Sunday, December 30, 2007

COMMENT: Bin-Ladins on all sides ...

The following sentences are lifted from page 16 of Jason Burke, a reporter for The Observer, from his most recent (published in 2006) book On The Road To Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict In The Islamic World ...

Perhaps the most depressing characteristic of the clash-of-civilisations argument, which would be ironically amusing if it were not so dangerous, is the coincidence of in views and ideas of its
proponents in both the Islamic world and in the West.

In the West newspaper columnists talk about ‘the Islamic world’ as a monolith, Muslim conservatives make similar statements about ‘the American-led West’.

There is talk of ‘the Arab’ or ‘the Islamic mindset on one side, Western, Christian or Jewish ‘mind’
on the other. In the West, American senators talk of bombing Mecca as a reprisal for attacks on the USA while in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere radicals talk of bombing America as a reprisal for attacks in Palestine, Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq and Afghanistan.

And all of them believe they belong to a discrete religiously defined group that must battle violently in a Hobbesian competition for the earth’s scarce moral, intellectual and physical resources and that they are engaged in a last-ditch, gloves-off, no-holds-barred battle against a fanatical and irrational enemy which is aggressive, belligerent and intent on expansion until all alternative cultures, societies and belief systems are eradicated.

All deploy a range of spurious historical and cultural references to justify what are fundamentally prejudiced and ignorant views and all twist actuality to fit their ideas.


It is interesting to note that, even after outlining his travels through Muslim communities in such disparate places as Iraq, Pakistan and Thailand, Burke's opinion doesn't change. It also doesn't change after he was reporting in London at the scene of the July 7 2005 London bombings.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

COMMENT: Tom Zubrycki is a great bloke but ...

(This piece was written on the night Temple of Dreams was broadcast on TV, which I think was 4 December 2007.)

You take a leading role in a religious youth group. You enter into a lease over what used to be a Masonic temple. You don’t get any proper legal or town planning advice to determine how zoning, OH&S and other laws affect your proposed usage of the premises. You just sign the lease and start using the place as you wish. You then wonder why the Council is trying to close you down.

Are you a martyr? Are you the subject of a conspiracy against people of your ethno-religious identity? Or are you just a complete dill?

I’ve written about Tom Zubrycki’s documentary Temple of Dreams in the past. Having watched it in full on SBSTV last night, I can’t say Zubrycki disappointed me. I wish I could say the same about Fadi Rahman and his group of volunteers from the ICRA Youth Centre.

I admire the resourcefulness of these kids who don’t wait for peak religious bodies or imams to provide services to kids in their neighbourhood. On the other hand, this young intelligent group of kids, born and brought up in Australia, can hardly blame prejudice and racism from John Howard, all because they didn’t think it might just be an idea to check the rule book before setting up shop.

Would they behave in this fashion concerning their own private or business affairs? Would Fadi open a car repair workshop in any place that looked vaguely appropriate without getting a lawyer to run through the lease? Or a lawyer and/or town planner to advise on what usage is permissible?

Why is it that, when it came to religion and community, they cut corners and tried to save money? Sadly, having acted for more community organisations (Muslim and otherwise), I’ve seen too many organisational leaders cutting corners and throwing their intelligence out the door on risk management, expecting councils, governments and law enforcement people to grant them special exemptions and allowances.

But failing to get proper professional advice isn’t all. Here’s someone telling kids to show leadership while screaming at his female volunteers in a grossly sexist manner in front of the cameras! At one point, he shouted ...

Let’s work as a God-damned team!
Shades of Billy Birmingham doing Ritchie Benaud: “Let’s work as a team, and do it my way!” Sadly, this was not comedy.

And how damned insular were these leaders? One was surprised to get e-mail from a gay newspaper wondering if gay Muslim youth were represented. Another said ...

I was shocked to see our research showing so many brothers and sisters in Islam turning to suicide.
Why surprised? Do you think Muslim kids live in a social bubble, unaffected by the same factors as everyone else?

Role models aren’t supposed to be perfect or saintly. But if this is the kind of role model young Lebanese Muslims have, God help them and us.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

BLOG: Muslims Against Sharia – Satire or neo-Con crap-artistry?

Imagine a conservative political group that espoused an end to capitalism. Imagine a Catholic group that called for an end to the papacy.

I guess it’s a bit like imagining the condition of someone with undetected bipolar disorder or a sufferer who hasn’t taken their mood stabilisers as prescribed.

Believe it or not, there is a group of Muslims who are totally against Islam. In fact, they want to water Islam down so much that it becomes virtually unrecognisable.

A new ‘group’ calling itself “Muslims Against Sharia” has emerged on the web. Whether it actually exists beyond cyberspace remains to be seen. Whether it is a serious group or an attempt by someone (such as the Satirical Muslim) to lampoon neo-Con Muslims is hard to tell.

Certainly some of its manifested beliefs are enough to make me laugh. Read this and try not to snigger …

Twenty-first century Muslims have two options: we
can continue the barbaric policies of the seventh century perpetuated by Hassan
al-Banna, Abdullah Azzam, Yassir Arafat, Ruhollah Khomeini, Osama bin Laden,
Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda, Hizballah, Hamas, Hizb-ut-Tahrir, etc., leading to
a global war between Dar al-Islam (Islamic World) and Dar al-Harb (non-Islamic
World), or we can reform Islam to keep our rich cultural heritage and to cleanse
our religion from the reviled relics of the past.

What the f*ck??!! I never knew Yassir Arafat espoused any kind of Islam. Fatah is a strictly secular nationalist organisation that incorporates all shades of Palestinian opinion, and includes Christians among its prominent leaders.

Some of the more fruitloopish folk at The Australian and Quadrant will appreciate the following piece of historical revisionism …

While the Inquisition was a repulsive practice by
Christian Fundamentalists, the Crusades were not unprovoked acts of aggression,
but rather attempts to recapture formerly Christian lands controlled by
Muslims.

Yep, Palestine was all former Christian land. Pope Urban III wasn’t interested in war or bloodshed. It wasn’t the blood of Jews, Orthodox Christians and Muslims that was knee-high when the Crusaders entered Jerusalem.

Then there is this beauty …

Sharia Law must be abolished, because it is
incompatible with norms of modern society.

What sharia are they referring to? How do they define sharia? Is it a complex and sophisticated legal tradition? Or do they presume it is a system of non-anaesthetic amputations?

And should the Common Law remove from itself aspects of sharia law which it has adopted? For instance, should alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (such as mediation) be abolished as being incompatible with modern society’s norms? Should litigants in commercial disputes be forced to hire lawyers and file proceedings in court without any form of commercial arbitration?

The more I read of this website, the more I think it is the work of comics pulling our collective legs. Either that, or these guys represent a bunch of American litigation lawyers desperately in need of work!

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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On Community

One of my constant complaints is with people talking about the “Muslim community”. I consider this entity to be a complete fiction. I’ve always maintained that Muslims are not one community but in fact represent a set of communities.

But then, what does the term ‘community’ actually mean? Some 10 years back, someone sent me a collection of essays by different authors and entitled Community Issues in New Zealand (edited by Claudia Bell and published in 1997 by the Dunmore Press of Palmerston North).

In his forward to the book, Ian Carter sets the ideological tone of the book by making reference to


… that writhing nest of vipers, ‘the business
community’.


However, he also makes some important points. He points out that


Remarkably, whenever the word is used in lay or scholarly usage ‘community’
never is a Bad Thing.

He goes on to comment about community as a vague concept, and that …


It now must be clear that we should celebrate the
richness in ‘community’ as a metaphor, a term which people use to describe
something which they value but can’t quite put into more precise
words.

