Wednesday, January 30, 2008

EVENT: Film launch ....


Come along and support the students and staff of both these fine state schools.

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Monday, January 28, 2008

REFLECTION: Bhangra Pluralism

Tonight was my nephew’s engagement party. My nephew was born at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney some two decades ago. I was there in the waiting area when he arrived into the world. I was also given the task of whispering the adhaan (call to ritual Islamic worship) in his ear.

Now, after all these years, I see him doing the traditional bhangra dance with his three mates – one Jewish, one Hindu and one Sikh. And masha-Allah (by God’s will), he is sensible enough to know that having these friends in no way compromises the adhaan his uncle whispered into his ear at a time he would no longer remember.

No doubt my nephew would have shared his best friend’s bar mitzvah. It’s likely that he’ll be best man when his friend ties the knot at his home or their synagogue. And when my nephew ties his knot, his Jewish best mate will be his best man.

One day, his uncle will also tie the knot. The role of my best man is already reserved for my best mate from school. The fact that he is an Anglican and a chorister has little bearing on the matter. Just as I was best man at his wedding in the Cathedral when he was marrying his Japanese wife, who was then still Buddhist.

Allah sent us to this world to live in peace and to spread peace. Pluralism is perhaps the highest and most sublime collective human expression of peace. It isn’t enough for us to tolerate those different to us. We must understand them, accept them as they are and befriend them.

The wonderful thing about Australia is that it allows us the freedom to develop such friendships. No doubt Jews and Muslims in Hebron would be shocked to learn that a young Muslim man who prays five times a day could have a young Jewish man as his oldest and best friend.

But why should this surprise anyone? The Prophet Muhammad married a woman who was a Jewish family. Indeed, she was a Jewish princess named Safiyya. Why should it surprise us that a Sikh and a Hindu are also part of this circle of friendship? One Indian Muslim gentleman told me today that Muslims are breathing much more easily in India. I asked him why. He said that the political winds had changed now that India had a Sikh Prime Minister. We also spoke of Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi, a practising Hindu some of whose closest friends and benefactors were Muslims.

So many of our Muslim brothers and sisters across the world live in virtual mono-cultural and mono-confessional societies where ethnic and religious differences are forcibly ironed out or kept hidden. Allah has saved us living in countries like Australia, New Zealand, United States etc from such a misfortune.

In Australia, we are enjoying the experiences of medieval Andalusia, but our convivencia has been established by the Australian constitution and protected by the rule of law and liberal democracy.

May God preserve our convivencia for generations to come. God bless Australia.

© Irfan Yusuf 2007

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Saturday, January 26, 2008

COMMENT: On Muslim professionals and professional Muslims

There are two kinds of Muslim people in Australia. You have Muslim professionals. Then you have professional Muslims.

The former are too busy getting on with their work and/or business and/or study and/or family commitments to worry about the management of religious institutions. They make up the overwhelming majority of the 300,000-odd Australians who tick the “Muslim” box on their census forms. Many visit the mosque once or twice a year, and quite a few regard religion as being only a secondary source of their identity.

Then you have the latter who derive their legitimacy from being seen as leaders of organisations, from being photographed with politicians and from holding titles and positions. They form a tiny minority, but insist on always claiming to speak on behalf of the majority which their over-active imagination labels “the Muslim community”.

Politicians know that these people cannot deliver any votes or influence. Yet many politicians insist on being seen to consult with them. And when a politician refuses, these people go rushing to whichever media outlet that will listen and demand to be heard.

I cannot help but think that calls for reinstatement of the “Muslim Community Reference Group” (as reported by my old buddy Sheik Dicky Kerbaj in The Australian recently) are yet another example of the professional Muslims seeking the legitimacy which they know they will never get from those they claim to represent.

He cites Azizah Abdel Halim, a retired school teacher and one of the few women hand-picked by former PM Howard to sit on his Reference Group. Sadly, poor Richard still cannot get over the fact that Muslims are not Catholics and simply don’t have priests or nuns. Hence he refers to Mrs Abdel Halim as “Sister Abdel Halim”. Yes, she wears a piece of cloth on her head, but this sister certainly doesn’t practise celibacy.

Kevin Rudd doesn’t need some committee of professional Muslims advising him whilst undermining each other. I’d like to think Kevin Rudd has more respect for his Muslim constituents than hand-picking a group of middle aged blokes with poor English skills to represent religious congregations the majority of whose members were born here, are overwhelmingly young and educated. And many of whom are not overly religious.

Until the management of mosques becomes more democratic, until women and young people are encouraged to participate and until we see less Bangladeshi and Pakistani and Lebanese etc mosques and more Australian mosques, I think the current lot of professional Muslims should be ignored by the government as much as they are by the people they claim to represent.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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COMMENT: Ordinary Australians, extraordinary stories ...

One of the great things about Melbourne is its newspaper, The Age. And this Australia Day edition is no exception. Under the heading “Looking at the bigger picture”, a number of Age writers profile ordinary Australians with extraordinary stories.

