Friday, July 15, 2005


NSW Muslim Leadership - Halal Pizza With Extra Cheese

“These guys couldn’t organise a piss-up in a brewery.”

These magical words of wisdom appeared some 15 years ago in the now-defunct Australian Muslim Times. They were used to describe the Islamic Council of NSW. The editorial was written by an Anglo-Australian journalist and scholar now based at Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper. Sadly, since he penned these words, not much has changed.

Muslim community leadership in Australia models Australian government. But it is a government whose citizens hardly feel its existence. Following the London bombings, no Muslim peak bodies based in Sydney said a word. For any sensible comment, Sydney Muslims had to look south to the sensible words of the Islamic Council of Victoria.

Most Australians don’t have a clue who is really in charge of Muslim Australian affairs. And guess what. Most Aussie Mossies don’t have a clue either.

Since more Australian Muslims read this newspaper than anything Muslim peak bodies produce, I might as well tell them about who speaks for them.

You have local governments consisting of mosque governing bodies. The local bodies come together to form a State Council. Each State and Territory Council sends representatives to a national umbrella body called the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (or AFIC).

But if you walk down Auburn Street Auburn and ask people what they know about AFIC, they will probably guess that it is the name of a new chocolate bar. Cadbury Afic. Creamy dark chocolate filled with extra nuts.

Those Muslims in the-know regard AFIC and its constituent bodies (again, with the exception of Victoria’s Islamic Council) as a joke. When terrorists struck Istanbul, AFIC sent out a press release expressing sorrow that terrorists had targeted the capital of Turkey.

Turks are perhaps the largest and most established Muslim ethnic groups in Australia. And many of my Turkish friends almost fell off their chairs when they read the press release. They did not know whether to laugh or cry at the incompetence of this national body. And in case anyone is still wondering, Ankara is the capital of Turkey.

AFIC is a fairly well-to-do body. It spends its money on various projects of crucial importance to Muslim Australians. One such project has been creating Islamic Councils in NSW.

AFIC has been embroiled in legal tussles with the original Islamic Council of NSW. Following lengthy court action, AFIC created a new entity called the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW. Then fire broke out between the 2 bodies, and AFIC announced the creation of a 3rd entity known as the Muslim Council of NSW.

But to many Aussie Mossies watching this circus, it all tastes like last night’s pizza. The Supreme Council followed by what is jokingly referred to as the Super-Supreme Council. One Aussie Muslim friend of mine coined the phrase “the pizza councils”. The name has stuck. Yes, we Muslims have a sense of humour.

But after the London bombing, we can no longer afford to laugh. Because if the IRA had been responsible for London, you would have seen Cardinal Pell, the Pope and every catholic bishop and priest on the TV and radio condemning the affair. And Londoners and Aussies would understand that IRA terror has no relation to mainstream Catholicism.

Aussies, both Muslim and otherwise, are looking to Muslim leaders for some answers and reassurance. Yet little is forthcoming (again, apart from Victoria). The national body that declared Istanbul the capital of Turkey appears to have not yet found London on the map. And that forces individuals like myself in Sydney to deal with the issue alone.

So if you are wondering why Muslims are silent over London, it has nothing to do with your Muslim neighbour or family doctor or solicitor or bank manager. It is the fault of the peak bodies that claim to represent Muslim Australians.

And so when Muslims are harassed and maligned and insulted and suffer discrimination, they can feel proud of the fact that their peak bodies will sell their sentiments less effectively than a pork sandwich seller outside the mosque.

(The author is a Sydney lawyer who has represented Muslim community bodies and independent schools in constitutional and industrial matters.)

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