing websites:

So here we have serious conservative sources openly questioning the authenticity of Albrechtsen’s major source. One would have expected Albrechtsen would be more careful with her sources, especially after her recent experiences.

The balance of Albrechtsen’s article concerns basic problems affecting women not just on Muslim countries but throughout the third world, including Catholic Latin America and Philippines and Buddhist Indo-China. Naturally, Albrechtsen won’t blame Catholicism or Buddhism for these problems. Nor will she quote ex-Buddhists or ex-Catholics as her sources.

Perhaps Albrechtsen should leave the resolution of these problems to the genuine efforts of women’s groups such as Rifka An-Nisa of Indonesia and Sisters In Islam of Malaysia. The millions of Muslim women whose Albrechtsen claims to be concerned about would love the help of women of any background (including “white Christian girls”).

But they certainly don’t need the patronising and demeaning nonsensical generalisations of pseudo-conservative columnists who would just as quickly support the carpet-bombing of these women if it were the wish of a neo-Conservative US President. Don’t expect Albrechtsen to be hurriedly writing about the plight of Iraqi Muslim women whose villages were destroyed by Coalition forces.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

The alleged jihad on Christmas

This year, for the first time, I’ll be joining my in-laws for Christmas up on the Sunshine Coast. Normally, I’d have Christmas lunch with an old school buddy after doing the Midnight Mass thing at St Mary’s Cathedral.

For me, Christmas is very much about Christ. Believe it or not, 1.2 billion non-Christians across the globe regard the Christmas story as part of their sacred tradition. Yet for some reason, Muslims are being blamed for some undeclared secular fundamentalist war on Christmas. The extent to which some will go to remove Christian (and Muslim) references to Jesus is truly astounding.

In the UK , some municipal councils want all public documents to refer to Winterval. Hopefully, councils here won’t be talking up “Summerval”.

Also, one Yorkshire school offered to serve halal meat at their Christmas dinner, to the outrage of some parents. What no one bothered to report was that none of the Muslim pupils or their parents is known to have requested halal turkey for Christmas!

Meanwhile in Indiana , one council won’t even allow a nativity scene on its courthouse lawn.

This year, Christmas coincides with Eid al-Adha, the most important religious festival on the Islamic calendar. The US Postal Service have been printing Eid postage stamps for years, despite complaints from some.

So Muslims are now being labelled as the Grinches of Western countries. And they aren’t happy. So unhappy that they have joined the Archbishop of Canterbury in calling for Christianity to remain in Christmas. Dr Ataullah Siddiqui, vice-chair of the Christian-Muslim Forum, is quoted as saying:

The desire to secularize religious festivals is in itself offensive to both our communities.

Perhaps the problem was best summed up by the Anglican Bishop of Bolton who said that any attempt by councils to re-name Christmas

… will tend to backfire badly on the Muslim community in particular … Sadly, it is [Muslims] who get the blame for something they are not saying. And after all, the Koran speaks with honour about Jesus and tells of his birth to Mary, a virgin.

Perhaps a Sydney newspaper could remember this before it prints editorials blaming Muslims for the woes of Bethlehem ’s Christian community.Then again, that same newspaper did publish a rather nice article last year on Christmas.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, December 15, 2006

OPINION: Why Sheik Hilaly Has To Go

Over the weekend, I joined people from a range of backgrounds and faiths in the heart of Canberra for the annual Eid Mela festival — which celebrates the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. This year, the festivals of Eid and Divali (the Hindu ‘Festival of Lights’) took place within days of each other, and the Hindi word ‘mela’ (Hindi/Urdu for “festival”) was used to provide a peculiarly sub-Continental flavour to the event.

In Canberra , Muslims gathered to celebrate the multicultural, multilingual and multi-confessional nature of our great capital city. Two Sikh gentlemen started the day, entertaining guests with a gorgeous rendition of traditional sitar music. This was followed by prayers and songs by performers of Sri Lankan, Chinese and Spanish origins — without forgetting a group of young children singing the Australian national anthem.

Representatives from Jewish, Catholic, Hindu and other faiths spoke of how pleased they were to attend such an event. Dr Anita Shroot, a respected member of the ACT Hebrew congregation [check word], greeted the crowd with ‘Salamu alaykum. Shalom aleichem’ and spoke approvingly of celebrating with her ‘Muslim cousins’ — the weekend also coinciding with a Jewish festival as well.

And why shouldn’t she and the other faith leaders be pleased? Ordinary Canberrans are happy to celebrate multiculturalism, as were Sydney-siders attending the Multicultural Eid Festival & Fair at the Fairfield Showgrounds.

It seems the only people unpleased with Australia ’s multicultural reality are a minority of pseudo-conservative politicians and commentators determined to impose their own version of a mono-cultural revolution on Australia . Unfortunately, the words of Sheik Taj Din al-Hilali in an address given in Sydney ’s Lakemba Mosque some weeks back have provided them with plenty of fuel.

Sheik Hilali’s remarks were first reported in The Australian — a newspaper which many Muslims regard as conducting a vendetta against their community. It is impossible to make sweeping generalisations about any newspaper — The Oz has provided space for commentators such as John Stone and Janet Albrechtsen to sprout their conspiracy theories about the alleged threats posed by Muslim migrants and their children, but similar theories are published in the Fairfax Press by the likes of Paul Sheehan and Miranda Devine.

For its Muslim critics, what makes The Oz different, however, is the frequency with which such views are published. Many Muslims see this in the context of reported comments made some months back by Rupert Murdoch when he suggested that Muslims weren’t to be trusted as they always put faith over loyalty to the nation.

In relation to Sheik Hilali’s comments, the Friday 27 October 2006 edition of The Oz carried a full 8 pages of broadsheet material on the issue. Yes, you read it correctly. Eight pages! You’d think the Sheik had just completed 10 years as Prime Minister or delivered his 10th budget!

John Howard, in particular, has shown a startling level of hypocrisy and double standards in his comments on the Hilali case.

He has placed the onus on Muslims to deal with Hilali. Ultimately, the only bodies that can control Sheik Hilali are the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) and the Lebanese Moslems Association (LMA). AFIC created the position of ‘Mufti of Australia’ and immediately appointed Hilali to fill it. Howard is aware that AFIC is currently under administration. I doubt any court-appointed administrator would be prepared to take so sensitive a decision as to sack the nation’s most senior Islamic religious jurist, notwithstanding the outrageous nature of his remarks.

That leaves the LMA, which owns and manages the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque in Lakemba, where Hilali generally preaches. Hilali is not employed by the LMA as an official resident religious scholar (or ‘Imam’). Indeed, one former LMA Vice President has advised me that Hilali has never been on the payroll. Even before he was appointed Mufti, his wages were paid from a combination of sources — the Libyan Islamic Call Society and private individuals.

A few years ago, Howard clearly showed his views on sexual assault victims in his response to comments made by a former Governor-General of Australia. Readers will well remember this saga, and I do not wish to repeat details which could cause further distress to the parties directly affected. The point is that on that occasion, Howard could have pressured (and maybe even forced) the Governor-General to stand down. He chose not to.

Indeed, Howard’s cheer-squad from the allegedly conservative commentariat claimed at the time that the entire campaign against the Governor-General was a huge conspiracy by republicans to discredit the Vice-Regal office — just as today, Hilali’s supporters claim the attack on the Sheik is a conspiracy by News Limited and elements within the Sydney Lebanese community.

Conservative politicians and commentators critical of Hilali should recall their own refusal to deal with the gross offence caused to all victims of child sexual assault. That offence and hurt was compounded by the refusal of the conservative establishment to act on the matter. Indeed, far from acting, conservatives ignored loud protests from across the Australian community for the then Governor-General to resign.

Today, the LMA and many Sydney Lebanese Muslims seem to be playing the same game of strident defence that the PM and his allies did. In this sense, the LMA’s approach is perfectly in accord with the PM’s precedent and hence with the his vision of ‘Australian values.’ The PM has no right to criticise those who effectively follow his example.

Of course, the Governor-General on that occasion showed more decency than his conservative supporters. Notwithstanding the shield he received from their moral and political support, he resigned.

Contrary to claims from some media quarters, Hilali is not being shielded by the majority of (largely non-Lebanese) Muslims he claims to lead. Across Australia and New Zealand , Muslim leaders and community members are up in arms over the Sheik’s comments. Muslim women have expressed particular disgust. Even members of the PM’s Muslim Reference Group have expressed outrage.

Sheik Hilali should follow the example of our former Governor-General and resign of his own accord. But this seems unlikely. His followers are already planning a rally to show their support this Saturday. Their antics are orchestrated by a small minority of die-hards who rely on Hilali’s status as Mufti to gain some notoriety of their own. These people wish Mufti-day would never end, regardless of how much damage it causes to the image of Muslims or the person of Sheik Hilali himself.

Hilali was handed the mantle of Mufti-hood to suit the politics of then Acting Prime Minister Paul Keating, who felt nervous that his backyard was turning Liberal after the NSW State seat of East Hills was lost to the Liberals in 1986 following a by-election swing of 17.5%. It was a short-term decision with long-term consequences.

