[Governments would rather deal with one leader of a community than with several leaders or many individuals. Hence the title of "Imam" as the leader of all the Muslims in Australia was given to someone who should have been deported long ago for his antisemitic utterings, were it not for the patronage of one Paul Keating at the time,- in whose electorate most of the Moslem and the Sheikh's devotees reside.
Waleed Aly from Melbourne agrees that this Imam certainly doesn't represent anyone outside his own Mosque!
The Jewish community here is also not represented by one Chief Rabbi,- although they do have one in England and in a few other Countries, plus two in Israel- Ashkenazy and Sephardi. Given the multiplicity of streams of Judaism today,- it would be like having a Catholic Bishop representing all Christians. Who would allow this to happen?!]
Further information received:
"An Imam is like a Rabbi. A Mufti is also an Imam however he has the extra responsibility of leading religious affairs within a major City or a Country. Each major City or country has one Mufti. Eg. Istanbul has a Mufti. The Mufti of Australia does not really exist. The Mufti of Lebanese Muslims in Australia may be considered as Sh Taj Hilaly. But not of Turkish or other. Turkish religious affairs are handled by the Religious Affairs Ministry of Turkey. They have an appointed Imam from Turkey at all Turkish Mosques. In Sydney and regions around Sydney, the Turkish mosques are in Auburn, Redfern, Erskenville, Mt Druitt, Wollongong and Bonnyrigg. All of the Imams are from Turkey and they are changed every 4 or so years. The 5 Imams have a leader who is also an Imam and who reports in to the Turkish Sydney Consulate. That leader may be considered as the Turkish Muslims Mufti in Sydney, however, he really plays a low key role and not one of stardom. That position also rotates every 4 or so years."
Waleed Aly: No one can be a leader to all Muslims.
The idea of a national mufti is utterly meaningless
TO his supporters, Sheikh Taj al-Din al-Hilali is a tireless, selfless, charismatic community worker and scholar who gives hope and guidance to disadvantaged youth, and who bravely risked his life to rescue Australian hostage Douglas Wood from the clutches of terrorists in Iraq. To his opponents, he's the shady imam who doesn't speak English and relied on The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a Tsarist forgery, to construct wild anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world through sodomy. When such an enigma is given the grand sounding title of Mufti of Australia, controversy is inevitable.So there was a monotonous familiarity to speculation surfacing last week of a move by the Muslim Council of NSW to depose him. The council insists this is not its intention and that it supports al-Hilali, but al-Hilali's backers were out in force anyway, placing abusive calls to the council and warning it would be a huge mistake to undermine him.
So, the fervour in Sydney is undeniable. But the view from Victoria of this undignified scenery is utterly bemusing. For all the considerable public attention he has attracted over the years, and for all the unshakable support we are told he has in Lakemba, al-Hilali remains of more interest to tabloid columnists than to Victorian Muslims. All the voices in the debate are from Sydney. The arguments in defence of al-Hilali focus on his following in Sydney. Elsewhere, the conversation evokes little more than a giant, collective yawn.
The reality is that al-Hilali's controversy has more to do with the murky community politics of south-western Sydney than anything else. That might be fair enough if he was the mufti of Bankstown, but this is being played out on a national stage. Sydney is not yet Australia. It is madness that the rest of the nation's Muslims are involuntarily caught up in this mess.
The problem is not so much al-Hilali as it is the office of the Mufti of Australia. Traditionally, the job of a mufti is to be a source of religious guidance to the community on contemporary religious questions. But the reality in Australia, as in all Western countries, is that religious authority is radically decentralised. People tend to find someone local with whom they feel comfortable, or borrow from a range of religious sources to navigate their own path through the spiritual challenges of contemporary life.
No wonder so many Muslims are regularly bewildered by descriptions of al-Hilali as the "spiritual leader of Australia's 300,000 Muslims" (as though there is one) or "the nation's most senior Islamic cleric" (as though Islam were a church with a formal hierarchy). In truth, no one in Australia, however brilliant, fits these descriptions. Nor is it possible in a Muslim community as dizzyingly diverse as Australia's. In that context, the idea of a national mufti is utterly meaningless, which is why no other Western country has one.
Perhaps unwittingly, al-Hilali's supporters have admitted as much. Take Keysar Trad, who asserted that even if al-Hilali was deposed, this could not "undermine the sheikh's standing in the community". Or al-Hilali himself, who quipped: "A position does not make a man; a man makes a position." The fact is that no one seeks al-Hilali's guidance because he is called the Mufti of Australia. His support base will remain without the title, and his knockers will continue to malign him with it. The only difference it makes is that it falsely projects that Muslims across Australia have a sole religious representative.
With the position itself being such a nonsense, it should be abolished.
Waleed Aly, a Melbourne lawyer, is an executive member of the Islamic Council of Victoria.
© The Australian