Sunday, November 30, 2008

Fighting Fear

It is sad that I must begin my blog with condolences, shame and sadness. Condolences to those who lost their lives or endured fear, injury or trauma during the Mumbai attacks, and for all of their families. Once again, for myself as a person who follows a religion called Peace – because this is one of the meanings of Islam – I am enormously distressed by violent men who use the word Islam for their monstrous deeds. The Muslim community globally continues to reel from those who dominate our screens with images of hate and bloodshed.
I am sure that all Muslims in every community are, like me, condemning these latest acts of terrorism. Like them, I do not have any solutions to the injustices that lie beneath the rage that we see in these satanic young men. But I strongly believe that we must continue to honestly delve into the roots of their anger in order to dry up the emotions that are played on by their evil masters. It is true that there is injustice occurring all over the world. It is true that the wealthy continue to profit and exploit the poor. It is true that lies and deceit dominate much of the history of global politics and the marginalised communities are frustrated to the point of desperation in meeting their legitimate demands. However, this alone does not explain and can never excuse the awful crimes of terror that have been committed and associated with the name of Islam.
The other aspect to these atrocities lies in the teaching and justification that permits them. Globally and internationally the lack of education that exists in so many Muslim countries permits the ill-informed to be presented with a view on life that is totally out of touch with reality. We know that there are teachers who play on the frustrations and anger that injustice develops, and these teachers present lies as truth about what historically has occurred in Islam and what is permitted. The only way to combat such teaching is a mass education drive to spread an alternative teaching throughout the Muslim world – confidently presenting the teachings of Islam that offer hope, political solutions, and an ethical path of determined and rightful resistance that does not target innocent children, the elderly, women or the vulnerable. Such an ethical path can never be called terrorism – and terrorism has never been the practice or teaching of Islam.
There must be a concerted effort on both fronts – working to provide solutions and hope to marginalised and frustrated communities – through our writing, speaking and active entry through global political and aid organisations, and simultaneously an active campaign to expose the falsehood of teachings of hate and of recruitment of the gullible and hurt. It is time for our leaders to step up to the plate and begin this important work – not as we see now, armchair leaders who are silent in the face of atrocity and defensive when confronted.
Ethical leaders of courage – where are you?

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Capitalism's Grief vs Islam's Ethics

I've been listening to commentators for the past two weeks. I've been thinking about materialism and genuine religion. I say genuine religion in opposition to political movements and strategic sermonising - the ethical basis that is at the heart of each Prophet's message. A deeply felt awareness of God is present in all their messages, an accountability for action is also there, but there is no Prophet whose message has been more for today than Muhammad - the Final Messenger (peace be upon him). All Prophets have criticised greed and required care of the poor, but the jargon and the insistence of the recent decades of materialism have overtaken every religion - except the teachings of Islam and especially its ethical economic teachings.

While I am not an economist, it is apparent that understanding the true value of an asset has different interpretations - and this has ethical aspects. According to many reports this week, and cited again today on the ABC's Insider's Business Report - the amount of 'leverage' applied by banks in recent times on an asset has been up to 20 times it's actual value! In other words, against your $10 deposit, the banks have borrowed $200. Another example is share investment. For example, Woolworths have allowed those with cash to buy a slice of their company - thereby increasing it's asset base and sharing it's profit (or loss if that was what happened). But shares today have little regard for that profit or loss return as can be seen right now in the resources sector. Mining companies which dig giant holes in parts of Australia amongst other long suffering countries are still exporting mega-tonnes to China and other developing nations. But 'fear' that China's growth will now be slowed has meant that the price of mineral shares has dropped significantly. Rumour, fear and greed have been the reason d'etre of share prices for many years now.

The Prophet of Islam though, told his followers to exchange like with like - sell your slice of a gold company for a slice of Woolworths - not a speculative guess at what returns might be gained or lost in the next few months or years. Sell your dates at their current value for wheat at its current value. He instituted very strict market regulations aimed at curbing dishonesty and misrepresentation in the marketplace, and of course the Quran legislated against the whole concept of interest or 'riba' and it's consequent injustice to the poor.

The Prophet also legislated against speculation - for example, that you could not sell your crop of wheat until it had been harvested. You could not estimate it's value and speculate on its worth - it had to be harvested, packed and ready. Only then could a buyer know exactly what he or she was getting for their money. Such a regulation would have eliminated the 'short selling' - where investors sell something they don't even own!