They include a farmer, an AFL player, an activist for seniors and a surf lifesaver. But also rating a mention is my good pal Constable Maha Sukkar, whose name apparently means “very sweet” in Indonesian. I doubt some of those she arrests would agree.

Also profiled are a probationary constable Nadia Hammoud, youth worker Nadia Mohamed and SIEV-X survivor Faris Shohani.

About Faris, The Age writes ...

Mr Shohani’s life as a non-citizen began when, at the age of 13, his family was deported to Iran from Iraq. He is a survivor of the SIEV-X tragedy of October 2001, when 354 asylum seekers perished when their overcrowded boat sank en route to Australia. Among those who drowned were his wife, Leyla, and daughter, Zahra.

Other members of his family, including his mother, Fadilha, and son, Ali, had been on another boat and were in the Woomera detention centre when they were told of the tragedy.

While most of the 45 survivors were swiftly offered permanent protection in other countries, those such as Shohani with relatives in Australia had to wait almost nine months in Jakarta before he was reunited with his mother and son and afforded just temporary protection.

When The Age first met him in October 2002, his depression was palpable. Compounding the grief, and the conviction that the truth about the tragedy had not been told, was his temporary status.

"I have no hope, no future," he said. "I belong nowhere."
Well now, Mr Shohani, you belong to the big family of Australians. We’re sorry you had to go through that kind of suffering to reach this far And we as a nation are very fortunate to have you among us.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, January 25, 2008

REFLECTION: Blogging as charity?

It’s a well-worn cliché - you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone. But it’s also true that, just as we often underrate what we have, we also underrate what we give. What am I talking about?

I’ll try to say this without sounding like an arrogant pompous shite. Some weeks back, I was visiting an inland town in New South Wales. I decided to join a small congregation of students, farmers and workers performing their Friday prayer.

After the prayer, a young man approached me.

Aren’t you Irfan? I follow your blog alot. I really enjoy what you have to say. I hope you write more frequently like you used to.
Or something like that. The young man was from a nearby town famous for its good food, its multiculturalism and for having one of the few NSW State MP’s from the Coalition worth voting for.

At first I thought the young man was just trying to be polite. But in looking at his words in that manner, maybe I was insulting him and myself.

So how should I view what he had to say? I guess it reminded me of how I felt about another blog which had suffered a hiatus recently.

Australobe is probably my favourite Australian-based group blog. Recently when its moderator announced a temporary hiatus, I realised just how important that blog was to me. I realised I visited it at least 4 times a week, which is alot for me as I don’t spend much time reading blogs.

So the Australobe gang were giving to me. They were providing me with a means of making sense of events. They probably didn’t realise how big a hole in my part of the blogosphere their absence left. And I didn’t perhaps appreciate that my own (frequently nutty and imbecilic) spin on things was giving voice (or at least food for thought) for others. Including people I had never met. Or might only meet by accident if I end up performing Friday congregational prayers in some unfamiliar place.

Unless I recognise that blogging isn’t just a past time or hobby but rather an act of charity, I’ll just end up only blogging occasionally. The kind words of the young man have given me incentive to keep blogging. And I hope the Australobe dudes (and dudettes?) will keep sharing their profound thoughts with me.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

COMMENT: Lessons from the Madrid bombing ...

Last night, SBSTV’s Cutting Edge documentary series featured the story of the two prime members of the terror cell responsible for the Madrid bombings of 11 March 2004.

Jamal was a drug dealer and hit man who escaped Morocco after being accused of murder by stabbing. He entered Spain using a false name and soon became involved in drug dealing and violent crime. He entered into a relationship with another drug user, a Spanish woman of nominally Catholic background. He went to prison and soon became addicted to heroin. His girlfriend meanwhile gave birth to their (illegitimate) child.

Sarhane was a middle class Tunisian who won a scholarship to study in Spain. His family in Tunis weren’t terribly religious, and Sarhane had little exposure to Islamic teaching. In Spain, Sarhane began to frequent the M30 mosque in Madrid. The imam (resident religious jurist) was Jordanian. Sarhane came under the influence of self-taught radicals who attacked the imam for refusing to sanction their violent paranoid heterodoxy that regarded anyone (Muslim or otherwise) who disagreed with them as infidels and legitimate targets.

Somehow Sarhane met with Jamal. It was also a meeting of an extreme fringe politicised Islam (free of the strictures of classical juristic authority and Sufi spiritual orthodoxy) with a violent underworld. The combination was toxic. Over 190 people died in the process.

Some days later, a package containing a video cassette was left near the M30 mosque entrance. It featured 3 men with heads covered with black cloth sacks claiming responsibility for the Madrid bombings on behalf of a group calling itself al-Qaeda in Europe (though the trial judges found no direct link between the cell and al-Qaeda). The men also had a message for the mosque parishioners: Anyone who refused to join this wacky pseudo-jihad was an infidel who could also be legitimately killed.