So community is built upon things we value. But let’s be honest about thus point. Exactly how many people who tick the “Muslim” box on their census forms actually value the religious part of their identity? How many of us regard our religion as being the layer of identity we value the most and often-most?

Ian Carter goes on to give further reasons for us to be sceptical about using the term community to describe Muslims, whether living in Australia or elsewhere.


… how does ‘community’ – a concept rooted so deeply
in European social thought – articulate with ideas doing much the same work in
non-European cultures?

Yes, it is true. There are Muslims who are indigenous Europeans. Albanian Muslims have settled in rural and regional parts of Victoria and Queensland since the 1920’s. But can the term ‘community’ apply to Albanians as Muslims? Or can it apply to them as speakers of Albanian dialect?

So I still think we need to be careful before speaking about a “Muslim community”. Though I’m sure self-serving self-appointed community “leaders” will be happy to continue throwing caution to the wind in this regard.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Coherent responses to the Camden school ...

Thus far, responses by opponents of the Muslim independent school in Camden have been based purely on environmental and planning grounds. There's not even a hint of sectarian or racial bigotry. Read this sample of rational responses and be amazed at the cool-headedness and balance of respondents ...

One local told the Radio National PM program ...

I said it's not about racism, it's about doing the
right thing for the community. You know what I mean? Like, ay, if we go down to
Lakemba, Bankstown and shit like that, you walk through there, mate, they
despise ya, they don't want to talk to ya. Half of us would get f***en knifed or
robbed. I guarantee ya, mate.If they want to come down here and try take over,
the same thing is going to happen in f***en them, mate.


Local Camden resident Ms Wendy Austin (said to be aged 56), told the Daily Telegraph ...

It's not progress, it's an invasion of our
beautiful little country town.

The Rev Fred Nile, that shining light of tolerance and religious diversity, had this to say to reporters and anyone else who was prepared to listen ...

It's no good putting your head in the sand as
they've done in the UK, France and Holland. Now they have massive social
problems [and] I don't want to see those problems in Australia. They may not
occur, they won't be occurring tomorrow, but they may. We may be discussing this
on the ABC in 2010 [or] 2020, when people are throwing up their hands saying,
'How did we allow this situation to develop?' ...


Rev Nile then shows his extensive knowledge of the broad varieties of theology and interpretation that have characterised Muslim communities' interaction with Christians for centuries ...

Let's celebrate Christmas and celebrate the birth
of Jesus Christ, which is condemned in the Koran, which is a textbook of Muslim
schools. The textbook says anyone who serves Jesus Christ, the son of God, is a
corrupt or perverted unbeliever, 'God assail them'. That's my concern.

Nile went onto tell the Camden Advertiser, a local newspaper, that ...

We have to maintain our Christian heritage,
our Christian culture. We recognise religious minorities but religious
minorities have to accept they live in a Christian nation ... They
[multiculturalists] are confusing multicultural with
multi-faith.


Pauline Hanson brought some reason and common sense into the discussion, telling the Camden Advertiser before the Federal Election that ...

Every school in Australia is Christian apart from
the Islamic schools. I have no understanding of what they teach in an Islamic
school. Do you? If they're teaching kids the Koran, then they're teaching the
kids to oppose us, because they think that Christians are infidels.


Meanwhile, a nasty intolerant fundamentalist extremist Islamo-fascist known as Rabbi Clive Rosenberg left this message on a news blog ...

Yes to Christian Schools and not to Islamic
Schools? The area has eight Catholic Schools and three Protestant Schools. Well
no one thought they would cause controversy, no one expected White Christians
coming to Australia to assimilate with Aboriginal culture and religion. This
stinks of racism all the way through.


Clearly this politically-correct left-wing inner-city radical anti-Western Islamist needs to integrate and come to terms with our Judeo-Chris ... woops, I forgot, we're beyond that now ... Christian values and heritage!

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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COMMENT: Islamist Monitor promotes white supermacy in Camden ...

The notorious Islamist Monitor blog has entered the Camden fray, opening its doors to white supremacy with this comment being allowed for publication by the moderators ...

Wendy, I grew up in Camden and its surrounds when it was the epitome of white Anglo-Celtic Australianess.

Yep, to be a true Camden Aussie, you've got to be white and Anglo-Celtic. So all you 'abbos' out there can go jump.

No doubt the folk at the Islamist Monitor would support the following sentiments expressed by a Camden local ...

If it does get approved, every ragger that walks upthe street's going to get smashed up the arse by about 30 Aussies.

Yep, the best way to promote Anglo-Celtic white purity is to threaten women who dress like the Virgin Mary with anal rape.

Another commenter seems to have figured out what 'Islamist' conspiracy was behind the school project ...

... the plan was to bus Muslims from Lakemba and surrounding areas. We all know that Lakemba = trouble, so in other words, they planned to import trouble into Camden.

Meanwhile, another commenter sees this as part of a wider trend ...

Once Muslims arrive they set up their apartheid enclave and demand more and more ---others are forced out! ... Perhaps a herd of pigs could be run on the site or pigs blood (probably good fertiliser) dug into the soil?
Yep, pigs seem to figure prominently among the Monitor crowd. I guess it's their way of showing their anti-Semitism without looking anti-Jewish.

After reading these comments (many of which were made by regular contributors to the Monitor, such as 'Cassandra'), it's obvious that, when the Monitor states ...

We state clearly and unequivocally that Muslims have just as much right to truth and freedom as any other people on earth. Muslims are not our enemy. The enemy is radical Islam.
... they are about as trustworthy as Judas Iscariot.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, December 09, 2007

New Youth Leadership program ...

The Sydney-based Mission of Hope (MoH) have received funding from the Department of Immigration & Citizenship to run a program called Muslim Youth Leadership Challenge (MYLC).

The program has its own website (found here) as well as a variety of promotional materials including this poster. The program is open to young people in Years 10-12 from across the Sydney metropolitan area. It aims to attract young people who identify themselves as Muslim and are enthusiastic about creating change.

Young people of all different backgrounds identify themselves as Muslim. One therefore assumes the program will be open to persons of Nusayri/Alawi, Ismaili, Ahmadi/Qadiani, Alevi (Turkish/Kurdish) and even Druze backgrounds. One also presumes the program will be open to young Muslims regardless of their sexuality. Hence, one hopes that the organisers will not exclude young people who openly identify themselves as gay.

Of course, Islamic sacred law regards homosexual sex as sinful, just as it regards many forms of heterosexual sex as sinful. At the same time, both gays and Muslims are minorities who have been the target of vilification and discrimination in recent times.

It is extremely important that young Muslims are taught that an essential component of leadership is the ability to build coalitions of common purpose with all kinds of people. These include people with whom might otherwise disagree.

Further, Muslims must become accustomed to working with other persons who regard themselves as Muslims but aren't commonly regarded within religious circles as being Muslim. The fact is that bigots and sectarian fruitloops don't treat you any better just because you call yourself Sunni or Shia or Sufi or Alevi or anything else. If your name is Muhammad or Ali, you are just as likely to be the target of discrimination regardless of your sexual preference.

Given the expressed and published attitudes of certain organisers of the program toward homosexuals, I hope the Department funding the program will carefully scrutinise the project to ensure that such prejudices do not play a role in the selection of successful applicants or the execution of the program.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Saturday, December 08, 2007

MEDIA: Paul Stenhouse provides some comic relief ...

I just received my copy of this month's Quadrant, which is now edited by former leftist academic and indigenous-genocide-denier Keith Windschuttle.

I noticed the front cover mentioned an article by Mr Paul Stenhouse entitled Islam's Trojan Horse. The article is also on the Quadrant website here.