What the broader community knows about the Sheik are his frequent gaffes and his refusal to learn English. But many in his Lebanese Muslim congregation love him dearly. Even his Muslim critics have had no hesitation in acknowledging the good that Sheik Hilali has done over the years.

The Sheik has made himself available to people of all ages and ethnic groups and at all hours of the day and night. In most Muslim-majority countries, people holding the title of Mufti live like Governors-General, residing in palatial homes and attended to by servants. Their relationship with law-making is certainly similar to those holding Vice-Regal address. Often the Mufti has his fatwas (or religious decrees) written for him by government officials, and he merely rubber-stamps it.

To his credit, Hilali has not been owned by any government. He has been critical of all Arab governments, and he has steered his large congregation away from the nefarious influence of Middle Eastern governments that are ever-ready to provide short-term funding in return for long-term influence.

(It’s interesting to note that the man Hilali replaced as Imam of the Lakemba Mosque went onto form his own splinter group and established the Markaz Saddam Hussein Islami — The Saddam Hussein Islamic Office!)

And if Hilali goes, who will take his place? For many Muslims living outside the Lebanese ethno-religious ‘ghetto’ of southwest Sydney , the position of Mufti means nothing. But if there is going to be a Mufti, they believe they would be better off having someone who will not do such damage to the image of Muslims in Australia.

(First published in New Matilda on 1 November 2006.)

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Varying approaches to media and Muslims

Last week, the NSW Parliament played host to a conference on the difficult subject of The Journalist and Islam. The conference ran over 2 days.

The first speakers included Tom Switzer from the News Limited broadsheet The Australian. Switzer defended The Oz’s reporting of 3 issues pertaining to what he described as “the Muslim question” – Hilaly, the Cronulla riots and the anti-terror laws. In relation to Hilaly, Switzer repeated almost word-for-word the criticisms of myself he made here. His criticisms didn’t go as far as the hysterical lynching I received in his paper’s editorial yesterday.

In question time, Switzer was asked to define three terms he frequently used – the “Muslim question” (a re-hash of Nazi Europe ’s obsession with the “Jewish question”?), the “Muslim community” and “Muslim clerics”. Switzer acknowledged diversity within Australia ’s Muslims, but mistakenly claimed that a Muslim cleric has the same authority and role as a Catholic priest.

Melbourne journalist and academic Nasya Bahfen dealt with how lazy journalists manufacture stories from internet forums. She castigated Luke McIlveen’s manufacturing of a story alleging Iktimal Hage-Ali is the subject of an organised vilification campaign. Instead of talking to Muslim critics of Hage-Ali, McIlveen lazily relied on infantile comments left on the Muslim Village forums by anonymous persons probably too young to vote.

(Presumably McIlveen won’t be doing a future story about hate-speech at this blog.)

Vic Alhadeff from the Jewish Board of Deputies made a brave presentation on anti-Semitism in (often government-controlled) media of Muslim-majority states. He certainly opened up my eyes to this scourge of anti-semitism which has been exposed even by prominent Muslims.

Alhadeff hardly mentioned Israel or Palestine during his presentation. That didn’t stop some people from asking him to explain the actions and attitudes of Israelis. When I criticise Western media for their anti-Muslim bias, I’d be insulted if people turned around asking me to explain the actions of al-Qaida and the Taliban. Surely some supporters of the Palestinian and Lebanese causes could relate to this and not have treated Alhadeff so shabbily.

The second day of the conference saw two contrasting conservative approaches to Islam.

Health Minister and former journalist Tony Abbott reminded us that for over a half a century, Catholicism had been the officially despised faith in Australia .

When asked in question time what Muslims could learn from Catholic experiences, Abbott admitted that he saw little violent anti-Catholic prejudice. Abbott said Muslims needed to understand that, while group defamation is easy, Australians find it difficult to demonise their neighbour or workmate.

Further, Catholics and Protestants were forced to share nation-building tasks. Muslims could overcome group defamation by simply getting on with mainstream life. Abbott said the presence of prominent Muslims like John Ilhan, Hazem ElMasry and Ahmed Fahour would assist in this process.

Both Abbott’s parents were converts, which perhaps might explain the overt fervour in his faith. It also explains why Abbott is more respectful to Islam and more sympathetic to the current Muslim experience in Australia . Abbott knows what it is like to be pilloried in the media for holding unfashionable religious beliefs.

Janet Albrechtsen showed little of that empathy, choosing instead to lecture her audience on the alleged clash between “conservative and radical Islam” and “Western modernity”.

Albrechtsen’s precise views on Islam as a mainstream religion were difficult to gauge. On the one hand, she acknowledged that terrorists had hijacked Islam, an assessment few Muslims would argue with. On the other, she called for Muslims to adopt the approach of allegedly “moderate” Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Wafa Sultan, both of whom had openly renounced their faith.

Albrechtsen described Hilaly’s views as part of the Islamist attack on the West, similar to that of extremist groups in Europe . When further probed, she admitted Hilaly’s views posed no security threat and that he had no known links to terrorist groups or ideologies. She therefore contradicted the views of others expressed in The Oz.

After skirting around various questions, Albrechtsen finally described the struggle as not one between Islam and the West but rather an internal Muslim struggle for “the soul of Islam”. Yet she could not define exactly what this soul was. When asked to define “moderate Muslim”, the best she came up with was “someone who comes to terms with liberal democracy”.

Not very convincing.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Polygamy in Indonesia

My old high school buddies would frequently tease me for being the school’s only “Mossie”. I’d remind them that being Muslim has its perks. Who needs 72 virgins in heaven when you can enjoy upto 4 wives here? Of course, polygamy isn’t that simple. It’s a contentious issue even in Muslim majority states.

In January this year, I visited Indonesia on a Muslim exchange program sponsored by the Australia-Indonesia Institute. I visited Bandung , a hill station used by Dutch colonists to escape Jakarta ’s heat. We stayed in a luxurious hostel owned and managed by Abdullah Gymnastiar, an eccentric and popular Sufi preacher known for wearing his trademark turban whilst driving a Harley Davidson.

Aa Gym (as his followers call him) has just announced he’s marrying a 2nd wife, sparking an enormous controversy in the world’s largest Muslim-majority state. I’m not sure where he’ll keep her. His small 2-storey house in Bandung (next door to our hostel), has hardly enough room for Aa Gym, his first wife and numerous children.

The decision has sparked angry e-mails and text messages from even his powerful and largely upper middle class admirers. Women’s groups will also, no doubt, complain. And with good reason. One NGO we visited was Rifka an-Nisa, a Yogyakarta-based Muslim women’s organisation dealing with domestic violence and other issues affecting women. RN activists told us that, while polygamy is rare, it’s frequently associated with physical and sexual violence against subsequent spouses.

The issue of polygamy was also raised by women’s activists I met during a similar exchange program to Malaysia in June. Groups like Sisters in Islam are agitating for reform in Malaysia where polygamy is far more common and culturally accepted.

Sadly, all too often shariah (Islam’s sacred law) is used as an instrument for repression. Women and non-Muslim minorities are frequently the victims. Hence, it’s little wonder that more and more Muslim scholars are calling for an end (or at least a moratorium) on the selective application of shariah that keeps the Mullahs happy but leaves the rest of us in shock.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Muslim Village forums attacked

Daily Telegraph scribe Luke McIlveen has made some very unfair attacks on internet discussion forums frequented by a small minority of Muslim kids. His expose today of the attack on prominent young Muslim Iktimal Hage-Ali also makes interesting reading.

The reported attack on the Muslim Village forums has included claims that she has no right to represent Australian Muslims because she occasionally drinks alcohol and refuses to wear a traditional Muslim hijab. But others have also been pilloried on the same forums, including Asma Hilaly, the Lakemba Sheik’s talented and well-spoken daughter. Ms Hilaly was criticised for … wait for it … plucking her eyebrows!

I’ve been described on the Muslim Village forums as being in need of liposuction. Tanveer Ahmed and other prominent Muslims have also been attacked. It’s disturbing and it’s nasty. At times, it’s even defamatory.

But is it newsworthy? And how is the abuse on some Muslim forums any different to some of the abuse I cop from anonymous posters at the Online Opinion forums? Or to abuse copped by Stephen Mayne in moderated comments (not to mention editorial imputations) published on the personal blog of the DT’s own opinion editor about the assault on Stephen Mayne? Are we to conclude from this that Blair and/or the Tele support and promote violence?

McIlveen disturbingly claims Hage-Ali was “vilified for behaving like an Australian”. Is he suggesting you aren’t a real Aussie if you refuse alcohol and leave your head uncovered? If so, where does that leave non-Muslim teetotalers like Fred Nile? Would McIlveen castigate the Virgin Mary were she to return with her son for his second coming?

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, November 17, 2006

When murder changes religion …

When does the religion of a teenager accused of murdering her parents become relevant? Is it when police describe her motive as religious? Is it when she screams black and blue that she killed them for religious reasons? Is it when the magistrate mentions her religion?

