Thursday, July 21, 2005

OPINION: The loud minority grabs the Muslim limelight

FEIZ Mohamed stands up in front of 1000 people at Bankstown Town Hall and declares that women are eligible for rape if they dress a certain way.

Mohammed Omran declares on national television that Osama bin Laden is innocent. He ignores a huge body of evidence including bin Laden's own admissions.

These two imams have a lot in common. They both belong to a fringe strain of Islam rejected by both mainstream Sunni and Shia Muslims. They both studied at the same university in Saudi Arabia.

And both have small followings.

After his comments about dress and rape, most of the females in Feiz Mohamed's audience walked out.

Feiz Mohamed's 1000 people could hardly be compared to the 5000 that attend the Auburn Gallipoli Mosque each Friday. It fades into insignificance compared to the 30,000-plus who attend the annual Eid Festival and Fair at the end of Ramadan.

These two imams use inflammatory speech to gain an audience. They shout to be heard. And thankfully, they are generally ignored.

When young Aussie Mossies want to hear lectures, they download the speeches of Americans like Hamza Yusuf Hanson or Poms like Tim Winter. The last major Islamic scholar to attend Sydney, Dr Jamal Badawi from Canada, had much larger crowds at his talks.

So why are Feiz Mohamed and Mohammed Omran so often interviewed? Why do some journalists hang off every word they say?

Perhaps it is because they represent the typical caricature of a beady-eyed nasty terror-loving type. As a result, most Australians don't associate Muslim communities with the mainstream. The articulate Malcolm Thomas (chairman of the Islamic Council of Victoria) is not enough to convince the doubting tabloid Thomases to change their image of Aussie Mossies.

In the UK and the US the story is different. The BBC frequently hosts Tim Winter, a softly spoken Cambridge scholar. In the US, President Bush had the good sense to be photographed with Hamza Yusuf Hanson immediately after September 11.

Imam Hamza told British Muslims if they didn't like the culture, go and live in a Muslim country.

These are the voices of mainstream Muslim communities across the Western world.

And they all have a sense of humour. They are huge fans of the Canadian Muslim stand-up comic Azhar Usman. In his latest release Allah Made Me Funny!, Usman asks: Why do people blame me for 9/11? What makes you think I am responsible for 9/11? 7-Eleven maybe. But 9/11?

*The author is a Sydney lawyer. First published in the Daily Telegraph on 16 July 2005.

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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