For many years I have engaged in a debate with members of my family about interest - as have many Muslims living in the 'modern world'. Interest - demanding an increase on the return of borrowed money regardless of whether the money generated profit or loss - is seen as an inherent and inescapable part of normal society. But interest is the cause of much of the capitalistic problems of today:
* it encourages people to borrow and consume above their means in the hope they can repay
* it allows those with capital to benefit from the desperate hopes of others without any accountability
* it builds an unrealistic inflation into the economy (commentators this week have been saying that business cannot access credit resulting in the immediate slowdown of growth in business which is dependent on credit for even their daily transactions)
* it effectively means the wealthy parasitically live off the earnings and assets of the poor - the root cause of suffering throughout most of the world today (

The awful reality of capitalist greed was reflected in the news that just HALF of the current bailout of Wall St could eliminate poverty in the developing world as outlined in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. For the 1.4 billion or so in the world who struggle to survive on less than US$1.25 per day (that's one in four of us), and the vast majority of the world who struggle to put shelter over the heads over the children, this bailout of greedy capitalists is an unbelievable slap in the face to justice and equity.

Ethics has only recently entered the economic debate - with the likes of Kamran Mofid a Christian economics professor who has toured the world speaking about ethical economics and in 2005 called on the First World Islamic Economic Forum to be part of a "Spiritual Revolution" to bring justice against the "false religion of materialism". It is time that Muslims educated themselves about the fundamentals of their ethical religion, rejected the 'false religion' of materialism and began to campaign for an end to capitalism. There is another way - but we have to study it, and to live it, before we can help others with it. But before all that, Muslims in particular have to restore their integrity and their ethics, given that Muslim countries are amongst the biggest investors in speculative markets and corrupt social systems. We have to reconnect with the ethical and socially just message of the last and most relevant Messenger from God - the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him.)

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Election Musings

Well - the best (or should I say worst) made plans do not always succeed - and often for very good reasons. I had intended to run for the local elections, but missed out on registering by the barest of timelines. 2008 would have been an excellent time to run for local elections due to the impending ICAC investigations into the sale of land for Auburn Central, and the Labour party being 'on the nose' anyway due to the shenanigans of the State Party whose public appearance changes like the shuffling of a pack of cards. But the elections were heavily contested, with a number of Muslim names standing - two of whom were good friends and represented the Greens. I also had a thesis to complete, and a series of conference papers to present amongst other pressing and time consuming issues. So, hopefully, I'll not be too old to consider running at some stage in the future.
The elections though, highlighted once again the parlous state of the Muslim community in comparison to some other communities, and its inability to unite for common purpose. Although the Greens were fielding two Muslim candidates, there was little effective policy presentation that demonstrated a thorough awareness of local Muslim issues, and a struggle to man the booths despite the high profile of both members. Muslim Independents stood in opposition and campaigned actively in much the same electoral territory as the two Greens members, while both Liberal and Labor ran Muslim candidates. It seems like a classic case of divide and rule! None of the parties really appeared to consider issues that are at the heart of the Muslim community - in fact, the Muslim community itself is not that sure what the key issues are!
From my own research I see that our Muslim community (often misperceived as a single entity) can be divided into more representative groupings. Firstly, there are generally two age related divisions - if you can imagine lateral lines - according to the place of birth and education in Australia. This would initially divide up the Muslim community into those born and educated here - and that is mostly those under the age of 25-30, and those who've had partial or no education here and who are tied in various ways to their overseas origins. The under 25's who are born and bred Australians are generally in a class of their own, and as Sheik Fehmi Naji el-Imam recently stated they are part of today's global youth - interacting through Facebook and Youtube, and in many ways they are less affected by their parent's ethnicity. The only subdivision here should be according to education, as those youth who have not succeeded at school, often stay close to their ethnic roots, marry within the same community (not infrequently their cousin) and do not share in the cosmopolitanisation of their better educated peers.
The rest of the Muslim community - the older than 25-30's and not born in Australia, should be divided vertically by ethnicity and sect (Shia, Sunni, Habashi, Alawi etc) and subdivided again by socio-economic state. This would provide, I believe, a more effective division of the community according to matters of concern and needs in regard to electoral polling, provision of services and general identity.
For example, a Lebanese girl who dropped out of school at Year 10, married at 18 and lives with her mother or mother-in-law, and whose husband is most likely to be a blue collar worker or independent trader, would have a very different electoral dynamic than her school friend who went on to Uni, is struggling to finish a law degree and find meaningful work with or without a hijab and is probably unable to find a suitable partner until her late 20's. By the time she has children she is probably more than 12 years senior to the first girl, will have less children, but will probably have purchased a house and be involved in a completely different social space related more to Uni friends and work friends than just family and the ethnicity of her community. The chances of her marrying someone from a different ethnicity, thereby widening the range of her families issues, is also considerable.

