Saturday, December 26, 2009

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

Readers may recall this post regarding "imam" Afroz Ali's appearance on the Compass program on ABCTV in 2007.

Yours trully contacted the Compass program and there was some exchange of correspondence which I will reproduce here. The initial contact was as follows:

2 December 2007


I occasionally write for various places (including I noticed that in a recent edition of the Compass program, the following was said ...

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 and he’s studied in other significant centres of Islamic learning. At the Al Ghazzali Centre he teaches Islamic sciences, jurisprudence, ethics and corporate citizenship.

Can you please advise as to where you obtained this information from. Was it provided to you by Mr Ali and/or someone from the Al Ghazzali Centre? Did Mr Ali advise you of which qualifications he completed in Saudi Arabia?

Irfan Yusuf

I have received a response from Sharon Connolly, the Story Editor, as follows:

6 December 2007

Dear Irfan,

Many thanks for your inquiry about the Compass program One Vote, Which Values.

Information about Imam Ali and his qualifications was provided firstly by Imam Ali himself in an interview with Compass producer Peter Kirkwood published in Tomorrow’s Islam, G.Doogue & P. Kirkwood, ABC Books, 2005, and from information provided on the Al Ghazzali Centre website last August (unfortunately the site seems to be under reconstruction at present).

My understanding is that Imam Ali has studied in a number of centres, including Saudi Arabia, the US, Yemen, Mauritania and, most recently, at Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

Whilst I am not aware of which of his qualifications come from Saudi Arabia , I understand that Imam Ali is qualified to teach in various Islamic Sciences.

Please let me know if I can be of further assistance,

Sharon Connolly
Story Editor

I responded to Ms Connolly as follows:

5 December 2007

Dear Sharon,

Thank you for your response.

Did Mr Ali state that he had obtained a university degree from Saudi Arabia? Did he mention any specific university from which he graduated? Did he provide the year of graduation and the specific degree he obtained? Did he advise if the degree was an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification?

Irfan Yusuf

Ms Connolly responded as follows:

6 December 2007

Dear Irfan,

I am afraid that both you and Imam Ali have now alerted me to an inaccuracy in the narration for One Vote, Which Values.

In response to your email yesterday I was about to revisit the research files for the program this morning when I received an email from Imam Ali. He is currently in Cairo and though I have sent him a DVD copy of the program he has not yet received it. However as you’ll see in his message (the relevant passage of which I have copied below), Imam Ali has read the transcript of the program on the Compass website.

Imam Ali’s clarification is as follows:

Also, just as a quick note for your records, in the intro part of the transcript i was introduces as holding "qualifications" from Saudi Arabia . I just want to clarify that whilst i have studied in Islamic University, Madina, I did not complete my studies (due to a Wahhabist leaning of the teaching when I was there), nor do I reallu rely on that knowledge base. My qualifications as an Imam comes from Traditional source of one-on-one with Scholars. Just for future reference, if you need me for an interview again!!!!

I regret that there appears to have been a misunderstanding on my part, and hope that the above information clarifies the position.

Yours sincerely,
Sharon Connolly
Story Editor,

What a strange coincidence. Anyway, more questions were put to Ms Connolly.

6 December 2007

Dear Sharon,

Thank you for that. I would still be interested to know if at any stage Mr Ali did represent to you or anyone else that he had completed a degree or other qualification.

It is a representation that has been made in the past. For instance, in 2005 in New Zealand ...

... Mr. Afroz Ali of Sydney, also well versed in inter-religious matters, holding degrees in Islamic Studies and Shari'ah from Islamic University, Madina, Saudi Arabia, thereafter continuing through traditional Islamic learning styles under scholars such as Shaykh Hamza Yusuf of the United States, Shaykh Salik bin Siddina and Shaykh Murabtal Hajj of Mauritania.

... and at the University of Western Sydney in 2004 ...

Mr Ali graduated in Islamic Studies - Sharia after studying in Islamic University, Madina Saudi Arabia ...

This shows the problems arising from the absence of a proper system of accreditation of imams. Perhaps an idea for a future episode?

Irfan Yusuf

Ms Connolly responded:

6 December 2007

Dear Irfan,

I haven’t myself seen a description of Imam Ali’s qualifications like those that you quote. I think my ideas about his qualifications came from the program researcher’s notes which say that he is a “qualified Imam” and that he “received licence to teach in various Islamic Sciences.” Those notes contain no more specifics about the qualifications, simply a list of countries (not universities) in which he studied.

I have been unable to contact the researcher concerned as she is no longer working with the ABC. However I understand that her information came from the sources I mentioned to you in an earlier email; basically the Al Ghazzali centre website, Tomorrow’s Islam and from discussion with Imam Ali.

There is however nothing in the material I have revisited to suggest that Imam Ali has misrepresented the case; rather I have erred (as his email points out) in suggesting that he has qualifications from Saudi Arabia. As I said earlier, I think this is a case of misunderstanding on my part.

I agree with you that - to the uninitiated at least - the system for conferring qualifications upon Imams is not perhaps as clear as for some other denominations, and have mentioned your program idea to the Compass Executive Producer.

Sharon Connolly
Story Editor,

Perhaps the contents of these e-mails can be discussed separately.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

COMMENT: Fair Dinkum Pilgrimage

The following piece was published on the Aussie Mossie blog on Monday 9 January 2006.

In the past few days, around 2.5 million Muslims from across the globe have converged on the ancient city of Mecca in central-west Saudi Arabia to perform the various rites that form part of the Muslim pilgrimage tradition known as the “Hadj”.

On Tuesday 10 & Wednesday 11 January millions more will attend prayer services and gatherings in their local areas for the feast of sacrifice (known in Arabic as “Eid al-Adha”), the most important religious and cultural festival of the Muslim calendar. The feast commemorates an event mentioned in both the Old Testament and the Koran.

The Old Testament recounts how God ordered Abraham to show his devotion by sacrificing his own son Isaac. The Qur’an is silent on the identity of the son, though Islamic tradition suggests the proposed sacrificial son was to be the elder Ishmael.

Just as Abraham places the blade on his son’s throat, the command is given to sacrifice a ram instead. The rites of the Hadj conclude with pilgrims sacrificing an animal, following the example of Abraham. Hadj also involves a variety of other acts commemorating the sacrifices made by Abraham and members of his family to establish monotheism in the region.