Could Sarhane’s tiny cell of outcasts from the M30 mosque have carried out this attack without the help of Jamal and his underworld thugs (including a fair few gangsters with no relation to any religion)? Who knows? What we do know from this is that al-Qaeda style ideology has only a tenuous relation with any religious orthodoxy.

Little wonder al-Qaeda and its fellow travellers are happy to shed blood even in mosques and shrines and even on the holiest Islamic religious days. And even threaten entire nations.

But it isn’t enough just to recognise all this. Imams and religious leaders must ensure their mosques don’t become havens for jihadist heterodoxy. And that those embracing or returning to the faith aren’t misled by the rhetoric of hate-mongers.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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QUOTE: In fighting terror, we must stop focussing on Islam ...

London experienced the new terrorism on 7 July 2005 when four bombs were detonated around the city. In the debate and discussion that followed I noticed that there was too much focus on Islam as a religion and Muslims as a community, as if each deserved examination as a likely pathology.

... what caused the terrorism was not Islam as a religion or even the lifestyle and culture of Muslims in Britain but an ideology, Global Islamism, whose nature had to be grasped if we were to fight terrorism.

... the ideology bin Ladin has fashioned, Global Islamism, remains a powerful force that will outlive him. Al-Qaeda is a threat not because it has training camps, finance and bombs, but because it is a brand of ideology which, like a virus, can spread globally ... [I]n fighting terrorism, we need to grasp the nature of the ideology, which is easy to spread and difficult to counter.

Meghnad Desai, Rethinking Islamism: The Ideology of the New Terror (2007) IB Tauris, London; Preface.

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COMMENT: Sense and nonsense on Fethllah Gulen and the Australian Catholic University ...


Well the gloves really have been taken off in the battle between the radical fringe obsessed with finding civilisational conflict everywhere on the one hand, and the rest of the universe on the other.

It all started with an article appearing in Quadrant, authored by one Father Paul Stenhouse. Poor Mr Stenhouse was frothing at the pen at the decision by the Australian Catholic University to accept money from some allegedly secretive radical jihadist from Turkey.

And who is this nasty long-bearded beedy-eyed terror-loving mullah? It is none other then ... wait for it ... and try not to laugh too hard when his identity is revealed ... Muhammad Fethullah Gulen!

Yep, this chap who has been lambasted by Turkish Islamists for refusing to endorse Islamist parties, and who has even allegedly told his female followers to remove their hijabs to get a university education is being accused by Fr Stenhouse of being linked to his worst critics.

I'm in the process of completing the second part of a critique for the ABC's Unleashed opinion and commentary portal. The first part can be found here.

The issue has also ben picked up by The Australian here. Professor Greg Barton of Monash Unversity makes these sensible observations reported by The Oz as follows ...

But another scholar of Islam, Monash University professor Greg Barton, who has also made a special study of Gulen, has dismissed Father Stenhouse's objections.

Dismissing the article as poorly written and "not particularly well-argued", Professor Barton said the Gulen movement was marked by the commitment of its members to work hard, live modestly and to serve others, which often meant donating money to worthy causes, such as education and interfaith initiatives.

"Father Stenhouse conflates this quiescent Sufism with some of the rare examples of Sufi militantism," Professor Barton said. "For the most part, Sufis are accommodationists rather than confrontational."

"(The Gulen movement) is the antithesis of Islamist movements."


Later, in the letters section of the Higher Education section, one Ban Tzur manufactures the claim that the Muslim Brotherhood was

... an originally Egyptian Sufi movement responsible for the assassination of Anwar Sadat for making peace with Israel and the central inspiration for the Palestinian Hamas terrorists, for Algerian extremists, and for much else wrong with the Arab world.


It is true that the founder of the Ikhwan did attend sufi circles early in life, even writing a book of Sufi prayers (or wird). It is also true that the Ikhwan underwent a split, with some members going even further toward political extremism than even Syed Qutb.

What evidence does Tzur have that the Ikhwani Sufis were behind the assassination of former Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat? To be fair, Tzur would hardly have a chance to present his evidence in a letter to the editor. Perhaps he can present his evidence in this forum.

One researcher from Georgetown University (a private Catholic University in Washington DC) had this to say ...

I HAVE had several years of close association with members of the Fethullah Gulen movement, which is associated not only with the new chair at the Australian Catholic University but with many initiatives across the world promoting education and inter-religious understanding. This is no Trojan horse, as Paul Stenhouse has insisted on calling it. Indeed he might be interested to know that the movement has received a lot of criticism from Muslims who fear that it is a Christian Trojan horse. Wags in Turkey like to joke that the cardinal named in secret in 2003 by pope John Paul II was Fethullah Gulen.

A charge of naivety is the weapon of choice used against those in either religion who refuse to resign themselves to the nightmarish vision of an endless clash of civilisations but who are game enough to try something new. The ACU and the Australian Intercultural Society are to be praised rather than pilloried for this small but courageous opening.