I haven't read it in full yet. But what I gather from skimming through the article is that Stenhouse regards groups such as the Affinity Intercultural Foundation as the friendly face of what is (according to Mr Stenhouse) a grand jihadist conspiracy.

Stenhouse manages to find a way to link Bediuzzaman Said Nursi to Syed Maududi and Syed Qutb. He also quotes Shaykh Muhammad Zahid Bursawi (also known as Mehmed Zahid Kotku) as declaring support for this sinister jihadi agenda.

And his evidence? Apparently Kotku told his followers to buy Turkish watches instead of Swiss ones. Yep, you can always tell a suicide bomber by his or her choice of watch!

Stenhouse also identified a further source of jihadist extremism - that Kotku insisted on Turkish Muslims encouraging and adopting Turkish national identity. Yep. Terrible stuff. And the same terrible jihadi message is also preached by nasty Islamic fundamentalists and jihadists like Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Turkey's anti-Islamist military aristocracy.

Even a humble jihadi like yours truly gets a mention in Stenhouse's article. Apparently I'm also part of the conspiracy because I once acted for the Feza Foundation and Sule College, all instruments of the grand conspiracy of the Naqshbandi Sufis together with Fethullah Gulen, Syed Maududi, Syed Qutb, Said Nursi, Ayatollah Khomeini, former Turkish PM Necmettin Erbekan, current Turkish PM Recep Teyip Erdogan, Mehmet Ozalp, Anis Ahmad, Abdullah Gul, the Tabligh-i-Jamaat, Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalwi, the Australian Catholic University etc etc. I'm sure when I read the article in full, I'll probably find a Sudanese teddy bear and the Chaser gang (with their own Trojan horse) somehow involved in this conspiracy also.

I know how much genuine scholars of Islam will find Stenhouse's article amusing. I've therefore arranged for the article to be sent to Emeritus Professor Anthony Johns (of ANU), Dr Nelly Lahoud and Professor Emeritus Bill Shepard (formerly of Canterbury University in Christchurch, an expert on Syed Qutb and an ordained Presbhyterian minister). No doubt they'll find plenty to chuckle about.

Poor Mr Stenhouse just can't seem to shake off his sectarian paranoia. Perhaps the title for his next Quadrant article should be The Protocols of the Whirling Dervishes of Istanbul. Either that, or he should consider taking advantage of that wonderful divinely-sanctioned institution and settle his frustrations by getting married. As one devout Catholic once told me, "Celebacy isn't for everyone, Irfan!"

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Monday, December 03, 2007

COMMENT: Bobby Sands joins al-Qaida while every other prison gang joins the Hayek Appreciation Society ...

I am very concerned. In fact, I’m very alarmed. I know al-Qaida are a nasty bunch of people. They kill more Muslims than non-Muslims. They are prepared to undertake all kinds of deadly attacks, including suicide bombings. They really don’t care about the strictures of the Islamic sacred law, and claim that flouting its basic provisions (such as the blanket prohibition of suicide) is necessary to wage their wacko pseudo-jihad.

Now I read reports of al-Qaida infiltrating prisons. Apparently, prisoners are studying the al-Qaida training manual. And the evidence? Muslim inmates are engaging in behaviour which is unique to al-Qaida. No other group ever engages in such behaviour. It can only be found in prisons infiltrated by this international terrorist outfit.

So what is this behaviour? According to a report in the Sun-Herald, the behaviour consists of … wait for it …

... hunger strikes, group protests and claims of mistreatment.

The behaviour also includes

... an internal organisational structure to maintain morale, resist interrogation and recruit members.

Clearly ethnic gangs and drug smuggling rackets in prison never develop organisational structures, preferring to follow the teachings of Friedrich von Hayek who claimed that the most durable social structures are those which emerge spontaneously.

And since when have prisoners been known to engage in hunger strikes or claimed of mistreatment? Clearly al-Qaida is at work here. Only Islamic extremists like Sheik Bobby Sands go on hunger strikes.

The report quotes the NSW Attorney General referring to the “insidious nature of these activities”. Apparently “international prison authorities had alerted Australian authorities to the existence of the manual three months ago”, despite the fact that the manual is freely available on the internet and has been known to the CIA since 1996!

The Sun-Herald has been pursuing this story rigorously. Back in April, they claimed that NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Woodham was of the view that there was a contradiction between being Aboriginal and being Muslim.

With this kind of incompetent reporting and/or administration, once again we have good reason to be alert and alarmed.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, December 01, 2007

POLITICS: O'Farrell apologises to Moslems (sic.) over Lindsay ...

The NSW State Opposition Leader, Barry O'Farrell, visited the Imam Ali Mosque at Lakemba in South-Western Sydney on Friday 30 November 2007. During his visit, O'Farrell made the following statement (taken from his press release of the same date) ...

Like all right-minded people I am appalled and horrified by the distribution of this offensive, racist and false material. It offends everything I believe in and I unequivocally condemn those involved.

I remain angered by the damage the episode causes to the Liberal Party and its supporters. The action of these rogue Liberals is totally contrary to the Liberal Party’s philosophy and beliefs.

Fifty seven years ago, the founder of the Liberal Party, Robert Menzies, accurately described as ‘stupid’ those engaging in racism and bigotry. Menzies said ‘We must strike down the tendency that exists in the minds of some persons to object to a man because of his race or his religion…prejudice against a person because of his race or origin is a sign of stupidity'.

While welcoming the Liberal Party’s swift and decisive action to expel those involved, I wanted to
personally meet with representatives of the State’s Islamic community and offer a formal apology. As Liberal Leader I remain determined to represent the interests of the whole community, irrespective of race, religion, gender or some other factor.

This city and State’s cultural diversity is a strength to be valued, not something to be toyed with during political campaigns. Those who seek to create division and conflict within our community
should always be condemned.
It's great to see Mr O'Farrell making some effort to apologise to the Lebanese Moslem (sic.) Association. However, he needs to understand that there are a whole group of Muslim New South Welshmen and women who are not represented by the Lebanese Moslem (sic.) Association.

Mr O'Farrell must understand that the Lebanese Moslem (sic.) Association only allows full membership to men eligible for Lebanese citizenship. Hence, all other men and all women are barred from full membership of the Lebanese Moslem (sic.) Association.

Further, the offending leaflet actually included the Turkish flag. Hence, it is arguable that the offence was largely directed at Turkish Muslims.

The vast majority of Aussie Turks living in NSW are either women or men not eligible for Lebanese citizenship. Hence, they are not represented by the Lebanese Moslem (sic.) Association.

In my opinion, the Lebanese Moslem (sic.) Association has as much right to represent Australian Muslims living in New South Wales as the South African National Party of the apartheid era had of representing all South Africans regardless of ethnicity and colour.

I say this because the Lebanese Moslem (sic.) Association practises both ethnic and gender apartheid in the constitutional provisions governing its membership.

I really wish politicians would stop pretending that this racist organisation somehow represents Muslims or indeed multicultural Australia.

Until the Lebanese Moslem (sic.) Association is prepared to integrate into the broader Muslim communities and adopt Australian Muslim values, it should be seen as a fringe ethnic and sexist body with no right to speak on behalf of anyone other than its all-male financial members.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

COMMENT: Personal[ly plagiarised] Reflections of Afroz Ali

The Afroz Ali saga continues. One reader has tipped me off about some of Afroz's allegedly personal reflections which, it turns out, aren't really his at all.

In the section on inspiration, Afroz presents one of his personal reflections - the story of an empire moth. Of course, this is Afroz's own personal reflection. Hence, he has not attributed the story to anyone else.

Here's an excerpt from this profound and completely original personal reflection ...



A man found a cocoon of an emperor moth. He took it home so that he could watch the moth come out of the cocoon. On the day a small opening appeared, he sat and watched the moth for several hours as the moth struggled to force the body through that little hole.