These acts include circling a cubic structure known as the Kaaba (believed to have been built by Abraham) which is draped in fresh black embroidered cloth each year. Near the Kaaba are two hills (named “Safa” and “Marwa”), between which it is believed Ishmael’s mother ran to fetch water for her infant child. Pilgrims run between these two hills following in Hagar’s footsteps.

The highlight of the Hadj is the assembly on Mount Arafat, regarded as a preliminary to the gathering of all humanity on Day of Judgment. In January 2005, TVNZ reported that over 20,000 buses were used to carry a portion of the millions of pilgrims who made the journey last year.

At one time, travel to Hadj was a difficult and dangerous journey. American Muslim writer Michael Wolfe recounts the pre-jet-age perils of pilgrims in his book “One Thousand Roads To Mecca”, an anthology of 10 centuries of Hadj travel writing.

Wolfe’s characters include Ibn Battuta (Islam’s very own Marco Polo) who travelled by land and sea during the 14th century over some 75,000 miles and over a period of 30 years. Also included are “fake” pilgrims who smuggled themselves into Mecca defying its ban on non-Muslims entering its gates, such as Englishman Joseph Pitts who managed to sneak into Mecca undetected in 1685.

The journeys recorded also include the diary entries of an Australian woman Winifred Stegar who married an Indian merchant in Singapore. Her pilgrimage was performed in 1927, with she and her Indian husband running out of money and having to leave some of their children behind along the way.

Wolfe’s own Hadj journey, described in his book 1993 “The Hadj – An American’s Pilgrimage to Mecca”, was a much safer affair. Like most modern pilgrims, he travelled by air. The grandson of an Orthodox Jewish religious scholar, Wolfe adopted Islam after spending time in Morocco.

In many Muslim cultures, Hadj represents the culmination of a lifetime of devotion with the “Hadjis” (as those making the journey are called) leaving the journey until later years. It is said that a person’s entire adult life of sins is erased by a successful Hadj.

On the other hand, the delayed Hadj is also the subject of wry humour. Hadjis are often jokingly regarded as veteran sinners seeking a “quick fix” to their perilous spiritual status. An Urdu saying goes: “After eating several thousand mice, the elderly cat finally decides to set off for Hadj!”

But with hundreds of elderly Hadjis dying each year, and with an increased sense of religiosity amongst young Muslims, the average age of pilgrims appears to be decreasing.

In Malay and Indonesian cultures, it is traditional for Hadj to be performed in one’s early adult years. And amongst Australian pilgrims, young adults are also heavily represented.

Sydney’s Sun-Herald reported on December 11 2005 of a group of young Muslims from the Sydney Muslim heartland of Lakemba making preparations for the journey. One of them was Omar Abas, a 26 year old software engineer and a personal friend of the writer.

Omar’s father first went to Hadj at age 65, and his own decision to go for Hadj relatively young is unusual in the context of his parents’ Lebanese heritage wherein leaving Hadj to the end of one’s life “was the traditional Lebanese mentality. You live your life and do what you want, and then go to Hajj.

“For my parents' and grandparents' generations, religion played a small part in their upbringing. Today it’s different. Religion is very important to young Muslims because it is a way of life.”

For those Muslims not at Hadj, the time is one for feasting with family and friends. Non-Muslim readers with Muslim work colleagues should remind them of this fact at next week’s work lunch. But sorry, most of us won’t buy you a ham sandwich or a schooner of VB!

Words © 2006-09 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: No time to whinge

This comment was published on the Aussie Mossie blog on Friday 24 February 2006 ...

My immediate response to the comments on Muslims and Australian values was shock, dismay and disgust. It made me sick in the stomach that 2 prominent political leaders could express such ignorance on fundamental Islamic concepts such as sharia and jihad.

Of course, we all know they are doing this as a diversion to other emerging issues and scandals. But I think Muslims need to also consider why they can get away with expressing such divisive views.

The fact is that probably most Australians agree with the views expressed by Messrs Howard and Costello. Aussie Muslims know that Costello’s remarks on sharia evidenced near-chronic ignorance on his part.

They also illustrate our near-chronic laziness and inability to communicate our values to the broader Australian community. If the broader community understood what sharia really is and what it means to Aussie Muslims, the Howards and Costellos of this world would never be able to use such issues as a successful diversion.

We know that Muslim mobs rioting and burning embassies were being manipulated by their leaders to divert attention away from more pressing issues. Costello and Howard are using the same device in Australia.

Or are they? When was the last time a group of Muslim Australians sat down and explained to Mr Howard what sharia actually means? When was the last time a Muslim group even bothered to invite Mr Costello to one of their functions?

Our disappointment with our political leaders is understandable. But what else can we expect when we allow our fellow Australians to be bombarded with only ignorant views about our faith and cultures?

The time has come for Muslims to come out of the spiritual closet and to be proactive about their religious responsibilities. Our primary religious responsibility in Australia is to inform people about who we are and what we believe.

The Arabic word “dawah” is often used to describe Muslim outreach and educational activities. We know dawah is a religious imperative upon all of us. It is now becoming an imperative for our national security and our social cohesion. We cannot afford to sit back and complain about the ignorance of wedge-creating politicians. Now is not the time to complain. Now is the time to talk and act.

Words © 2006-09 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, November 09, 2009

COMMENT: Rachael Kohn on imam con-artistry ...

According to ABC Radio National religion presenter Dr Rachaael Kohn, it is the responsibility of Muslims in Australia to expose some wacky Iranian self-proclaimed Ayatollah they probably have never heard of except through the news.

In the many media conferences and interfaith meetings I've attended, Muslims have regularly complained that the media cast them in a poor light.

However valid that complaint may be, it loses all credibility when they don't go after the radicals in their community.

If they don't, the media will do it for them.

Indeed. And when the media does it, it's likely that it will be the first time even the most well-connected Muslims will learn about the person in question. But what if Muslim religious leaders go further and actually request law enforcement agencies to do something about it? As Kohn herself notes:

Almost two years ago, Richard Kerbaj [The Australian, Jan 28 2008] reported that the Melbourne based Shia Muslim leader, Kamal Mousselmani, urged the Australian Federal Police to investigate Sheik Haron, whom Mousselmani claimed was not a genuine religious leader.

Did you read that, Rachael? Almost two years ago. Perhaps you should be directing your inquiries to AFP.

Still, Rachael does have one point:

But one issue remains outstanding: just who is a genuine religious leader in the Muslim community and who is monitoring their output to young Australians?