So, following on from Irfan's blog bringing up the issue of elections, I would like to suggest the following:
* funding to be provided by AFIC (which generally has plenty to throw around on legal cases when they want to) for electoral polling on what are the significant areas of concern for the Muslim community - categorised by ethnicity and age.
* a series of forums be convened in different areas that initially target local areas, and work by giving generalised introductions and then - according to the comfort area of the community targetted, further attract those attending according to the following groups
a) prominent local ethnicities (remembering that a lot of Muslims by now have married outside of their own ethnicity
b) young people
c) the more cosmopolitan educated and professional group
For example, if running the Forum in Auburn, the African groups could be brought together through their various associations and attendance at mosques, relying on the support of their various community leaders; the Turkish community could be attracted through the number of mosques and local Turkish newspapers, while the youth could be attracted to a separate forum though Facebook, local newspapers, and chat forums, as well as the mosques.
These forums would have to be carefully run so that they are not just 'talkfests' and are geared to ensuring that people's concerns on housing, health, economy, education, employment, work etc are allowed to be heard, recorded and there is the avenue for private followup (in case e.g. the wife actually has a different to the husband and is shy to present it).
* the information so gained be compiled to present a clearer idea of the dynamics and concerns of the community.
* the results to be presented to each of the various political parties, who are encouraged to demonstrated how they are willing to accommodate or respond, the responses being published in local newspapers and even interviewed on Muslim radio stations.

Ideally this is the kind of work that AFIC should be supporting. However, as a largely discredited and grassroot deficient organisation, it may be sufficient to begin in one or two areas with local political activists getting together along with some necessary funding, and then see if it can be 'carbon copied' for other areas.

Personally, I have almost (but not quite) despaired of obtaining the kind of unity within even one of our ethnic Muslim communities that was so apparent with the supporters of the Unity Party. I am also concerned that the many issues that affect the Muslim community will not be dealt with unless direct and planned action is taken. I am disgusted at the ignorance of the community which can keep putting Labor candidates back into power after all of the recent poor behaviour, corruption and lack of any real sensitivity to the community (and disgusted also at the Muslims who can stand for such a party). And I am also disappointed that locally Labor and Liberal will support Muslim candidates - but not at a State or Federal level, neither the Greens, Labor or Liberal will honestly look at policies that reflect our concerns on security, the hijab (visual religion) debate or foreign policy, and the Democrats (of which I am a retiring State Secretary) which had the potential to provide real solutions - is not showing signs of any reasonable recovery from its recent and disastrous decline.

Comments please!!!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Clean-Up Auburn Campaign

Today I launched my Clean up Auburn campaign in Auburn Central. With today's pictures of rubbish in and around Auburn, I am hoping to get the support of locals in fixing some of the problems that exist around Auburn. I want to see a cleaner and more presentable Auburn. This may require more education programs, more fines being issues, more pressure placed on locals not to spit in the road or drop their rubbish. It can be done through our local schools, through rewards for the cleanest streets or areas and through fines being issued to those who don't comply. Above all we must have better developments as Auburn is a growing vibrant area - if developments are unsightly, dark and windy and without any attractive areas, it is more likely that residents will not feel any incentive to look after and respect the way the area looks.

Auburn Central investigation

For the many months there have been reports about an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption into Auburn Central. According to the Daily Telegraph on July 31st last year, "developers are taking short cuts" and "creating potential death traps in their race to build apartment blocks, failing to install the most basic fire safety measures," specifically referring to Auburn Central, which was also described as "a serious fire hazard" for its occupants. The Council apparently released a statement at the time saying that all fire safety measures would be fixed within a few days. From the Auburn Council business paper of July 16 this obviously has not yet been completed. Nevertheless, in the most recent Council meeting there was more discussion about who had leaked the confidential report about Auburn Central, than whether or not they were getting it fixed! Added to that is the news that relevant files are missing from Council - an obvious attempt to cover at least one guilty party.
Not only have rate payers lost millions of dollars in this development, without any real services added to the area (no extra community facilities, libraries, parks and gardens or other desperately needed services) but Auburn Central has become a dark and windy eyesore, with little protection from the rain and rubbish floating in the drafty corners on most days. Unsafe, inappropriate - significant questions arise as to who was involved in the approval of this development and whether or not it is being investigated by ICAC. ICAC itself continues to either confirm or deny that Auburn is being investigated, while the local government investigative report has still not yet been released. The Council's attempts to ensure compliance are still progressing with recent action in the L&E underway.
Is this a case of trying to keep the lid on another Wollongong scandal because elections are due shortly??? If not, we should be addressing the issues openly.