There's no doubt that the intellectual and educational reform movement led by Fethullah Hoca has been criticised by many Muslims as being too accommodatory to Turkish secular nationalism. That regular writers for Quadrant have found cause to attack even such a harmless group is further evidence of just how nutty and tunnel-visioned the far-Right have becomde.

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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Monday, January 21, 2008

REFLECTION/INDONESIA: Supplication without hijab ...

My mother never taught us (my siblings and I) much about the Prophet Muhammad when we were young. We learned that he was sent to teach people how to behave properly with each other. We also learned that he was a very humble man. But we rarely heard of his actual words.

Except for one thing he said. The Messenger of God is reported to have said:

Beware the supplication (du'a) of the wronged or oppressed person, because their prayers pierce through the various hijabs (veils or curtains) that separate God from God's creation.
Or something like that.

The basic message I got from this is that an excellent way of guaranteeing you have a miserable life is to kick someone when they are down or to take advantage of someone when they are in a state of weakness and vulnerability. And that you shouldn't cause harm to the weak and oppressed. Because God always looks after those who have no one on this planet to look after them.

With that in mind, I'd like to propose a theory. Many people ask why Muslims are in such a bad state. I have a simple explanation. And it revolves around this saying of the Messenger of God.

Basically we as a set of communities, societies and nationsare oppressing a group from among us. They are generally a vulnerable group. Many are weak. Quite a few are dependent on others, whether emotionally and/or financially and/or in other ways.

The wierd thing is that they actually make up a majority from among us.

Yes, I've heard all the rhetoric about how Islam liberated women, about how the Prophet stopped the practice of female infanticide etc. And I believe it all. But what are we doing to our women?

Why are Muslim societies among the most oppressive, mysogynistic and sexist societies on earth? And why is it that we only ever seem to judge religiosity of a community by the extent to which it regulates its women? Why is sharia only sharia in the way it legislates about women?

I urge my Muslim readers not to become defensive. There is no doubt that women in non-Muslim societies also suffer immensely. I know that rates of domestic violence in New South Wales (the most populous state in Australia) have risen by at least 50% in the past 7 years.

But how can we sit back when one of the few genuinely democratic and progressive Muslim societies, and the largest Muslim country on earth, tolerates the kinds of allegedly religious activity that is described in the January 20 edition of the New York Times Magazine?

Here are some excerpts ...

When a girl is taken — usually by her mother — to a free circumcision event held each spring in Bandung, Indonesia, she is handed over to a small group of women who, swiftly and yet with apparent affection, cut off a small piece of her genitals. Sponsored by the Assalaam Foundation, an Islamic educational and social-services organization, circumcisions take place in a prayer center or an emptied-out elementary-school classroom where desks are pushed together and covered with sheets and a pillow to serve as makeshift beds. The procedure takes several minutes. There is little blood involved. Afterward, the girl’s genital area is swabbed with the antiseptic Betadine. She is then helped back into her underwear and returned to a waiting area, where she’s given a small, celebratory gift — some fruit or a donated piece of clothing — and offered a cup of milk for refreshment. She has now joined a quiet majority in Indonesia, where, according to a 2003 study by the Population Council, an international research group, 96 percent of families surveyed reported that their daughters had undergone some form of circumcision by the time they reached 14.


Ninety six percent! How do my Indonesian brothers sleep at night, knowing that their wives and sisters and mothers and daughters go through this?

So what benefits do our sisters get from this procedure?

According to Lukman Hakim, the foundation’s chairman of social services, there are three “benefits” to circumcising girls.

“One, it will stabilize her libido,” he said through an interpreter. “Two, it will make a woman look more beautiful in the eyes of her husband. And three, it will balance her psychology.”
Is he for real? Where did he get this stuff from? How does this add to a woman's beauty? Why does the libido of a Muslim woman (or indeed any woman) need to be surgically stabilised?

Did the Prophet Muhammad have his daughters stabilised? Did Uthman make sure that Ruqaiyya and Umm Kulthum went through this procedure before marrying them? Did Ali insist Fatima go through this procedure? Did any of the wives of the Prophet, the Mothers of the Believers, go through this procedure? Or any other women in Madina?

In Indonesia, home to the world’s largest Muslim population, a debate over whether to ban female circumcision is in its early stages. The Ministry of Health has issued a decree forbidding medical personnel to practice it, but the decree which has yet to be backed by legislation does not affect traditional circumcisers and birth attendants, who are thought to do most female circumcisions. Many agree that a full ban is unlikely without strong support from the country’s religious leaders.
Perhaps our Islamic religious leaders in Australia can explain to their Indonesian peers why this practice is abhorrent and disgraceful. Perhaps our imams can remind Indonesian imams that not all vestiges of Indonesia's indigenous pre-Islamic customs are worth holding onto.