I've been making that precise point in the matter of Afroz Ali. But then, Afroz doesn't exactly go around preaching suicide bombing. I don't think someone who promotes feeding the homeless and getting involved in climate change activism could be described as a threat to our national security even if he isn't as qualified to teach religion as he claims to be.

You'd think a religious reporter from Radio National would be able to make such distinctions and address such issues. Still, you don't need to know much about Islam or Muslims to get a job in the Religion department there. Indeed even Afroz Ali wouldn't be silly enough to object (as Kohn once did) to using the term "unitarian Islam" (or something similar) to describe wahhabism. A bit like objecting using "lawyer" to describe a legal practitioner.

Read this paragraph and wonder:

Yet it would seem that with the rapid growth of storefront prayer halls, it is time to ensure that all the independent sheiks who garner a following be known and when necessary reined-in by a body that represents the interests of Australian Muslims.

It's hard not to be flippant about Kohn's claims. Yes, these shopfront prayer hall sheiks are breeding like rabbits, popping up all over the place. And as we all know, Muslim youth are so damned vulnerable that they can be brainwashed into doing just about anything. I mean, we've all heard of those genetic deficiencies, haven't we?

Seriously, Rachael, if you want to hold me and 359,999 other Australians who tick the "Muslim" box on their census forms responsible for the wacky remarks of some wacky dude we know bugger-all about just because our unelected self-appointed leaders do bugger-all about him, you might consider resigning from Radio National and move to 2GB where people holding such silly views do their broadcasting.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Monday, November 02, 2009

LETTERS: Further Open Letter to Afroz Ali ...

The following open letter was sent to Afroz Ali. I don't expect a response given that I have had such letters unanswered since as early as least April 2006!

Dear Afroz,

Assalamu alaykum.

As you are aware, there has been some discussion for the past 4 years concerning your religious qualifications and credentials, if any. Some of that discussion has been in the form of blog posts on my blog as well as discussion on internet forums. I have also spoken with you personally about this matter and have documented our conversations on my blog.

Your Melbourne representative, Taymour Nabulsi, has advised that your full academic qualifications and credentials are available and on display at your office in Lakemba. If that is the case, I wanted to arrange a time to meet with you and you could explain to me these documents which, Mr Nabulsi says, are quite complex and intricate.

As my own knowledge of Arabic is rather weak (to say the least!), I also wanted to bring along 2 persons whom I trust in these matters. One is a graduate of the Islamic University of Madina as well as having qualifications from Turkey and strong Arabic fluency.

Can you please advise via return e-mail on when would be a good time to visit your centre. Ma salameh.

Irfan Yusuf

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Thursday, October 22, 2009

COMMENT: Pseudo-Sheik Haron and Radio 2GB ...

I’ve just gotten off the phone from Jason Morrison of the Sydney talkback radio station 2GB. His researcher, Judy Goldman, had been trying to contact me since this morning. She had e-mailed me via the website (of which I am an associate editor) and also rang the Law Society of NSW. I contacted her and had a brief conversation with her.

I spoke with Mr Morrison at 3:40pm. He wanted to talk about a certain "sheik" Haron who had been charged with sending grossly offensive letters to the families of fallen Australian soldiers.

Morrison asked me if I had ever heard of Haron. I said that I had read about him in a media report in The Australian newspaper last year. However, he first really came to prominence when it was reported he had written to a judge in a terrorism trial supporting and justifying the decision of certain defendants not to stand up when the judge entered the courtroom.

Morrison said that many ordinary Australians would look at this incident and wonder why more ordinary Muslims didn’t step up and condemn Haron’s remarks. He said that his show had been having trouble finding a single Muslim prepared to comment on this issue on the air.

Morrison admitted that he thought Haron had a screw or two loose (which makes one wonder why people might expect Muslims to speak out given that we don’t expect Christians t speak out when someone with a screw loose says something silly in the name of Christ).

The impression he seemed to be giving his listeners was that Muslims in general did not regard this as a serious enough issue. It was as if Australians who ticked the “Muslim” box on their census forms had little concern for the sentiments of their fellow citizens.

After the interview, I spoke to his researcher for a second time. She confirmed to me that she had not contacted any of the following to seek comment:

# Any Islamic Council

# Any imam or Board of Imams

# The NSW Community Relations Commission

She did say that Mr Morrison may have tried to contact people before the show.

This raises the question – exactly who did Mr Morrison or his researchers ring? What efforts did they make to contact representatives from Muslim communities? And why did he tell his listeners on air that he had in fact been trying to contact people from Muslim communities all day to comment about this?

UPDATE I: The website of the so-called Sheik Haron now appears to have been "suspended".

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

COMMENT: Time for Jewish-Muslim Solidarity ...

The following comment from the now-defunct Aussie Mossie blog was first published on Saturday 29 July 2006.

Israel may well gain its military objectives in Lebanon, just as it always has in the constructively occupied West Bank and Gaza. But Israel is fast losing the war of public opinion.

People across all sectors of Australian society, of all ethnicities and faiths are questioning what has clearly been a disproportionate response by Israel to the military incursions of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Australia’s Jewish community has been largely supportive of Israel. With a relatively higher proportion of Holocaust survivors compared to other Jewish communities in the Western world, many Australian Jews regard support for Israel as a kind of emotional life insurance policy.

But now even prominent Jewish writers and academics are beginning to make critical noises against Israel. This must prove unsettling for more hawkish pro-Israel lobbies. They now see Americans and Australians and New Zealanders and Europeans, people whose support they always took for granted, abandoning the blindly pro-Israel position.

Why is this happening?

Firstly, things haven’t been the same since Yasir Arafat shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House Lawn. Since then, the Palestinian cause gained respectability.

There was a time when Lebanese, palestinian or Muslim groups on Australian campuses faced a barrage of criticism when inviting speakers critical of Israel to speak. Today, on campuses across the country, Jewish, Muslim, Arab and other students are holding inter-faith gatherings and joint functions.

Secondly, the internet has opened up sources of information hitherto unavailable. Westerners now have access to Israeli and Palestinian newspapers and magazines online. Views and positions labelled anti-Semitic by rabid pro-Israel lobbies are now accessible on Israeli news websites. Previously, such views were only known to people in Israel.

Thirdly, Israel’s treatment of Christian minorities is also becoming known, thanks to the work of writers from various Christian denominations. Books such as
William Dalrymple’s From the Holy Mountain are exposing the excesses of Jewish extremists in Jerusalem as they engage in blatant and often violent takeovers of Church land under the watchful and supportive eye of Israeli authorities.