Standing for Auburn Council

Once again it is time for elections, and again I am standing - this time as an independent. Over the past few years I have become increasingly aware of the problems in the Auburn area and its enormous potential. The Auburn Council area is one of the most multicultural areas in Australia with one of the highest rates of growth in Western Sydney (16.4% in the last census). Most of the suburbs within Auburn have seen significant redevelopments - including Newington, Botanica, Auburn Central and Homebush Bay. Population increase is expected to continue with an increasing number of young people, due to the high birth rates and the settlement of refugees.
In 2004 Auburn Council was declared a Refugee Welcome zone to recognise the large number of refugees that have chosen to live in Auburn. The support for such refugees however, has not matched the rate of settlement with reports indicating that those in need have to wait up to 7 months for assistance from the local Migrant Resource Centre.
Auburn residents are hard-working with many of the local businesses having been established for between 10 and 30 years. Unfortunately, in the process of approving new developments, Council often appears not to consider their effect on these long established, hard working Auburn business people. Reduced parking availability, an increase in similar types of competitive business and loss of amenity for shoppers means that these long term Auburn proprietors are losing out.
Watch this space for more information about my campaign as get ready to run for AUBURN COUNCIL.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

More ridiculous claims against Dr Abdalla

If ‘secretive’, as claimed by The Australian, then the Tabligh Jamaat (TJ) group must be one of the worst kept secrets in the Muslim world. Established in India in the 1920s, TJ has a presence in over 80 countries around the world. The main activities of the apolitical movement are to encourage Muslims to be more religiously observant, particularly in terms of prayer, charity, and fasting, as well as to provide social support to Muslims who are isolated, sick, or disadvantaged. Muslims associated with the TJ spend considerable time in mosques and regularly make spiritual journeys to mosques in different towns, states, and countries.

In Australia, the TJ operates with the full knowledge and support of the mosques in which its members are present. Although many Muslims see TJ members as conservative in terms of their views and appearance, they are generally appreciated for their simplicity and reminders of traditional Islamic values, norms, and manners. While actual TJ members generally comprise only a small proportion of the congregation in most Australian mosques, it is not uncommon for large numbers of the congregation to join TJ study circles after prayers to listen to narrations of Prophetic traditions.

It is this traditional focus that attracted Dr Mohamad Abdalla to the movement in his younger days. While he is not a leader of the TJ, he maintains a close association with the group as he does with various other organisations within the Muslim community. As Acting Imam of the Kuraby Mosque for many years, Dr Abdalla was expected to develop positive relations with various Muslim groups and to build bridges of tolerance and understanding between the Muslim community and the wider Australian society. He is widely acknowledged for his success in both these regards.

Time and again Dr Abdalla has been a voice of forgiveness and restraint. In the aftermath of the burning down of the Kuraby Mosque in September 2001, it was Dr Abdalla who calmed the Muslim community and began working with various levels of government on engagement strategies. He has subsequently played this role at times of other major issues such as the Cronulla riots. Dr Abdalla should be judged on his work; false assumptions and innuendos are no bases for a fair assessment of this important Australian figure. It is unbecoming for The Australian as the national daily of this country to tolerate sensationalist, inflammatory, and biased journalism like that of Richard Kerbarj. Mr Kerbarj has previously been proven to have written misleading articles but has chosen to not correct these. A correction is expected this time.

Statement endorsed by:

Ikbal Patel
President, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils

Suliman Sabdia
President, Islamic Council of Queensland
(Representative body of 16 Islamic Societies of Queensland)

Shaykh Moez Nafti
Australian National Council of Imams

Imam Yusuf Peer
Chairman, Queensland Council of Imams

Dr Mohamad Hanief Khatree
President, Muslim Business Network

Mahmood Surtie
Kuraby Mosque

Naseem Abdul
Islamic Society of Gold Coast

Mustafa Ally
Crescents of Brisbane

Nora Amath
Managing Director, AMARAH inc.

I personally would also endorse the comments contained in this letter. I have seen the Tablighi Jamaat travelling to remote parts of Australia where isolated Muslim communities have benefited from their teaching, much as many years ago Anglican priests travelled the outback as part of the Bush Brotherhood ministering to the needs of isolated country Australians. My limited interaction with them has always confirmed their refusal to be involved in political Islam, preferring to focus on the spiritual development of the individual. To castigate a prominent and responsible academic such as Mohamad Abdulla for supposedly being a member of the TJ 'clergy' (not an appropriate term for Muslim academics as we do not have a 'church' institution)
is once again contributing to the tide of Islamphobia that directly discourages the excellent work many of our prominent Muslim Australians are struggling to perform.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Danger of Misperceptions about Griffith Uni

Published yesterday in the Australian was a second attack on Griffith University and in particular the Islamic Research Unit established by Dr. Mohamad Abdalla. Citing Judge Wall - who has suddenly become an expert both on Islamist influences in the West as well as Islamic extremist theology - the Oz claims that because a donation was made by Saudi Arabia to the centre, that it necessarily follows the centre must be akin to a Pakistani madrassah.
Not only is this an insult to the students who attend Griffith University, but it certainly shows that the Oz considers our universities to be entirely unaccountable when it comes to the content of their teaching. What an outrage to relate any Australian University – with their emphases on critical thinking, academic writing and sound research to madrassahs which are typically based on rote learning at a very elementary level.