I love Indonesia, its people and its many cultures. Insh'Allah (God-willing) I hope to visit this beautiful country again. Indonesians impressed me as enlightened, progressive people who genuinely treasure their culture and their democracy. Indonesia is a shining light among the darkness of police states and dictatorships governing most Muslim-majority countries.

We must hope, pray and encourage our Indonesian brothers and sisters to discard these kinds of practises that have no medical or spiritual benefit. And we must root out this evil practice from other societies, Muslim and non-Muslim.

How can we exprect to progress when our women-folk are secretly, in their heart of hearts, supplicating to God against us?

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, January 16, 2008

BOOK REVIEW: Diversity the destination for journey into Islam

On The Road To Kandahar: Travels Through Conflict In The Islamic World
by Jason Burke
Penguin
320pp

____________________

It is one thing to be a cultural warrior, to speak boldly about an allegedly monolithic enemy and to instil in readers fear of people they (and, indeed, the author) have never met.

It's another to actually visit this enemy on their home turf and discover that, deep down we all really share the same dreams and hopes and aspirations. And to discover that your enemy isn't a monolith after all but is really a reflection of the complexities of your own society.

In other words, to discover that we don't have to be enemies after all.

Jason Burke, chief reporter for the British newspaper The Observer, falls well into the latter category. His most recent book, On the Road to Kandahar: Travels through Conflict in the Islamic World, is one people of all faiths (including, or rather, especially Muslims) can learn much from.

This is Burke's second book on the politics of the nominally Muslim world. It follows on well from his first, which tells the story of radical Islam as being more than just a single group labelled by pundits and politicians as al-Qaeda.

What makes his second book so important is that his focus is not just on political and religious leaders in war zones. He isn't content to fly in for a day or two to Baghdad or Southern Thailand, arrange a few appointments, chase after stringers and repeat the usual analyses. He doesn't just want to tell us what we want to hear or our supposed enemies want us to hear.

Instead, Burke insists on spending (pardon the cliche) quality time with a broad range of people.

Classical Islamic scholars teach that Islam cannot be learned just from books. Rather, one needs to engage in sohbet, to spend time in the environment of those who know and practise Islam and to absorb Islam through a kind of spiritual osmosis.

Burke insists on learning about Muslims through a similar process. So, when visiting Iraq during the time of Saddam, Burke doesn't talk just to whomsoever Saddam's Information Ministry allows him to. He keenly observes and patiently absorbs the general environment, letting the words and behaviour of even the most ''menial'' people (including an 11-year-old-child named Bilawal at a primary school) give readers some idea of the broader environment in which he reports.

Notwithstanding the somewhat left-of-centre reputation of his newspaper, Burke is not stereotypically critical of the role of the United States in Muslim countries. He doesn't, for instance, buy the argument that the Americans were only in Iraq to protect their oil interests. He also recognises the enormous risks taken by well- meaning soldiers and civilians from coalition forces in Iraq, many of whom want to make a real difference to the lives of ordinary Iraqis.

Burke uses the Algerian experience to show why Islamists can gain support at a grassroots level when existing secular administrations are too short-sighted and corrupt. Here he discovers the importance of

... the middle ground, the mass of moderate opinion, the huge weight of the population who just wanted a decent life for themselves and their friends and family.

That middle ground can exist in any country, Muslim or otherwise.

After all his time in various zones of conflict in the nominally Islamic world, Burke realises the enormous variety of Islams (as opposed to a single Islam) that exists. This is a lesson anyone who has travelled and spent time in more than one Muslim-majority state will take for granted. It is also a lesson that self-serving Muslim spokespersons in Western countries should learn.

Surely the easiest way to demonise a group is to portray them in a monolithic fashion. Muslim leaders in Australia who pretend, in their own communal and political interests, that there is just one Muslim community (which they conveniently represent) are not only doing Muslims a disservice. Their claims reflect either complete ignorance or total dishonesty.

Burke concludes with some reflections on the London bombings, to whose victims he dedicates his book.

And if the London bombings had taught me anything it was that to gather people together, whether hundreds of millions of people across huge swathes of the planet or fifty people in a tube carriage, and demarcate and label them and designate them simply as one thing or another, as enemies or friends, as Westerner or Eastern, as Muslims or non-Muslims, as believers or non-believers, is something no one should ever do.

In short, the things that divide us within communities are, in truth, the things that truly unite us as human beings.

Irfan Yusuf is associate editor of AltMuslim.com and winner of the 2007 Allen & Unwin Iremonger award for writing on public issues. This review was first published in The Canberra Times on Saturday 12 January 2006

© Irfan Yusuf 2008

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Monday, January 07, 2008

COMMENT: The Oz - going troppo on TJ ...

The Australian today published a disturbing report on a management dispute at Sydney’s Sefton mosque, managed by an entity called the Bangladesh Islamic Centre.

The story is headlined “Terror Links in battle for mosque”. It claims that the Tabligh Jamaat (TJ) are trying to take over management of the mosque. Apparently the incumbent imam has been removed and has had an apprehended violence order taken out against him.

