Monday, July 25, 2005

OPINION: Muslim body does not represent the community

Muslim community governance mirrors that of Australian government. Just as we have local councils, Muslims have local mosque societies. These come together to form state and territory councils, similar to our state and territory governments. These councils there come together to form the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils (AFIC).

Every catholic has heard of Cardinal Pell. Every Anglican has heard of the Jensen’s. But take a walk down Auburn Road in Auburn. Ask the average Muslim whether he or she has heard of AFIC.

Huh? AFIC? What’s that?

AFIC’s meetings are closed to ordinary Muslims. Further, in NSW, AFIC has made it a practice to create its own rotten borough Islamic councils when it disagrees with existing ones. Already, within a space of 5 years, it has created two new councils.

In 2001, it established the Supreme Islamic Council of NSW to replace the Islamic Council of NSW. Then it fell out with the Supreme Council, prompting some to predict a super-supreme council.

AFIC now has eyes on the Islamic Council of Victoria, one of the few bodies to act constructively in relation to the London bombings.

Muslims in NSW refer to their peak bodies as the “three pizza councils”. It all makes for after-dinner humour, but with the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in legal fees in Supreme Court battles, few Muslims now find it a laughing matter.

AFIC projects itself to governments as the voice of Muslim Australia. Yet it rarely, if ever, consults with Muslim Australians.

Unbelievably, the Immigration Department awarded AFIC a large grant under its Living in Harmony project some years back. AFIC spent the money on hiring a media adviser and publishing a few issues of a newspaper. When the grant moneys finished, so did the paper.

AFIC has no idea of who it is representing. It has never conducted any survey or study on Muslim needs or attitudes or social trends. Before the Iraq war, AFIC claimed Muslims as a whole were against the war. On what basis did they reach this conclusion?

Now it seems that AFIC may be representing Muslim Australians at a proposed terror summit. And what steps has AFIC take to consult with local Muslims on the matter? What surveys or structured consultations has AFIC held with mosque congregations, university students, academics, business people and professionals that make up this dynamic and upwardly mobile faith-community?

John Howard needs to involve Muslim Australians in national security issues. Muslim Australians have a knowledge and understanding of terror groups which will prove invaluable to fighting this scourge.

But Howard and other mainstream leaders should think twice before taking the representative capacity of bodies like AFIC for granted.

Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney employment and industrial lawyer. In 2001 he was the endorsed Liberal candidate for the seat of Reid in western Sydney. First published in the Australian Financial Review, Monday 25 July 2005.