Or is this deep insight based on Dr. Mohamad Abdalla’s beard, cap and gown? Is his centre being publicly rejected with the same small mindedness frequently accorded a woman wearing hijab?

Muslim Australians are being encouraged by their leaders and peers to enrol in higher education courses that allow them to expand their knowledge and critically analyse the more modern and extreme teachings that have become a common part of the discourse surrounding Islam. Centres such as the one at Griffith and Melbourne provide an excellent opportunity for such students to continue the long tradition of academic scholarship that existed for centuries prior to the European Renaissance, which established the University system that is universally accepted today, and on which modern Western education is based.

By denigrating such rigorously supervised Islamic centres, journalists and newspapers the likes of Richard Kerbaj and the Oz, run the risk of derailing this necessary step of bringing young Muslim minds into modern academic discourse. If they are denigrated along with their mainstream Australian institutions, they may very well be driven into studying in a Pakistani madrassah instead.

Irfan Yusuf has very capably delivered a very good read with his usual witty sense of humour – for a good read - Planet Irf

Friday, April 18, 2008

Peace Forum

The Columban Centre for Peace, Ecology and Justice organised another of its frequent Peace Forums at which I once again pleased to contribute. The Peace Forums discuss the origins and solutions for peace that exist in each of our religions - in this case from two Christian speakers and two Muslim speaker.
The event was held in the Sydney CBD - in the Sydney Mechanics School of the Arts in Pitt St, and the turn out - as well as the organisation - was excellent. In my case I focussed on the element of compassion in Bismillahi Rahmani Raheem - In the Name of God the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, which pious Muslims are required to say before they perform any act. Combined with this attitude of compassion are the rigorous guidelines of the Shariah - the comprehensive yet flexible parameters which have been debated and moulded over many centuries - a system which ensures security and justice while limiting the negative attractions of society - alcohol, gambling and adultery amongst others. There are also many initiatives being undertaken in all parts of the world, to bring about peace, a state of being that cannot exist without a concurrent feeling of justice.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Ethical Economics

I was fortunate to be invited to attend a luncheon with an ethical economics advocate in the person of Dr. Kamran Mofid - shown here third from the left - who is a renowned international speaker, academic and writer who spoke to an assembled group of business and faith community leaders at the premises of GHK Ferrier Green Krejci at the invitation of the Edmund Rice Centre. Dr. Kamran ( is passionate about the terrible ethical state of the world's population, the division between rich and poor, and is confident of the potential use of economics as a tool to bring about positive change. Of course, for most of us the economic drive is commonly seen as the ultimate cause of our consuming materialistic world, but Dr. Mofid is convinced that economics can equally be used as a tool to bring about meaningful change, if it is used in an ethical manner.
His talk was enlightening, well grounded in the reality of today's economic environment and challenging spiritually. Although a Christian and born in Iran, he has actively called to other faiths to work together in overcoming some of the greatest injustices to humanity that exist today. He is the co-convenor of the "Globalisation for the Common Good" conference in Melbourne and is due to speak along with Seyyid Mohammad Khatami. (

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wonderful Malaysia!

Over the Easter weekend I was very privileged to be invited to speak at two main venues in Kuala Lumpur. The first was for the Muslim Professionals Forum which actively provides a number of services for the wider Malaysian community, although it is only a very young organisation, albeit run by a very educated and committed group of Muslims.
The second venue was a fundraising dinner for the Khilafah Institute Project School. The Khilafah Institute was established by a committed group of Muslims who had studied under the late Prof. Muhammad Al Mahdi. His specialty was in child psychology and also in Physics. During the past 10 years or so of his life, Prof al Mahdi had established a concept of khalifat responsibility that he desired all Muslims to adopt. Amongst his numerous teachings, he outlined three simple steps to follow -

1)To make ourselves good
2) To help others to become good
3) To keep the physical world safe, clean and beautiful

While there I was also privileged to meet with a number of private schools in Malaysia. It seems that the Islamic private educational sector has only been established in the past 15 years or so, and is still developing towards the senior years. Many of these schools have been established by individuals or by foundations, and are in the process of achieving long term plans for facilities and resources. Some of the challenges that these schools are facing include – a need to network with each other, share resources, ideas and lobby more effectively for resources; no government funding for school recurrent or capital funding; low fees and comparatively low wages paid to staff – which results in a high turnover as young graduates obtain experience in the private Islamic sector, and then move to the better paying government schools; minimal resources – libraries are often quite small, numbering less than 5,000 books per school; teacher training – while some training is done through the public or government sector, many of the teachers are only subject trained, but not trained in the specialties and techniques of teaching strategies, pastoral care, behaviour management etc; shortage of policies and accountability – there are many areas where regulation is missing from the government which would ensure that schools have high accountability standards in finances, Occupational Health and Safety, discipline, policies throughout the school in all areas, and so on. These are areas where the more established schools in South Africa, Australia, America, England and so on should step in, in order to support their colleagues and prevent the unnecessary ‘reinvention of the wheel’ – redoing and redesigning much of what is already available in most schools elsewhere.