Nope. Religion is only relevant when she follows the wrong kind of religion. And for the Daily Telegraph, on this occasion the wrong religion seems to be Islam.

The Tele runs a story of the Supreme Court bail application made by lawyers for a teenager. The last time I read of this story, the girl’s name had been suppressed as she was under age. I’m not aware if that suppression order has been lifted.

Still, that doesn’t stop the Tele from naming her and describing her as a “Muslim teenager”. The only real relevance of the girl’s religion to the story is that the girl’s parents objected to her going out with a 21-year-old uni student. The Tele wrote that the girl was “angry because her Muslim parents did not approve” of the relationship.

Why didn’t they approve? Was it because he wasn’t Muslim? Or was it because she was in Year 12 and her studies were suffering? Or was it because they preferred their daughter to marry later once she had completed her tertiary education (South Asian parents are often obsessive about their kid’s academic achievement).

The Oz has also made religion an issue when it first reported the story. It’s most recent report virtually avoids all mention of it.

The Courier-Mail report does suggest the police facts sheet mentioned witnesses hearing the girl yelling: “they are trying to kill me" and "I've just converted to Christianity from Islam, now he's trying to kill me”. The report goes onto mention that police dismissed this excuse, and found evidence the girl’s motivation had little relation to religion.

If the girl pleads not guilty, it may be that religion does feature heavily in this case. Until then, mention of her religion will serve no purpose except to further entrench stereotypes that people of certain religions are more prone to violence.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

UN says politics is to blame!

Two days ago, a group of political, intellectual and cultural leaders from across the world issued a report containing the secret to the widening gap between the allegedly monolithic entities known as “the West” and “the Muslim world”.

The group, known as the Fourth High Level Group of the Alliance of Civilizations, consists of 20 eminent persons including a Catholic historian, the Jewish adviser to the Moroccan King, the former Iranian President, an Anglican Archbishop and even a New York Rabbi.

The Group has been deliberating over the nature and causes of the alleged clash of civilisations. It was set up as a joint initiative of the Turkish Prime Minister and the Spanish PM some 6 months after the Madrid bombing by Islamist extremists that killed 191 people in 2004.

The Spanish PM, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, could easily have followed the lead of other Western nations and invaded countries deemed to be linked to terrorism. Instead, he withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq and initiated a process to get to the root causes and grievances which terrorists exploit.

The final report was released at the Group’s meeting in Istanbul , Turkey . And their conclusion? Here’s what Kofi Annan had to say:

… the problem is not the Koran, nor the Torah or the Bible … the problem is never the faith – it is the faithful, and how they behave towards each other.

Although religion is often exploited to support alarmist claims that the planet will soon face an apocalyptic religious war, the real root of the matter is … wait for it … politics!

The most intractable source of conflict has been perceived double standards by many Western powers in their approach to the Israel-Palestine conflict. Also mentioned were Western military occupations in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq .

All this confirms research conducted by Professor Robert Pape of the Chicago Project for Suicide Terrorism. Pape argues that the real problem lies not with religion or religious fundamentalism. His study of all “successful” suicide attacks shows that the common thread was foreign occupation of particular land. But don’t expect John Howard to embrace such hard realities in a hurry. He’s still waiting for orders from the White House …

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Andrew Robb & The Government's preferred Lebanese sect

Andrew Robb has some serious explaining to do.

On Sunday morning, 12 November 2006, Robb appeared on ABC TV program Asia-Pacific Focus acknowledging his government openly favoured one Lebanese Muslim faction over another in both funding and in liaising with Muslim Australia.

They are really on the front foot and they're taking responsibility for the problem and I do think that's the answer … The Prime Minister has sent a short and special message of support and I'd like to read that now, if I may. And the Prime Minister says, “I commend the group on the work it has done in promoting harmony and tolerance throughout the nation.

Lebanese represent the largest ethnic grouping among Australian Muslims. Many live in South-West Sydney, coming from three major sects – Sunni, Shia and Alawite (an offshoot of the Shia).

Since the early 1980’s, the Lebanese Sunni Muslims have been divided into two factions. The smaller faction follow a Somali imam named Abdullah Hareri al-Habashi. They are known in Lebanon as ‘al-Ahbash’ and control a handful of Sydney mosques as well as a school with campuses in Bankstown and Liverpool. Outside Sydney, the group is non-existent.

The al-Ahbash sect tends to have what might be described as a George W Bush style of religion. You are either with them totally or you are against them. Those with the al-Ahbash are expected to oppose any Muslim sect, denomination, Sufi order or religious scholar al-Ahbash leaders decide.

At least one senior sect member in Lebanon, Ahmed Abdel-Al, has been implicated by an independent UN investigator in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (no relation to Sheik Hareri al-Habashi). Another person named in the report, Mahmoud Abdel-Al, has visited Australia at the invitation of the Australian wing of the sect.

The larger Lebanese Sunni faction consists of a coalition of both supporters and critics of Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly, senior imam at the Imam Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque in Lakemba. It is supported by Lebanese communities across Australia, including by supporters of Melbourne-based Sheik Fehmi El-Imam, who is known to be closed to the Prime Minister.

The al-Ahbash sect are implacable enemies of Sheik Hilaly. The intense hatred predates Sheik Hilaly’s arrival in Australia in the early 1980’s, to a time when Hilaly and the sect held different theological and political positions over the sectarian conflict in Lebanon.

Hilaly proved his media timebomb credentials on Sunday night by justifying his infantile claims about allegedly exaggerated figures in the Holocaust, unnecessarily upsetting the vast majority of Jewish Australians (many of whom actively support ‘Muslim’-friendly causes). But al-Ahbash are not much better.

My initial exposure to the al-Ahbash sect was when they took over my childhood mosque in Surry Hills, Sydney. Their newly-elected mosque Vice President advised me that all heretical and secular books in the library (including ones I and other parishioners had donated) had been burnt.

In 1999, I ran as endorsed Liberal candidate for local government in Bankstown. I supported a proposal by a local Vietnamese Buddhist group to extend their temple. Senior members of the al-Ahbash sect told me that supporting non-Muslims in this manner was forbidden according to their puritanical interpretation of Islam.

So much for Muslim integration. Yet Andrew Robb and the Federal Government now openly side with this fringe Lebanese sect, supporting their claims to represent all Australian Muslims, including non-Lebanese Muslims who are not parties to what is essentially a Lebanese turf war.

Sheik Hilaly is unable to speak English, the native language of at least 70% of Australia’s Muslims. His claims to holding any representative position (including that of Mufti) are suspect. At best, he represents only a fraction of one ethnic group among Muslim congregations from over 60 different countries. The Government should never have appointed him to the Muslim Reference Group.

But even more suspect than Hilaly’s representational credentials are attempts by the Howard government to impose another competing Lebanese faction – the al-Ahbash sect – on 350,000 Aussie Muslims from over 60 nationalities.

This favouritism has led to suggestions that the government is openly favouring projects of the al-Ahbash sect in distributing funds for its $30 million-plus program to combat extremism and promote harmony. Now a former member of the executive of the Islamic Charitable Projects Association (an al-Ahbash front body) and of the Prime Minister’s Muslim Reference Group now publicly boasting on Muslim e-mail lists of receiving otherwise confidential information by people he describes as “DIMA bureaucrats”.

In an e-mail sent on Saturday 11 November 2006, Mustapha Kara-Ali claims that more than one DIMA officer advised him that a certain grant application was unsuccessful. He also claimed the application was related to an organisation in the ACT.

I’ve been told about Mr X’s unsuccessful involvement in a Department of Immigratrion (sic.) project by bureaucrats at DIMA. They also seem to know matters about his personal life … [name removed]

This is an extremely serious allegation. Kara-Ali is effectively accusing DIMA staff (including potentially staff in Mr Robb’s office) of breaching confidentiality and privacy laws.

Of course, this all assumes Kara-Ali is speaking the truth. However, the allegations are extremely serious and must be investigated forthwith.

To be fair, the government is faced with a religious community heavily fractured along ethnic and sectarian lines and lacking any formal hierarchy or structure. But by openly dealing with a fringe sect servicing only one ethnic group, the government is effectively ignoring some 59 other ethnic and cultural groups within Muslim Australia.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The man who could determine Hilaly’s fate …

Sheik Hilaly’s future as Mufti of New Zealand has already been determined. The Federation of Islamic Associations of New Zealand (FIANZ) has declared he is not their mufti, and have condemned his remarks on women’s dress and sexual violence.

However, Hilaly’s role as Mufti of Australia could well be determined by a National Board of Imams. A large number of these imams belong to the Turkish bloc.

Turkish Muslims are among the oldest ethnic Muslim communities to migrate to Australia. They are also among the most secular, and have by and large successfully integrated into mainstream Australian life. Turks have established mosques across Australia, including in regional towns and rural areas.

