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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PROJECTS: Across My Bridge ...

This superb arts project is put together by a bunch of funky people and is well worth supporting.

‘Across My Bridge’ is an innovative and responsive Beyond Empathy project designed to provide young people from the Muslim community with a ‘stepping stone into the mainstream’ that in 2009 has focused on the needs of young people in Auburn LGA ...

Commencing in January 2008 has utilised an integrated approach to target at-risk youth who as a result of their isolation do not access existing services. ‘Across My Bridge’ introduces arts and community development programs that address critical ‘social dislocaters’ (e.g. cultural isolation, substance abuse, violence, recidivist crime). The project builds alternative pathways for social participation for young people of Muslim background that are experiencing difficulties identifying and integrating in their own immediate community as well as with mainstream culture, creating a safe space to explore their lives and role in the community so they are not left feeling vulnerable and excluded from community. Across My Bridge engages a new generation of young people from the Muslim community, their families, local emerging artists, community support workers and individuals who may be recognised as leaders in their communities ...

The Beyond Empathy (BE) model uses art-based projects (such as visual art, sculpture, music, hip-hop, circus, dance, performance, filmmaking and digital media) to engage young people and introduce alternative approaches, encouraging participants to be able to, in time, recognise their unique place in Australian society. These projects build relationships between young people, support agency staff (e.g. youth services, school, TAFE, AOD support) and the community to work together to address common social issues. The project committee has several community supporters: Michael Christodolou Community Relations Commissioner, Malikeh Michaels-Auburn Councillor and Saeed Khan the originator of the project.

The Across My Bridge project is funded by-the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIaC), Westpac Foundation, Australia Council and Arts NSW. Beyond Empathy has further committed funds and submitted an Expression of Interest for further DiaC(DAP/NAP) funding in 2010.

For further information contact Across My Bridge Program Manager Monique Kalmar on

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Monday, August 10, 2009

REFLECTION: Daisy breaks her fast ...

This piece from the Aussie Mossie blog was published on Saturday 14 October 2006.

Daisy breaks her fast

Tonight I went to an iftar party at Canberra. It is the month of Ramadan and it is traditional for Muslims to break their fasts together. Tonight it was the turn of the Indonesians to stuff our faces with rendang and chicken curry.

One of our guests was a lady named Daisy. She had wheatish brown hair and milky-white skin. She was from northern Queensland and had a broad Strayn accent. She was there with her daughter, a young mother who wore a headscarf.

I presumed the daughter was a convert and that Daisy was one of the token Catholics at the function. How wrong I was!

Daisy was one of a large number of
Albanian Muslims living in Mareeba. Her dad migrated to Australia from Albania in 1927, her mum in 1935. Daisy was born in northern Queensland.

Albanians are among Australia’s oldest central European migrants. The bulk of Albanians are of nominally Muslim faith. They have built and continue to manage a number of mosques and centres in regional areas such as Mareeba and Shepparton (in Victoria) where they have large communities.

Daisy was telling me about the Bayram (Eid – the post-Ramadan feast) in Mareeba. She said the Albanians get together and have a barbecue in true Aussie style, just as they’ve been doing since they first migrated here. Their Eid is somewhat different to the Bosnians, who tend to roast a lamb on the spit.

If John Howard were to meet Daisy in the street, I doubt he would recognise her as Muslim. But Albanians are proud of their faith, even if many aren’t regarded as terribly observant.

Daisy is living proof that Islam is a truly Australian faith with root deep in the Australian soil. It is ironic that Daisy spent much of her time this evening chatting with another Canberra Muslim of Torres Strait Islander background. It was a truly Australian gathering to celebrate a truly Australian event.

In a fortnight or so, hundreds of thousands of Muslim will gather to celebrate the end of Ramadan. The Albanians of Mareeba will also be celebrating Bayram, just as they have been doing for the last 80 years. With steaks on the barbecue and perhaps even a few glasses of arak.

Words © 2006-9 Irfan Yusuf

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

MEDIA: This Aussie Mossie is no pest ...

The following article appeared in the Adelaide Eastern Courier Messenger on 6 June 2007 and was then republished on the now-defunct Aussie Mossie blog.

This Aussie Mossie not a pest ...

Aussie Mossie is an emerging term to describe Australian Muslims, but what exactly does it mean?

One young Muslim woman described life as an Aussie Mossie as symbiotic.
"You can't wake up in the morning and say I'm going to be an Aussie today," Toltu Tufa, 21, says.

