Sunday, May 22, 2005

Prayers For A Shaykh And A Hostage

Douglas Wood is an Australian engineer working for an American company in Iraq. He has been kidnapped by a group claiming to be acting in the interests of the Iraqi people and their independence.

I wish I knew how kidnapping an Australian serves the interests of Iraqi people. Yes, I know our government has sent troops to Iraq. In doing so, it has ignored the wishes of millions of Australians who oppose the war.

Australians of all races and religions and political persuasions oppose the war and the occupation. Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus. And Muslims like me. Leftists, Labor voters and Liberals (small and big “L”). And Conservatives like me.

But the troops are there now. Saddam is in custody. Iraqis have the chance to re-build their country. Independence is their right. But how will it be achieved by kidnapping an Australian engineer?

Kidnappings and harming civilian workers will do little to help us convince our countrymen to oppose continuing occupation.

Kidnappers who claim to be acting for Islam should be asked to show one verse from the Qur’an (the Muslim scripture) or one hadith (reported saying of the Prophet) which supports their actions.

The Qur’an never taught Muslims to hate others. It never taught us to attack those who are trying to help re-build shattered lives.

The Qur’an taught Muslims to pray for others and for peace. Islam is an Arabic word that literally means peace. Yet I don’t see much peace being evidenced in the actions of the kidnappers.

I do, however, find peace of mind knowing that Australian Muslims are doing something for a fellow Australian. The Imam of a major Sydney Mosque, Shaykh Tajeddine el-Hilaly, is leading a team of negotiators seeking to secure the release of Douglas Wood.

Sh Hilaly is an elderly man with severe health complications. His home life is not the best. His mosque committee (known by the name of the “Lebanese Moslems Association”) are always embroiled in disputation. He himself cannot solve things within the association as his Egyptian background makes him ineligible to join (the organisation refuses membership to persons unable to secure a Lebanese passport).

Sh Hilaly has been criticised in the past (especially by Muslims) for not being able to communicate fluently in English and for making irresponsible remarks. Some 16 years ago, he was reported as saying that Jewish people use sex, pornography and other social ills to control the world. He was threatened with deportation, and it was only when a special position (the Office of Mufti of Australia) was created for him that the government of the day spared him from deportation.

Yet now the hopes of millions of Australians are in the hands of this controversial imam. The family of Douglas Wood have asked him to seek their brother’s release. They have even offered to make a substantial donation to an Iraqi charity (see the family website:

Perhaps the views of most Australians are expressed by a letter to the editor published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 20 May 2005. Richard Manning wrote to the paper the following words:

Whatever the outcome of his endeavours on behalf of Douglas Wood, Sheik Taj el-Din al Hilaly has shown himself to be a man of faith, hope and charity. There will be detractors standing on the safe ground of their alternative views of the world. However, the sheik has seen an opportunity to be of service to an endangered Australian, his own community and Australia at large.

The shaykh is an elderly man with a heart condition who has dropped all his domestic and community duties to travel into a war zone and attempt to seek the freedom of an Australian non-Muslim civilian hostage. He is risking his life. Yet some neo-Conservative commentators keep harping on about comments he made 16 years ago, and accusing him of being an extremist (whatever that word means).

But now is no time for polemics. Now is a time for contemplation and prayer. None of us would want our family member to be caught up in a war zone, either as a hostage or negotiator.

So I guess it is time for me to pray for Douglas, my Presbhyterian Christian brother and a fellow Australian. At the same time, I pray for another fellow Australian, Shaykh Tajeddine el-Hilaly.

God, you created men and women in a state of freedom from impurities. Grant your noble servant, Douglas Wood, freedom from all impurities of heart and mind. Grant the prayers of his family and friends who pray for his liberty.

God, you control the hearts of all men and women. Change the hearts of those keeping Douglas in captivity. Guide them to understand that kidnapping innocent civilians achieves nothing for the cause of Iraqi freedom.

God, make fluent the speech of your noble servant Tajeddine. Enable him to complete his mission successfully. Grant him good health and a long life. Enable him to do a deed which will silence his critics and increase him and them in wisdom.

God, enable the efforts to free Douglas Wood to be a cause for all Australians, regardless of denomination, to come closer together and to reach an even greater understanding than what they presently have. Enable this experience to bring this nation closer together, to make it an example for the world.

Lord, hear our prayer for the sake of Your Beloved Messiah Isa bin Maryam (Jesus the Son of Mary) alayhis salam (upon whom be peace) and for the sake of your Chosen One (Mustafa), Muhammad (peace & blessings of God be upon him) and their noble Ahl (households). Amen! Amin!

© Irfan Yusuf 2005