Then it seemed to stop making any progress. It appeared as if it had gotten as far as it could and it could go no farther. It just seemed to be stuck. Then the man, in his kindness, decided to help the moth, so he took a pair of scissors and snipped off the remaining bit of the cocoon. The moth then emerged easily.


Wow, amazing story. And all authored by Afroz. The fact that this story appears on other websites such as this one is sheer coincidence. The fact remains that this is Afroz's original personal reflections.

So let's not accuse Afroz of plagiarism, lest we be flown to the Planet Saturn by a giant flying pig.

(Thanks to SJH)

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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COMMENT/MEDIA: On Afroz Ali, Saudi qualifications & the ABC Compass Progam

Shaykh ash-Shuyukh Fadilat ash-Shaykh Kiai Maulana Mullah Hujjat al-Islam Allamah Ayatullah Hoca Khwaja Moulay Sidi Imam Afroz Ali is described on the ABC Compass program as follows ...

Imam Afroz Ali is founding president of the Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences and Human Development in Sydney’s south-west. Imam Ali has qualifications from Saudi Arabia ...

Anyone reading or watching this would presume Afroz has completed more than one degree from Saudi Arabia.

How would ABC have gotten this information? Who told them about Afroz's Saudi degrees? And if it isn't true, did Afroz take steps to correct it? If not, why not?

This isn't the first time such false and exaggerated claima have been made by Afroz or about him in his presence. In 2003, the University of Sydney described him as an "Islamic scholar". Yet he refuses to come clean and provide evidence to back up his claims.

I therefore once again request Afroz to produce his Saudi qualifications. Surely it would't be hard for him to scan these and place them on his blog. Or even to tell us what these qualifications are, where he obtained them and in what years.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

COMMENT: Is this another ASIO stuff-up?

He is the closest thing Australia has to the perfect imam. He is softly spoken and speaks fluent English (as well as Arabic and Farsi/Persian). Far from being an anti-Semite and sectarian bigot, he actively engages in interfaith dialogue with members of all faiths. He has consistently condemned all forms of political violence in the name of Islam.

So why on earth would ASIO want Sheik Mansour Leghaei to deport himself from Australia ? Apparently, they think he is spying for the Ahmedinejad regime in Tehran . And their evidence?

ASIO claim to have a notebook of the Sheik’s which apparently contains words like “jihad” and “infidels”. Apparently the Sheik wants to kill everyone who refuses to believe that the Koran is “the book of heaven”.

The problem with this, of course, is that neither Sunnis nor Shiites regard the Koran as “the book of heaven” in any sense. Firstly, they believe the book was revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel here on planet earth. Secondly, they don’t believe that the Koran is “the” (as in the only) heavenly or divinely inspired book.

Indeed, any Muslim who regards the Koran in this manner is not regarded as a Muslim. If you believe in the Koran but refuse to believe that God sent scriptures to Moses, David and Jesus, you can kiss your plans of going to the Hajj (the pilgrimage to Mecca , a city which traditionally bars entry to non-Muslims).

This really is kindergarten stuff. It’s mentioned numerous times in the Koran itself. Had Sheik Leghaei preached such heresy, I doubt his Imam Hussein Centre in Earlwood (let alone that wacko ruling in Tehran ) would want Leghaei on their payroll.

Then again, as Cambridge Muslim scholar Tim Winter (also known as Abdal Hakim Murad) observes, so much Islamist political doctrine is based on heresy. But seriously, the good folk at ASIO need to seriously consider expanding their knowledge base on Muslim theology if they are to combat those promoting the scourge of Islamist terror.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, November 03, 2007

COMMENT: PM opens conference of Islamic scholars ...

Imagine if John Howard took time out from sucking upto Catch The Fire Ministries, the Exclusive Brethren and other fringe extremist groups. Imagine if he made time to open a national conference of Islamic scholars and theologians.

Then again, imagine if Australia has a properly functioning national conference or board of Islamic scholars. The so-called Australian National Imams' Council is in a mess, with mass-defections and resignations.

We in Australia don't have the luck of the Kiwis. Across the ditch, PM Helen Clark opened the New zealand Imams. Conference in Auckland on 27 October 2007. There was no media rucus. No shock jocks or tabloid columnists made an issue of her presence. In fact, the event received hardly any media attention at all (at least none that I could find on Google news).

Ms Clark no doubt is aware that imams are hardly in a position to deliver any votes. I'm not aware of a single imam on either side of the Tasman who has openly endorsed a political candidate. Well, apart from Sheik Hilaly endorsing Kerry Chikarovski's candidate in the 2001 Auburn by-election. And that didn't prove overly helpful to anyone (except perhaps ALP candidate Barbara Perry).

And the last time we heard about imams and politics was when The Australian allowed one of its cadet journalists to report on him attacking one of his internal community opponents over the issue of voting. I must say that I agree with Sheik Hilaly on this issue, but it was a bit silly for the newspaper to allow itself to be used as an instrument for intra-Muslim community politics.

(Sheik Hilaly's opponent, Dr Paul (Ali) White, was referred to in the article as "Mr White", despite it being well-known that he holds a PhD.)

In any event, it's great to see the Kiwis getting their political act together.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

COMMENT: Baghdad - once a city for all faiths ...

The October 7 2007 edition of the New York Times magazine includes a profile of Iraqi-American author Kanan Makiya, who wrote (under the pen-name of Samir al-Khalil) one of the most influential biographies of Saddam Hussein.

There's plenty in the profile to blog about. Despite spending much of his undergraduate years a supporter of the Palestinian cause, Makiya wasn't exactly fond of fellow Columbia University Professor Edward Said. Makiya promised George W Bush on the eve of the Iraq invasion that Iraqis would greet US forces with "sweets and flowers".

What particularly struck me was the description of historical Baghdad. The profile speaks of perhaps Makiya's most important achievement - the documentation of Saddam Hussein's atrocities under the auspices of the Iraq Memory Foundation.

Since 2003, Makiya and his small staff have scoured Baath party offices and dungeons, adding to a collection that would reach more than 11 million pages of records. And they began filming interviews with the regime’s victims.

Makiya’s dream was to build a museum for the archives on the site of the Victory Arch, the memorial commissioned by Hussein to commemorate Iraq’s so-called triumph in the Iran-Iraq War ... Among the foundation’s most vivid achievements are the 190 videotaped testimonies from
Hussein’s victims. They include Sunnis, Shiites, Kurds and even Jews.


One of these testimonies takes us back to a time when Baghdad was a centre of Jewish cultural life. Thanks to the infiltration of Ba'athist ideology, the tolerance of devout Iraqi Muslims was undermined. Suddenly, anyone deemed non-Arab became a target. And supporting Palestinian rights became a cover for some of the most virulent and despicable acts of anti-Semitism.

In December 2003, at the age of 98, Shao’ul Sasson, for example, described his arrest and torture at the hands of the Baath Party police. Sasson, who died in 2005, was an Iraqi Jew. As late as the
mid-1930s, Baghdad was one of the world capitals of Jewish life, with Jews making up a third of its population. Most of Iraq’s Jews either fled to Israel or were expelled beginning in the late 1940s; most of the rest were harassed or killed. In January 1969, in one of the Baath Party’s first displays of public brutality, 13 Iraqi Jews and 4 other men were hanged in a public ceremony in
Baghdad before a crowd of about a half million people. Iraqis were bussed in from around the country to witness the event.

“I was born in Baghdad,” Sasson says on the videotape. “My father was the chief rabbi. He sent me to a Jewish school to learn Hebrew, but I can’t remember much of it.