Fourthly, Palestinians have also gained many articulate spokespeople actively building bridges for peace. Attempts to paint
Sydney Peace Prize recipient Dr Hanan Ashrawi as a bloodthirsty supporter of suicide bombers in 2003 failed dismally.Attempts to discredit the recent study by two prominent American academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, on the power of the pro-Israel lobby seem to have backfired. In Australia, we see the paper profiled even on the pages of establishment papers such as the Australian Financial Review.

It also doesn’t help the more hawkish pro-Israel lobbies when their views are couched in the xenophobic and racist language of News Limited tabloid scribes. Today, many pro-Israel positions are represented by the most extreme, belligerent and imbecilic argument.

Recently Australia’s Ambassador to Lebanon declared that it is almost inevitable that Australians will be amongst the dead and wounded among Lebanon’s civilian population as Israel’s campaign in Lebanon continues. When Australians see their fellow countrymen and women being incinerated and blown to pieces by Israeli fire power, when the effects of this war begin to affect ordinary Australian families, goodwill toward Israel in Australia will nose-dive.

And should Hezbollah and Lebanon’s armed forces join forces under a unified command, it will be impossible for Israel’s friends in Canberra to cry “terrorist” when young Australians leave in droves to join in the fighting on either side of the war.

Lebanon is being seen as the victim. Israel’s apparent policy of “an Israeli eye for 30 Lebanese and Palestinian heads” is being exposed in all its ugliness.

So what should Australian Muslims do? Should we raise our voices in anger toward those we presume to be Israel’s die-hard supporters? Should we be demanding Jewish Australians to prove their loyalty the way we are demanded to prove ours when Aussie are killed in terror attacks in Bali? Should we be complaining that Jewish leaders aren’t condemning Israeli aggression enough as many complained (and continue to complain) about ours?

Should we produce our own Muslim versions of Mark Steyn and Daniel Pipes? No. We should rise above such divisive strategies.

Now is the time for us to engage our brethren of Jewish faith. Now is the time for us to hold out the hand of friendship. Because the reality is that we are all victims in this war.

We know there are many Australian Jews who are openly questioning Israel’s military policies. We also know there are many decent people inside Israel (including inside Israel’s Defence Forces) questioning and rejecting Israel’s current campaign.

As Israel’s army commits more atrocities, Hezbollah replies by firing more rockets. Who is killed? Ordinary Lebanese. Ordinary Israelis. Ordinary Jews, Christians and Muslims.

As Muslims, we should be the first to hold out the hand of friendship. Yes, we are opposed to Israeli government policies. But that doesn’t mean we show venom and resentment to our Jewish neighbours and colleagues and workmates and classmates.

Extra efforts should be made by Muslim organisations, particularly those representing young people, to arrange meetings and joint functions with Jewish organisations. Imams should go out of their way to meet with rabbis. Principals of Muslim schools should arrange visits to Jewish schools.

It makes me so pleased to see the disciples of Turkish Islamic scholar Muhammad Fethullah Gulen arranging functions with groups associated with the congregation of Temple Emanuel in Northern Sydney. More such gatherings need to occur.

With so much tension in the air, surely now is the best time for Muslims and Jews to interact and to build friendships. Let the hawks and extremists on both sides talk war and blood and death. Let us ordinary Australians, Muslims and Jews, speak the language of friendship.

Rabbi Hillel is quoted as saying: “Judge not your neighbour till you've been in his place.”

The Prophet Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him) is reported to have said: “You are not a true believer until you want for your brother what you want for yourself.”

Muslims and Jews in Australia are fellow citizens and neighbours. Now more than ever, both our communities need to show we will not allow conflicts overseas to colour our relations with each other. We are already friends. We now must be seen to becoming better friends.

Words © 2006-9 Irfan Yusuf

UPDATE: The following comment was left in English by this rather friendly dual citizen:

I love your last paragraph. That is the 'ideal' isn't it. I think criticism and more in-depth examination of these conflicts is eessential. I am a practising Australian Christian currently living in the UK (I differentiate myself from 'cultural' Christians, of which most white Aussies/Brits would probably describe themselves as).

And this comment was left in Spanish by a Chilean Jewish brother:


He leído con atención tu blog, y concuerdo con tus ideas.

Como chileno, judío y activista del diálogo fraterno entre los "hermanos separados" te envío un caluroso abrazo desde Santiago de Chile.


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Friday, October 02, 2009

COMMENT: Good intentions are no substitute for expertise ...

A group of organisations in Australia and New Zealand were sending a delegation to the Pacific islands-nation of Samoa to conduct an inter-faith ecological program. Since then, parts of Samoa have been struck by a devastating earthquake and tsunami which has killed perhaps over 100 people and flattened entire villages.

Here is an excerpt from their promotional Facebook page for the original Samoa adventure.

Interfaith With a Difference
A 5-Day MIZAAN Ecology Rihla to the South Pacific!

Join Imam Afroz Ali in this unique experience of good fun and good deed all in one! Be one of only 20 people for a 5-day journey to the beautiful Pacific Islands of Western Samoa and participate in a unique Ecology initiative of Al-Ghazzali Centre.

This Rihla will open your hearts to many realities; from environmental degradation and its effect on Pacific islanders, simplicity of living as opposed to our consumer-extremism, to why acting on the principles of your faith is the best guidance for humanity. Be part of a unique journey that does not stop in Samoa.

Now that group is still going but for different reasons. Here is an excerpt from a new promotional Facebook page.

1000 for 1000 Survivor Kit
Emergency Relief Support for Samoa ...

Al-Ghazzali Centre is responding to the post-Tsunami Disaster Relief Work in the island of Upolu, Western Samoa, by packaging emergency Survivor Food Packs specifically designed for:

• Essentials packed for 1 family per week*
• Food and water packed for 3 times a day for the family
• 1000 Australians helping 1000 Samoans with 2 weeks!

Imam Afroz Ali of al-Ghazzali Centre (Australia) and sidi Aarif Rasheed of Rasheed Memorial Dawah Trust (RMDT, New Zealand) are taking a delegation of 10 people to the island of Upolu from Friday 2nd October – Tuesday 6th October for humanitarian aid and reconnaissance for the most effective and prompt ways to provide relief assistance on the ground in Samoa. This delegation initially had planned to visit Samoa to undertake ecological regeneration work as an interfaith initiative, where Muslim Australians and New Zealanders would assist Christian villages to regenerate mangroves marine habitat which is part of the major Pacific Stream- a program supported by the United Nations Development Program. Due to the latest natural disaster in Samoa, the objectives have been re-focussed to humanitarian efforts despite the difficult circumstances the delegation is sure to experience upon arrival ...