The authors of the story are senior reporter Natalie O’Brien and cadet journalist Sanna Trad. The story described the TJ as:

… a hardline religious movement that has been linked to the 2005 London bombings … under watch by Western intelligence agencies because of its suspected links to terrorism …

The Tablighi are influenced by a fundamentalist branch of Saudi Arabian-based Islam known as Wahabism. The sect has been linked to two July 7 London bombers, and failed shoe bomber Richard Reid is also known to have attended Tablighi meetings.

I almost fell off my chair when I read these descriptions. The TJ? Influenced by Wahhabism? How?

In fact the TJ are a Sufi Sunni missionary group founded in India in the 1920’s. The founder, Maulana Muhammad Illyas, was a mureed (disciple) of the famous Indian Sufi of the Chishtiyya order named Rasheed Ahmed Gangohi. The methodology of the TJ represents a combination of the practices of various Sufi orders, and the texts used by the TJ (authored by prominent Sufi Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhalwi) make heavy use of Sufi sources.

Saudi Wahhabist scholars and authorities have severely criticised the TJ, their methodology and their texts as being heterodox. As TJ expert Yoginder Sikand notes:

In fact, TJ missionary groups are actually prohibited from preaching in Saudi Arabia, presumably because the Saudi 'Wahhabis' do not believe that the TJ is really 'Islamic' enough. In fact, Saudi opposition to TJ ideology is so extreme that Tablighi books are not allowed to be imported into the
country.

A fatwa issued some years ago by the late Shaikh Bin Baz, chief official Saudi mufti (available online on the 'Wahhabi' website http://www.fatwa-online.com), bearing the revealing title 'The Final Fatwa of Shaykh Abdul Azeez ibn Baaz Warning Against the Jamaah at-Tableegh', clearly denounces the Tablighis as a 'deviant' group. Bin Baz warns his 'Wahhabi followers, that '[I]t is not permissible to go with them, except for a person who has knowledge and goes with them to disapprove of what they are upon'. This is because, he argues, the Tablighis are characterized by 'deviations, mistakes and lack of knowledge'. They represent 'falsehood' and are do not follow the Sunni path.

In other words, as this fatwa indicates, Bin Baz clearly regarded the TJ propagating 'un-Islamic' beliefs and seems not to have even regarded them as fellow Sunnis, and hence not as proper Muslims, because for the 'Wahhabis' only Sunnis are Muslims. In an even more strongly worded fatwa hosted on the same site, Bin Baz went far as to denounce the Tablighis as being destined to
perdition in Hell, alleging that they were 'opposed' to the Sunni path, and, hence, for all purposes, not Muslims at all.


One need only read Hanifa Deen’s Caravanserais to see how the TJ operate in Australia. Yes, they are ultra-orthodox. Yes, they do hold very conservative views on personal and social morality.

It may well be true that the shoe bomber and some of the 7/7 bombers had attended TJ meetings. But then, so have many others including former Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, deceased former Indian President Dr Zakir Hussein, a few Pakistani cricketers, Indonesian rock band Sheila on 7 (whose songs openly support TJ) and yours truly.

In fact, the TJ hold meetings and gatherings at just about every mosque in Sydney (except the Wahhabi ones), with these gatherings being timed to coincide with regular prayer services. That means potentially any and every person who has been to a mosque in Australia will have attended a TJ gathering.

Far from politicising Muslims, the TJ has been attacked for discouraging its members from political involvement. Prominent TJ elders have been publicly critical of Sheik Tajeddine Hilaly on a variety of issues, including his speaking on political matters in Friday sermons. It’s little wonder, therefore, that Hilaly and his translator Keysar Trad haven’t exactly been best buddies with the TJ.

(Though both Hilaly and Trad have sat in on TJ meetings and gatherings at the Imam Ali Mosque in Lakemba. Will The Oz now link both these gentlemen to terrorism?)

Coincidentally, among those cited for the story is “Islamic Friendship Association president Keysar Trad”. Trad tells the two reporters:

It is a disgrace to seek out an AVO against an imam unless he's made a major breach of religious teachings or the law.

With all due respect, Mr Trad, it is also a disgrace to suggest that resources devoted to enforcing Part XVA of the Crimes Act be diverted away from protecting actual and potential victims of violence and be used to enforce religious orthodoxy and observance of imams.

So what’s the crux of the Sefton mosque dispute? TJ opponents claim TJ members are staging ...

... an ethnic and religious-based takeover, wanting the mosque exclusively for Bangladeshi Muslims, particularly those who follow Tablighi, to the exclusion of other ethnic groups including Arabic Muslims.
So non-Bangladeshis could soon be banned from Sefton mosque. That includes Usama bin Ladin, Abubakar Bashir and Saudi wahhabi scholars. And we’re told this new mob is linked to transnational terrorists. Go figure.

UPDATE I: I sent the following letter today to the editor of The Australian ...

