Saturday, July 29, 2006

Imam Yahya Hendi

He speaks fluent Hebrew, is completing his PhD in Judaism, and each Saturday finds himself addressing a synagogue congregation. And he’s visiting Australia on a lecture tour.

Are we talking about a visiting Israeli rabbi? Nope. He’s a Palestinian-born Washington Imam.

The US Government is sponsoring Imam Yahya (Arabic for “John”) Hendi to tour Australia. Hendi’s message is important for Australians of all faiths and no faith in particular to hear.

If only some neo-Cons in Washington listened to him carefully. Especially given the Imam is based at Georgetown University in Washington. The Jesuit-run private University employs him as full-time Muslim chaplain.

Most scribes haven’t picked up Hendi’s visit. The Canberra Times’ Helen Musa reported on 25/07 concerning his Monday press conference at the US Office of Public Affairs in Canberra.

Presently Hendi is in Sydney. Readers have missed a lecture he gave at Macquarie University’s Centre for Middle East & North African Studies today. He’ll also be touring Melbourne and Perth.

The last imam to visit on a government-sponsored tour was NY-based Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf . His tour was sponsored by the NSW and South Australian governments. At the time, some local imams felt the government was trying to show them up.

Already some local Muslim “leaders” and imams aren’t happy. Perhaps he shows up their complete irrelevance too much. Especially given his insistence that an imam living in an English-speaking country who doesn't speal fluent English is virtually wasted space.

Hendi’s visit coincides with ongoing debate within Muslim circles over imam accreditation. The NSW Islamic Council (the original one, not the subsequent 2 set up by the national body AFIC) have set up a Board of Imams and have invited applicants to submit their credentials. Some imams and teachers have expressed reluctance to disclose their credentials.

US Muslims don’t have non-English-speaking Muftis looking after their religious matters. Instead they have a national council of jurists known as the Fiqh Council of North America (where “Fiqh” means Islamic jurisprudence). Hendi is council spokesman.

Hendi says Western imams must speak local languages and understand local social and political trends. He controversially claimed the US was the most Islamic nation on earth, pointing to its (albeit limited) government welfare services. He even said 17,000 Muslims served in US defence forces including in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sadly, I haven’t yet had a chance to ask him about James Yee, former chaplain at Guantanamo Bay.

Canberra officials are watching and listening intently to Hendi’s pragmatic message. I noticed one official (involved in distributing $35M as part of a National Action Plan to stamp out extremism) present at both his Canberra events.

In future posts, I will examine some of the themes from Imam Hendi’s addresses in Sydney and Canberra. Many of these themes are familiar for those who have attended talks by Anwar Ibrahim and Feisal Abdul Rauf. All three talk about the need for Muslims to emerge from their cultural cocoons and to engage with the broader community.

Sadly, it is a message few imams of Australia’s ethnic-based mosques can understand, let alone implement.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

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dawood said...

Wish I could have attended this with you bro! Look forward to the write up of things.

Spacehamster said...

As a non-Muslim I look forward to hearing more. Please keep us all posted!