This emergency relief work needs your full support. To source, pack and dispatch the Survivor Food Kits to Samoa by ship within approximately 10 days is significantly costly exercise. With sponsorships, much of shipping logistical is already covered. Your financial donations will be most important in sourcing the food and the essentials. 1000 Australians can easily assist 1000 Samoans for as little AU$90 per family. 1 Australian family donating $90 supporting 1 Samoan family in distress.

Your donation is needed immediately- make it happen!

In Australia, donate your AU$90 to:

Al-Ghazzali Centre
BSB: 032024
Acc: 401251
Ref: Samoa

It sounds like a great initiative. A bunch of people carrying aid packets that will keep people nourished for around a month. Delivering these packets in Samoa where the aid is most needed.

But then this delegation consists of the same people who were part of a camping trip which would conduct an inter-faith ecological project. One would think that the skills required to conduct an ecological project are quite different to those involved in surveying a natural disaster zone and determining how best to deliver aid.

I wonder whether any members of the delegation have experience in disaster relief. I also wonder whether they will liaise with existing aid agencies such as the Red Cross and Caritas who are already on the ground. And I wonder why people should donate to the Al-Ghazzali Centre to carry out such a project using inexperienced personnel when the same money could be given to more experienced aid organisations. Further, how many extra resources will be taken up by members of this delegation staying at the disaster zone, and for what net benefit to survivors?

Good intentions in disaster relief and aid are great but they are no substitute for experience and professionalism. Still, we wish the delegation well in their endeavours.

UPDATE I: I notice that some persons leaving comments here are suggesting that the Samoa trip is just a publicity stunt. There are a number of reasons to reject this suggestion:

a. The delegation were going to Samoa anyway and their trip was not triggered by the natural disasters there.

b. The organisations' publicity is limited, as far as I can see, to Facebook and perhaps some e-mails.

c. The organisations involved could have generated much more media publicity for this trip had they wished to.

d. In terms of Muslim community goodwill, there would have been more incentive for the organisations to travel to Padang and other parts of Sumatra which have been afflicted by earthquakes.

I have little reason to doubt the sincerity of the people involved, even if I doubt their good sense.

UPDATE II: If this report from a Samoan newspaper is any indication, the group is working with and under the direction of local people.

UPDATE III: Donations in New Zealand can be made to ...

Name: Rasheed Memorial Dawah Trust Inc.
Number: 12 3043 0365388 00
Charities Commission Reference: RAS22987
CONTACT: Subaie Ishaque - 021 0628 156

I'm not sure which bank the RMDT deals with. I'm also not sure who is collecting aid in Australia or whether they are legally authorised to do so. Perhaps someone could ring Muslim Aid Australia and find out.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

MEDIA: Helen Razer enters the burqa mass debate

Aussie journo Helen Razer has written an interesting and intelligent piece on the burqa which is actually more than just about burqas but also lashes out at society's misrepresentation of feminism.

Read it here.

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AUDIO: Inside Islam radio episodes

Jeez, twitter is a superb thing. I picked up this podcast from the University of Wisconsin about a whole bunch of Muslim-related topics. They take a little while to download but are certainly worth it.

Click here to start exceeding your download limit.

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Eid Mubarak!!

I just wanted to wish all my readers (yess, all 3 of you!) a very happy Eid! It's been a hard slog, this Ramadan. Especially in Australia, where we've had some really tough fasting. I mean, breaking fast at 5:30pm everyday is am absolute killer! People in the northern hemisphere always seem to have it easier.

Anyway, enjoy your feasting!!

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Monday, September 07, 2009

OPINION: Fourth Column in Crescent Times - Why Pain Matters More Than Prejudice ...

These days Alexander Downer finds himself working for the UN on a big fat tax-free salary. He travels between freezing New York, sweltering Adelaide and the even hotter Cyprus. Not bad for our longest serving (and some would say worst) foreign minister.

But things weren’t always so exciting for Mr Downer. Back in 1995, his reign as the Federal Liberal Parliamentary Party’s shortest serving leader ended with the release of a set of motherhood statements parading as policies entitled The Things That Matter.

In the presence of journalists, Downer made this ... er ... joke:

When we release our domestic violence policy, [it will be] the things that batter.

In one verbal swoop, he managed to offend at least a certain 51 per cent of the electorate born female. Downer later explained it was all a joke. His party colleagues weren’t laughing, and made sure he didn’t last in the job beyond a few days over eight months.

Jokes about domestic violence are no joke in Australia, making insensitive remarks about female and/or child victims of physical or sexual violence and their families
shouldn’t be seen as funny anywhere.

So one could hardly expect imams and Muslim preachers like Melbourne’s Samir Mohtadi (also known as Abu Hamza or “Hamza’s dad” presumably because his eldest child is named Hamza) to get away with advising Muslim men that it is permissible to bash one’s wife. Presuming, of course, that’s what he actually said. But anyone taking the time out to watch the 4 minute excerpt of Abu Hamza’s speech on the website of the Melbourne Herald-Sun and other News Limited tabloids across the country during the week of the Australia Day long weekend would soon realise Abu Hamza didn’t exactly endorse wife-beating.

However, the part of what Abu Hamza said that I think is worth focussing on is his suggestion that it’s impossible for a man to rape his wife. At least that’s how I interpreted what he said. We cannot be sure exactly what Abu Hamza meant by these words when he said them in 2002, since only a badly edited excerpt is available. Exactly why his words were reported by tabloids across the country on the eve of Australia Day in 2009 is also unclear. Is it yet another case of American-owned tabloids wanting to spread prejudice under the guise of Australian patriotism?

What we do know is that the vast majority of incidents of sexual assault are by men against women they have a pre-existing relationship with – an acquaintance, a date or even a partner or spouse. It is estimated that at least 10% of Australian women will be sexually assaulted by their husbands.

Rape is under-reported as it is, and too often its victims suffer in silence. Indeed, as the South African Muslim scholar Farid Esack says, female victims of rape are double victims. They are victims of the act itself and are then victims of a kind of enforced or pressured silence based on false notions of shame. Imagine being a victim and having an extra layer of shame due to the perpetrator being the father of one’s children.

What hurts much more than double standards and prejudice and bigotry of tabloid editors is the too-often silent pain of female victims of all races and creeds and classes. Violence against women is all too common in Australian households. What kind of sick man gets his kicks out of forcing any woman, let alone his own wife, to have s-x with him?

