Monday, November 13, 2006

Channel 9 Sunday program exposes some Mufti-day realities

Channel 9’s Sunday program featured a forum on Muslim responses to the Hilaly affair.

Ellen Fanning brought together Muslims and non-Muslims to address the unfortunately worded topic of “Good Muslim/bad Aussie?”. The video is available on the website. The forum continues next week.

The forum proved what a disorganised rabble Lebanese Muslim leadership is. People were shouting over each other, at each other and at others.

Even ABC Religion Report presenter Stephen Crittenden struggled to get a word in above all the shouting. Crittenden is hardly an enemy of Muslims, and ABC’s religion programs aren’t exactly Islamophobic.

The shouting panellists would have been well-advised to listen to Crittenden’s simple message – that Muslim Aussies need to reassure non-Muslim Aussies that Islam isn’t a threat to Australia. The hecklers probably managed to achieve the opposite.

When Muslim Reference Group member Iktimal Hage-Ali expressed her disgust at Sheik Hilaly’s speech, someone up the back screamed out: “Excuse me, do you speak Arabic? How good is your Arabic?”

The heckler turned out to be a seasoned Sun-Herald scribe. You’d expect a journalist to know better than embarrass herself and her newspaper on national television.

In the wider scheme of things, her point really was beside the point. There’s no argument about the translation of Hilaly’s speech. And why can’t he speak in English when he claims to lead a faith-community 70% of whom are native English-speakers?

To put it another way, if Perth’s Catholic Archbishop can talk about the evils of mini-skirts in English, why can’t the nation’s most senior Imam?

The panel showed deep rifts between Sheik Hilaly’s followers and members of the pro-Syrian Lebanese al-Ahbash cult. One cult spokesman advised how he’d obtained a ruling from the cult’s Yemeni branch stating Hilaly meant to offend women in his speech. Apparently mind-reading is common in Yemen.

The forum expose that the debate over Hilaly’s position as “Mufti” is in reality a Lebanese turf war of little relevance to most Muslims. There is no empirical evidence Hilaly is recognised by the majority of Australia’s Muslims as mufti. And after watching his supporters (and his Lebanese opponents) make fools of themselves on national TV, most Muslims will wish mufti-day came to an end ASAP!

© Irfan Yusuf 2006