"It's like saying are you an Essendon supporter or are you an Australian?" the Melbourne girl laughs during her trip over to Adelaide for the Muslim Fashion Parades late last month (see separate story).

Sometime Crikey and freelance journalist Irfan Yusuf, who has named his blog Aussie Mossie, says the tag has created mix feelings in the Islamic community.
"Some people don't like it, some people think it's quite funny," Yusuf says.

"People that are brought up here, they understand what it is, why it is, and they don't mind it.

"Other people think it's just wrong because it's insulting, `How can they call Muslims mosquitoes?"'

Yusuf says Aussie Mossie actually began life as a newsletter, created by an Anglo Aussie who converted to Islam.

"The particular guy who put out the newsletter, he was a rather irreverent chap, the motto of the publication was `watch out it might bite'.

"The logo was a mosquito with an Aussie flag, wearing a turban and had a beard. "It was taking the piss out of stereotypical Islamic culture or symbols.

"Which is also very Australian, to laugh at yourself and to be quite satirical about one's self."

Yusuf says for many in the Islamic community, such as Toltu, an Aussie Mossie is simply who they are - it is impossible to define.

"There's 1.2 billion of us and we come from all different parts of the world, have all different cultures and backgrounds, so I really don't know how you define us.

"(Maybe an Aussie Mossie) is someone who's quite comfortable about being Western, they don't have a chip on their shoulder about that.

"I guess that's one essential ingredient." For Toltu's younger sister, Zulfiye, 17, to be an Aussie Mossie is to be proud of her Islamic and Australian roots.

"Maybe an Aussie Mossie would be to (wear) a scarf of the Australian flag?" she laughs.

Saffiah Elattar, 21, of Brighton, agrees it is impossible to distinguish between her Aussie and Mossie selves.

"I consider myself an Aussie Mossie I guess because I was born here and brought up in Australia.

"I do it every day of my life, I don't really separate the two.

"It's being honest, being a kind person, being respectful of other people's beliefs and cultures."

UPDATE I: Someone with this profile left this charming message on the Aussie Mossie blog:

"One young Muslim woman described life as an Aussie Mossie as symbiotic.
"You can't wake up in the morning and say I'm going to be an Aussie today," Toltu Tufa, 21, says."

Well then my advice would be to get out of Australia and back to the land (wherever that hell-hole might be) where your religion is not transmogrifying the freedoms of the Western world. Your religion [Islam] is not compatible with the democracies of the Western world. You can't mix Islam's culture of hate with the Western world's culture of accomodation.

My response was as follows:

Fine. I'll go back to East Ryde.

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COMMENT: Further degrees of diasppearance ...

A funny thing has happened to "imam" Afroz Ali on the road to Massey University in New Zealand. An entire period of his life spent in the city of the Noble Prophet (upon whom be peace and blessings) somehow went missing. His lecture, scheduled for August 12 2009 and entitled "Debunking Islamic Myths", is now no longer being delivered by someone who studied at the Islamic University of Madinah in Saudi Arabia.

"imam" Afroz's hosts have not mentioned the Islamic University of Madina anywhere in his profile, part of which I reproduce from the relevant promotional Facebook page:

Mr. Ali, known for his inspiring talks and work in the Muslim community, 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 license to teach in various Islamic Sciences. Anyone who has had the privilege of attending his talks will tell you that this is something not to be missed.

It's as if all those years (or was it months? Or weeks? Or days? Or hours? Or minutes?) that "imam" Afroz spent studying at the Islamic University of Madinah are no longer worth promoting and no longer matter.

So while years ago, "imam" Afroz and his hosts in New Zealand boasted of him having more than one degree from that august institution, now it barely rates a mention.

But I shouldn't be so cynical. After all, "imam" Afroz has received "license to teach in various Islamic Sciences". Too bad he won't disclose any of the following details:

a. which "Islamic Sciences" he has licensed to teach in;

b. whether his license extends to the entire science or certain departments of that science or just certain books;

c. who provided him with these licenses; and

d. when he obtained these licenses.

But of course, we shouldn't be asking such questions. It is fitnah to ask such questions. Those claiming to be qualified imams should be accepted at their word.

But why stop at imams? We should be able to obtain legal advice from anyone. Who needs accreditation? Who needs a law degree and a practising certificate? And who needs a Fellowship from a College of Surgeons to perform surgery? Just put on a white gown and a white face mask, grab a knife and start cutting.

(Thanks to DB for pointing out a typo.)

Words © 2009 Irfan Yusuf

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