Sadly, the answer all too often is an Australian man. That man can belong to any religion or no religion at all. That man can be of indigenous or immigrant stock. But if we focus on one set of perpetrators, it means we ignore other perpetrators. And that does injustice to all victims.

When news reports of the words of imams create an environment of prejudice, inevitably it is Muslim women who suffer more. Your average Muslim bloke, even if he wears an impressive beard, could easily be mistaken for a Sikh or a fanatical ZZ Top
fan. But not a Muslim woman wearing a hijab or niqab.

It’s hard enough for our female folk to have to cop nasty stares and abuse for most visibly personifying a despised religious culture. But when these same women cannot even feel safe from their own husbands, when our sisters know that imams and shaykhs are teaching husbands that raping your wife is okay, surely this must magnify the burden of prejudice our sisters in faith already face.

In an environment like this, where non Muslim men and women abuse them and where Muslim husbands are taught it’s okay to rape them, is it any wonder so many of our sisters who would regularly wear hijab in public are now removing it? Why should Muslim women cop the lion’s share of abuse when Muslim men (including imams) are silent on issues of domestic violence?

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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COMMENT: Just how un-Western is Christianity? And just how Christian is Australia?

I’m writing an article about Eastern Christianity. Actually, it’s an article about just how un-Western Christianity really is. I’m not writing about theology because I’m no theologian. I’ve written about these themes in various places over the years, and I hope this article will bring all that stuff together and take it a little further.

Interestingly, the article is for a Catholic website! I’m hoping the following notes will help clear my head about these issues a little.

[01] Muslims who are on the receiving end of allegedly Christian prejudice, who are often lectured to about how the West is the way it is because it has a distinctly Christian heritage, need to understand the reality of just how un-Western Christianity today is.

[02] The message also needs to get through to Christians who swallow this Christianity=West equation. Hopefully the spread of understanding of the true nature of Christianity will have a number of effects.

[03] It will help Muslims understand just how much they have culturally in common with Christians. It will also give Muslims an opportunity to remind allegedly Christian bigots just how ignorant and misplaced their bigotry is.

[04] It’s not enough to just be reminding ourselves at interfaith conferences just how similar our beliefs are. We also need to be talking about culture, politics, music, art, civilisation and much more.

[05] During the Howard era, religion frequently became the subject of cultural wars which rarely had anything to do with theology or dogma. So often we heard about the so-called “Judeo-Christian ethic”. Even today, former ministers of the Howard government like Tony Abbott talk about how ours is a nation built on the New Testament. On a recent episode of ABC TV’s Q&A program filmed at the Melbourne Writers’ Festival, Abbott remarked:

I think everyone who has grown up in a western country is profoundly shaped and formed by the New Testament, because this is the core document of our civilisation.

He went onto say that he gave up reading the Koran after 70 pages as it was:

… it struck me as the old testament on steroids …

So we can forget about the “Judeo” bit. It’s just Christian Australia, the land of the Holy Spirit.

[06] Peter Costello used to often refer to the Judeo-Christian tradition as some kind of cultural wedge.

On May 29, 2004, Treasurer Peter Costello addressed a crowd of Pentecostal Christians at Scots Church in Melbourne.

Costello provided his audience with a lesson in Australia’s colonial history. “If the Arab traders that brought Islam to Australia, had … settled or spread their faith among the Indigenous population, our country today would be vastly different. Our laws, our institutions, our economy would be vastly different.

“But that did not happen. Our society was founded by British colonists. And the single most decisive feature that determined the way it developed was the Judeo-Christian-Western tradition. As a society, we are who we are because of that tradition … one founded on that faith and one that draws on the Judeo-Christian tradition.”

Of course, all this talk about “Judeo-Christian heritage” is all a joke when you consider, as I wrote back in 2007, that:

… Judeo-Christian culture wasn’t exactly alive and well in England. Both colonists and convicts would have been aware of the passing of the Jew Bill through the English Parliament in 1753, allowing Jews to be naturalised by application to Parliament. Mr Costello’s ideological ancestors, the Tories, opposed the Bill, claiming it involved an “abandonment of Christianity”. Conservative protesters burnt effigies of Jews and carried placards reading “No Jews, no wooden shoes”.

Jews were forbidden from attending university and practising law in England until the mid 19th century. One can only imagine the prejudice the 750-odd First Fleet Jewish convicts faced from English jailors brought up in such an anti-Semitic environment.

More to come.

Words © 2009 Irfan Ysuuf

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PHOTOS: Auburn Mosque on a Ramadan night ...

© 2009 Irfan Ysuuf

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Saturday, September 05, 2009

REFLECTION: On speaking English

This piece was published on the Aussie Mossie blog on Sunday 17 September 2006.

The Dooley’s Catholic Club at John Street Lidcombe was the seen of a generational clash on Friday night.

Tony Abbott was addressing an ethnically and religiously mixed audience. He told them it was simply impossible for someone to fully engage in Australian life unless they could speak English.

Some elderly members of the Lebanese community sitting at the front shouted “rubbish”. And the rest? Particularly the youngsters?

I was seated up the back of the room. Nearby were young Lebanese Aussies, including girls wearing traditional hijab. Seated directly in front of me was an Australian of Bosnian heritage. She joined many who cheered and clapped. The rest nodded in agreement.

I admit I applauded as well. But now I am having second thoughts.

Yes, it’s self-evident that inability to speak and communicate in English limits a migrant’s own personal ability to reach their full potential. I remember a sermon I heard at my childhood mosque in Surry Hills. The imam quoted the Prophet Muhammad who said: “When you settle in a land, learn the language of that land so that you are not deceived.”

Deception can take numerous forms. It can be as subtle as misunderstandings. It can also take more sinister forms. The common element in all forms of deception by language is being pushed to the margins.

Young people of non-English speaking background don’t want to be marginalised. They are tired of seeing their faith or heritage represented by people unable to communicate in the language most people at school or college or uni or work speak. It angers me when I see imams and Muslim leaders appear in media unable to speak proper English or needing interpreters.

Young people from non-English Speaking background are also tired of seeing their parents hampered and marginalised due to poor language skills. Many feel humiliated at watching their parents struggle in simple tasks and at having to constantly act as translators.

I learnt about my Indian heritage from my mother, a highly educated woman with postgraduate qualifications Indian literature and language. My mother completed her studies in some of the finest institutions of the sub-Continent.