Each Turkish mosque is serviced by a Turkish imam. Most Turkish imams are trained by the Turkish Presidency for Religious Affairs, and their wages are paid by a trust known as the Diyanet Vakfi (literally translated as “Religious Trust”). Hence, the Presidency for Religious Affairs (known simply to most Turks as Diyanet) has an extraordinary degree of influence over the management of Islamic institutions in Australia.

Apart from mosques, Turkish religious and cultural foundations have also established schools. In New South Wales, Sule College has three campuses operating in Auburn, Liverpool and the Illawarra. Similar schools have been opened in Melbourne and Brisbane. Although independent of Diyanet, these schools teach a form of Islam acceptable to Diyanet’s Turkish secular focus.

Turkish communities tend to work within the broader Muslim community as a bloc. Unlike the rest of the Muslim community, Turkish mosques all celebrate religious festivals on the same day. Turkish imams have their own meclis (consultative assembly).

Turks rarely gain much media attention largely because they maintain a low profile. But with the upcoming formation of a National Board of Imams and the issue of Hilaly’s mufti-hood up for grabs, Turkish imams will become a more powerful force.

Hence the significance of the visit this week of the Head of the Diyanet, Dr Ali Bardakoglu. This Sunday, he opens the newly-completed Bonnyrigg Mosque, located in South Western Sydney. Apart from the Hilaly issue, Turkish imams would also be interested in hearing about preparations for an upcoming visit by the Pope to Turkey in November.

But will newspapers like The Oz pick up such crucial news? Or will they be carried away by the tide of caricatured Muslims protesting in support of Sheik Hilaly on Saturday? Time will tell.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, October 31, 2006

On the futile fatwas of Sheik Peter bin Costello

Sheik Hilaly may have apologised. He may have even stepped down. But nothing he says or does will stop pseudo-conservative political and media ayatollahs from attacking the faith-community he claimed to lead but which never elected him in the first place.

Despite their socially conservative leanings, Muslims are again becoming fodder for the likes of Liberal Sheiks including Mufti John Howard, his underling Sheik Peter Costello and other shallow-minded opportunistic political mullahs. Australia ’s political clerical class continue to target Muslims in a manner similar to Sheik Hilaly’s targeting of women.

In a seminar at Sydney University two decades ago, Hilaly made comments alleging Jews used sex and corruption to control the world. I was at that seminar. I recall him speaking. I did not protest. I simply couldn’t understand a word he was saying about Jews or anyone else.

Two decades later, Sheik Peter Costello is using similar language to issue a fatwa finding myself and all Australian Muslims collectively guilty of Sheik Hilaly’s excesses.

Hilaly made his comments about women’s dress to a group of 500 men. He did not address women directly. Sheik Costello repeats the same error. Instead of talking to Muslims, Sheik Costello talks about Muslims and at Muslims, inevitably behind their back.

Some months back, addressing a Christian fundamentalist conference in Canberra , Sheik Costello accused Muslims of being unfamiliar with the separation of Church and State. He suggested Muslims learn something from Kemal Ataturk, the founder of the Turkish Republic .

No doubt, Ataturk was a great military commander, as the ANZAC’s learnt at Gallipoli. But the exact meaning of Ataturk’s legacy is the subject of almost constant debate in Turkey . Costello praised the alleged secularism of Turkey ’s military establishment. Presumably, he would also have approved of the same establishment sending writers to jail and threatening to topple Turkey ’s most pro-Western government ever should it attempt to decriminalise the wearing of peaces of cloth by women in universities.

So here we saw the almost comical scene of the nation’s treasurer addressing a conference of the Australian Christian Lobby, a group seeking to increase the influence of Christianity in the political process. And he uses this opportunity to talk at Muslims behind their back on why they need to remove their religion from the political processes of Muslim countries overseas.

I may have been born in Karachi . But I doubt General Pervez Musharraf would really care what I or any other Australian born in Pakistan might think of what role Islam should play in Pakistani politics.

Now, in the wake of Hilaly’s offensive remarks, Sheik Costello is in the mood for more fatwas punishing Muslims with collective responsibility. Hilaly’s comments have led to howls of protests from Muslims across the country. Muslim peak bodies in Victoria , Queensland and the ACT have called for Hilaly’s resignation.

Hilaly’s title as Mufti of Australia and New Zealand hasn’t stopped the peak body of New Zealand ’s Muslims from openly denounced his comments. Muslim women’s groups have even more forthright, with the national umbrella body condemning Hilaly’s remarks. Even Hilaly’s closest friends and supporters have publicly called for him to resign and have condemned his remarks in the strongest terms.

Writing in the Brisbane Sunday Mail on October 28 2006, Glenn Milne quotes one government figure observing: “The (Muslim) representatives were out of the block on radio from 6.15am the morning after his speech was translated into English. Both men and women together condemning him without caveat.”

Despite this chorus of condemnation and outrage and its recognition within Federal Government circles, Sheik Costello has issued a fatwa holding all Muslims responsible for the Sheik’s Arabic speech.

This sermon, it was preached to 5000 people, wasn't it? No-one seemed to complain when it was preached. It took a long time for it to come out. No people stood up in the middle of the sermon and said, 'This is unacceptable.’

Maybe, Sheik Costello, that is because 360,000 Muslims from across the length and breadth of Australia could not fit into the auditorium of the Ali ben Abi Taleb Mosque in Lakemba when the Sheik made the address. And even if they were present, maybe it is because only a small minority of Muslims can understand the language spoken by the Sheik.

Of course, language is the crux of the problem. Most Muslim Australians don’t speak Hilaly’s Egyptian dialect of Arabic as their first language. And despite over 2 decades in Australia , Hilaly cannot speak English.

However, notwithstanding his relative incoherence on matters Muslim, Costello can at least speak English. He should be able to address his sentiments directly to Muslims. At least he could gather Muslims living in his electorate and gauge their feelings on the matter.

But as usual, Costello is content to talk about Muslims behind their backs. He is content to hold them collectively responsible for words and actions they condemned well before he joined the fray.

Sheik Hilaly may have spoken of men as cats. But with his usual dog whistle politics, it’s obvious which animal Sheik Costello regards Australian voters as personifying.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Monday, October 30, 2006

Clearing Salman's Name

Tabloid cynics say that although not all Muslims are terrorists, most terrorists are Muslims.

But what does this prove? After all, the overwhelming majority of terror victims are also Muslims.

The cynics also ask why Muslims across the world won’t march through the streets condemning terror. Maybe it’s because they are too busy burying their own victims.

Each week, Iraq and other Muslim States are battered by terrorist attacks that kill the same number of people as died in the July 7 London bombings of 2005. And earlier this week, a Muslim family in Melbourne mourned the death by assassination of an Australian-Afghan man, Hakim Taniwal, who had returned to Afghanistan as a provincial governor in 2002 to help rebuild his ancestral country.

(And to top it all off, it was reported that a suicide bomber killed five and wounded 30 people attending Taniwal’s funeral in the Afghani village of Hisarak.)

But if, God forbid, a terrorist incident hit Sydney or Melbourne tomorrow, who would be blamed? And how would anyone deemed to belong to the assassin’s group be treated?

In the week of the fifth anniversary of the World Trade Centre attack, perhaps we should look to the lessons of New York. In particular, let’s focus on the nightmare experienced by the mother of one victim.

Mrs Talat Hamdani is your typical all-American mom. Like my family, she is from the Indian subcontinent. Her son, Mohammad Salman, was born in Karachi, Pakistan. He moved to America when he was hardly 13 months old.

At age 23, Salman had a busy life — working as a New York Police Department (NYPD) cadet, as a researcher and as a part-time ambulance driver. He had gained admission to study medicine at university. He was a Star Wars fan, and his license plate number read ‘Young Jedi.’ He played American football for his high school team.

Salman was also a devout Muslim. He regularly performed his ritual prayers five times a day. As he grew older, Salman became increasingly proud of his Pakistani and Muslim heritage — although he never found time to learn to read and write in his native language, Urdu.

On the morning of 11 September, 2001, Salman left home and headed to his usual place of work as a researcher at the Rockefeller University. After catching the train, he disappeared. Within hours, his family were being questioned by the FBI; and within days, political leaders and media commentators were accusing the young Hamdani of being a terrorist.

Around the same time, American Sikhs were also being accused. The front page of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph newspaper showed the first terror suspect being taken into custody. He had his head bowed and sported a beard and a blue turban. He was, in fact, a Sikh.

Soon after, another American Sikh, Balbir Singh Sodhi, was gunned down while planting flowers at his family-owned petrol station in Arizona. His killer later admitted he shot the young man thinking he was a Muslim.

(After the London bombing, some young Sikhs wore badges saying: ‘Don’t freak, I’m a Sikh!’)

Muslim Americans were rounded up across the country. In the hysteria that followed, September 11 Muslim terror victims and their families were either ignored or demonised as terrorists.

Salman’s mother was accused of fostering terrorism at a time when she was more worried about her missing son. Some seven months later, FBI officials telephoned to advise her that Salman’s remains had been found. Far from being a terrorist, it turned out that, after he had learned of the attack on the Twin Towers, Salman had rushed to the scene and volunteered his services. Among his many part-time jobs was working as a paramedic and ambulance driver. When the towers collapsed, the debris also fell on Salman.

