Tuesday, September 27, 2005
I have been a member of FAIR for some time now. The body was formed after its executive director, Kurandar Seyfi Seyit, finished work as media adviser to the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils Inc (AFIC). Seyfi (as he is known to most of us) was employed pursuant to a Living in Harmony grant furnished to AFIC by the Department of Immigration Multicultural & Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA).
FAIR’s major project is the newspaper Australia FAIR. Initially, the paper was of quite good quality, modelling itself on the Australian Muslim News (AMN) which Seyfi edited during his term at AFIC. The AMN was a quality paper with a leftish focus but with a good variety of articles and issues covered.
Australia FAIR is generally published on time each month. Its quality has diminished quite substantially, to the extent that it now resembles Green Left Weekly more than a serious community paper. It certainly cannot compare in quality and content to the Catholic Weekly or the Australian Jewish News.
Australia FAIR has lost many of its key writers, often due to unnecessary mistakes and blunders on the part of some of its editorial team. On a number of occasions, I have noticed my own work being lifted from other sources without any recognition of its source. Often my pieces have been edited without my approval, and on at least one occasion an offensive headline was placed on my article.
I have ceased writing for Australia FAIR after discovering that the paper still does not have standard defamation insurance. Given the editor’s propensity to lift pieces and edit them without my approval, I have also requested that he not reproduce anything of mine (including this article, though I doubt he would do that anyway).
In recent times, FAIR has done some excellent interfaith work. The “Goodness & Kindness Project” in which Seyfi is accompanied by a Jewish and Christian speaker in visits to schools across NSW has been a resounding success. Seyfi’s work has also been recognised in an award he received from the Daily Telegraph.
FAIR has also received positive media coverage, despite occasional stuff-ups and blunders (such as the phenomenally awful performance on ABC morning talkback some months back). FAIR has played a positive role in the current debate on internal Muslim reform, though it is questionable whether the FAIR director has consulted with executive members in this regard (in one e-mail sent to a number of yahoogroups, he acknowledged that FAIR did not operate on a consultative and democratic model).
FAIR has now chosen to enter the debate on the education of Imams. FAIR has come up with a proposal for a Fatiha Institute to be headed by American Imam Gary Edwards (also known as Naeem Abdul Wali) of the al-Kawthar Institute in Arizona. The Institute aims to educate imams and generate locally-trained imams using traditional methods of ijaza and sanad found in the Dars-i-Nizami system.
The Institute proposal was made public in a gathering at the Gazi Husrev Beg Mosque in Penshurst. Proposal notes were handed out to people attending the mosque for isha prayers. It appeared that neither the imam nor members of the mosque executive were aware of the proposal.
Imam Salih Mujalla is a respect scholar who completed his studies in Sarajevo and al-Azhar upto at least masters level. He has been an imam of the Bosnian community in Sydney for over 2 decades, and is respected by people across all Muslim communities. He appears regularly in local newspapers, and is an outspoken critic of all forms of religious extremism (including of the Muslim variety).
In Ottoman mosques, it is traditional for the Imam to control not just the service but all events taking place in the mosque. When the FAIR representatives appeared to take over the show following isha prayers, the imam could sense his executive members becoming tense. He therefore asked that the FAIR executive members cut short discussion of the Institute and allow their visiting guest Naeem Abdul Wali speak.
It is impossible to underestimate the damage done to FAIR’s image within the Bosnian community when FAIR’s director was seen behaving with the imam in a manner that could only be described as abrupt. In my opinion, his behaviour reflected poorly on FAIR, its membership and its projects.
There is no point leading a project to educate imams whilst behaving rudely toward a senior and respected imam in the process.
Members and others concerned about FAIR and community advocacy need to take control of their organisation. They need to ensure greater accountability. FAIR is an excellent organisation that does excellent work. Everyone makes mistakes, and I am no exception. But when mistakes are made, it is best to apologise.
In that respect, I think FAIR should send a letter to Imam Salih and apologise for any offence they may have caused. In doing so, FAIR will gain the respect and support of Imam Salih and the other Bosnian imams.
FAIR should and must play a role in contemporary debates on national security and community management. However, it is important that activists and hard workers like Seyfi are given a fair go by FAIR members and are not left to do all the work themselves. Seyfi deserves the support of his executive, and they should be consulted at all stages. Otherwise, FAIR will become just another typical Islamic association run like a personal fiefdom.
© Irfan Yusuf 2005