Of course, one of the greatest challenges to Muslim schools today – in every part of the world – is the overall development of the Muslim child. With an increasing focus on competitive entry to Universities and other educational sectors, there is a tendency to focus on the immediate and apparent success of our schools through high academic achievement. Occasionally there is time to encourage a few of our graduates to master memorisation of large sections of the Quran, but the overall development of a pious, knowledge seeking Muslim who has the manners and attitude of the Prophet s.a.w. has largely escaped all of us. How schools and teachers can achieve such piety and practice of the Sunnah, while successfully avoiding ambitious consumerism and love of the world - is still the golden elixir that we compete to discover.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Faithways Walk

March 15th – a summery bright day, saw approximately 100 Muslims and Christians gather for the first Faithways walk in Sydney and possibly in Australia. Starting at Auburn Gallipolli mosque, and supported by local politicians and community organisations, there was a wonderful feeling of expectation and friendliness between the participants. After viewing the beautiful interior of the mosque and pairing up with someone new from another faith, the spiritual neighbours walked about 3 kilometres to St. Joachim’s – a vast cathedral of a church for another spiritual tour followed by a traditional Aussie barbeque. The attitude of all involved – particularly Father David Vaughan with his volunteer helpers and the Affinity troupe along with FAIR (Forum for Australian Islamic Relations) representing the Muslim crew – was open, willing and helpful. Teaming up to cook the sausages, cut the bread and hand out the drinks, Muslims and Christians who had never talked to each before, discovered the commonality of their humanity. The only fly in the ointment was a slightly parochial attitude of the mosque and its lack of hospitality and compassion to their visitors. The mosque – as with most houses of worship – should be a trust held on behalf of the community, not property that is owned and which the community should feel privileged to access.

An ethical lecture and an ethical retirement

Friday night witnessed the retirement dinner for Medinia Abdur Rahman, who has been serving as the Principal of Arkana for the past 18 years. As Principal of Arkana which is a small but effective school, Medinia has contributed substantially to the Muslim community through her work with Muslim Aid, MEFF and her numerous committee presences for the Association of Independent Schools. She has maintained an excellent relationship with her professional colleagues in the AIS who spoke strongly of her contribution to independent schooling and their personal respect for her. There are few Muslims who have been able to maintain such a professional status with their Australian peers, let alone the respect and admiration of the Muslim community she so admirably served for so many years. Arkana was the second Muslim school to be established in NSW after Al Noori, and the fourth to be opened in Australia. Insha Allah (God willing) the new breed of Principals who will be taking on the easier role of maintenance from their earlier pioneering forebears, will contribute as effectively and maintain a healthy respect for the work of those before them.
Kamran Homid
On Friday I was privileged to be invited to a business lunch with Dr. Kamran Mofid. An economics professor and long time lecturer, Dr. Kamran is passionate about the ethical responsibility of economists and the need for an ethical economy. His personal endeavour is to bring about a change of attitude in economists today, while recognising that the economy cannot be dismantled or substantially altered, his cry for a spiritual resurgence and a turning away from wealth and consumerism for its own sake found a surprisingly good response amongst the businessmen and lawyers who attended. Our society is struggling with growing poverty in the advanced as well as the developing world, high levels of depression, child abuse, wife battering, suicide, drug taking and overall unhappiness. Record numbers of adults let alone children are now being prescribed anti-depressants on a daily basis. For all of our wealth, our greed has not made us happy, and Dr. Kamran carried a vital message about the importance of balancing our love of this world with a spirituality that makes us less materialistic and more capable of finding happiness.

Dangerous Minds

Dangerous Minds:
The recent SBC program of Dangerous Minds was a dangerous escalation of rhetoric about minor problems that can be controlled with good leadership. Fadi Rahman – until recently the leader of a youth centre providing fitness and sport facilities for young Muslims in Lidcombe – has a history of talking up the problems of his youthful charges.
What is more imperative is that he gives them guidance on how to solve their problems, raise their self-esteem and earn the respect of their community. Unfortunately, while his intentions are genuine, he appears to be role modelling marginalisation in a vocal form, and does little to dispel perceptions of a sexist community. Heightening concerns about potential radical tendencies amongst marginalised youth may win more grants, but it does little to prevent and a lot to encourage the very radicalisation that he wishes to control.