“I was working for Mohammed al-Damarchi. My salary had been stopped because I was Jewish, and there was a warrant out for my arrest. They knocked on the door and asked for Shao’ul.

“My wife said, ‘Let him take his clothes or put something on,’ but they said there was no need, as I would be brought back soon. They blindfolded me and took me away. I could tell we were going to the notorious Al-Nihaya Palace prison, because I lived in the same area. . . . They asked me to confess to everything, but I told them I didn’t have anything to confess to. And yet they insisted I must. They brought a metal bar and hit me on my legs. I fell into the wall and broke two teeth. Again, they told me to confess and hit me on the legs. Again, I fell and broke a few teeth. I lost 9 or 10 teeth that day.

“I saw Abdul Rahman al-Bazzaz (the former prime minister). They had hung him up and burned his tongue with matches. . . . My worst experience was the day I saw all the prisoners hanging up on either side of the corridor.

“They put me in a cell where the floor was covered in urine and feces. I couldn’t bear to stay in it, so I would bang my head hard against the wall in an attempt to kill myself.”


The Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: "Those who so much as lay one finger on the dhimmi (non-Muslim citizen of an Islamic state) will have me witnessing against them on the Day of Judgment."

Sadly, so many Muslim politicians like to flex their political muscle at the expenses of non-Muslim minorities. Those of us fortunate enough to live as Muslim minorities in non-Muslim countries should be at the forefront of campaigning for non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Friday, October 26, 2007

John Mustafa Ilhan's not-so-crazy legacy ...

I never had the honour of meeting the late John Mustafa Ilhan (rahimahullah - God have mercy on him). But my respect for him skyrocketted in August 2005 when he 'came out of the closet' about his faith.

It seemed those close to him always knew that John took his religious heritage seriously. Certainly he came from a devout Muslim family - his father was instrumental in establishing the Broadmeadows Mosque. Further, despite this not being a religious requirement, his wife Patricia took the enormous step of adopting her husband's faith as her own. Like many women of Jewish and Christian backgrounds, Mrs Ilhan could have just as easily kept her faith without compromising her husband's.

But it was in August 2005, in a profile for the Australian Financial Review magazine, that Ilhan spoke about how his faith influences his business decisions. Ilhan was the only Muslim to be profiled about his faith. The magazine said Ilhan

... carries his Islamic faith with him
everyday ... applying what he sees as basic tenets of honesty and integrity to
his business.


And what are these basic tenets. First,
there is "asking for forgiveness". Then there is loving one's neighbour as one
loves one's self. He won't open an outlet next door to a competitor he knew,
even if it be a former employee or a cousin.


The Australobe blog has an entry on Ilhan's passing, with links to a variety of news reports. Today's jenaza was was attended by Ilhan's parents, wife and close friends including Eddie McGuire, Shane Warne and Ahmed Fahour. It's a tribute to Ilhan's ability to bring Australians of all backgrounds together that Broadmeadows Mosque today looked like the scene of a large inter-faith gathering.

The Canberra Times reported the response of Turkey's Ambassador to Australia ...

Turkish ambassador Murat Ersavci said his
close friend's death was "a very, very sad occasion for me and my wife".

"I really grieved for his wife, too.

"Patricia was a very strong voice behind him,
supporting him.

"I visited him a few months back at his home
in Melbourne, and you should have seen how he was proud of that family and
children and of his wife. He was a very kind man, very kind, very hard working,
I think he was a symbol for a young Australia."

Mr Ilhan was "passionately philanthropic" and
"a good human being who wanted to help his fellow man". Closely tied to his
roots, he was proud to be an Australian and his death was a loss to the nation.

"He was a perfect example of Australia's
successful multicultural policy. His father comes from a humble background, a
working man, and Australia provided an opportunity and he wanted to return that
any way he could."


Patricia Ilhan's words were published in the order of service. The Herald-Sun reported ...

Emotions almost spilled over when Mr Ilhan's
wife Patricia, wearing a pink headscarf and sunglasses, made her way with her
three young daughters through the throng to his casket.

In keeping with Muslim tradition, they and
other women were asked to move away from the coffin so prayers could begin.

In the order of service, Mrs Ilhan described
her husband as the family's "inspiration and rock".
"He loved his family
more than anything. We always came first. We saw the man who cared so much about
people," she said.

She said their four children - Jaida, Hannah,
Yasmin and Aydin - would forever cherish the times they played with their
father, who died on Tuesday aged 42 after suffering a heart attack while walking
near their Brighton home.

"I will remember we were true soulmates - he
always knew what I was thinking."


Ilhan generated respect from friends, strangers and customers. Among his customers was journalist and former TV personality Libby Gorr who wrote these touching words in the Crikey daily alert for 24 October 2007:

I interviewed him in 2005 for Sunday Life magazine. It's the only time on
record John spoke about his faith.

This guy was a really amazing person; a great salesman yes, but a deeply
spiritual man who strove to be an integrated Muslim in Australia, despite all
sorts of prejudice hurled his way, from all corners - including from his in
laws, in the early years.

Here's a glimpse (for the piece in full click here):

This is a man who knows it’s important to look good but that appearances only
go so far. “I’m a Muslim and I realise that arrogance is a no-no,” says Ilhan,
who was born Mustafa in Yozgut, Turkey, and moved to Australia with his family
at age five. He took the name John after his best mate at primary school; the
“Crazy”, he says, came later, inspired by a customer’s remark that giving away
hundreds of dollars worth of free phone accessories was just that. “I think I
will struggle in life spiritually unless I do good things. It might sound naive
but I think life is as simple as that. If you are kind to your staff, they will
probably work harder. Arrogance kills CEOs. I think life gives you what you
deserve. But I think there is a higher being that controls us.”

He believes in destiny because “I’m a coward. Being a coward, you think
somebody else is determining your life. I’m not so courageous to be an atheist.
That just scares the hell out of me. I need to have someone looking after
us.”...

Ilhan is aware that coming out as a Muslim in Australia right now is a risky
cultural business. “Some of my staff probably haven’t met a Muslim before,” he
reflects. “When I was young, I used to hear all about the wars in the Middle
East. And then you come to a country like Australia and make so many wonderful
friends who are Jewish, it’s like, what are we talking about?”

John Ilham is one of the most impressively decent people I have met on the
high achievement scale. This is so sad for his family, and unfathomable for
those of us that liked and admired him.

Readers are requested to at least recite fatiha after reading these tributes.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

A much-maligned but harmless group ...

Tonight I found myself amongst a group of people I haven’t shared company with for years. The last time I saw them, few people outside South Asian and/or religious Muslim circles knew these people even existed.

Today these people are demonised in many different parts of the world. They are accused of all sorts of ccrazy things – sheltering terrorists, plotting to spread extremism, following Saudi-style cultish Islam etc.

But I’ve always known the Tabligh Jamaat (TJ) as being a harmless bunch of blokes who take their religious observance very seriously.

Politics and the TJ? What moron thought that one up? The TJ are about as interested in politics as I am in lawn bowls. My own dealings and experiences with the TJ have led me to know that they have little interest in jihadist or Islamist groups, even during periods when these groups were being sponsored by the West against communism.

Back in the mid-1980’s, I read in the Minaret magazine(published occasionally by the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils or AFIC) that the TJ had caused controversy at one of their annual ijtima’s (as they used to call their national gatherings) in Melbourne. An executive member of the Islamic Council of Victoria had asked the TJ leadership if the Australian representative of one of the Afghan mujahideen groups could say a few words about the Western-backed jihad against the Soviets. The TJ leadership refused, citing their aversion to political discussion at their gatherings.

He correspondent who wrote about this incident in the Minaret included in his story words to the following effect: “We allow these people to use our mosques, yet they won’t allow us to discuss the Afghan jihad in their gatherings!”