Eventually, the young man was laid to rest in April 2002. Among those who attended the funeral service at a New York mosque were New York’s Police Commissioner, NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the NYPD’s first Muslim police chaplain, Imam Pasha, together with over 1000 police cadets.

Finally, after suffering the double grief of a missing son and accusations he was a terrorist, the Hamdani family were able to reach some closure. Mrs Hamdani reminded mourners of some important lessons from her son’s death:

This tragedy really united and re-united the diversity in America … Those who died on September 11 were all in a very precarious situation, but what mattered to them was that they are all human beings … We have to make the world realise that they were all human. They are just human like you are.

This devout Muslim woman now joins Christian and Jewish parents on the steering committee of Peaceful Tomorrows, an organisation founded by family me mbers of those killed on 11 September, 2001. Their mission statement says they ‘have united to turn our grief into action for peace. By developing and advocating non-violent options and actions in the pursuit of justice, we hope to break the cycles of violence engendered by war and terrorism.’

Here’s what Mrs Hamdani told a symposium this year:

Salman gave the ultimate sacrifice to save his fellow Americans, and ironically, he was investigated as a terrorist. The speculations were floated by the New York media, especially, Fox 5 and its sister company that runs the New York Post. He was investigated only because of his faith. Six months later, on March 20, 2002, we were officially notified that his remains were indeed found by the North Tower. My life took a drastic turn and I found myself in a very complex situation: I found myself not only defending my faith as a Muslim, but also defending my country, America.

Eventually, America honoured her citizen Mohammad Salman Hamdani, by acknowledging his courage and sacrifice in the Patriot Act. However, the Patriot Act is an egregious act, curtailing civil liberties and suspending due process, violating the United Nations treaty on human rights and the American Constitution. The loss of my first born child and the pain of him being investigated as a terrorist generated a lot of anger. Then my husband and I discovered September Eleventh Families for Peaceful Tomorrows in the summer of 2002. And hence started my journey as an activist, as a Muslim American fighting for my rights which were never challenged before 9/11.

Could someone please identify the un-American or un-Australian values in the above sentences?

Instead of searching for congregations to blame and scapegoat, we should be working together to fight the terror scourge.

I’m not aware of any terrorist who’s been able to manufacture a bomb that discriminates on the basis of race or religion. So, even the terrorists don’t discriminate. Why on earth our politicians do, beats me.

I’m sure I’m not the only Australian who wishes that putative leaders like John Howard and Kim Beazley would stop using rhetoric which alienates people who are just as likely to be victims as anyone else.

First published in New Matilda on 13 September 2006.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Well-intentioned but overly simplistic analysis on converts

The latest edition of the CIS Magazine Policy includes an essay by Miranda Darling on “home-grown Western converts” to Islam whose change of faith means they allegedly “turn against their own societies”.

I was asked by someone at the CIS to provide comment on the initial draft. I was advised that the author had graduated in English literature from Oxford University.

I only had time to briefly read through Ms Darling’s essay, identifying errors which thankfully were removed in the final draft.

The essay is somewhat shorter than the original draft. Darling attempts to draw a profile of the typical convert who might turn to terrorism. She relies heavily on the research of Jessica Stern, a Harvard lecturer with a background more in Cold War US-Soviet relations than modern Islamist movements. Darling also ignores Stern’s research which shows jihadist thinking is almost always little more than a global fad comparable to gansta rap.

Further, Darling completely ignores the more compelling and comprehensive research by the interdisciplinary Chicago Project for Suicide Terrorism led by Professor Robert Pape. How one could even attempt to create a terrorist profile without making even some cursory reference to Pape’s imperfect but still compelling work beats me.

Pape’s central thesis – that the typical profile of a suicide bomber is NOT an Islamic fundamentalist or a devout Muslim – is based on a detailed survey of every “successful” suicide bomber since 1980. Most such terrorists tend to come from leftist or nationalist backgrounds and are seeking to remove an occupying power from their lands. Hardly the stuff religious converts are made of.

However, to her credit, Darling does refer extensively to French scholar Professor Oliver Roy, who has researched and written widely on radical Islamism in the West. Darling’s notion of “born-again Muslims” is useful.

Not so useful is Darling’s reference to criminal gangs in Malmo, Sweden. I’m no expert on Swedish affairs, but wonder how the actions of cultureless migrant youth are of any relevance to Western converts.

Darling’s essay is relatively fair and well-intentioned. However, I wonder how many converts Darling has met. My own experience over some 2 decades is that some converts can be attracted to radical paths because of not infrequent alienation from their usual social networks and lack of pastoral care from cultural Muslim communities. Not having much exposure to mainstream Islamic sciences also doesn’t help.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, October 20, 2006

CRIKEY: Muhammad wins the Nobel Prize twice!

A few weeks ago, Pope Benedict XVI cited a Byzantine emperor who claimed that Muhammad had brought nothing new to the world except war and violence. Yet in the past two years, the secretive Norwegian Nobel Committee has chosen Muhammad to receive its prestigious international peace prize. And not once, but twice in a row.

Well, not exactly. But it’s certainly significant that the two most recent recipients of this award have been prominent members of the Muslim intelligentsia who share the world’s most commonly used name given to male children.

Last year it was the Egyptian-born head of the International Atomic Energy Agency Mohamed ElBaradei. This year, the committee overlooked 190 other candidates to award the prize to an eccentric banker from the Indian sub-Continent.

Muhammad Yunus is a Bangladeshi-born and American-trained economist who invented microcredit - an unusual method of lending money to people with no assets to mortgage and nothing to offer except a business plan and economic desperation that forces them into hard work.

Yunus’s Grameen Bank has now lent over $8 billion, most of it to impoverished villagers in Bangladesh and other parts of the Third World. Although largely unknown in the West (as opposed to prominent politicians and activists among past winners), Yunus and his bank are household names in much of Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Grameen Bank has an impressive array of assets. It owns Bangladesh’s largest mobile phone network. The bank has played an important role in assisting women from impoverished backgrounds gain some financial independence, particularly women whose male providers are unable to find work.

Muhammad Yunus’ unique banking methodology has been applied outside Bangladesh to great effect. His bank has worked on development projects for women in Vietnam and other parts of the world. From time to time, he has fallen foul of religious zealots in Bangladesh unhappy at what they perceive as Yunus’ methods challenging traditional Bangladeshi gender relations.

Yunus isn’t the only Muslim to receive a Nobel Prize. This year, the Nobel Committee awarded prizes to two prominent Muslims, the other being Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.

First published in the Crikey! Daily alert for 18 October 2006.

Words © 2006 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Australia's first honour killing?

Last year, former Dutch MP Ayaan Hirsi Ali had a number of her speeches and articles translated and published in a short book titled The Caged Virgin.

Ali’s book sought to provide background (largely from her own experiences) of how many Muslim migrants practise their faith. She painted a rather nasty picture of Muslim girls being brought up in an environment where religion is enforced on the basis of guilt and shame.

Ali’s book can be criticised for any number of reasons. She imposes her own personal experiences on all Muslim migrants and cultures. However, she does talk about difficult issues that children of some Muslim migrants must experience, and that Muslim communities must face upto.

That wake-up call was again sounded on Monday night in the form of screams emanating from a Gold Coast unit. At the time of writing, details are sketchy. Elsewhere, I have criticised certain slants on the story imposed by at least one News Limited paper.

What we know from a neighbour is that a 17-year old girl of Bangladeshi origin was involved in a stabbing frenzy that arose from her telling her parents that she intended to convert to Christianity.

The girl’s mother tried to intervene, and apparently died from a single stab wound. The father was also in a critical condition arising from stab wounds.

The Australian reported on October 12 that the girl’s parents were very strict Muslims. However, their apparent strictness was difficult to understand. They sent their daughter to a liberal non-denominational Christian school. They also insisted their daughter practise a career of their choice.

Most Islamic jurists are agreed that parents are not to force their children into a certain career choice. Further, the idea of killing daughters of any age was condemned by the Koran, which condemned the pre-Islamic practise of female infanticide practised by pre-Islamic tribal Arabs.

Yet sadly, many migrant parents place enormous and unreasonable pressures on their children. They impose an irrelevant cultural form of Islam which is totally alien to the environment their children grow up in.

The cultures of the Indian sub-Continent (Pakistan, India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka) can be particularly oppressive to children. This applies not just to Muslims but also Hindus, Sikhs and other faith communities.

Indians place enormous emphasis on honour. A breach of family honour can be committed in a number of ways – poor academic performance, marrying outside culture or caste, making the ‘wrong’ career choice.

Hinduism is a pacifist and deeply mystical tradition that emphasises God’s merciful presence in all creation. Yet so many of my Hindu friends do not see this mercy in their parents, who force their children into marriage and career choices. Kids who don’t conform are shamed.

