Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Hawaiian Islamic Council of NSW?

Picture this. John Howard has an argument with Morris Iemma at the Premiers’ Conference. He then decides to punish Iemma by kicking New South Wales out of the Commonwealth, to be replaced by a couple of highly volcanic islands to the east.

Then after a few years Mr Howard has an argument with Helen Clark, and decides it is time to punish her. He then decides to kick New Zealand out and looks even further east for a replacement state.

The result? Well, perhaps Honolulu replaces Sydney as the new showcase capital city of Australia.

This is exactly what the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC) is doing with its constituent member societies.

AFIC is the peak Muslim body in Australia. It is a federation of 9 State and Territory Councils, and is meant to have a 10th council which is to be a national young and student body.

Yet instead of behaving like a federation, the powers-that-be at AFIC engage in antics to ensure that only “reliable” councils are allowed to participate and vote.

In the last 5 years, AFIC has kicked out 2 Councils from New South Wales, the state with the largest Muslim population in Australia. The first, known as the Islamic Council of NSW, was removed after a period of sustained friction following the award of a lucrative Commonwealth Government job search contract to the 'wrong' party.

In any event, relations between ICNSW and AFIC deteriorated. AFIC then gathered some disgruntled former executive members of the ICNSW to form a new Council which AFIC would then endorse. The new Council was named the “Supreme Islamic Council of NSW”. Soon, it would become affectionately known as the “Supreme Pizza Council”.

Within a few years, AFIC and the Supreme Pizza Council were at each other’s throats. As a result, AFIC decided to form a new Council. Before it was even constituted, people were already jokingly referring to it as the “Super-Supreme Islamic Council” or even the “Hawaiian Islamic Council”.

The final result of all this fighting between AFIC and its NSW Councils was that a number of lawyers grew very fat. Sadly, I wasn’t one of them. And as those who have met me in person will attest, I probably wouldn’t need much assistance in that department anyway.

So now the good Muslims of New South Wales are ably represented by not one nor two but THREE Islamic councils. Of course, in the case of the first two Councils, we know exactly which mosque societies have decided to affiliate. But in the case of the new Hawaiian Islamic Council (its actual name is the “Muslim Council of NSW”), we have no idea who runs the show.

We certainly don’t. But Richard Kerbaj, a journalist at The Australian, certainly does. So when Muslims in Sydney want to find out what their leaders are thinking, they cannot rely on AFIC to tell them. Instead, they have to rely on Mufti Murdoch and the Jamiat al-News Limited to provide the details.

The AFIC Congress and elections start in a couple of weeks. The Islamic Council of Victoria invited members of the Victorian Muslim community to attend a “meet the candidates” night and sought community feedback on who the ICV should nominate for executive positions.

In Sydney, the Muslim Council of NSW President is a Palestinian chap known as Na’il Kaddoumi (though he prefers it if you just call him “Neil”). I’ve bumped into Neil on and off over the years. He’s an interesting chap.

The first time I met him was during the late 1980’s at a Palestinian mate’s place in Auburn. Neil came to visit my mate’s mum. I was already having a chat with my mate’s mum about the Intifadeh. My mate told me not to mention Yasser Arafat in front of Neil. I asked him why.

“Irfan, trust me. Neil hates Arafat. He is a big-time supporter of HAMAS.”

Not that being a supporter of HAMAS is a big deal these days. Well, not in Gaza. Perhaps in Australia, it isn’t the best thing. And I wonder how many New South Welshmen and women of Muslim background would be impressed if they knew their representative was at one stage an active HAMAS supporter and activist within the local Palestinian community.

During the mid-1990’s I worked at a small law firm in Revesby. The nearest mosque to me was in Winspear Avenue in Bankstown and was managed by an outfit known as the Islamic Charitable Projects Association (ICPA). I was at the Bankstown mosque one day finishing my afternoon prayers. Neil came in with a large batch of educational materials. He told me he was using them to teach Arabic and Qur’an to kids in a school he ran.

In 1996, I again saw Neil. It was the Friday before the Federal Election and I had former Parramatta MP Ross Cameron with me. Neil was looking after proceedings at the Friday prayer. I asked him and some Bangladeshi members of his executive if he would agree to allow Ross to say a few words. The Bangladeshis seemed happy enough. Neil wasn’t. He said that the Islamic Society of Parramatta would be supporting the ALP.

Just over a year after the election, I saw Neil again. I was doing a short stint in a personal injury law firm in North Parramatta. Neil was a frequent visitor, usually accompanied by an injured worker of Arab descent.

I never saw Neil much after that. I wonder how many Muslims in NSW would have met or heard of Neil. Yet Neil will be casting a vote at the next AFIC elections and will be representing us at the AFIC Congress.

And what are Neil’s contact details? I looked up the White Pages website but couldn’t find a single person of the surname Kaddoumi (or any other variations of spelling). The phone number of the Muslim Council of NSW given on the AFIC website rings out without anyone answering.

And so, my dear readers, if you would like to know what the officially endorsed leadership of NSW Muslims is upto, you will have to read The Australian newspaper. And if you want Neil’s number, give the Melbourne office of News Limited a call and ask for Dick Kerbaj.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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