I also remember one Bangladeshi imam once tell me that he used to have run-ins with the TJ at university. He used to urge them to support the Jamaat-i-Islami (a major Islamist group founded by Syed Maududi) but they would refuse. He once told me: “These people would rather vote communist than for JI”.

The TJ generally don’t allow discussion in their gatherings that goes over and beyond the 6 points of tabligh. The word tabligh literally means admonition or warning. The TJ’s theory is that their scholars have studied the lives of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions and have extracted 6 basic principles. If Muslims focus on these principles and put them into practise, they will start to show traces of the Prophet’s companions.

One important principle is ilm wa dhikr (seeking and gaining knowledge together with maximising the remembrance of God). The TJ say that both must go together. If a man gains knowledge of religion but doesn’t purify his heart, his knowledge could do little but boost his ego and make him arrogant. If he remembers God excessively but doesn’t supplement it ith knowledge, he might lose his sense of balance.

Another major principle of the TJ (though not identified as one of the 6 points) is to visit Muslims. Many Christian churches refer to this as ‘pastoral’ work. The churches are active in this work, but sadly most Muslim religious organisations ignore it. The TJ play a very important role, visiting Muslims all over Australia, especially those in isolated areas.

One person recently told me of an occasion he was with the TJ. They were staying at a regional mosque and once drove some three hours just to visit one Muslim living in an isolated area.

Tonight a group from the TJ were gathered at an inner-city Melbourne mosque. They were breaking their fast when I saw them. Amongst them was a fellow I hadn’t seen for some 10 years and who used to live in Sydney but was now based in Adelaide.

It saddens me that in the UK the TJ are being demonised as extremists. I can say much critical about the TJ. I think their insistence on the more conservative interpretations of Islam in some areas render their methodology argely irrelevant in Australia. I think their menfolk spend too much time on the road, neglecting their families. But to desbribe them as following an Islamist political cult is absurd.

At a time when even harmless groups like the TJ are being aligned as extremists, I don’t think the time is far off when Jonathan Freedland’s words might turn into a true prophesy ...

Right now, we're getting it badly wrong -
bombarding Muslims with pressure and prejudice, laying one social problem after
another at their door. I try to imagine how I would feel if this rainstorm of
headlines substituted the word "Jew" for "Muslim": Jews creating apartheid, Jews
whose strange customs and costume should be banned. I wouldn't just feel
frightened. I would be looking for my passport.


© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Saturday, September 15, 2007

Campus Muslims ...

Stephen Crittenden’s Religion Report program on Radio National this week interviews a range of people who spoke at a recent conference on Muslim students held at the University of Western Sydney.

Among them is former UWS Muslim Students’ Association President Mona Darwiche. I’m not sure how much of Mona’s comments have been edited out. Perhaps what has been left in doesn’t reflect what she meant to say.

Still, what has been broadcast isn’t terribly helpful. Darwiche focuses on the “special needs” of Muslim students which she expects universities to meet. Among these are [h]alal food, adequate prayer facilities, adequate ablution facilities, and segregation between men and women.”

In relation to halal food, perhaps Darwiche should consider that many Muslims regard it as perfectly permissible and halal to eat food prepared by non-Muslims which doesn’t contain pig meat and/or alcohol. Hence, the issue of halal really doesn’t arise. Further, why expect the university to deal with this? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate for Muslim students to approach food retailers on campus and suggest halal food as a commercial proposition? Why turn this into an issue of “special need”?

Darwiche has this to say about prayers:

It's important that the University provides adequate facilities for Muslim
students where students can observe prayers on campus, and I also mention the
time of prayers, because I know with myself, sometimes when it came time to
praying, I would be in a lecture, I would be sitting an exam, I would be giving
a presentation, so it's important for Muslims to pray at the designated times,
and so sometimes that could be a bit challenging for Muslim students to meet
their prayers on time when they have other commitments at Universities, such as
attending lectures, sitting exams, which sometimes go between two different
prayer times.

Darwiche seems to be getting two completely different issues confused – the alleged need for special facilities and the alleged need to account for prayer times.

Certainly it makes sense for universities to provide Muslim students with the same facilities as provided for students of other religious denominations. But how hard is it to take out a few minutes from your lecture or tutorial (or even exam) to say your prayers? And must you have special designated places all over campus for this purpose?

Further, in relation to segregation, what is the issue? If you want to live in a segregated environment, what are you doing at university in the first place? Darwiche comments:

Now I want to touch on a bit of a controversial topic. When I say the
segregation of men and women on campus, I say this with... segregation must be
considered in its context. There seems to be a lot of misconceptions about the
way in which Muslim men and women can interact with each other and also with
other non-Muslims.


Yes, and sadly many of the misconceptions are perpetuated by Muslims themselves. For instance, the whole idea that men and women can never shake hands. Or never even sit next to each other. When I went with a group of Aussie Muslims to Indonesia and Malaysia last year, our hosts wondered which planet us Aussies were from. This was because we always ensured we were seated in such a manner that no man sat next to a woman unless she was his wife. Yet in the world’s largest Muslim country, men and women sat next to each other all the time. They also weren’t afraid of shaking hands.

Darwiche continues:

And in regards to social interaction at university, whether it be lunch breaks
or otherwise, generally Muslim females and males do stay separate in terms of
social interaction. But in regards to fostering a relationship in terms of
university studies and working on particular tasks between males and females,
working as a team, achieving a core aim or objective towards a course, is
definitely allowable in Islam because you actually have a purpose behind your
interaction between interacting between males and females.


So unless they are studying together or organising some Muslim function, Muslim guys and gals always keep away from each other. Now this might be true for people from certain cultural backgrounds. But to make the blanket suggestion that all students of Muslim background and/or faith and/or heritage will all necessarily practise segregation requires an uncomfortable level of hubris.

It seems that Darwiche is confusing actual practice of Muslim students with what she regards as Islamic orthodoxy. It’s OK to express your opinion of what religion requires of you. It isn’t ok to insist that all Muslims agree with you and that therefore (largely non-Muslim) university administrators presume that they should make special allowances for this.

Sadly, once again, we see spokesmen and women for religious institutions pretending to speak for all people from their group who happen to be Muslim. Representing Islam and representing Muslims are not one and the same.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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I know it is Ramadan but ...

Time for a trip down memory lane.

This is a song from the first Hindi/Urdu movie I ever saw in Australia.

That's right. The first one. Down under. Ever.

Rajesh Khanna wearing an olive skivvy and a traditional Central Asian fur cap.

The overly-made-up Tamil Princess Sharmila Tagore on the train enjoying Rajesh's flirtatious behaviour while showing off her sideburns and reading Alistair MacLean.

And let's not forget the stupid driver who thinks he can play an electric guitar with his lips.

All this set in the old English hill station of Simla, on the foothills of the Himalayas.

And the words of love and devotion. Here's a line together with a rough translation:

HINDI: Challi aah, thoo challi aah

ENGLISH: Get over here. Oi! You! Get over here!!

Which woman worth her salt could resist so sensitive an invitation?

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Friday, September 07, 2007

CRIKEY: The Middle Eastern Gerard Henderson?


Imagine writing a monograph on Islam in Australia: Democratic bipartisanship in action including interviews with prominent players in law enforcement and politics but without interviewing a single Muslim, and launching the monograph in ... of all places ... the United Kingdom!

I was a little sceptical yesterday when I was forwarded an e-mail announcing the launch of Gerard Henderson’s monograph published by UK conservative thinktank Policy Exchange.

Especially when the study claimed that Australia actually had a "model" to "approach its Muslim population". (I feel so special knowing Dr Henderson has identified a special model to approach me!) Yet only four of the eight points in the model actually mention Islam or Muslims.