Marriage is an area where sub-Continental parents can be particularly oppressive. Even in cases where parents allow children to choose their spouses, they insist that any potential spouse must be of the same culture or caste. I know of one Indian Muslim family who refused to attend their son’s wedding as he married a Muslim girl outside their culture.

Religion is a particularly sensitive issue in the sub-Continent. Who could forget that scene in the movie Bend It Like Beckham where Jasminder, the Sikh soccer player, told her friends in the dressing room that her parents would slit her throat if she married a Muslim boy.

Indian faiths are seeped in rich ancient cultures that attract many Western devotees. Sadly, these faiths are smothered with irrelevant cultural conditions frequently force-fed on the children of migrants.

My Delhi-born parents sent me to an Anglican school. I attended chapel services and divinity classes. I associated Christianity with the lion from the CS Lewis novel The Lion The Witch & The Wardrobe – the noble king of the jungle who laid down his life so that others could be saved.

On the other hand, I associated Islam with Indian culture. Islam was about learning to read and recite a scripture in a strange language. Mosques were places where foreign people would gather and where imams would speak in languages I had little understanding of. Islam was an alien cultural experience.

I was told good Muslims obeyed their parents in major life decisions like marriage and career. I associated Islam with my uncles who forced their daughters to stay home yet allowed their sons to party into the night. Islam was a religion of hypocrisy and double standards.

If I am still a Muslim today, it is no thanks to community elders or imams. Rather, it is thanks to a combination of God’s mercy and my own reading and understanding of Islam’s rich heritage.

In January I visited Indonesia and found an open Muslim society where people openly enter and leave religions for marriage and other reasons. Gender relations in Indonesia are open, and women openly participate in public life. Some of Indonesia’s most fervently Islamic communities continue to practise matriarchal cultures where women traditionally rule the roost.

Yet still I know so many young 2nd and 3rd generation Aussie Muslims who have never been exposed to other Muslim cultures. They aren’t aware of the multicultural richness of their faith and heritage. Then again, how many Aussie Christians know that the oldest hymns on earth are sung in Syria?

Muslim parents who don’t want their children to leave Islam should learn that Islam is more than just a cultural construct designed to remind parents of the ‘home country’. They should allow their children to experience a wide variety of cultural experiences that Islam in Australia has to offer. No country has as great a diversity of Muslim cultures as Australia. When elders and community leaders allow Islam to become a truly Australian faith, they will find they no longer need to force-feed the faith.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

OPINION: PM's points of reference don't reflect reality of Muslim Australia

Howard’s selection process is flawed and doesn’t inspire confidence it will get better, IRFAN YUSUF reports.

PRIME Minister John Howard and his ministerial minstrels want Muslims to learn some genuine Australian values. In doing so, they have been misleading by example.
Different ministers provide differing lists of Australian values. Howard speaks of equality for women, an Australian value so treasured that, in the past seven years, reported incidents of domestic violence in Howard's home state of NSW have increased by about 50 per cent. He then condemned certain isolationist practices of Muslims before defending a fringe Christian sect with even more isolationist practices. Perhaps he was trying to encourage Muslims to run covert political campaigns against his enemies.

Former education minister Dr Brendan Nelson warned Muslim independent schools to clear off if they refused to emulate an English illegal immigrant and his donkey. Treasurer Peter Costello advised Muslims against implementing sharia, before listing a set of Australian values that would find pride of place in an elementary sharia textbook. He followed this up with a lecture calling on Muslims to embrace the separation of church and state, his message being delivered to a conference of a Christian lobby which wants religion to play a more active role in Australian statehood. Health Minister Tony Abbott spoke in less patronising tones, perhaps a reflection of his own experience of being lampooned for holding unfashionable religious views. Abbott encouraged Muslims to engage in more self-critique.
One value all ministers would agree on is the need for Muslims to embrace democracy. This means encouraging fair elections and ensuring government is representative of the governed.

Once again, Howard is misleading by example. He is so committed to Muslim democracy that he will be deciding which Muslims will form part of the new Muslim community leadership that makes up his Muslim Community Reference Group. Howard will hand-pick which Muslims he consults on matters potentially affecting all 360,000 Muslims (not to mention more than 19million other Australians). He won't leave the choice to Muslims themselves. He has not even invited nominations.

Howard's record in his first reference group provided interesting outcomes. At least 50 per cent of Muslims are female. At least 50 per cent of Muslims were born after 1969 (the year I was born). Turks represent the largest ethno-religious community. Yet Howard's first reference group had only a handful of women and hardly any young people. And no Australian Turks.

Instead, Howard chose to surround himself with a group dominated by middle-aged migrant men with poor English skills and unable to challenge him on policy. He could then drop a few bombshell comments and watch as his hand-picked Muslims would scurry around. He could then attribute their behaviour to the entire Muslim population, thereby creating a useful diversion from more pressing political issues plaguing his administration. His methodology is simple. He picks which Muslims he will talk to. He will then make nonsensical or provocative statements knowing his hand-picked Muslims will overreact. He will then blame all Muslims and shrug his shoulders as his problems with industrial relations, Telstra, Medibank Private, right-wing branch- stacking and AWB leave the front pages.

It is likely the next group of men (and a few token women and youth) Howard chooses for his next Muslim reference group will also satisfy the caricatured Muslims he has found so politically useful. They will be people who do not reflect the composition of a largely young, educated and home- grown faith-community.

His next reference group will be unlikely to have prominent Muslim women. He is likely to overlook Muslim business people, doctors, accountants, lawyers, bankers, journalists, public servants, sportspeople, local councillors and academics. He is unlikely to choose Muslims who have significant contacts and networks in the broader community which they can use to challenge him and mobilise opposition to his domestic and foreign policies. He is unlikely also to appoint people who can challenge him on a political and public policy level in public and with a certain degree of media savvy. He is unlikely to pick Muslims who do not meet a stereotype. He won't pick ones of perhaps a lesser degree of religiosity but greater expertise. Such Muslims exist in substantial numbers. For his patronising agenda, these Muslims are a problem. But for Australia's social cohesion, they are an essential part of the solution.

I hope Howard proves me wrong. I hope he selects prominent Muslim business people and professionals, journalists and academics, sportspeople and public servants. I hope at least 50 per cent of his reference group are women, and that at least 50 per cent are aged under 40. In short, I hope he selects Muslims who best reflect the reality of Muslim Australia, not just another group of middle-aged male sycophants who oscillate between blind acceptance and even blinder reaction.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer who has acted for Muslim peak bodies and independent schools. First published in the Canberra Times on Tuesday October 10 2006.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, October 08, 2006

My own thoughts on the Dr Ameer Ali controversy

The following article was submitted to the op-ed editor of The Australian on Thursday 5 October 2006.

This entire matter has been a beat-up from start to finish. Notice how only The Oz was running with the issue. The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald refused to touch it. I don't think even the tabloids ran with it.

What does this show? It shows the entire issue was a beat-up. And people like Hilaly, Kara-Ali and others who reacted gave this obvious beat-up more legs than it deserved.


Once again, unelected and self-appointed Australian Muslim leaders are seeking attention by manufacturing a mountain of controversy from a theological mole hill. This time, the controversy concerns remarks by Dr Ameer Ali, the outgoing Chair of the Prime Minister’s unelected and handpicked Muslim Community Reference Group (MCRG).

The current MCRG is reaching the end of its term. As the Group’s chair, Dr Ali is among its more outspoken members. Often, he has been criticised for playing musical chairs, changing sides on issues depending on whichever direction he feels the communal or political winds appear to be blowing.

In more recent times, Dr Ali has taken and stuck to sensible opinions. His final comments on what should have been a ‘claytons’ controversy surrounding a recent papal speech – that Muslims should accept the Pope’s apology and move on – effectively killed the debate on this issue in Australia, with only a handful of tabloid columnists dragging the discussion further.

Dr Ali’s recent pronouncements are, by and large, fairly benign. Notwithstanding what the editorial authors of The Australian may claim, much of what Dr Ali said was neither new nor courageous. Further, to claim his kind of views “have already sparked widespread displays of anger and retaliatory violence around the world” is more than a slight exaggeration.

Dr Ali’s call – that Muslims should not read the Koran literally and should adapt their understanding to changing times - represents orthodox consensus among Muslims of all denominations. Indeed, literalism in interpreting the Koran is a sure sign of heterodoxy.

The Prophet Muhammad himself is known to have taught various methods of interpreting (and therefore, of re-interpreting) the Koran, and his example has been followed over 14 centuries. In this sense, certain strains of the Wahhabi school, who generally prefer literal meanings over traditional (often metaphorical) interpretation, represent a departure from orthodoxy.

However, in relation to his recent remarks on the status of the Prophet, Dr Ali has really hit a raw nerve. Yet it wasn’t so much his basic message that was the problem. Rather, it was the words he used.

Muslims regard all Prophets of God as being perfect human beings. The Koran rejects Biblical claims of Prophets such as Dawud (David) and Sulayman (Solomon) engaging in sexual and other vices. Muslims believe Prophets were ma’sum (free of sin).

