Sunday, July 24, 2005


Aussies Of All Faiths Lambasted By 60 Minutes Show

Channel 9’s popular and high-rating “60 Minutes” program had a special story on Islam in Australia and Europe. The reporter was Peter Overton. The aim of the program appeared to be an attempt to reach some conclusion on what role (if any) Muslims could play in western liberal democracies.

I watched the program at my best mate’s house. My friend is a devout Anglican. We became friends in Year 5 when we were at St Andrews Cathedral School. He is without a doubt my closest friend. I was best man at his wedding. When I tie the knot, no doubt he will be my best man.

Both of us were shocked at what we saw on the TV. Representing Australian Islam was Mohammad Omran, a fringe leader of the local branch of the charismatic salafite cult. Omran has been at the centre of controversy for many years in Muslim communities due to his heterodox pronouncements and his declarations that mainstream Sufi and Shia Muslims are outside the pale of Islam.

I was disgusted that mainstream Australians like myself, “Crazy” John Ilhan, a senior DIMIA bureaucrat, numerous deans of university faculties, elute sportspeople, at least 40 Sydney solicitors and barristers and 400,000 other Muslim Australians would be represented by one man very much on the fringe.

My best mate and his wife were even more disgusted. They accused the program of being unfair and biased toward Christians.

Huh? The program was casting aspersions on Muslims. What do Christians have to do with it?

“What the hell is that nutcase Danny Nalliah on the show? He doesn’t represent Christians. He is just a charismatic lunatic”, said my host.

“I guess they will be showing a sumo wrestler as representing me”, remarked his petite Japanese Australian wife.

What particularly disgusted both of us was the suggestion that Muslims somehow regard it as sinful to have Christian friends. And we were not alone. I am sure the hundreds of thousands of Australians watching the show would have been confused.

Relations between Muslim and non-Muslim Australians have always been excellent. Muslims are at the heart of mainstream Australian life. I saw this on Saturday afternoon at Leichhardt Oval. I saw Lebanese Muslim girls with headscarves cheering on their respective teams.

I saw mobile phones being used everywhere. Who knows how many were purchased from Crazy Johns. And who knows how much money Crazy John has pumped into major Australian football codes.

I did not check the wallets of the 20,000-plus strong crowd, but I am sure quite a few had cards from the National Australia Bank. I have not seen a rush of Australians rushing to shut their accounts and switch banks because of the appointment of a young Aussie (who happens to be of Muslim background) as their CEO. Nor did reluctant investors rush to Citibank when he resigned his position there to join the NAB.

The bulk of my clients are non-Muslims. They have seen me appear on TV and heard me on radio. And they congratulated me on my performances, even if some disagreed with what I said. The only criticism I received was from one client who said: “I sure bloody hope you talk like that with the judge when we get to hearing!”

If Islam forbade us all from having non-Muslims as friends, how could we function in this society? And how does it explain why the Prophet Muhammad ordered many of his followers to seek the protection of a Christian king in Abyssinia when they were being oppressed in their home town in Arabia? How does it explain why Saladdin, who fought the crusaders, appointed a Jewish rabbi as one of his advisers and as Chief Medical Officer of his army?

The 60 Minutes story was simplistic and inaccurate. It centralised the trivial and trivialised the central. It insulted the intelligence of both Christian and Muslim viewers, allowing only the most extreme views on both sides to be heard. It seemed to upset my Christian friends more than it did me.

Danny Nalliah does not represent Australian Christians. Mohammad Omran or some African-American chap does not represent Australian Muslims. And no sumo wrestler will ever represent by best mate’s wife. Perhaps Channel 9 should leave religious affairs to serious experts. Or at least allow a range of views to be represented and not just those on the fringe.


© Irfan Yusuf 2005

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