The first three points deal with security and the fourth tackles the end (well, sort of) of multiculturalism. Muslims are only involved to the extent that they do not

... fail to uphold core Australian values of citizenship ...
and
... it is not enough for self-appointed Muslim community leaders to oppose violent and aggressive jihad in Australia whilst supporting it beyond the shores of the Commonwealth.
In short, Muslims are a security threat to be managed. They aren’t people to be consulted or involved or even understood.

I felt it important to show Henderson the respect he failed to show the subjects of his monograph. I telephoned Henderson to ask about his study. He told me the original title was Islam and Democracy: The Australian Experience.

When I asked him whether there was any reason for not interviewing Muslims (or at least Reference Group members), Henderson became rather Middle Eastern.
Are you lecturing me? Who are you to tell me what I should write? What sort of question is that? This is most unprofessional.
Henderson claims the first Muslims to emigrate to Australia were Afghan cameleers. For someone with a PhD in history, this is a serious error. Indeed, Henderson need only look back to the speech delivered at his thinktank by West Australian author Dr Nahid Kabir.

Still, that’s neither here nor there. What is strange is that Henderson, a fellow with no serious knowledge of Australia’s Muslim communities only cites Kabir once. He doesn’t cite any other scholar on Muslim communities. I don’t expect Henderson to cite sycophantic non-critical writers. But Policy Exchange describes itself as taking an

... evidence-based approach to policy development … in partnership with academics and other experts.
Henderson is no expert on the topic, and he reaches questionable conclusions without citing experts. For instance, Henderson makes claims concerning Lebanese Muslims without citing a shred of evidence. He claims (on p10) that many of Australia’s Lebanese Muslims live in south west Sydney and that ...
... [n]o other Muslim group is so concentrated in a specific area.
He obviously hasn’t been to Auburn (known to many as "little Istanbul") or Coburg. Henderson’s ignorance of Australia’s Muslim organisational landscape especially became evident when he claimed (on p24) that ...

... the Howard government consciously chose not to consult with existing Muslim groups ... Instead the Prime Minister set up the Muslim Community Reference Group.
I’m sure many on the MCRG would find such claims amusing. If anything, the Group was deliberately stacked with existing religious organisational heads and stereotypical imams (like Hilaly). Among those invited by the PM to his Muslim leaders’ summit was Shafiq Khan, a prominent Saudi financier. In fact, Henderson feels quite able to write about the MCRG without even interviewing a single member of the group.

Further, his claim that

... the criticisms which John Howard ... levelled at al-Hilali’s January 2007 outburst created a climate in which Muslim Australians felt freer to state their own views than would otherwise have been the case.

So Aussie Mossies weren’t criticising religious leaders before January? Which planet has Henderson been living on? And as if we needed Howard’s blowing of the dog whistle to release us from our shackles!

If anything, Muslim critics of Hilaly were wishing Howard would shut up and let them deal with the issue. Howard’s interventions made things only more difficult. The study includes interviews with law enforcement, intelligence and political leaders. Instead of asking Muslims in Lakemba for their thoughts, Henderson interviews Bob Carr and Tony Burke (MP for Watson). Instead of asking anyone from the MCRG how they viewed the process, Henderson asks Andrew Robb.

Henderson suggested I "go and write a rant for The Age or the Canberra Times" before hanging up.

He may well find Aussie Muslims aren’t as rude. Assuming, of course, he bothers to talk with them and not just at or about them.

An edited version of this was first published in the Crikey daily alert on Thursday 6 September 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007

PROFILE: On Ibn Warraq ...

I'm always amused by persons who claim to live in secret locations out of fear of threats received from "Islamic extremists". Heck, I've received some threats in my life - from anti-Muslim extremists, from Muslim extremists and from people with no identifiable agenda. I guess it's the price one pays for being involved in public discussion.

Ibn Warraq is one such author. He uses a pseudonym apparently for safety reasons. He has authored and edited a variety of books, claiming to hold some scholarly credentials in Islamic sciences. Dr Jeremiah McAuliffe has dealt with some of Ibn Warraq's more controversial arguments and methodology here.

Ibn Warraq has also been criticised by other writers and scholars, including Fred Donner of the University of Chicago. Here is part of what Donner has to say about Ibn Warraq's The Quest for the Historical Muhammad:

... the compiler’s agenda ... is not scholarship, but anti-Islamic polemic

... “Ibn Warraq” and his co-conspirator “Ibn al-Rawandi” detest anything that, to them, smacks of apologetic; for this reason they criticize harshly several noted authors for their ‘bad faith’ or ‘moral ambiguity.’ Yet this book is itself a monument to duplicity. The compiler never has the honesty or courage to divulge his identity, even though a list of contributors (pp. 551-54) gives a biographical sketch of all the other contributors who, unlike “Ibn Warraq” and “Ibn al-Rawandi,” are already well-known. Far more serious is the fact that this book is religious polemic attempting to masquerade as scholarship. It is a collection of basically sound articles, framed by a seriously flawed introduction, and put in the service of anti-Islamic polemic dedicated to the proposition that Islam is a sham and that honest scholarship on Islam requires gratuitous rudeness to Muslim sensibilities. By associating these articles with “Ibn Warraq’s” polemical agenda, The Quest for the Historical Muhammad will raise suspicions among some Muslims that all revisionist scholarship is
motivated by such intolerance. This is likely to make the future progress of sound historical scholarship on Islam’s origins harder, rather than easier.



Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, September 02, 2007

CRIKEY: Yes, Jesus was indeed a "sand nigger" ...


In 1998, I visited Brazil. In the world’s largest Catholic country, I saw icons of Jesus and Mary everywhere. There was one not-so-subtle difference between these and the icons I see in Australia. For millions of Brazilian Catholics, the Blessed Virgin with child both had black skin.

Of course, we all know that Jesus wasn’t a negroHe was, after all, born in a place called Beyt Lahm, an Arabic/Aramaic phrase meaning literally "House of Lamb Meat" or 'House of Bread". He spoke fluent Aramaic. His mother wore (at the very least) a traditional head scarf worn today by many orthodox Jewish and Muslim women.

A delegation from Jesus’ town is currently visiting Australia. All delegation members are Christians. All are accused of being terrorists. All no doubt look like Middle Easterners. All look like Arabs. Usama bin Ladin is a Middle Easterner. The Mayor of Bethlehem is a Middle Easterner. Jesus was a Middle Easterner. No doubt Jesus probably bore some resemblance to other Middle Easterners.

Yet for some reason, American-owned tabloids in Sydney and Melbourne are behaving in a very Middle Eastern fashion over one entry to an art prize. One that shows Jesus' mum in traditional arab garb (see right). Even the PM joined the fray, telling journalists ...

The choice of such artwork is gratuitously offensive to the religious beliefs of many Australians.
Yes, it is offensive if you believe Jesus looked something like Merv Hughes and Mary looked like Jennifer Hawkins. Yet the fact is that Mary wore something on her head (and, given her noble ancestry and her cultural heritage, quite likely something over her face).

What all this shows is how far the far-Right evangelical view of Christianity has strayed from the reality of Jesus. Allegedly conservative mono-cultural fruitloops keep referring to Australia’s Christian heritage. Yet how would they react if the real Jesus returned and arrived in Australia?

Well, for a start, they’d probably think he was a terrorist. He wouldn’t be speaking English, and would suddenly appear from the wilderness looking rather dishevelled.

