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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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

may Allah guide you! You will answer for the lies you tell.

Spacehamster said...

Irfam,
Geez! For a moment there I thought you were going to write that al-Habashi were the group that the Federal Government didn't want to support.

There seems to be a humongous difference between your experiences (and the facts) versus the Howard Government's outlook.

Anonymous said...

I'm on the emailing list Irfan references above. Irfan is not saying the truth. Mr Kara-Ali was alluding to the fact that the noise Irfan was making about the project Mustapha is involved in is in fact driven by jealousy.

There was no reference to an ACT project, and Mr X is in fact Irfan Yusuf.

Mr Kara-Ali has also written the following on the emaili list, but Irfan again fails to address the issue as it is without putting his usual pathetic spin on it:

Mr Kara-Ali wrote:

- The people I spoke to were in relation to the Train the Trainers Course (TTC) and that was after I spoke Gary (Gaza) on that issue, and he informed me about his plans. In fact, I wanted to see whether I can help, and I spoke to some people at DIMA in relation to this. I was then informed that you (irfan) had already spoken to them and that perhaps DIMA cannot fund it directly, but maybe through other existing programs.

Hence, there was no breach of confidentiality, as I first got the information from Gaza and being involved in another project I wanted to see how I can help.

- end

Abu Ahmad - Granville said...

Irfan,,,
Your article is completely out of reality and for sure you gathered your information from one source - Al-Hilaly source. I want to ask you a question,for the last 26 years and since Al-Hilaly came to Australia, What has he done to our Muslim community other than weakness, isolation and hates between us.Al-Ahbash in 5 years time have build 2 campuses, primary and High Schools, 1 mosque in bankstown and another one in Liverpool.They are very active group in the community. They have scouts,sports' teams,youth clubs, chanting bands,community relation groups. This all been done in less than 10 years period.
Can you tell us and the readers, in 26 years, Why such person (Al-Hilaly) can't speak the language of the country he thinks he represent. How would he represent Australian if he don't understand them, talking here about thousands of young people who born and grow up here, they hardly know how to speak their Arabic language. Are you want to tell me somebody will translate it to him, what about if he mis-interpreted the translation as Al-Hilaly declared when he compared the woman to the car meat. This way, Al-Hilaly will give that guy the wrong Fatwa (Answer) because the Interpreter didn't pass him the right information.

Add to your information, ICPA (Al-Ahbash) are Moderate Muslim people encourage the harmony living in Australia. This Association uour reckon a minority have 44 branches in the world and its main objective is to pass the correct and right information about our beautiful religion Al-Islam, remove from people hearts the hatred and encourage them to live in a peaceful manner.

In the end, I want to ask you this question : Would the Macquarie University accept you a lecturer if you don't speak English.

Anonymous said...

abu ahmad, of what relevance is a Lebanese cult to Aussie Muslims from Bangladesh? Or Malaysia? Or China? Or Turkey? Or India?

how can a cult which derides just about every 20th century Muslim writer, scholar or activist as 'kafir' (infidel) be called mainstream?

and what is so moderate about telling people not to support Buddhists pursue their legal rights to worship?

finally, do you think it is OK for this cult to invite terror suspects on fund-raising tours in Australia? or do you regard the assassination of rafik hariri as a non-terrorist attack?

Anonymous said...

anon@1138, the "Gary" you mention denies having such a conversation with you.

Further, Kara-Ali's e-mail on the public list refers not only to an alleged unsuccessful program but also makes a lewd suggestion concerning Irfan's personal life.

What this shows is that your cult will do anything to gain government support. And that's exactly what you have done in Lebanon to gain the support of the Syrian Ba'athist government.

Law Student said...

Irf, can you not let any of the habashi comments through. Please.