Your story on the Sefton Mosque management dispute alleges that one competing faction belongs to an organisation which is linked to terrorism and is influenced by Saudi-style Wahhabism. It also cites Keysar Trad on the dispute.

Is there any reason why the story doesn't disclose that one of its authors is in fact Keysar Trad's daughter?

What makes your slip-up even more serious is that Mr Trad is well known in Muslim circles for his criticism of the faction in question, as is his close friend Sheik Hilaly.

(Indeed, as am I. Though I regard any suggestion they are influenced by Saudi-style Islam as completely ridiculous.)

One might infer from this that your newspaper is being used to score intra-Muslim sectarian points.

Yours faithfully
I Yusuf
UPDATE II: That Keysar Trad may have a special interest in the affairs of Sefton Mosque could arise because (at least in October 2002) he resided with his family in Yagoona, a stone's throw away from Sefton. This in itself doesn't reflect on Trad, nor should it. However, it means that The Oz had even more reason to declare that a name appearing on the by-line of the story was in fact related to Mr Trad.

UPDATE III: Keysar confirms his personal interest in the Sefton mosque dispute and his knowledge of the mechanics of the story in this e-mail he sent to an individual and which was forwarded to a variety of e-mail groups ...

From: K Trad
Date: 7 Jan 2008 16:34
Subject: FW: No happy keysar
To: kaled el...

Wa'alaykumussalam

Dear Br. Kaled

1 – Sanna did her work on this two weeks ago as background and stopped. Natalie took over, the only reason that Sanna's name is on it is because of the early contact that the people from Sefton did.

2 – My involvement stems from contact by the Imam and others from the community, Sh. Abdul Karim is the imam there by the statements of several members of the committee and the trustees.

3 – It was one of the committee members who contacted Sanna Trad, this person kept calling her on a daily basis, I have learnt that one call was 11 pm at night.

4 – This is an issue that cannot be ignored. One of the committee members seems to have been trying to throw the imam out in the absence of the president who went on holiday to the US for an one month holiday.

5 – Sanna did not quote me, Natalie interviewed me in relation to this story.

6 – Sanna Trad did not raise the issue of Wahhabi or Tablighi. I checked with Natalie who was kind enough to explain, she has pointed out that the wahhabi influence is partly deduced from public articles that you can access at the following links:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/terrorism/story/0,,1853800,00.html

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article1816451.ece

http://www.meforum.org/article/686

http://www.uvm.edu/~envprog/madrassah/TablighiCritique.htm


7 – I maintain, if we have an issue with an Imam, let the community resolve it, I fear that this sets a nasty precedent, I am curious to see what the court hearing will produce in this matter. This issue is about more than an AVO, the Imam contacted me two weeks ago to tell me that this committee member brought the police to his home to evict him between 12:30 and 1 AM on Monday 17 December, the police came again after midnight two days later to see one of the neighbours at the behest of the same committee member, this committee member brought the police a third time on Friday morning when the Sefton mosque people were having their Eid and the police almost went inside to remove the Imam, it was one of the caretakers who explained to them that this committee member was not empowered to remove the Imam in such a manner. The police have been dragged into this issue over the past couple of weeks by the committee member who has been trying to oust the Imam. The neutral members of the committee seem to be waiting for the president to return before taking any form of action. The Imam was thrown out of his house without a court order or an eviction notice.

8 – It has been suggested by a "Muslim" blogger that Sh. Taj and I are known as critics of the Tablighis, this blogger, whom I might add has a history of attacking both Sh. Taj and myself has not produced any evidence for his claim. I would challenge him to find one quote anywhere of Sh. Taj criticising Tablighis. I personally did not comment on the Tablighis in this story nor did I criticise them, nor was there any intention of criticising them in my comment about the atrocious treatment of the Imam.

Keysar

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, January 06, 2008

COMMENT: Wow, who let the J-W wackos out?

Wow, I feel like I'm surrounded with JihadWatch wackos.

A number of comments to my previous post (including one Kevin from Canada) challenged me to provide proof that a figure of speech is in fact a fact when taken literally.

Gee, that's really smart, Kevin. Is English your first language?

And if I tell you that my figure of speech was in fact a figure of speech, what will you say in response? That I am a liar for using figures of speech?

Jose Borghino and I interviewed Ayaan Hirsi Ali for NewMatilda.com. You can download (albeit an edited version of) the interview from their website. Hirsi Ali clearly states that the Islam of bin-Ladin is the dominant Islam across the Islamic world.

Now tell me what bin-Ladin stands for if it isn't violence? And tell me that the only time Hirsi Ali has said this was to Borghino and I.

Let's get back to the topic of my previous post. What symptoms do we look for when identifying SJS? The Washington Times report talks about people with "an affiliation with Islamic supremacy".

What does this mean? What is an affiliation? What is Islamic supremacy? Does this include people who feel intellectually and emotionally convinced that Islam is the only faith providing absolute truth?

So does that mean that I am only free from being affected by SJS if nothing I have ever said or written suggests or infers a belief that the Islamic faith as I understand it is the only faith that provides absolute truth?

