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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