Australian Democrats still alive and kicking

The Australian Democrats had its long awaited Annual General Meeting on Saturday 1st March. Despite a small attendance, a lack of recent accounts and a paucity of new nominees for leading positions in the party, the Australian Democrats is still alive. With the assistance of the Young Democrats and the promise that new leadership will begin to resuscitate the membership and the vision, the Australian Democrats has about 4 years to recover and become relevant once again to the wider political scene.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Brisbane Conference

At the beginning of the month I was fortunate to attend an excellent conference in Brisbane at Griffith University. Attendees included prominent Christian and Muslim academics and a variety of community workers from various fields. Prof Tariq Ramadan opened the conference with a strong appeal for active citizenship from the Muslim community living in the West. He urged all parties to remember and to celebrate their history – the Islamic contribution to the civilisation in the West, and the Christian contribution during Muslim rule in earlier centuries. He also stressed the need for Muslim specialists in various fields to help apply Islam to the many dilemmas of society today.
There were two presentations on the early history of the Aborigines and the excellent relations that they had with the Muslim community over the centuries through intermarriage and trade. Some elders in North Western Australian continue to have immediate family amongst the Muslim community in the nearby islands.
Waleed Aly as a closing speaker talked about the do-it-yourself terrorism that currently operates in our globalised community. He described the deculturalised and deterritorialised Muslim community that has the potential of reacting to marginalisation through radicalisation. He urged for a change of discourse within the community and active civic engagement.
I was impressed by the honesty of all of the participants, and their willingness to address these problems realistically. With the guidance of these academics and mentoring of a new generation, I believe it is possible for newer younger leaders to take the community into a different direction - a more constructive and compassionate one.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Global Bullying in Palestine and Holland

As a school Principal for many years I was frustrated - along with all of my colleagues - at the difficulty of resolving schoolyard bullying. Vulnerable students who could least afford to suffer insults and direct provocation, would be targeted by students who often also had a history of bullying and personal self-esteem problems. The victim would respond by lashing out at the most inappropriate moments, out of sheer anger and frustration, hurt and pent up rage. Often I would not even be aware of the bullying until the bully appeared in my office righteously denouncing his victim for the outrageous actions that had just been perpetrated. Only after thorough investigation would I discover the history behind these actions. And even when discovered it was exceedingly difficult to prevent occurring again. The attitude of both staff and fellow students was often not compassionate, consigning the victim to an inferior status because of his or her low self-esteem or social problems, and turning a blind eye to the bully who was often very capable at ingratiating himself or herself with leading staff and the 'in' groups amongst students.
The world stage is no different. The protagonists in Israel (noting that there are many Israelis who do not approve of their government's actions) have ingratiated themselves on the world stage for decades. Their bullying tactics have resulted in the predictable reaction of the victim - to exact revenge for the atrocities and humiliation that is inflicted on a daily basis. In Holland, the bullying is in the form of media and public humiliation - prodding and teasing the most sensitive aspects of Muslim pride in the Qur'an and the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w.
So how did I deal with the problem as a school Principal - in the playgrounds that are the precursor and the microcosm of adult society? First of all there had to be the public disclosure - the investigations that allowed both victim and bully to speak their mind. Witnesses to the events needed to be called and placed clearly on the record, so there was a sense of justice to all parties. This could not occur unless the school had policies that clearly laid out mutual respect for all parties - especially those racially, religiously or personally targetted because of social difficulties - and procedures ensuring that bullying would not be tolerated if reported. This sense of justice and the willingness to openly address it, education that ensured all knew their rights and the consequences of bullying, helped to ensure that bullying was stamped out if not eliminated.
Of course, justice still had to occur. The revenge attack of the victim had to be disciplined as much as the initial bullying, with both parties given education about how to deal with their issues.
But how does this translate to the world stage? First, there is no ethical, just Principal type leader who is in control - both the EU, and the US are turning a blind eye to bullies. There is no thorough investigation of what is happening to the victims - whether in Palestine or Holland, and certainly no consequences for the bullies other than the predictable and censurable reaction. There are also few education programs or leadership providing alternatives to both victims and bullies by any of the bystanders - prominent leaders of Arab countries or Allies of Israel.
It is left to the small voices to continue calling for responsible leadership and a just system, for restraint of both bully and victim and for those on the sidelines, to step in and stop the fight.
Certainly, like many others I have to condemn the incursions and suffering inflicted on the population of Gaza, and equally condemn the killing of students in Israel.
In the meantime, for those who believe in God, we will continue to pray for the changes that will lead to justice and responsible leadership.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Calling for an accountable AFIC

