On Australia's Mosque ApartheidAs most Aussies busy themselves watching the latest Test Match between Australia and South Africa, members of the Australian government’s Muslim Community Reference Group are debating how to regulate Imams.
Yasser Soliman, a member of the group and former President of the Federation of Australian Muslim Students & Youth (FAMSY), has suggested some kind of accreditation system be set up.
The Federal Government is concerned about “radical” Imams misleading poor gullible youth into blowing themselves up in the hope of obtaining 72 virgins. Now I realise it is probably a bit hard finding 72 virgins in a place like Sydney (despite it being the second gay capital of the world), but I’d have to doubt any but the most desperate young Muslims would blow themselves up.
The problem is that there are some desperate young men. There are also some real wackos out there teaching what they regard as “authenticated” Islam (or as they would spell it, “Islaam”). The government knows this, and they are getting quite worried.
The situation in Australia is like that of most Western countries. The majority of Muslims are home-grown and young. But Muslim institutions are dominated by middle aged migrant men who insist that mosques be run as personal and family fiefdoms. All peak Muslim bodies are dominated by these men, few of whom can speak English and hardly any of whom understand politics and media in Australia.
Now, these very leaders who refused to engage with the mainstream are being forced to deal with some difficult national security issues. Since the London terror attacks of July 2005, the government and media have become almost paranoid about the possibility of home-grown terrorists.
In recent times, a number of young men in Sydney and Melbourne have been arrested and charges with various offences under anti-terror laws. Almost all these young men were born in Australia, and their alleged ring leader was a “radical” shaykh. At least he may have claimed to be a shaykh.
At present, just about anyone can claim to be an Imam, Shaykh, Maulana etc. In Sydney, we even have a chap who charges money for sharia classes, claiming to have studied with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and at the Islamic University of Madina. Despite numerous requests from persons of varying degrees of repute, he still has not shown us his qualifications.
Some years back, some friends and I wanted to test the waters of Muslim gullibility. We decided to send out an e-mail advising of the national tour of the allegedly famous “Shaykh Mohiyuddin Abdus Salam as-Sumbluq”. This Shaykh was apparently from Mali, spoke 6 languages and was an expert on various classical Islamic disciplines.
I started receiving phone calls and offers to host the Shaykh. Everyone was getting excited about the imminent arrival of this great master. Until I announced that the Shaykh would be accompanied by his wife. And her name?
Shaykha Aisha Sumsheila.
(In case anyone didn’t get it, “Sumbluq” is the Arabic mis-pronunciation of “some bloke” and “Sumsheila” is “some sheila” where sheila is an Australian slang for woman.)
But for the government, gullible youth and pseudo-shaykhs are no laughing matter. The government has set up a Muslim Community Reference Group to advise it on Muslim issues. The Group is dominated by the same migrant cliques and clans who have divided mosques along ethnic and sectarian lines.
Young Muslims feel little incentive to go to mosques where imams cannot speak their language or understand their problems. Imams are employed to perform cultural roles. And the culture is determined not by the Australian environment of young people but rather by the overseas environment of the particular sect or group of the mosque executive.
Imams themselves work under poor conditions. Most imams are paid poorly. For many years, the Imam employed by the Pakistani-dominated mosque at Rooty Hill in Western Sydney was provided with a house that looked like it had survived a tsunami.
Imams are expected to lead all the prayer services, deliver sermons, teach kids, perform marriage and funeral services, mediate family disputes and perform a range of social and pastoral roles forcing most to work a 36 hour day.
Imams are frequently told by ignorant executive members what to preach. I remember seeing one executive member criticising an Imam for expressing an opinion which allegedly contradicted a view expressed in an Indian book of scholarly opinions called “Fatawa Rahimiyya”.
So my suggestion is that before we set standards for imams, perhaps we should set some standards for mosque committees and for their managing societies. Perhaps get rid of the apartheid that currently infests so many mosques in Sydney and Melbourne. When the employers improve, perhaps so will the employees.
© Irfan Yusuf 2005