The gist of Dr Ali’s message seems to be that the Prophet Muhammad was not perfect. But by what standard of perfection is he talking about? Muslims of all schools of thought and denominations agree that the Prophet was a perfect human (al-insan al-kaamil in Arabic). But then, the word for human (insan) itself means forgetful or negligent. Muslims agree that, as a human being, the Prophet was perfect. Yet there are places in the Koran where the Prophet has been corrected in his conduct.

So how is this Prophetic perfection to be worded? To what extent can he be praised? What are the limits of his human perfection? This is where the controversy among different Muslim denominations begins. It features prominently in sectarian polemical discussions across the Muslim world.

In the Indian sub-Continent, the dividing line is between followers of the Barelwi sect (who believe the Prophet was created from divine light or nur) and the Deobandi sect (who believe he was created from both nur as well as the stuff all humans are made from). And that’s only part of the controversy.

Some years back, I acted for a Fiji-Indian mosque located in the Sydney suburb of Green Valley . There, controversy raged about whether to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday.

One might regard this as a trivial issue. However, among Indian Muslims (and their Diaspora communities in Fiji , South Africa and elsewhere), celebrating the Prophet’s birthday often involves the congregation standing up out of respect for the Prophet. This is based on the belief that the Prophet Muhammad can be in more than one place at a time (haadhir wa naadhir), and that he attends all celebrations of his birthday.

Fiji-Indian Muslims from the competing faction opposed the celebration of the Prophet’s birthday on the basis that it involved attributing a divine quality to the Prophet Muhammad. And while the elders of the congregation quarrelled over this issue, their children were deserting the mosque in droves.

The extent of reverence to be paid to the Prophet has been a controversial issue in recent times. In Lebanon and Syria , the al-Ahbash sect insists that the Prophet’s relics (such as his clothes) can be used to obtain blessings. The sect is known for what some Muslims deem its excessive praise of the Prophet.

In this sense, it is little wonder Reference Group youth representative Mustapha Kara-Ali is criticising Dr Ali. Mr Kara-Ali is known to have close ties with the al-Ahbash sect. Indeed, Mr Kara-Ali is managing a government funded project under the auspices of al-Amanah College , a Sydney independent school managed by members of the sect. Criticism of Dr Ali’s position is perhaps one of the few areas where the al-Ahbash sect agrees with Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly, a man they otherwise regard as an apostate.

By entering the dispute over the appropriate expression for Prophetic perfection, Dr Ali is in fact opening an irrelevant sectarian and cultural hornet’s nest of little relevance to young Muslims. Muslims seeking to openly discuss his well-intentioned questions might find themselves shouted down by sectarian zealots seeking attention by diverting young Muslims away from more pressing issues.

Far from helping the cause of developing an Australian Islam, Dr Ali might have just further entrenched sectarian irrelevance.

The author is a Sydney lawyer who has acted for various Muslim organisations and independent schools.

©Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Friday, October 06, 2006

Piercing through Piers on imams of hate

Daily Telegraph columnist Piers Akerman is blogging away on the subject of multiculturalism. His blog is one of a series of blogs on the subject, with other bloggers involved including Keysar Trad, 2 Christian clergy and myself.

Akerman has been upto his old games again, holding all Muslims responsible for the attitudes and actions of a minority of dangerous and violent nutcases. In this respect, he is repeating his allegations that imams in Sydney are preaching hatred …

Irfan, you are a lawyer, aren't you. It is sufficient to say to that (1) I have spoken to a number of imams. (2) A number make what can only be described as hate-filled addresses. Your clumsy attempts to put up straw men to distract attention from the central points do you no good at all. Any respect that may have attached to you has dissipated.

I’ve asked him for specifics of his allegations. Sadly, he tries to evade my probing questions. In one post, I’ve asked him …

Piers, I’m sorry if my simple requests for basic information are causing you discomfort.

However, since you have alleged that certain imams in Australia have made hate-filled addresses, why not provide your readers with the following details:

a. The names of these imams and the mosques where they preached;
b. The languages in which the sermons were delivered;
c. The approximate dates on which the sermons were delivered;
d. The words that were used during the sermons;
e. Whether or not you had discussions with these imams following their sermon.
f. What was said during those discussions.

After all, Piers, you are a journalist. Presumably you carry a notebook to take notes or voice recorder. All you have to do is pull your notes and/or recordings out and reveal all ...

... that is, if you have anything to reveal!

Piers’ response was to advise that he had told the relevant authorities. I’ve again asked him for the details, reminding him of his frequent suggestion that ‘moderate’ Muslims aren’t doing enough to silence radicals.

Let’s see if Piers continues to evade my questions. It’s all good and fine for columnists to make claims about Muslims. However, columnists need to be held accountable and required to provide evidence for their claims.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Muslims, The Brethren & Aussie Values

Imagine a religious community which forbids its adherents from using computers, from eating with non-believers, from attending university and from voting. Imagine if the group was led by a Lebanese sheik.

One can only guess John Howard’s reaction to such a sect. “These people need to integrate. They need to adopt Australian values. This sort of culture could breed home-grown terror.”

One can also imagine Brendan Nelson’s response (were he still education minister). “I will write to their schools and impress upon them the importance of observing Australian values. Otherwise, they can clear off!”

Perhaps Treasurer Peter Costello would talk about such a sect as manufacturing generation of young people caught in a “twilight zone”, not feeling comfortable in their parents’ culture or in broader Australian culture.

No doubt Attorney-General Phillip Ruddock would be concerned about allegations the sect was actively engaged in breaching Family Court orders in relation to children. Joe Hockey would be most concerned the group was potentially assisting its members by channelling money through secret accounts to avoid falling foul of Centrelink.

Select newspapers owned by a certain American citizen would no doubt be running hard with the story. The Australian would publish editorials about how this sect has little respect for Australian values. Its op-ed and letters pages would be flooded with pieces from former supporters of Sir Joh on “ Australia ’s Muslim problem” and “the Islamic cancer in our body politic”. Its favoured education writer would use his Menzies Foundation credentials to speculate about funding for the sect’s schools.

The tabloid duo in Sydney and Melbourne would be carping away, using the story as yet more proof that Muslims just don’t wish to integrate and their dual citizens are a bunch of social security cheats.

Meanwhile, conservative think tanks would publish comment on the social and economic dangers posed by this sect. They would invite theatre critics to lecture on more “big ideas” of how Muslim activities represent a threat to our Western culture.

Security commentators and self-declared terrorism “experts” would issue fatwas on possible dangers posed by such fundamentalist beliefs, and possible links of the Muslim sect to al-Qaida and Hezbollah.

Of course, all this is hypothetical. I’m not aware of any Muslim sect in Australia which insists on such isolationist thinking and living. However, viewers of Four Corners on 25 September would be aware of a Christian sect accused of engaging in such conduct.

The Exclusive Brethren have every right to practise their form of Christianity. They have every right to stop their members from going to university, eating with non-Brethren, marrying outside their sect and voting.

But when any religious group is accused of engaging in deliberate breaches of the law, our law makers should be the last to defend them (or at least the first to call for an investigation). Hence, John Howard’s description of the Exclusive Brethren in the Sydney Morning Herald on September 27 as merely “an organisation within the law” which has “a different, a more disciplined” version of religion is most disturbing.

Mr Howard frequently lectures Muslims about Australian values. These include mateship, respect for the law and equality for women. However, such rules clearly do not apply to Christian sects which bankroll campaigns benefiting Mr Howard’s (and indeed my own) side of politics.

Australians of all denominations have expressed concern about what they perceive to be Mr Howard’s anti-Muslim sentiments. Many would argue that Mr Howard and other politicians are engaging in a campaign of vilification of Australians of Muslim heritage. Howard has defended critics of Islamic religion even when their comments are based on ignorance.

Mr Howard refused to silence backbenchers and NSW Upper House member Fred Nile who called for hijab to be banned from public schools. Howard even refused to contradict them.

(Of course, the Niles and Bishops of this world are silent when it comes to headscarves worn by women from the Brethren.)

But the PM will not tolerate “some vilification campaign” (to use his words) against Christian sects. He will not call upon his ministers to investigate potential breaches of social security and family laws against them. He certainly will not follow conservative politicians in Victoria and New Zealand who have disassociated themselves from the Brethren.

Perhaps what Muslim groups need to do is ensure their leader lives and works in John Howard’s electorate. Perhaps Muslims should start publishing advertisements attacking the Greens and other parties who don’t share their conservative views on social issues.

Better still, perhaps Muslims should declare themselves to be a Christian sect.

One of John Howard’s former staffers, Dr Gerard Henderson, wrote in The Age on May 25 2004 of

...the one significant blot on [Howard’s] record in public life … a certain lack of empathy in dealing with individuals with whom he does not identify at a personal level: for example, Asian Australians in the late 1980s and asylum seekers in the early 21st century.

