Tuesday, September 09, 2008

MEDIA/COMMENT: On beards, robes and Salafis ...

I was recently doing some research on visits to Australia by Indonesian radical imam Abu Bakar Basyir when I came across an article by Sally Neighbour published on the ABC website. The article, from November 2006, dealth with Abu Bakar Basyir's ties with Sheik Mohammad Omran from Melbourne.

Neighbour makes this curious observation about the Salafi strains of Islam ...

But the two men and their followers shared a common world view. They were adherents of the Salafi school of Islam, which holds that the faith must be practised just as it was in the days of the Prophet Mohammed in the seventh century, hence their long robes and untrimmed beards.

Neighbour seems to suggest that Salafis represent a single school of Islam which is characterised by an insistence that Islam must be practised exactly as it was during the time of the Prophet Muhammad. One result of this is that men wear long robes and grow beards.

Neighbour is regarded as a senior reporter on national security issues. I hate to say this, but the statement quoted above is comparable to something you might read in a British tabloid or watch on FoxNews.

There are numerous Muslim groups who see the Islam practised during the Prophet Muhammad's time as an ideal and a goal to aspire to. This need not take the form of literalism, either in textual interpretation or application of the Islamic sacred law (also known as sharia). Having such an ideal could hardly be described as indicative of a person following the Salafi strains of Islam.

In recent times, there has been a debate in Muslim circles about moonsighting to determine the commencement of the month of Ramadan. One Sydney chap and various groups affiliated with him have argued that the moon should be sighted with the naked eye, just as happened 14 centuries ago. Yet even the staunchest critics of this chap (such as myself) could dare describe him as a Salafi.

Further, the wearing of long robes and men growing beards is also not exactly representative of Salafi strains of Islam. Anyone who has attended Sufi gatherings of teachers such as Sheik Nuh Ha Mim Keller or Sheik Na'eem Abdul Wali would know what I mean. Here are men wearing robes and sporting beards, yet are known to have published written works strongly critical of Salafi strains of Islam on a variety of issues.

Given the widespread ignorance of various strains of Islam (or indeed of the basics of Islam) in the broader community, it is often difficult for reporters to write in a manner that reflects the nuances of various theological groups and schools of thought. I hope senior reporters like Ms Neighbour are able to avoid such inaccuracies in their future reporting.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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