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.