Jesus’ photo would be splashed across our American-owned metropolitan tabloids. Piersed Akumen and his colleagues would be waxing unlyrical about this latest foreign threat. Gerard Henderson would attack the "civil rights lobby" for defending Jesus. Janet Albrechtsen would castigate lawyers and judges for defending a man who wants to establish the Kingdom of God (read sharia law) in Australia. The Australian Federal Police wouldn’t understand a word Jesus was saying but would charge him anyway. Some magistrate would grant Jesus bail, and the good Catholic Kevin Andrews would cancel Jesus’ visa and send him back to … um … er … God The Father?

As William Dalrymple keeps reminding us, Christianity (like Judaism and Islam) is a Middle Eastern religion. And Jesus was a Middle Easterner. Just accept it.

First published in the Crikey daily alert on Thursday 30 August 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Praying to Allah in Bethlehem

On Friday night, 31 August, I had the honour of joining around 100 persons of all ethnic and religious backgrounds witnessing the signing of a sister-city agreement between the Cities of Bethlehem and Marrickville.

Attendees included prominent politicians (including both State and Federal Members for the local seat), clergy of all denominations, journalists, academics and other invited guests. Among the people I spoke to was Father Amjad Sabbara, the Catholic parish priest of Bethlehem.

I don’t want to give away too much as my interview with him is (hopefully) going to be podcasted on the NewMatilda.com website. One thing I couldn’t help asking him was the name used by people in his church (the Church of the Nativity, built on the site where Christ was born) when addressing God in prayers, hymns and liturgy. Here was his response ...


We address God as Allah. For us, of course, Allah is Father, Son and Holy Ghost.


So there you have it. The descendants of Christ’s extended family and neighbours in Christ’s home town address God as “Allah”.

Father Amjad also tells me he will be leaving Bethlehem soon to take up a position at a church in Nazareth. No prizes for guessing what name they use to address God there.

The Church of the Nativity was under Israeli siege in 2002 (as shown in the photo). Numerous Palestinians (including the church bellringer) were killed in the siege at one of Christianity's holiest sites.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Saturday, September 01, 2007

Does having a Muslim-sounding name make you qualified?

One of the earliest Muslim voices in the Australian op-ed scene was a young trainee psychiatrist named Tanveer Ahmed. At the time, Dr Ahmed was also doing a journalism cadetship with SBS. He would write about his experiences as a young Muslim of Bangladeshi origin growing up in Australia. He’d also talk a lot about other young Muslims as well as Muslims in general.

I’ve been watching with increasing dismay at Dr Ahmed’s development into some kind of commentator on Muslims in the West generally. Naturally, he has every right to say whatever he likes about Islamic theology. I may not agree with everything he says on this topic. But we are living in a secular post-belief society. We have to be prepared to have our beliefs questioned, even if by people who regard themselves as Muslims.

(In this respect, it surprises me when I read some young Aussie Muslims complaining about Dr Ahmed’s writing on Islam. They claim he is bordering beyond heretical. Perhaps they should travel to Indonesia or Malaysia or Pakistan or Turkey and see what Muslim writers and scholars say about Islam there!)

However, it does concern me when Dr Ahmed talks about Muslim community sectors in Australia. Particularly when I know how far-Right sections of the community (such as the op-ed page of The Australian and certain right wing think tanks) use his material to make all kinds of claims supportive of their cultural agenda.

When you talk about theology, feel free to say what you like. But when you talk about communities, make sure you have done your research. Make sure you have spoken to people in these communities and have read the literature. Make sure you are familiar with the institutions, the groups and the ideological slants at play.

And make sure you can speak objectively. That you can call a spade a spade and not a hand grenade.

There are lots of problems within Australian Muslim communities. Particularly at a peak body level. Just as there are in New Zealand and other Western countries.

Earlier this year, a respected scholar of Islam from Christchurch named William Shepard sought comments from Muslims about a chapter he was writing for an Islamic encyclopaedia. Now Dr Bill Shepard has been around for a long time. He knows classical Arabic very well. He studied Islamic studies at Harvard under the late Professor Annemarie Schimmell, an authority on Arabic, Persian, Turkish and Urdu Islamic literature and sufism. Shepard has lived in Christchurch for years and has extensive contacts with Muslim communities, institutions and mosques across New Zealand.

Yet even someone with Shepard’s scholarly pedigree continues to consult with Muslims before writing about them.

I find it disturbing that Dr Ahmed talks about Muslim communities in a manner that shows a lack of familiarity with communal structures, theological leanings and related issues. To his credit, Dr Ahmed admits he has never really moved within Muslim religious circles, and that his only real exposure has been with the Bangladeshi expat community in Sydney.

Which then raises the question: On what basis does Dr Ahmed make the kinds of claims reported in the Higher Education Supplement of The Australian?

UNIVERSITIES must resist politicised Muslim groups seeking special
treatment on campus, a commentator has warned.

Tanveer Ahmed, a psychiatric registrar and a graduate of the University of
Sydney, said it was now clear that British universities had inadvertently lent
support to the growth of home-grown radicalism by giving in to this kind of
campus pressure.

"(These groups) are very assertive, very quick to cry racism, they've taken
advantage of the impression among some academics that they're a marginalised,
victimised minority,'' Dr Ahmed said.

On Monday he will address the first national conference on Muslim
university students, being held at the University of Western Sydney. He said
overseas Muslim students, appreciating the freedoms of Australia, often become
less religious. But local Muslim students, who had suffered "social
deprivation'' tended to be attracted to an Islamic identity of opposition to the
wider culture.

"University is often the beginning of their path to greater religiosity and
at times radicalism too,'' he said.

Politicised Muslim groups might seek to build their profile by pressuring a
university to allow a certain speaker on campus, for example. Dr Ahmed said
another pattern was for these Mulsim groups and leftists to ally themselves.

"I remember going to a protest (in Sydney during the recent
Hezbollah-Israel conflict in Lebanon) and seeing environmental groups going
Allah Akhbar (God is great) in harmony with some Lebanese groups,'' Dr Ahmend
said.

"The God is great line wasn't about religion, it was about social
protest.''


An outside observer would read this material and presume Dr Ahmed speaks from experience and has had extensive contact with Muslim student circles on campuses across Australia. And what is his evidence?

He talks about it being "now clear" that "British universities had inadvertently lent support to the growth of home-grown radicalism by giving in to this kind of campus pressure". But in what sense is the experience of British universities transferrable to Australia? In what sense are Muslim communities in Britain similar to those in Australia?

And in what sense has this now become apparent? Anyone who has been reading British Muslim newspapers and magazines (such as Q-News) will know that Muslims have been expressing concern about the growth of groups like Hizbut Tahrir on campus since the mid-1990's.

Which Muslim student groups has Dr Ahmed recently visited? How many Islamic Awareness Week programs on campuses has he attended? Which campus Friday prayer services has he attended recently? Which lectures or seminars organised by Muslim Student Associations has he attended recently?

Which Australian Muslim student publications has Dr Ahmed read? For how long has he been following their publications? What kind of theology is being promoted in these publications?

Has Dr Ahmed spoken to any Muslim chaplains? Has he spoken to Muslim academics on campus? Have any expressed concerns to him about radical groups infiltrating MSA's?

Or is Dr Ahmed relying on a combination of Ed Husain's book The Islamist and/or the somewhat problematic British study co-authored by Munira Mirza?

Sadly, few journalists and commentators are prepared to ask these difficult yet crucial questions. Many take for granted that, given his name and background, Dr Ahmed is an "insider" and speaks from a position of knowledge and experience. Yet if called upon to provide expert testimony on Australian Muslim communities by a court of law, one wonders whether Dr Ahmed would survive the scrutiny of even the most gentle cross examination.

Still, Dr Ahmed is free to say whatever he likes about any topic he chooses. And we are free to question his expertise, to criticise his arguments and to reject his theses.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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