Wednesday, August 24, 2005


Clearing Off Australian Schools

“Why don’t your clerics learn to teach real Aussie values? What is the problem with your clerics? When are they going to learn English? When will your clerics stop being so radical? What is wrong with your clerics?”

These questions were put to me by a Canberra talkback host who is lucky to score double-figures in the ratings. And my response? What is wrong with my clerics?

“The problem with Islamic clerics is that they don’t exist.”

When Dr Nelson and others start talking about training imams and registering and licensing them as a means of de-radicalising young Muslims, he is showing how extraordinarily out of touch he is with the realities of Islamic cultural and religious education in Australia. Imams are not clerics. Islam has no priesthood.

Dr Nelson is out of touch with Muslim schools and communities. Which, for a future Prime Ministerial candidate of a nation to the south of the largest Islamic nation on the planet, is a real shame.

All Dr Nelson needs to do to solve this (next time he is in Canberra) is to drive down to Yarralumla and go to this white building across the road from the Indonesia embassy. There he can have a chat to a real-life imam.

Or perhaps he can jump in a cab and head down to Clive Steel Avenue in Monash and talk with some of the fantastic Aussie folk at the Canberra Islamic Centre.

Perhaps Dr Nelson could ask some people in his electorate about Muslims. He could ask my best mate from school, an Anglican chorister at St Andrews Cathedral. I am sure Dave could tell Brendan a thing or two about why Muslims shouldn’t be told to “clear off”.

Or perhaps Dr Nelson could ask my uncle Dr Khan, a former executive member of AFIC for many years, about the reality of being an imam.

These matters are within the good Doctor’s grasp. Perhaps when he was running for preselection for Bradfield in 1995/96 and I was on his preselection panel, he could have given me an opportunity to answer any questions on this area.

Dr Nelson has made some honest and genuine attempts to understand the realities of Aboriginal health. As a high-profile AMA president, he visited indigenous communities in outback Australia to get a first-hand look at how Aboriginal Australians were doing it tough.

Perhaps as education minister, Dr Nelson should visit all the Islamic independent schools and see how the staff and administration of these schools are doing it tough. I would be happy to offer him a guided tour of the three Islamic schools in Sydney that I acted for.

Rissalah College in Lakemba is a typical example of a struggling Islamic school. The bulk of their staff are non-Muslims, but I have not heard any complaints from parents about this. The college’s problems more stem from finding partner schools with whom to play sport.

With campuses in Auburn and Prestons (in Western Sydney), Sule College is officially a non-denominational school. They have ambitious plans but struggle with funding. A student from Sule College taught me the second stanza of the Australian national anthem, something I never learnt during my 10 years at St Andrews Cathedral School.

Nour al-Houda Islamic College has had to struggle from Day 1. Their struggle is not with Australian values – the Principal Silma Ihram was born in Australia – but with the managers of the Bankstown Airport site. Silma is all praise for the Federal and NSW Departments of Education.

When I ran as a federal Liberal candidate for the seat of Reid, NSW State Director Scott Morrison taught me an important lesson.

“Irf, never say anything you will have to make excuses for later on. The eyes of the electorate and potentially the eyes of Australia are on you. And before you know it, you might find yourself on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald”.

Perhaps he should have also included the Canberra Times. But the point still remains. People in politics, whether candidates or Ministers of the Crown, have to measure their words carefully.

To tell a community that has been part of mainstream Australian life for over 150 years that they need to learn mainstream Australian values or “clear off” is just an indication of extraordinary ignorance, if not prejudice.

Aussie Mossies are here to stay. Just accept it. Or clear off!

© Irfan Yusuf

> “The problem with Islamic clerics is that they don’t exist.” … Imams are not clerics. Islam has no priesthood.

Riiiiiight. So… Suppose one day Grand Ayatollah Sistani, or the Chief Imam of the Mosque in Riyadh, were to issue a fatwa arguing one interpretation of the Qur’ân and the hadith. Next day, you or Keysar Trad or Silma Ihram issue[s] a counter-fatwa that argues the opposite interpretation.
Am I really meant to think that millions of Muslims around the world are going to give equal consideration to the two duelling fatwas based on their content alone, without being influenced by knowing who authored them? Really?
I suspect, going by your statement above, that you’re confusing “no priesthood” with “no clergy at all”. Not all clergy are “priests”. Protestant Christians, in particular, do not have “priests” in the sense of a special caste of mediators between man and God who have exclusive right to offer sacrifices. But they certainly do have “clergy/ clerics” – pastors/ ministers with the responsibility of preaching the word and governing their congregations. Even those Christian denominations who most loudly proclaim “We have no pastors or ministers!” (Brethren, Jehovah’s Witnesses) nonetheless have “elders” whose word is even more law than the Presbyterian or Baptist or Lutheran pastor’s is.
“Clergy” simply means “religious leaders” and it is undeniable that Islam has these, like every other religion. Some lead, others follow. Nothing wrong with that. No one is calling them “priests”.
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