Stephen Crittenden of ABC News Sydney interviews a prominent member of the Australian Federal Government who calls on Australian Muslims to find themselves a new mufti, in light of Al-Hilali’s inflammatory jihadist statements. Crittenden also interviews Amir Ali of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, who bobs and weaves about whether or not they can take the title of Mufti away from Hilali. Says Crittenden: “Hilaly’s authority as Mufti has never been accepted by a whole range of non-Arabic Muslims in Australia (Malaysian, Indonesian, Turkish etc). Arabs do not make up the majority of Muslims in Australia. AFIC has backed Hilaly up till now, and is always ducking and weaving when it’s reported that he’s said something outrageous, but this may signal a change.” From ABCNet.au, with thanks to Mr. Crittenden, here are some highlights:
Chris Pyne is the member for Sturt in South Australia, and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Family and Community Services.
Chris Pyne: Unfortunately Sheikh Hilaly is a bit like the boy who cried “˜Wolf”. Every time he is caught out making remarks that are inappropriate and cause him to be condemned by either the government or people within the community, he always says that black is white or white is black, and that none of these things were said, or they”ve been misinterpreted, or mistranslated, or taken out of context. But unfortunately Sheikh Hilaly I think has outlived his usefulness as the Mufti of the Muslim community in Australia, and it’s now time for people to say “˜The Emperor has no clothes, and something needs to be done about it.”
Stephen Crittenden: You”re saying the Muslim community needs to find a new Mufti?
Chris Pyne: Well there are many good moderate people in the Muslim community in Australia who want to live harmoniously without controversy, and as full members of Australian society. I”m sure they find Sheikh Hilaly”s regular controversies embarrassing, and also they make it harder for them to live in Australia, because obviously they have an effect on the way that the Australian community view Sheikh Hilaly and some of the things that he says, which would rub off on the Muslim community generally. Now for all those moderate Muslim leaders that exist in the community, I think it’s time that they recognised the damage that Sheikh Hilaly is doing to their standing, and appointed a Mufti who was more likely to represent their views and achieve the respect that we all hope that religious figures have in Australia.
Stephen Crittenden: I”m very interested in the fact that the Foreign Affairs Department has produced its own transcript of what Sheikh Hilaly said in his sermon in Lebanon. Is it in fact the view of the Federal government that he says one thing when he’s in Lebanon, and another thing when he’s here in Australia? Is that why the transcript was produced, in effect?
Chris Pyne: Well I think the transcript was produced because the only reporting of Sheikh Hilaly”s remarks in Lebanon were those of independent organisations that exist outside Australia, and it’s very important that the government acts from a position of strength, and knows exactly what he said. So it’s not unusual that the Foreign Affairs Department would make their own translation, from which we can therefore act with confidence about what we believe Sheikh Hilaly said. …
Crittenden: Well to react to those comments, we”re joined by the President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, Dr Amir Ali.
Amir Ali, is Christopher Pyne right? Has the time come for the Muslim community in Australia itself to say that Sheikh Hilaly is a divisive influence and that it’s time a new Mufti was found?
Amir Ali: Let me make a few comments. First of all the Mufti is an honoured position. No-one appoints somebody as a Mufti, and he’s not in the payroll of anybody, an honorary position recognised by the community. There is no question of somebody appointing or sacking him.
Stephen Crittenden: I understand though that in fact the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils actually pays his salary.
Amir Ali: Even an allowance for the work that he’s doing for the community.
Stephen Crittenden: Yes, but you gave him the title, you gave him the title Honorary Mufti, you can take it away.
Amir Ali: (inaudible) is given. But it’s a title given by the community, so only the community can take it away, not the President or anybody else. Now let’s leave it aside. The other thing is about this man, this whole issue has cropped up because of an alleged remark he has made somewhere in the Middle East. Now this man is known to have condemned, over and over again, what happened on September 11. He has also very categorically stated in the last sermon on the festival day, that the Muslims who cannot live in this country and abide by the rules of this country must ship out. Now how can I believe a person who has made all those remarks, to go outside and say something like this? Therefore unless I see this transcript, and unless I get it cleared by Sheikh Hilaly, whether he has said the same thing, I will not be able to comment on what he has said. But, having said that, we are waiting for this man to come to this country so that ASIC is going to investigate the matter, and sit with him, and talk to him and get to the bottom of the issue.
Stephen Crittenden: Hasn’t the time come where the Muslim community has to stop saying that his comments are being misinterpreted or taken out of context?
Amir Ali: Yes, it is definitely happening all the time. Now the origin of this whole issue came out from — this was started by the Middle Eastern Institute from Washington, which is known for twisting and turning what the Muslims say in order to create a bad image —
Stephen Crittenden: Yes, but the comments made by Alexander Downer, and the comments that you”ve just heard by Chris Pyne are not based on that report, they”re based on a transcript that was prepared by the Foreign Affairs Department effectively.
Amir Ali: Exactly. This sermon was not given in English, it was in Arabic. Now who made the transcript, what’s the whole source of this transcript, I want to know. And this man, he’s not good in speaking English, or he would, and he speaks for hours in his sermons, and a small selection of five or ten lines is not going to catch all what he has said, that’s my opinion about the whole transcript. So unless I see the transcript, and I see what he has — listen to this man what he has said, I will not be able to make any comment.
Stephen Crittenden: Are we going to keep on with this thing of arguing that it’s the veracity of the reports that’s the issue? It does seem to me that there’s a great unwillingness on the part of the Muslim community, certainly the Muslim media, to openly debate this issue.
Amir Ali: We are debating it. We are debating it all the time. In every State it’s happening, it’s only being your media that hasn’t reported this debate. In fact I tell you, every meeting we talk about these things. We talk about what Imams say in the mosque, and what they should say and what they should not say. And the only thing is we don’t see all those debates coming into the public media.
Stephen Crittenden: How are these comments likely to be received, these comments by Chris Pyne that you”ve just heard. How are those comments likely to be received by the Muslim community?
Amir Ali: It’s going to be disturbing for the whole community. First of all they won’t believe what this Chris Pyne has said. So it all makes it important we have to make a statement on what Sheik Hilaly has actually said. For that we have to see what the script is, and I want to have a chat with him when he comes back here.
Stephen Crittenden: Alexander Downer has said that he does not believe these kinds of views, the endorsement of the September 11 attack, the endorsement of suicide bombings, he does not believe that the Australian Muslim community holds those sorts of views.
Amir Ali: Absolutely correct.
Stephen Crittenden: Well if they don’t hold those sorts of views, do they need a Mufti who also doesn’t hold those sorts of views?
Amir Ali: Certainly. Yes, of course. We are completely backing that. But the question is, whether this man said what Alexander Downer said, saying that he is alleged to have said this.
Stephen Crittenden: Does the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils have a mechanism to remove Sheikh Hilaly if it was found that he did say these things?
Amir Ali: We can. The community will support us, we can do that. We can think of those things once we have our internal investigations completed.