But when she arrived in Canberra in 1965, my mother found her strong abilities in Hindi and Urdu dialects couldn’t assist her in even buying a loaf of bread at the O’Connor shops. Were it not for a kind Anglo-Indian Hindi-speaking Jewish woman, my mother would have been lost.

My mother had a policy that we only spoke Hindi and Urdu at home. She wanted to make sure her children could speak her first language. She was different to other Indian mothers who learnt English by encouraged their children to speak English at home. Now these mothers can speak English a little better than my mother. But their kids cannot speak a word of Hindi and Urdu, and hence miss out on enjoying their parents’ culture.

I am able to speak my mum’s first language quite fluently, but there are times when we unnecessarily end up in arguments because we have misunderstood something she has said.

My mother has always wanted to feel a sense of belonging. It hurts me when, despite her best efforts, she finds communicating in English so difficult. However, her inability to learn the language has its own background.

My mother’s situation was almost identical to the situation of the mother of an old school friend I’ll refer to as Igor. Both Igor and I were in the same class at a Sydney Anglican private school. Our mums were both educated in their own countries (in Igor’s case, Yugoslavia). Both performed manual labour jobs in factories. That was the only way our parents could afford to send us to our school.

Migrants who cannot find time to learn English are not necessarily lazy or unwilling to integrate. In my mother’s case, she had young children to look after. She, like Igor’s mum, wanted her children to have the best education money could buy. She sacrificed her time and energy to perform manual labour instead of taking time out to learn English to the degree of fluency her children have.

A few nights back, I was at a dinner of young professionals. An elderly Lebanese Muslim lady was seated at my table. She was the only person of her generation there. She spoke very little English and tried to express her resentment at the PM’s Muslim-baiting. The only item she conceded was of the need for migrants to learn English.

This woman found it hard to find time to learn English as she had to bring up 6 children. All her children have graduated from university and are working in a range of professions – law, accounting, engineering, medicine and education. Her children are participating in mainstream Australia in productive ways that make this non-English-speaking Australian proud.

Migrants who today refuse to take time out to learn English could regret their decision tomorrow. However, these migrants compensate for their language difficulties. They can still make a sterling contribution by bringing up their children to work hard and become model citizens. However, my own experience suggests this can only work in an environment where parents and children are able to communicate in a shared language.

UPDATE: Here is a comment left by dezhen on the original blogpost:

Great point, and one that is overlooked in amongst all this nonsense. Whenever I hear these guys speak, I am reminded of Captain Picard on the Starship Enterprise "Make it so." Unfortunately it doesn't happen like that in real life. Repeating the same thing over and over again does not make it so, there are other issues to consider as well - but they don't make such catchy slogans.

And here is another comment left by Dean:

My grandfather came from Mozambique to Melbourne in 1924. All his life he struggled with English but he refused to teach his children Portuguese. 'When in Rome,' he said. My grandmother, an Anglo Anglican, was very understanding when I married a Japanese. "Granny doesn't mind it if I don't talk," said my wife when she came over for lunch. "I like just sitting with her. She understands about people who don't speak English fluently." My granny was a trooper: she married a migrant but when he started seeing other women, she left him. "I don't need him anymore," she said.

I don't think it is necessary for migrants to speak English. What is more important is that they be able to mix with people from different ethnic backgrounds. Staying cooped up in a ghetto is the worst thing because it allows you to become complacent, and prevents you from broadening your horizons. Maybe council-sponsored English classes for migrants are the answer.

Words © 2006-9 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, September 04, 2009

COMMENT: Reasonable and unanswered questions ...

Recently I received an e-mail via a Melbourne Muslim yahoogroup. The e-mail was from a young chap who currently represents the AlGhazali Centre, and promoted a series of lectures to be delivered by "sheikh" Afroz Ali. Here is an excerpt of that e-mail:

Imam Afroz Ali is the Founder and President of Al-Ghazzali Centre for Islamic Sciences & Human Development, based in Sydney, Australia. He is a qualified Imam in the Islamic Tradition, having studied under Traditional Islam and received licence to teach in various Islamic Sciences. His studies have taken him from university-based Islamic University- Madina, Saudi Arabia then moving towards Traditional Scholarship in Yemen, United States and Mauritania, where he has spent considerable time to learn from the most esteemed Rightly Guided Islamic Scholars of our time. He has also travelled to Cairo, Egypt for further studies in Islamic Jurisprudence with Scholars at al-Azhar University and is on the Board of Advisors at Markaz Aleem in Cairo, Egypt.

He has presented lectures, workshops and training programs worldwide, including Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, United States, The Emirates, Egypt, China, Japan and Denmark. He lectures around the world on Islamic Jurisprudence, Spirituality, Ecological Wellbeing, Ethical Rights and Responsibilities, and Personal and Corporate Citizenship.

He has initiated philanthropic as well as sustainable environment projects in Australia and abroad, and continues to advocate peace, acceptance, justice and interpersonal rights. Imam Afroz is a founding and executive member of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change. He is also the recipient of the International Ambassador for Peace award.

I wrote to the brother in the following terms:

Dear Taymour,

In the bio of Mr Ali, it states:

"He is also the recipient of the International Ambassador for Peace award."

Can you please advise:

1. Who granted this award?

2. What was the award granted for?

3. When was it granted?

In relation to his studies at Madina University, can you please advise:

a. When did he study there?

b. How long did he study there?

c. Which courses, if any, did he complete?

d. Who were his teachers?

e. Did he complete any qualifications?

Looking forward to your response.

Ma salameh

These questions are, in my opinion, perfectly reasonable. And I expect that they will also remain perfectly unanswered.

I will keep readers informed of any response I receive. I don't expect any clarification at any stage before 2052 Olympics.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

REFLECTION: What Aussie Muslims must do for Christian minorities ...

The following post was published on the Aussie Mossie blog on Tuesday September 19 2006.

In today's Daily Telegraph and Canberra Times, I challenged the tiny but loud minority of infantile Muslim protesters to siddown and shuddup or find another religion. Today, I’d like to make some suggestions to the more mature Muslims living on either side of the Tasman.

In January, the Australia-Indonesia Institute sent me with a group of 4 other Aussie Muslims to Indonesia. That trip included a visit to a private Protestant university in Yogyakarta, that gorgeous Javanese town recently rocked by earthquakes and living in the shadow of a rather nasty volcano.

The students and staff at this university were all members of a religious minority in the world’s largest Muslim country. I couldn’t help but notice these Indonesians expressing virtually the same concerns Muslims express in Australia and New Zealand.