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, established since the early 1970's, has long been regarded as the official representative of the Muslim community in Australia. While local organisations struggled to be established, and State Islamic Councils were generally representative bodies, this was a credible assumption during the initial years. AFIC was widely consulted and included in fund raising, the purchase of land and the initial development of new associations and entities. In recent times however, the burgeoning Muslim community has effectively established its own schools, mosques, economic and welfare institutions independent of the Federation. Most of these substantial enterprises are neither recognised nor accommodated by AFIC. AFIC's own questionable economic management, dubious political history and lack of any form of transparency has rendered it a body that has no real credibility in the Muslim community today. While it retains its role as the only National body, and maintains affiliation with many of the Islamic societies throughout Australia, it's lack of authority and inability to provide meaningful leadership are contentious for Australian Muslims. This is reflected in today's call by Muslim Women's National Network leader, Aziza Abdel Halem (Leaders want Islamic taskforce return) for an Islamic consultative body - similar to the ill fated Muslim Community Reference Group - to be re-established, at both national and state levels. While it's performance was disastrous, the Muslim Community Reference Group at least attempted to include the voice of a range of ethnic and professional groups, as well the important (and currently silenced voices in AFIC) of women and youth.
It will not be easy for the new Rudd government to pick it's way through the fractious political landscape of older early migrant associations and the young achievers amongst Australian born Muslims. It would be far easier for politicians, professionals and activists of all colours to deal with a single representative body that the AFIC once purported to be. It is time for the Federation to shed it's past, recognise and embrace the vast range of Australian Muslim expertise that has developed outside of its influence, and for once, become truly accountable to its community.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Don’t Fence Us In!

It has been reported today in the Australian that Julia Gillard is offering $20 million for high-tech security measures to protect Jewish, Muslim and other schools that are ‘at risk’. With approximately 50 Jewish and Muslim schools around Australia, this represents potentially $400,000 per school for security measures.

The Muslim community is certainly appreciative of the offer of assistance, which marks a substantial change in focus from the previous aggressive and challenging stance of much of the Howard administration. At the same time however, Muslims are very busy building bridges with the rest of the community – not fencing themselves in.

Certainly in controversial times – such as the development of a proposed school in Camden, security would be an ongoing concern in the early years, and after the kind of appalling terrorist events that have occurred with sickening frequency in recent years. But even during these times, the number of incidents that affected Muslim schools were minor or even non-existent -the occasional hastily scrawled letter “Go back where you came from!”, or rotten piece of fruit even more randomly thrown at a bus full of Muslim kids. The burning of a bus and parts of a school building in Perth was the extreme exception.

Serious security is however required in many cases for the 90% of Muslim kids who try to survive in our public system, in which there are no fences to retreat behind in protection against bullying, harassment and ongoing prejudice when those allegedly of the same faith propagate mindless brutality overseas or members of the media go on a vendetta.

It is vitally important that the Muslim community keeps its fences down, learns how to quip a good rejoinder to stupid insults, gains a comprehensive and broad education in full understanding of the rest of the faith (or atheistic) neighbourhood and has an open-door policy to genuine enquiries. Numerous Jewish schools some years ago already opted for strong security, and entering their environmens is like getting into Fort Knox. It’s also unintentionally intimidating.

Yes, Muslim schools welcome the police and the support to protect its students when trouble occurs, but we would rather invest in a broader awareness of what the Muslim community can offer and better communication with our neighbours than be locked away behind high walls.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Recent Media

Link to Today interview about the Camden Islamic School protest

Link to Muslim school articles in the Telegraph today -,22049,23025860-5007132,00.html

Please note important corrections: I did not say that:
a) I was the consultant for the Camden Islamic school - I consult generally on Islamic education
b) I did not say that 3 more schools are planned, only that there is a capacity for about another 3 Muslim schools

Isolated Muslim schools?

A common cry from commentators is the isolation of the Muslim community and its unwillingness to ‘integrate’. Isolation occurs in many parts of Australian society far less than in the Muslim community. The good folks of Camden are determined to remain isolated from a multicultural community and to decide ‘who lives here’. They are deliberately choosing to remain isolated and to segregate themselves from the rest of Australian society. Muslim schools are incorrectly regarded as being isolated, despite the extensive amount of time that they spend in other schools debating, competing in sport, and engaging in a wide range of academic and social activities. Under the Howard government Muslim schools were subjected to intense scrutiny of their values, religious teachings and demonstrated interaction with wider society.
Other schools however, can choose to remain isolated whether they are in the public or the private system. There are many public schools located in wealthy northern or eastern parts of Sydney that have very limited exposure to other cultures, religions or ways of life, particularly the lives of the less well off. Students in these areas sometimes represent a monoculture holding a prejudicial attitude towards Aboriginies, Muslims, and migrants in general. Probably the greatest sense of isolation though exists between urban and rural schools - and communication between these would certainly be challenging.