Cynics might suggest that apart from having white skin, conservative social views and Christian symbols, it’s difficult to see how Mr Howard can identify with the Exclusive Brethren on a personal level. At the very least, the responses of Howard and his ministers to the Brethren show that it is the Coalition which desperately needs to adopt Australian values.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Islam of burning books & condemning Buddhists

I’ve been going to the Commonwealth Street mosque in Surry Hills since I was a child. The mosque is managed by the Islamic Society of New South Wales, an organisation with which my family has had association since its inception in the early 1970’s.

In 1986, I joined the Surry Hills Mosque Library. A chap named Ronnie processed my membership, and I borrowed a number of books. The library was filled with English titles on a range of religious and other subjects, including magazines, HSC study guides and university textbooks.

Some years later, a new committee took over the mosque. It was a coalition of members of the Tablighi Jamaat (TJ) and the al-Ahbash sect which operated under a front organisation calling itself the Islamic Charitable Projects Association (ICPA).

I recall meeting a red-headed gentleman at the mosque that year (I believe it was 1988 or 89). He was a leader of the al-Ahbash sect and was an executive member of the Islamic Society of NSW. I asked him about the library. I still clearly remember his answer.

“Brother, we burnt most of the books. They teach kufr (unbelief) and shirk (idolatry). We only want books with true Islamic teachings in them. We don’t want non-Muslim material.”

That was my first exposure to the ICPA and the al-Ahbash sect. I was used to some members of the TJ having an aversion to learning Islam by reading books alone without assistance from a qualified Islamic scholar (especially in the case of complex and advanced books on Islamic spirituality such as Imam Ghazali’s Ihya Uloom ad-Din translated as Revival of the Religious Sciences).

What disturbed me was the idea of burning books. Members of the Society had donated hundreds of books to the library, only to be summarily burnt without their knowledge or approval. I recall other library members also complaining about the destruction of library books, which formed part of mosque property.

This would not be the first time I experienced the extreme narrow-mindedness of the al-Ahbash sect leaders toward non-Muslim literature and ideas. In 1999, I was involved in a campaign to assist members of the Bankstown Vietnamese Buddhist community who were having difficulties having extensions to their temple approved by the Bankstown City Council.

My campaign included publicising the issue on the Morning Glory Show run by Ahmed Abdo and his colleagues at the Voice of Islam Radio in Sydney. During the show, numerous listeners rang up and expressed their support for members of the Buddhist community. Some Councillors also phoned in an vain attempt to justify their decision to oppose temple extensions.

The campaign brought Islamic and Buddhist communities closer together and was a huge win for good community relations. However, this did not stop members of the al-Ahbash sect from openly expressing their opposition to our campaign.

And the basis of their objection? One al-Ahbash leader said to me: “As Muslims, we must never support and encourage false religions”!

The Prime Minister has emphasised the importance of integration and Australian values. I would have thought that supporting freedom of religion for religious minorities was such a value. Yet sadly al-Ahbash interpret Islam in a manner which is extreme and completely opposed to Australian values. They burn books in a medieval manner. They also oppose Muslim involvement in efforts to assist other faith communities.

Indeed, not only did leaders of al-Ahbash condemn my involvement in the campaign to support Vietnamese Buddhists. I was also criticised by a member of the Prime Minister’s Muslim Reference Group associated with the sect. This same member was recently praised by Minister for Citizenship Andrew Robb for his commitment to integration.

I believe that groups which oppose friendly and supportive relations between Muslims and Buddhists represent a fringe element within the Muslim communities. The al-Ahbash sect has proven time and again that their agenda is built upon ensuring Muslims remain on the margins of mainstream society.

It therefore disturbs me that I receive news from a source that the Federal Government has made a grant of $200,000 to people linked to the sect. I am not sure if this money was awarded as part of its grant funds to combat extremism and promote harmony. However, I wonder whether the organisation has moved on from times when it engaged in medieval arts of book burning and modern prejudices against Buddhists.

I guess time will tell.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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Monday, September 18, 2006

Toward Understanding Ayaan Hirsi Ali Part 1

Many readers will not have heard of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born former Dutch MP who abandoned her ancestral faith some years back. I’ve been reading Ali’s book, a collection of speeches and articles translated from Dutch and collectively entitled The Caged Virgin: A Muslim Woman’s Cry for Reason.

Ali’s book has also been published in the United States as under the title of The Caged Virgin: An Emancipation Proclamation for Women and Islam. It has received mixed reviews, with perhaps the most detailed review published in The Nation in June this year by Laila Lalami.

Lalami provides the following short and matter-of-fact biography of Ali.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Mogadishu, Somalia. Her father, Hirsi Magan
Isse, was a prominent critic of the Siyad Barre regime, and the family had to
flee the country, first to Saudi Arabia and then to Ethiopia and Kenya. When
Hirsi Ali was 22, her father arranged a marriage for her with a distant
relation. On a layover in Germany en route to Canada, where the man lived, Hirsi
Ali escaped to the Netherlands, where she applied for and received asylum. She
worked as an interpreter for Somali refugees and studied political science at
the University of Leiden. Hirsi Ali first came into the public eye in 2002, with
the publication of De Zoontjesfabriek (The Son Factory), whose vehement
criticisms of Islam made her the subject of death threats. She joined a think
tank affiliated with the social-democratic Labor Party but a year later switched
membership to the right-wing VVD Party, which had invited her to run for a seat
in Parliament. She won, and became a member of Parliament in January 2003. Hirsi Ali explained her shifting allegiance by saying that the VVD granted her greater ability to advocate for the rights of Muslim women. Then in 2004, she wrote the script to the short film Submission, which was directed by Theo van Gogh, a man who was known for his virulently anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim statements. That fall, van Gogh was slaughtered in Amsterdam, in broad daylight, by a Dutch man named Mohammed Bouyeri, whose parents had emigrated from Morocco. A letter left on van Gogh's body made it clear that Hirsi Ali was the next target. She
immediately went into hiding and has needed heavy protection ever since. A few years ago, Hirsi Ali admitted to lying on her asylum application, but a Dutch TV documentary challenged her on other details of her life, including whether or not she was forced into marriage. The revelations sparked a row that culminated when Rita Verdonk, the Minister of Integration and a member of Hirsi Ali's own party, informed her that she could no longer consider herself a Dutch citizen. Although there has been no specific move to strip her of citizenship, Hirsi Ali has already announced that she is resigning from Parliament and moving to the United States, where she will take up a position at the right-wing American
Enterprise Institute.

Ali provides some details about herself in the preface to her book entitled Breaking Through the Islamic Curtain. She says she was brought up by her parents

… to be a Muslim – a good Muslim. Islam dominated the lives of our family
and relations down to the smallest detail. It was our ideology, our political
conviction, our moral standard, our law and our identity. We were first and
foremost Muslim and only then Somali.

From this excerpt it appears that Ali came from a family of conservative Muslims for whom Islamist politics reigned supreme. Her father was a political activist and a critic of the government of his time.

Ali explains what growing up as a Muslim meant to her. She was taught to regard Muslims as separate from and superior to non-Muslims. The “us and them” mentality seemed to be drilled into her.

Some 12 years ago and aged 22, Ali arrived in Western Europe. She had fled an arranged marriage to a distant relative who lived in Canada. Her whole outlook on life changed.

Ali described 3 elements of her Islamic faith following her exposure to European civilisation. First, Muslims’ relationship with their God was one of fear. Second, the only moral source for Muslims was the infallible Prophet Muhammad. Third, Islam is strongly dominated by sexual morality derived from tribal Arab values dating back to the 7th century.

The essence of a woman is reduced to her hymen. Her veil functions as a
constant reminder to the outside world of this stifling morality that makes men
the owners of women …

For Ali, these three elements largely explain why Muslim nations lag behind both the West and emerging Asian nations. The fact that emerging Asian nations include Muslim majority states such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei doesn’t seem to figure. The fact that Muslim minorities play active roles in the development of both Muslim and Western nations also seems to be ignored.

Ali paints a selective picture of the West, Western cultures, Muslim cultures and Islam. Her analysis is simplistic and based on anecdotes. Her referencing is poor, which seems strange given that much of what she has written has quite likely been written by political staffers and speech writers assigned to her as a Member of the Dutch Parliament.

I do not doubt Ali’s sincerity. She has clearly had troubled experiences that have left her with deep emotional and psychological scars. Her childhood as a refugee uprooted from her home and almost always on the run, must have been unsettling. She was shipped off to Canada to marry a man she had never met.

Perhaps Ali’s most troubling childhood experience was her exposure to the disgusting practise of female genital mutilation (FGM). In this respect, she will disappoint those who claim FGM is an Islamic practice. She acknowledges it is a tribal African practice, though claims Muslims spread the practice far and wide.

The title of Ali’s book is “A Muslim Woman’s Cry for Reason”. Yet in what sense Ali regards herself as Muslim remains unclear. She certainly acknowledges that she no longer regards herself religiously or even culturally as Muslim. And if her descriptions of Islamic doctrines and Muslim cultures are any indication, Ali has had little exposure to various forms of Islam beyond her conservative middle-class Somali upbringing.

(To be continued. And this time I mean it!)

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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