If Muslims aren’t concerned about the plight of Christian minorities in nominally Muslim countries like Indonesia, they shouldn’t expect anyone to care about their problems in Australia. Further, Muslims have strong theological reasons to act in this case. The Prophet Muhammad promised that on the Day of Judgment he would personally testify against any Muslim who caused the slightest injury to a non-Muslim citizen of a Muslim state.

With that in mind, here are some practical suggestions for Muslims:

a. Imams and Presidents of all local mosques contact and offer support to their local Catholic clergy.

b. All peak Muslim bodies and the PM’s Muslim Reference Group should write letters to embassies of all member-states of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) demanding their governments take all necessary steps to protect Christian churches and other property and to bring to justice anyone who so much as threatens Christian civilians and property.

c. The Boards of Imams of each State and territory should write to their equivalent boards in each province or state of each OIC state and (unless Phillip Ruddock deems this in some cases to breach anti-terror laws) to each Islamic party and remind them of their religious and legal responsibilities toward Christian minorities.

d. Prominent and wealthy Australian Muslims should sponsor full-page advertisements in as many English-language dailies published in OIC states as possible. These advertisements should remind Muslim readers of the extensive religious and legal duties Muslims have toward their Christian brethren.

These are just some of the things that come to mind.

Christian minorities have played productive roles in Muslim communities across the world. Christians like Dr Hanan Ashrawi and Amin Maalouf (author of The Crusades Through Arab Eyes) have defended Muslim perspectives in historical and political matters.

In Pakistan, the late Justice AR Cornelius, Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court from 1960 to 68, defended the rights of Pakistanis to implement Muslim religious law.

In Australia, the Catholic Church is at the forefront of not only defending the rights of (mainly Muslim) asylum seekers but also providing them with essential welfare services. Indeed, Christian churches have been far more active than Muslim organizations, a matter of enormous shame for Australian Muslims.

Indeed, the Pope himself has been at the forefront of supporting peace efforts in the Middle East. He has been a staunch critic of the Israeli incursions into Lebanon and Gaza, and expressed his concerns on these issues just days before his address in Germany.

Words © 2006-9 Irfan Yusuf

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Friday, August 14, 2009

OPINION: Sixth column in Crescent Times - Half-Baked Taliban Wisdom?

One of my favourite sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) goes something like this: “Wisdom is the lost property of the believer. Wherever
you find it, grab it”.

Yet for some reason, I don’t seem to find much wisdom at religious gatherings in Sydney. I don’t know what it is about Sydney Muslims – we seem to do things differently, in a more culturally fractured, more divisive fashion. I’m not averse to religious gatherings as such. In the past 12 months, I’ve been to a fair few events. But they’ve all been in Canberra, Brisbane or Melbourne.

And when you’ve represented so many religious institutions as a solicitor, you get to know enough about the religious establishment that watching these people talk piety compromises your faith.

There is one Sydney gathering I don’t mind attending. Perhaps it’s because I’ve never acted for him or his organisation! Dr Mohsin Labban is an elderly chap in Sydney who has been hosting Friday night gatherings for as long as I can remember. He once taught econometrics at the University of New South Wales. He’s now in his late 70’s or early 80’s (I’ve heard different ages from his regular attendees), and despite having two strokes Labban is still zealously spreading what he sees as a more nuanced and less “extreme” (whatever that means) form of Islam.

Around 150 men and women from all walks of life, all ages, all ethnic backgrounds and all religions attend these gatherings, held at a community centre in the outer-western suburbs Sydney. Perth readers might find the idea of a city having “outer-western suburbs” rather odd. Like I said before - we insist on doing things differently in Sydney.

Dr Labban speaks at a soft, measured, almost leisurely pace. If you’re looking for a firebrand sheik to compromise your eardrums, you’d better not waste your time with Dr Labban. I have no idea what Dr Labban’s religious qualifications are. And quite frankly, I don’t particularly care. I’ve never known him to claim he’s a religious scholar. It’s admirable that an elderly gentleman would spend his precious time sharing his knowledge with people. I’m not aware of Dr Labban entering into any controversies about moon sighting or the other silly stuff that so many imams and religious elders seem to harp on about.

So last Friday I joined an old friend to attend Dr Labban’s talk. We were running late, and arrived at the venue only to be told proceedings would commence in 20 minutes. Muslim standard time! When Dr Labban finally sat on stage, he started talking about the Taliban. I was about to switch off my brain when he said something quite profound.

He said that after the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the civil war that followed, the small rag-tag Taliban army emerged with super-dooper weapons and just took over the place. He also told us that the word “Taliban” meant “students”. He kept stressing this fact. A part of me wanted to scream out: “Dehhh! Of course that’s what Taliban means”.

I wrote it down anyway when the penny dropped. Students are people who should be studying. The Taliban were students from religious colleges in Pakistan. Here they were, trying to play politics and establish order in a civil war zone. They didn’t seem to notice that they were also manipulated by forces outside Afghanistan. They didn’t seem to care either.

Students of religion, establishing religious law before their religious studies have been completed? You can imagine what kind of strange and demented understanding of religion they must have had. Dr Labban claimed that no other religious group in 14 centuries of Islamic history came up with a justification for stopping women from pursuing even basic school education.

And to think that those enforcing such ignorant rules were themselves students. Perhaps they weren’t listening too carefully in class. Or perhaps their education didn’t involve too much wisdom. Now they, or people like them, are repeating the same madness in a gorgeous part of Pakistan called the Swat Valley.

When half-learned scholars implement half-baked sharia schemes, they make a mockery of religious law. The result is profound injustice and chaos. Makes sense? See you next month!

First published in the Crescent Times on 6 April 2009.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

EGYPT: A look at divided Cairo ...

Today I had a chat with ABC reporter Hagar Cohen. A migrant from Israel, she settled in Australia in 2003, studying journalism at UTS and now working as a producer for Radio National programs including Background Briefing. She spoke to me in relation to a story about the role of the mufti of Australia.

Ms Cohen told me about a recent trip to Egypt to film a story on the future of Cairo, Egypt's ancient city on the Nile. The program looks at some of the difficult issues facing the city, especially the increasing segregation of rich and poor residents. This includes the development of "gated communities" and suburbs seeking to replicate American suburbia.

I wonder how much of these problems is replicated in other cities in the Arab and nominally Muslim world.

UPDATE I: The episode of Background Briefing dealing with imams and young Muslims can be seen and heard here.

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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