And what is so dangerous about believing that one's beliefs are better than others? Or is this only dangerous if Muslims are involved? If so, why?

"Because Islam is violent and your holy men were child molesters," say some members of the lunar-Right.

Of course, Christianity has never had a history of violence. We know for a fact that Buddhists were responsible for the Holocaust. We also know that American Hindus dropped bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And those nasty Jains committed atrocities at Abu Ghraib.

And we all know that Christian churches had nothing to do with the sexual abuse of children, let alone the virtual elimination of indigenous peoples across all American continents, Australia, etc.

The fact is that all major monotheistic faiths have a history of aggression and bloodshed at some stage of their history.

"But these days, most terrorists are Muslims. That's the difference."

Really? So have you done your own demographic study based on a detailed examination of all terrorist acts across the earth? Over what period? What was your research methodology? Where can I find your research findings published? In which peer-reviewed academic journal?

Or are you suggesting that the people from FARC have abandoned Marxism? Have the RSS decided they don't want to be Hindu anymore?

Even if it's true that most terrorists are Muslims, it's also true that the vast majority of victims are Muslims. But they're the victims you never hear about. You rarely see their relatives weeping on TV. You rarely read of how they're feeling in the papers.

When some foreigner detonates a suicide vest and kills 50 Iraqi civilians in the process, do we get the kind of saturation coverage we got from elements of the allegedly conservative media when the bombing plot in the UK was foiled?

I guess what it boils down to is that some victims are more important than others ...

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Saturday, January 05, 2008

HUMOUR/COMMENT: Sudden Team America Syndrome ...

Can you spot the difference?


Some American law enforcement authorities have decided to take some tips from xenophobic far-Right bloggers who have claimed the existence of ‘Sudden Jihad Syndrome’ (SJS).

Apparently SJS is an affliction whereby a person with some kind of Muslim faith and/or ancestry and/or heritage decides for some inexplicable reason to attack America in some way.

The Washington Times (a right wing newspaper owned by business interests linked to an ultraconservative Korean pastor who claima to have met Jesus on a Korean mountainside) cites a December 6 report from the Texas Public Safety Department’s Bureau of Information Analysis which states:

Oftentimes, these attackers are dismissed as suffering from mental health issues, but their own words and writings reveal an affiliation with Islamic supremacy or an affinity for Islamic extremism ... As a result, law enforcement should not be too quick to judge their attacks as having no nexus to terrorism.



The Washington Times report also cites an al-Qaeda theorist I’ve never heard of named Abul Mu’ab al-Suri who has apparently written a book entitled “Call to Global Islamic Resistance”. No indication is given as to when this book was written or whether it was written in the context of a particular conflict or even what language the book first appeared in. Now are we made aware as to what position Mr al-Suri apparently holds within the al-Qaeda hierarchy.

What we do know is that there have been two reported incidents of people from Muslim backgrounds who have apparently committed violent acts. Among them was a 15 year old boy who apparently owned an airplane which he crashed into a Tampa office building.

I’m not sure how a 15 year old could own a plane, let alone be able to fly it. I’m also not certain how an allegedly serious newspaper could write a serious report of such a patently absurd concept as Sudden Jihad Syndrome.

It only makes sense when one takes into account that so many cultural warriors from the far-Right are suffering from their own kind of syndrome for which I’d like to propose a name – Sudden Team America Syndrome.

Basically this syndrome involves presuming that all persons of Muslim and/or Middle Eastern background have a propensity toward violence and are always looking for opportunities to put a jihad on you, me and just about anyone too Westernised or Americanised for their liking.

Among those who suffer from this syndrome are prominent far-Right fruitloop writers like Daniel Pipes and Mark Steyn. During his last visit to Australia at the invitation of the Centre for Independent Studies, Steyn actually suggested that some young jihadists actually commit terrorist acts “in the name of Muhammad”.

Seriously, if you do anything in the name of Muhammad in the presence of a jihadist, he’ll probably kill you first for committing idolatry by equating the Prophet Muhammad with God. Unless, of course, he belonged to the Dawat-e-Islami crowd. You know. The dudes who wear the hari pagris (green turbans).

But what would Steyn care of such obvious theological points. His goal isn’t to inform. His goal is to generate as much hatred as possible.

Steyn and his ilk are as simplistic in their understanding of genuine religious extremism as the clay puppets from that terrific flick Team America. For them, Muslims all speak the language of “jerka jerka jihad jihad”.

So why have Texan law enforcement authorities decided to take such nonsense seriously? I dunno. Maybe there’s something in Texan water. Maybe having a somewhat simple chap as governor for all these years has compromised their faculties. Or maybe someone showed them one of Dubya’s foreign policy speeches before the Iraq war and presumed it was al-Suri.

I just hope our own law enforcement authorities don’t start suffering from STAS. Though given some of the questions asked during the Haneef investigation, you’d have to wonder.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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